Saturday, July 21, 2007


René Colato Laínez

Stereotypes or Misleading Information

NINE DAYS TO CHRISTMAS A STORY OF MEXICO by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida was written 1959 and was one of the first multicultural books about Mexico. This book is full of stereotypes. On the cover we see a boy and a girl carrying a nativity scene. They are wearing sandals and serapes. The boy wears a straw sombrero. Basically, these children are depicted as Mexican peasants coming from a remote village but the irony is that according to the illustrations they live in a city and Ceci, the girl comes from a family with money who has servants and a nice house. Marie Hall Ets even writes:

Ceci- who had dressed up in her village costume, because she liked that better than her other clothes—and her cousin Manuel led the procession which starts every posada. (38-39)

The book also refers to tortillas as pancakes and infers that all baby sitters come from remote villages. The illustrations through the entire book portray the stereotypical Mexican with a big sombrero, sandals, long braids and colorful clothes. But surprise, surprise this book won the Caldecott Medal for its illustrations.

But how can we break those stereotypes. Let’s look at ESTELA’S SWAP by Alexis O’neill. In this story Alexis presents an energetic Estela who wants to be part of, el ballet folklórico. But in order to be part of the group, she needs a falda, a colorful skirt. Estela is an everyday girl and wears everyday clothes. She would wear the skirt only for her special dances. Ballet Folklórico is becoming very popular in states like California, Texas, Florida and other states. This book touches the lives of all those little girls who are or want to be part of a ballet folklórico group.

Estela is going to her first Swap Meet, where people sell, exchange and bargain. She hopes to earn the ten dollars she needs to pay for folk-dancing lessons by selling a colorful music box that plays Cielito Lindo, a very popular Latin American song. By including this song, Alexis is being authentic to the ballet folklórico. After they have set up their stand, her father introduces her to the art of bargaining.

“See how it’s done?” Papa asked as they walked back to their space.
“As the seller, you name a price that’s a little more than what you are willing to take. That way you have room to bargain. Now it’s time for you to try.”

Estela handles the customers' offers well, but no one wants to pay anywhere near the price she's asking. Then, she meets an older woman who sells paper flowers and is sewing a falda, and who admires the music box and its sounds that remind her of her childhood. When a strong wind creates a chaos of goods flying everywhere the flower seller's wares are gone. In a gesture of generosity and compassion, the little girl gives her the treasured box so she can listen to the music as she makes more flowers, but wonders how she will earn her money now. At the end Estela is surprised to receive something wonderful in return, the skirt for the ballet folklórico.

“Since we are at a Swap Meet,” the woman said, 'it is only fair that we swap.” (n.p).

O'Neill weaves details of trades and bargaining into the fabric of her story to give readers a tangible taste of swaps or flea markets that are very popular in Latin America and in many states in America. The author presents a character that shares her music box and receives something back for her great generosity. Latino girls will be proud to read this book and readers from other cultures can learn about ballet folkórico and flea markets.

There is the stereotype that individuals from a certain culture are all the same. Sandra Cisneros proves that this stereotype is wrong in her bilingual picture book HAIRS/ PELITOS.

“Everybody in our family has different hair. My Papá’s hair is like a broom, all up in the air. And me, my hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands.” (n.p).

This picture book is a good example of authentic multicultural literature because it breaks the stereotype that members of the same culture are exactly alike. Sandra Cisneros shows, through simple, intimate language, the diversity among us.

The author uses child like poetic language and the five senses to describe each family member. Her father's hair looks “like a broom”, her mother's hair smells like “baked bread”, and her brother's hair feels like “soft fur.” Cisneros concludes her story:

“But my mother’s hair, my mother’s hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles, all curly and pretty because she pinned it in pin curls all day, sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell when she makes room for you on her side of the bed still warm with her skin, Mamá’s hair that smells like bread.” (n.p).

Before leaving the topic of stereotypes, this is what editors are seeing in
the multicultural manuscripts that they receive.

Many of the manuscripts that I receive are filled with stereotypes and misconceptions. Before deciding to publish a multicultural story, we make sure to have it reviewed for stereotypes. I also get stories about themes that I feel are overused and not a fair or complete representation of a particular culture. For instance I get many many manuscripts about tortillas. I feel that the Latino culture extends far beyond tortillas so I tend to turn down those stories. (Theresa Howell, Rising Moon).

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