The Latinos are the fastest growing minority population in the United States. Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo predicts that within 20 to 30 years, they are going to be the majority. In this 24-minute podcast, ALSC member Dr. Naidoo discusses
- what led him to research and teach diversity and outreach
- the importance of intercultural literature and self-identification
- information about the Latino Children’s Literature Conference
- ¡Imagínense!, a multifaceted program combining current research and practice to assist librarians, teachers, and other educators in meeting the literacy needs of Latino children and adolescents. The Imaginense Libros blog is http://imaginenselibros.blogspot.com/.
Dr. Jamie C. Naidoo, University of Alabama – SLIS,
Founder and Director of ¡Imagínense Libros!
Below is an edited transcript of the podcast:
ALSC Blog: Hello and welcome to episode 9 of the ALSC Blog Podcast. My name is Teresa Walls. I am the manager of the ALSC Blog. In today’s podcast, member Jamie Campbell Naidoo kindly spoke with me regarding library service to Latino children as well as the upcoming 2nd annual celebration of Latino Children’s literature to be held April 24 and 25, 2009, at the University of South Carolina in partnership with the University of Alabama. I will let Mr. Naidoo introduce himself.
Jamie Naidoo: My name is Jamie Naidoo. I am a assistant professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and I’m in the School of Library and Information Studies there. I’ve been there since August. Prior to that, I was at the University of South Carolina’ s library school. In both places, I teach diversity in library and children’s library services and young adult library services. I’ve been an elementary school librarian before and also a children’s librarian in a public library.
ALSC Blog: Let’s talk a little bit about library service to Latino children. What has led you to this particular interest?
Jamie Naidoo: It started when I was an elementary school librarian in a suburb of the Birmingham area of Alabama. The school I worked at was preK through 2. The first year I was there we had very few Latino children. I’d say maybe 20 or less. Then three years later, we had gone from the 20 to over 150, almost 160, 170. We had this huge increase all of sudden of Latino children and it was interesting to see the shift in dynamics within the school.
Most teachers didn’t speak Spanish. The current ESL [English as a Second Language] teacher didn’t speak Spanish. And nobody really knew how to educate these children since they didn’t speak English and most teachers didn’t speak Spanish. And, so they hired an ESL teacher who spoke Spanish and got two ESL aides who spoke Spanish and then another part-time ESL teacher who spoke Spanish. They started vamping up their ESL education program. I took the opportunity then to start working with the ESL teacher to help her plan programs. She wasn’t very well versed in children’s literature, so I would give her books and stuff. I remember the day I gave her a book by Gary Soto, a picture book by Gary Soto, and she came back later that day and was very excited because her Latino boys were finally connecting with a book. They were recognizing the culture that was in the book. She was excited that they were making connections with a book, which they hadn’t before.
While I was at the school, I heard a lot of negative comments about Latinos. You know, things such as “Why do they speak Mexican? Why don’t they speak English?” I had teachers who would say things like, “I can’t pronounce the name Jorge so I’ll call him George just because I can’t pronounce that name.” And, I think it was just a lot of general misunderstanding of the Latino population.
So, I realized that there needed to be a lot more education to the educators, that there is diversity in the population. And that you shouldn’t see these children as a burden but you should really be reaching out to them. I was thinking that I could not imagine leaving my country and going somewhere else where I didn’t know the language and sending my children to a school where they didn’t know the language and I didn’t know the language and hoping that they thrive and survive.
The majority of the children we had were from Mexico. The more I worked with them, I could see that the families were very motivated and very dedicated. They were the ones who would show up for parent/teacher conferences and always wanted to help in their child’s education, they just didn’t know how. And, I remember at about that time I was reading a book called, Dirty Girls Social Club which is by Alisa Valdes-Rodriquez. It’s basically like a Latino Sex in the City. I was reading that book which is a conglamoration of about five Latino women, but they were from different cultural backgrounds. One was Puerto Rican, one was Cuban, one was Mexican, one was from the Caribbean. It really hit home that wow! there is all this diversity And, here I am, someone who is interested in helping these children and I don’t really stop and think about the diversity, and I bet most other people don’t stop and think about the diversity within the Latino populations.
The more I thought about that, I was wanting to start working on my PhD, so I thought I’d focus my PhD with school library service to Latino population. But the more I thought about it, I realized that our concept of other cultures or of things that are different really begins well before we get into school. Through picture books that we read or that parents read to us, we start forming our understanding of different cultures and different things. So, I decided I should probably be focusing on picture books before I really started focusing on library service in schools, and then looking at library services in public libraries as well. All that to say, that’s why I started looking at picture books before I started looking at library services.
Currently, the majority Latino population are Mexican but that is followed by quickly by a large percentage of Puerto Ricans and Cubans and Dominicans. And it kind of goes on down from there.
When I was in South Carolina before. it was kind of a competition between South Carolina and North Carolina about who had the fastest growing Latino population because the Latino South which is Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and the Carolinas, and Tennessee, has the fastest growing Latino population. A lot are migrating from the West or emigrating in, and going to live in the South, so that’s where a high population is, in the southern states.
The term multicultural is becoming more passé. Multicultural is meaning all these different cultures. Intercultural is trying to make connections among all these many cultures, not seeing them as different separate things but really drawing connections between the cultures which is really very important, that you need to understand other cultures. And, so if you are focusing on different cultures separately but you don’t ever really talk about the importance of learning about cultures beyond your own then you aren’t making any progress. That’s the term also used more often now in children’s literature, talking about diverse populations, intercultural is being used more because it talks not just about multicultural literature here in the United States but international children’s literature from other countries too. So you are talking about cultures in the United States and in countries around the world.
ALSC Blog: O.K., then that helps also, instead of separating things out, instead of saying today’s storytime we are going to focus on this culture, to look at having services that incorporate cultures and how they are connected in one storytime perhaps, not making it…. I don’t know if I’m making sense.
Jamie Naidoo: You are making perfect sense. When I go around doing workshops and things like that, I say we shouldn’t just, during Hispanic Heritage Month, read a couple books about Mexico or about the Latino culture, have a big fiesta, break a piñata, have a couple tacos and then never talk about the Latino culture again until the following year. Too often as educators and librarians, we focus on Black History Month or Asian Heritage Month or Hispanic Heritage Month, and we separate things out into neat little boxes instead of incorporating different cultures into everyday things that we do. These children are here with us every single day not just during Black History Month, not just during Asian Heritage Month or Hispanic Heritage Month.
Self-identification is very important for children because if as a child you grow up and you never see your culture represented in the books you read or the books that librarians and teachers share with you, then you may start thinking that your culture is not important, either it’s not important enough to write about in books or it’s not important for educators to share with you. The same is true then too if your culture is represented but it is negatively represented or there is misinformation about your culture in books that teachers and librarians share then you may feel lessened or you may have a conflict in yourself. I mean, if you know that all people who are Latino aren’t from Mexico but your teacher or librarian insists that when sharing stories about Latinos that they’re always from Mexico and let’s have a taco, and you realize, “Yeah, I’m a Latino, but I’m not from Mexico and I eat things besides tacos,” you might feel a little conflict between who you really are and who librarians and teachers say you are. It’s really important that children see accurate portrayals of their culture in books that they read.
A lot of the research that I do and have started doing has been with books that have won the Belpré Award and the Americas Award which are two awards for Latino children’s literature because for a long time there weren’t books about Latinos and then the ones that did come out had stereotypes, so the Americas Award was created and the Belpré Award was created to celebrate books about the Latino cultures. Librarians assume that they are all great and wonderful. They use them without really stopping to think what’s really the content because sometimes librarians and teachers figure if something won an award it has to be a great and wonderful book. I mean, there are books that sometimes in the past may have won the Caldecott that might have been about the Latino culture but wasn’t necessarily a good positive representation of the culture. At the same time, if teachers only shared the Americas books or only shared the Belpré books, they may only represent to their children portions of the Latino culture, not the full gamut of the diversity within the Latino cultures.
ALSC Blog: I’m thinking about just introducing the books, like someone being afraid, “Oh, I don’t know if this book is an accurate portrayal.” And, at the same time, especially with talking about self-identification, a chance to talk with the children about “What do you do in your family?” or to give them a chance to talk about their experiences. Because, like you said, even within how a culture is represented in a picture book might not be necessarily how your family is, because even if you are part of that culture, your family may have its own individual nuances to it.
Jamie Naidoo: Exactly, like I’ve said before in different talks that I give, in the United States we like to compartmentalize things too much. We have the label “Asian,” the label “Latino” or “Hispanic,” the label “African American,” and we expect people to fit in nice little boxes, and they don’t. Just because you are reading a book about Latinos doesn’t mean that represents all Latinos, or a book about African-Americans represents all African Americans. So, yeah, when you’re reading a book it definitely opens an opportunity, and even if you are reading a book about families, because maybe the children don’t have a mom or dad, or they live with an extended family. So definitely, read a book and talk about the differences that children have in their own lives and how that one book can’t represent the whole culture.
ALSC Blog: Let’s talk a little bit about outreach from public libraries and school media centers. In your work are you looking at that portion of it or at this point are you mostly focusing on the literature?
Jamie Naidoo: I think you can’t focus on either one or the other. It all goes hand in hand. When I was in South Carolina, I did a study on how libraries were serving Latino children in South Carolina and just looking at their collections and programs that they offered and things like that. And then, when I was in South Carolina, I went around and talked to school librarians and children librarians about creating programs and services to the Latino community, and how you can create these programs when you don’t speak Spanish when maybe all the Latinos in your community do speak Spanish. I talk about mainly if you don’t speak Spanish and you want to reach out to your community through your school library or your public library, one of the best places to go first is to your Latino community. If you are intimidated by going to parents of Latino children that you know then look for Hispanic leaders in the community, maybe educators themselves or business owners who may have a key lead-in to the Latino community. If they can’t help you, they may know somebody who can help you reach out and plan your programs in the community or get Latinos to come to your library to partake of some of the outreach and services that you offer.
The Día program is a great way for both school libraries and public libraries to celebrate the Latino culture and reach out to the Latino community. Pat Mora started the idea of Día in the United States. ALSC has readily adopted that along with REFORMA, and now every year on April 30th, libraries around the country are celebrating Latino literature, Latino families, and Latino literacy. That’s a great way to start reaching out the Latino community, but it doesn’t have to be just April 30th. You could have Día activities throughout the whole year, but that’s one quick and easy way to think about reaching out the Latino community. There’s tons of free information online about creating Día programs. Like I said that information translates to the whole year, so teachers and librarians should not use the excuse that “That’s just something else I have to plan for and I don’t have time for that.” Well, O.K., sure, maybe you’re not creative and you don’t have time to plan programs, or extra programs as you might see it. Well, there are plenty of things to be found online that have been tried and tested. Use those instead. Take a Dia activity and include it in your weekly storytime and when you talk about other cultures.
We mentioned this earlier that sometimes libraries tend to focus on cultures on specific times of year or just on celebrations. And that’s not necessarily a negative thing, it can be a positive, especially when it comes to celebrations. You can have a Day of the Dead storytime or party and read some stories about Day of the Dead. Have children talk about some of their relatives who have passed on or have some family members come in and talk about what Day of the Dead is and create displays and things like that. One of the libraries that was in South Carolina that I worked with had a Latino parent group of mothers that were like an advisory board for the children’s department. They helped the children’s department create programs and build collections that would reach out to the Latino community. I think that was very, very important in the success of that library reaching the Latino community.
It’s very important to know about the Latino culture. Something I also tell librarians is to learn, to know just some of the things that identify the Latino culture, like they like to do things as a family, as a group, so if you plan a program it’s important to plan family programs not age specific programs. If the whole family can participate, you are more likely to have more participation. I tell my classes when I teach diversity, you can have the wonderful collections, you can plan all these wonderful programs and services, but if nobody comes, then was it successful? Why did you do all that if nobody comes? You really want to market your program and think about your community and know what your community make-up is and plan programs and services for Latinos that mirror those.
ALSC Blog: You started the Latino Children’s Literature Conference with Dr. Juila Lopez-Robertson, an education professor at the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. You had your first conference last year. What’s in store with that for the future?
Jamie Naidoo: The conference this year is April 24 and 25. We have Sonia Nieto who is a Puerto Rican children’s literature and multicultural education scholar as our academic keynote. Then we have Lulu Delacre and Lucia Gonzalez and Maya Christina Gonzalez as our authors who are coming this year. Each year we have at least two Latina or Latino authors or illustrators for children. We would like to add more each year, so this year we have three. We have some local authors who come as well. There’s storytelling and there’s breakout sessions related to library services to Latinos and then also keeping the education standpoint with educating Latinos in the classroom. We always have a component that is community outreach related to Dia. This year Lulu is doing a Dia program at one of the local schools, and we’ll be giving out free copies of one of her books.
Last year and this year it was in South Carolina, in Columbia, South Carolina. But now since I moved to University of Alabama, we didn’t want to end the conference so we decided that we would keep the conference in the South, but not just South Carolina. We’ll keep it going back and forth between South Carolina and Alabama. The third annual one will be in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, next year. Then the fourth one will go back to South Carolina, which we see as being a good thing because the Latino South incorporates, we almost have Alabama and South Carolina being on the edges, on each edge, boxing in the Latino South so it allows educators from each side of that to attend the conference that maybe they wouldn’t be able to attend at a distance especially with a lot of funding being cut for travel.
But, it’s a great and wonderful event and it is a national conference. We hope to continue to grow it each year.
ALSC Blog: You’ve just started a blog?
Jamie Naidoo: Yes. There’s a Latino literacy iniaitive called ¡Imaginense! Libros which means Just Imagine Books. It will eventually be a really dynamic website. I’ve been putting it off, putting it off, thinking once I get the time and get a webmaster then I’ll start creating this dynamic website which is going to be a virtual evaluation collection of Latino children’s books. I will have an advisory board of Latino children’s literature scholars from all across the United States. That they, along with me, will read the books and write evaluations of them. We’ll evaluate the Spanish. It will be one-stop place to go for, as a librarian, when you are thinking about purchasing books about the Latino culture in Spanish, you’ll be able to go to this website, search it, read our reviews, and know whether or not this is a good book.
So, this was going to be a dynamic website, but then I realize that I don’t need to wait until I get the website up. I went ahead and created a blogspot for it. I have some ideas up there now. Especially with Criticas ending, there is definitely a need for reviews of books about Latinos, especially children’s books.
ALSC Blog: We’ll include the URL to your blog in the transcript of this podcast. [The URL is http://imaginenselibros.blogspot.com/] Let’s go ahead and end our conversation. Do you mind sharing some final words with us?
Jamie Naidoo: I think it’s really important that people start really thinking about library service to Latinos. They are the fastest growing population in the United States. Even if you aren’t serving Latinos in your library now, you will be soon. When I do my workshops and presentations, I say you just can’t say that I don’t have any Latinos in my community now, so I don’t have to worry about it. You need to have those books in your library to teach others about the culture and foster cultural understanding. It’s important to incorporate those into the programs you have now. And be ready for when you do have a large Latino population in your community because if you don’t have Latinos now, you will. Jump on the opportunity now as opposed to waiting.