Visiting artist-in-residence Guillermo Galindo inspired by downtown Nashville for upcoming performance

The complex history of Nashville’s Public Square Park—including stories of Native and African Americans—has inspired a performance by Guillermo Galindo, visiting artist-in-residence at Vanderbilt’s Center for Latin American Studies and the Department of Art on Oct. 25.

“Sonic Re-Activation: Unearthing Public Square’s Forgotten Pasts” will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Public Square Park.

Galindo’s interest in the history of the Americas drew him to the Public Square and its many roles in the founding of Nashville—as the former site of a slave market, its proximity to the toll bridge along the Trail of Tears, and as a site of political activism during the city’s civil rights history. Galindo’s performance at the Public Square, newly commissioned by Vanderbilt, culminates a three-week collaboration with students and faculty.

Galindo also will offer a solo performance, “Sonic Borders III,” Oct. 26 in the Steve and Judy Turner Recital Hall at the Blair School of Music. This process-oriented sound performance, which begins at 6 p.m., is a sonic ritual featuring some instruments built with materials found around the Mexican-U.S. border fence. “Sonic Borders III” has been performed in museums and concerts halls across the United States and Europe.

Galindo’s artistic practice emerges from the crossroads between sound, sight and performance and includes everything from orchestral compositions, instrumental works and opera to sculpture, visual arts, computer interaction, filmmaking, electro-acoustic music, instrument building, three-dimensional installation and live improvisation.
Galindo’s works have been shown at major museums and art biennials in America, Europe, Asia and around the world including “documenta14” (2017), “Pacific Standard Time” (2017) and “CTM Festival” (2017). The New York Times, National Public Radio, CBC and Reforma are among the print and broadcast media who have reported on his artistry.

His residency at Vanderbilt is a collaboration between the Center for Latin American Studies, the Department of Art, Blair School of Music and the Program in Comparative Media Analysis and Practice.

In honor of Galindo’s presence on campus, Vanderbilt will also hold a one-day symposium, “Border Elegies: Refugees, Migrants and Contemporary Art and Literature,” on Oct. 26. Presenters will explore different artistic responses to the issue of migration and discuss the human rights implications of today’s flows of refugees. Click here for more information.

Both performances and the symposium are free and open to the public.

Profesora de Northwestern U. explora geografías de la identidad colombiana en Vanderbilt

Con el objetivo de ampliar su trabajo sobre la primera bonaza del narcotráfico en Colombia durante los años 1970, la investigadora Lina Britto, visitó recientemente la Universidad de Vanderbilt, donde consultó por espacio de una semana los archivos de la Colección Etnográfica Manuel Zapata Olivella. Britto, quien es profesora asistente de Historia en la Universidad de Northwestern (Ill), vino en busca de testimonios orales en torno al incipiente tráfico illegal de marihuana que precedió la conformación de los grandes carteles de la droga en los años 1980s, para incluirlos en un libro de su autoría que está en proceso de publicación.

Durante su indagación, Britto consultó las tres principales subsecciones de la Colección Zapata Olivella: El Grupo Etnográfico (centrado en registro de las prácticas y costumbres colectivas en la Colombia rural), “La Voz de los Abuelos” (que recupera la historia popular colombiana a través de testimonios de adultos mayores) y el segmento “Wayu y Arijuna, 500 años de confrontación,” que explora las identidades étnicas y la diversidad cultural en la Guajira colombiana. En su conjunto, la colección – creada por el medico y etnógrafo Manuel Zapata Olivella (1920-2004) – constituye un registro único que reconstruye mediante grabaciones de audio, parte de la historia de Colombia y permite estudiar sus identidades, etnicidades, y regionalidades, a través del lenguaje oral y testimonios populares.

En un sentido más amplio, Britto se propuso familiarizarse con la colección Zapata Olivella con la mira puesta en proximas visitas a Vanderbilt. “Quería explorar su geografia, descubrir su paisaje, subir sus montañas y navegar sus rios”, afirma la historiadora, al resaltar el valor de los archivos sonoros (algunos de ellos aún en proceso de transcripción y catalogación) que rescatan procesos y dinámicas sociales condenadas al olvido por falta de registro escrito. La colección Zapata Olivella, agrega la investigadora, captura la etapa crucial de una Colombia en proceso de transición hacia la modernidad, cuando el estado aún no se había consolidado y la mayoría de la población era iletrada. “Muchos de esos saberes se iban a perder si no se consignaban y el gran mérito de Zapata Olivella, al frente del Grupo Etnográfico, fue recuperar gran parte de conocimiento sin establecer jerarquías de dominación,” sostiene Britto. En vez de utilizar categorías de letrados o analfabetos, Zapata (quien prefería usar la palabra anágrafo para significar el no uso de escritura), empoderó a la gente común como narradores y poseedores de un saber único que se transmite a través de formas alternativas de lenguaje.

-Alejandro Botia Botia

Celebrating 25 Years of the Américas Award

This year, the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs celebrated 25 years of the Américas Award in Washington, D.C. during Hispanic Heritage month. On September 28, 2018, CLASP presented the 2018 Américas Award to Ibi Zoboi for her work, American Street, and to Duncan Tonatiuh for his work Danza!: Amalia Hernández and Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet. About 60 educators attended the ceremony, while more than 1,700 viewers to date have viewed the ceremony via the Library of Congress’ live-stream on Facebook and YouTube.

CLASP founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States, and to provide teachers with recommendations for classroom use. CLASP offers up to two annual book awards, together with a commended list of titles.

Zoboi’s book, American Street is a complex and multi-layered story anchored around relationships and questions of loyalty. Zoboi shared her experiences writing this book and provided context for teaching this book in a high school classroom.

The second 2018 award winner by Duncan Tonatiuh, Danza! is a magnificent celebration of Amalia Hernández, the dancer and choreographer who founded the famed Mexican dance company, el Ballet Folklórico de México. Tonatiuh shared with educators his unique illustrative style and engaged participants in an exploration of Amalia Hernández and her impact in the world of dance. This picture book is the perfect book for every library.

In honor of the 25 year anniversary of the book award, this year’s Américas Award K-12 educator workshop gave 25 educators an opportunity to learn more about the 2018 book winners, and provided guidance and resources for incorporating these award winning books into their classrooms. Participants brought home signed copies of both 2018 award-winning titles. The workshop was hosted by Howard University Center for African Studies, in partnership with Teaching for Change.

Pre and post surveys were conducted and report a high level of satisfaction with the workshop. All participants indicated that they were “likely” or “very likely” to use the ideas and materials from the workshop in their classrooms, and all participants “felt comfortable teaching about diversity” after the workshop. Participants represented a variety of education professions, including K-12 teachers, librarians, special education teachers, English as a Second Language teachers, and higher education professors. Several teachers attended the annual workshop for the first time (38%).

“This is SO needed, and was a great use of my Friday evening,” expressed one participant, while others reported additional feedback in the post survey, including “Excellent, as usual!” and “So, so good, I love this program! I recommend it to others every year!”

In line with this year’s workshop theme focused on diversity and the role of community, James Huck, the Assistant Director for Latin American Studies Graduate Programs at Tulane University, Denise Woltering-Vargas, the Senior Program Manager of the Stone Center for Latin American Studies Latin American Resource Center, and Colleen McCoy, the Outreach Coordinator at Vanderbilt’s Center for Latin American Studies kicked off the event in DC beginning on Wednesday, September 26, with an International Baccalaureate Educator Workshop organized by Julie Kline, Associate Director of University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, for 35 high school teachers from Fairfax County, Virginia.

The 2018 Américas Award ceremony also honored Georgette Dorn, who retired this year from her position as Chief of the Hispanic Division at the Library of Congress. With a historian’s dedication to shedding light on the past and acquiring and preserving current cultural and intellectual materials for future generations, she has led efforts to grow the Library’s Luso-Hispanic collections and make them accessible to all. We look forward to working soon with the recently appointed Chief of the Hispanic Division, Suzanne Schadl, an alum of the University of New Mexico.

The awards are administered by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) and coordinated by both Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies and Vanderbilt University’s Center for Latin American Studies. Generous support is also provided by Florida International University, Stanford University, The Ohio State University, UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, University of Florida, University of New Mexico, University of Texas at Austin, University of Utah, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Photos of the event may be accessed through the flickr website.

Follow the Américas Award on Facebook or join the Américas listserv by sending an email to

The Call for Submissions for the 2019 Américas Award is circulating and the review committee members are already busy reading submissions for this year’s competition. Decisions will be made by April and the ceremony will be held during Hispanic Heritage Month Fall 2019 in Washington, D.C.

CLAS receives designation as National Resource Center; $1.6M grant

Vanderbilt University’s Center for Latin American Studies will expand its trans-institutional collaborations and public engagement in Tennessee and across the country—thanks to a $1.64 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The four-year grant renews the center’s prestigious designation as a comprehensive National Resource Center for Latin America. The National Resource Center designation is the highest recognition an academic center can receive.

“The Center for Latin American Studies is one of the leading centers of its kind in the nation,” said John Geer, dean of Arts and Science. “I’m pleased by this renewed federal investment in our ‘One Vanderbilt in Latin America’ model of trans-institutional collaboration.”

The Center’s “One Vanderbilt in Latin America” model integrates teaching, research and public engagement, with a focus on particular places and themes. This federal funding will allow CLAS to expand its collaborations across colleges and schools, fund native language instruction and support summer research for students. It will also support secondary outreach programs and collaborations with historically black colleges and universities in the region. Working with Peabody faculty, CLAS will help prepare K-12 teachers to teach students from diverse backgrounds; in conjunction with the Library, it will digitize the Afro-Colombian collections, making those materials available online; and collaborating with the Nashville Children’s Theater, it will commission and produce a new play.

The new grant will strengthen the One Vanderbilt in Latin America model in a variety of ways, according to Edward F. Fischer, director of the Center for Latin American Studies and Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Anthropology. “We will be able to better integrate research and teaching and to increase language offerings by employing virtual classroom technologies,” he said. “In addition, the grant funds a Visiting Resource Professor program that integrates four-week visits by prominent scholars and political leaders into on-campus seminars.”

Fischer praised the accomplishments of faculty and students that have made the center’s leadership in Latin American studies possible. “We are blessed with an especially accomplished and engaged group of faculty and students, and Vanderbilt is the perfect size and environment to foster interdisciplinary collaboration,” he said. The center is home to the Vanderbilt Institute for Coffee Studies, the InterAmerican Health Alliance and other research and teaching initiatives.

In addition to the designation as a National Resource Center, the award includes Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships that will support the study of K’iche’ Mayan, Brazilian Portuguese, Haitian Creole and Quechua at Vanderbilt and abroad. CLAS collaborates with Tulane University to offer the Mayan Language Institute each summer in Guatemala, and the Portuguese Language and Brazilian Culture program.

“Our long-standing collaborations with minority-serving institutions, and particularly those with Tuskegee University, are one of the key focuses of this grant,” said CLAS executive director Avery Dickins de Girón. “The funding will expand Portuguese and Spanish language instruction for students at Tuskegee and Meharry Medical College, and introduce new study-abroad opportunities for students at those institutions to study alongside Vanderbilt students, increasing diversity and inclusion.”

Founded in 1947 as the nation’s first Institute of Brazilian Studies, the Center for Latin American Studies has a long history of engagement with the region. Vanderbilt has a remarkable concentration of Latin Americanists, with particular strengths in Brazil, Central America, the Black Atlantic and the Andes. Since 2006, CLAS has been designated as a National Resource Center.

Over the last decade, the center has increased its engagement with faculty and students; currently, 16 percent of the College of Arts and Science faculty have an affiliation, as well as 42 faculty in the professional schools. “We are the only program at Vanderbilt to have substantive joint programs with every school and college on campus,” Fischer said. The center’s public outreach program has also grown over the last decade, reaching more than 190,000 individuals last year.

Eliane Bueno Winner of 2018 CLASP Teaching Award for K-12 Educators

In 2018, the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) continues the practice of bestowing the CLASP Teaching Award for K-12 Educators to recognize excellence and innovation in the teaching of Latin America and the Caribbean among elementary, middle, and high school teachers. “Each year the award process highlights exceptional educators from across the country and brings to light inspiring teaching practices,” said Keira Philipp-Schnurer, who serves on the CLASP Outreach Committee and was a part of the review committee.

From among the outstanding teachers nominated in 2018, CLASP recognizes Eliane (Lili) Bueno as the winner of the CLASP Teaching Award for K-12 Educators. The award was publicly announced Friday, May 25, 2018, at the 52 International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association in Barcelona, Spain.

Lili serves as a Portuguese immersion teacher at Lakeview Elementary School in Provo City School District in Utah, and as a Portuguese immersion consultant for the Utah State Board of Education. In a letter of support for her, Jamie Leite, the Portuguese Director of the Utah Dual Language Immersion Program, wrote, “In her roles of teacher and teacher leader, I have seen Lili do more to impact the instruction of K-12 Portuguese than any other teacher in the U.S. Her teaching has changed the lives of hundreds of her own students while her curriculum work and leadership has impacted thousands more across the country.”

Among Jaime Leite’s litany of praise for Lili’s teaching, she added, “it is Lili’s daily commitment to her students that is her first priority and deepest passion. She sees her job as teacher as an opportunity to open the minds of her students and help them appreciate the contributions of Portuguese-speaking countries worldwide, particularly her native country of Brazil. Lili’s classroom is a little piece of Brazil in the middle of Provo, Utah and her students often comment that they forget they are in the United States when they are in her class.”

The sentiment that Lili goes above and beyond in helping her students understand not just the language, but the culture of Brazil, was further bolstered in a letter of support offered by Dr. Jaime Bateman of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Brigham Young University. As Jaime Bateman writes, “Beyond the regular curriculum, Lili finds myriad ways of incorporating Brazilian culture in her teaching. She meticulously follows the recommendation of the foreign language teaching profession that classrooms should be ‘cultural islands’ where, when students enter, they immediately feel they are in a different cultural space.”

Inasmuch as CLASP must rely on letters of support in order to understand how nominees have impacted their students, schools, and communities, so, too, does CLASP turn to the personal words of the nominee to learn more about their approach to work and their dedication to bringing Latin America to their students. In particular, the committee was moved by Lili’s depth of personal commitment. In describing her approach, Lili writes, “I am grateful for the opportunity to share my culture and language with my students as I teach the core curriculum. It is impossible to describe in words the feeling of love I feel every day watching my students communicating in Portuguese, learning my culture, gaining proficiency, and sounding exactly like a ‘Brazilian kid.’ This makes my everyday job in the classroom a real joy. Helping students become bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural; contributing to the world as global citizens or, as one would, multilingual and multicultural citizens of the world is one of my everyday missions as a teacher.”

In all, the CLASP Outreach Committee was profoundly moved by Lili’s commitment to teaching about Latin America through the lens of Brazil. In meeting the criteria for the award, she thoroughly demonstrated outstanding teaching effectiveness, innovation and creativity in the presentation of Latin American content, and involvement in professional development and community engagement.

CLASP member institutions nominate teachers for consideration. Lili was nominated by Dr. Claudio Holzner of the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) at the University of Utah.

The awards are administered by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) and decided by the CLASP Outreach Committee, which was comprised of the following individuals in 2018: Lindsey Engelman, University of Texas at Austin (chair); Molly Aufdermauer, Stanford University; Karen Goldman, University of Pittsburgh; Luciano Marzulli, University of Utah; Colleen McCoy, Vanderbilt University; Keira Philipp-Schnurer, University of New Mexico; Diana Maria Shemenski, University of Pittsburgh; and Denise Woltering-Vargas, Tulane University.

CLASP’s mission is to promote all facets of Latin American Studies throughout the world. Its broad range of activities includes the encouragement of research activities, funding for professional workshops, advancement of citizen outreach activities, and development of teaching aids for the classroom.

2018 Américas Award Winners Announced

Barcelona, Spain–May 25, 2018–American Street written by Ibi Zoboi and DANZA!: Amalia Hernández and el Ballet Folklórico de México written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh win the 2018 Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The award links the Americas by reaching beyond geographic borders and multicultural-international boundaries, focusing upon cultural heritages within the hemisphere.

Up to two annual book awards are given in recognition of U.S. published works that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. An additional two titles may be recognized as Honorable Mentions, along with a list of Commended Titles. Books are considered for their distinctive literary quality, cultural contextualization, integration of text and illustration, and potential for classroom use.

The announcement was made today by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) during the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) meeting held May 23-26, 2018, in Barcelona, Spain.  The award-winning authors will be recognized at a ceremony held September 28, 2018, during Hispanic Heritage Month at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Members of the 2018 Américas Award Selection Committee include David Campos of San Antonio, TX; Emily Chávez of Durham, NC; Paula Mason of Waukesha, WI (chairperson); Mariana Ricklefs of Dunlap, Illinois; and Connie Sharp of Nashville, TN.

The awards are administered by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) and coordinated by both Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies and Vanderbilt University’s Center for Latin American Studies. Generous support is also provided by Florida International University, Stanford University, University of Florida, University of New Mexico, University of Utah, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

CLASP’s mission is to promote all facets of Latin American Studies throughout the world. Its broad range of activities include the encouragement of research activities, funding for professional workshops, advancement of citizen outreach activities, and development of teaching aids for the classroom. For complete annotations of all titles recognized by the Américas Award, as well as curricular resources for previous winning titles, visit  Follow the Américas Award on Facebook at for current news and author highlights, and join the conversation using #AmericasAward18.

2018 Américas Award Winners

American Street written by Ibi Zoboi. HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. ISBN: 978-0062473042

Fabiola’s life in the U.S. begins with loss and yearning: her mother is detained on their way from Haiti. While adjusting to life in Detroit, a new school, new social codes, and a family she has known only through phone calls for most of her life, Fabiola struggles to free her mother from detainment—or find the people who will help her do so. She lives with her aunt and three cousins in a house that sits at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. Here in this new place Haitian faith meets Black American culture, and the memories of the past help Fabiola to make sense of the present. Fabiola calls on the Iwas to help her get her mom back, discovers desire, and unravels secrets. Readers will enjoy the dynamism of Fabiola’s cousins—the “Three Bees”—whose own motivations and inclinations propel the story forward, while appreciating the ever determined Fabiola. This complex and multi-layered story is anchored around relationships and questions of loyalty—how deep does our loyalty go, to whom do we give it, and what are we willing to sacrifice? (Grades 10-12)

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and el Ballet Folklórico de México written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-1419725326

Award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh brings us the first-ever children’s biography of Amalia Hernández, the dancer and choreographer who founded the famed Mexican dance company, el Ballet Folklórico de México. In this magnificent celebration of her life, Tonatiuh introduces readers to a young Amalia, or “Ami” whose love for dance and music is set into motion after witnessing a lively display of folk dancing in a town plaza. In that formative moment, Ami got hooked on dancing as an art form, and soon began her formal studies in the classic European ballet styles of the time. However, as we learn through Tonatiuh’s masterful Mixtec-inspired illustrations and text, Ami returned to her Mexican roots to thoroughly research and choreograph regional and pre-Colombian indigenous dances from across the country. Much like Ami, Tonatiuh shows deep respect for the art forms of Mexico’s past while blending well-written descriptions with carefully chosen artistic details in a way that is compelling and accessible to readers of all ages. He also provides a wealth of additional backmatter that easily lends itself for classroom use, such as an author’s note, glossary, and bibliography. In bringing Ami’s story to life, we learn that her legacy gloriously lives on, as dancers both in Mexico and beyond continue to perform Mexican folk dance and music for appreciative audiences worldwide. (Grades 2-5)

2018 Américas Award Honorable Mention Titles

All the Way to Havana written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Mike Curato. Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2017. ISBN: 978-1627796422

All the Way to Havana is the delightful story of a young boy traveling to the big city of Havana, Cuba in his family’s old blue car- Cara Cara.  This story tells of the adventure his family has while traveling to his Tia’s house to celebrate the zero-year birthday of his new baby cousin.  Along the way, they pick up friendly neighbors in need of a short ride, while never losing sight of the family celebration ahead.  As they enter the city, the bright and colorful cars attract their attention, yet despite their flashiness, the young boy still prefers his Cara Cara’s peaceful blue hue.  After a fulfilling day of celebration, the family begins their long journey through the cover of night back to their village.  The following day as the father is working under the hood of his car, he asks his son which city-trip car he liked the most. The young boy answered without hesitation, “our car, because it belonged to our family when Abuelo celebrated his zero-year birthday!” This engaging story celebrates the resourcefulness and spirit of the young boy’s family as well as that of the Cuban people they greet along the way.  Margarita Engle’s masterful use of onomatopoeia coupled with the brilliant illustrations of Mike Curato make this an engaging read aloud for the young reader. (Grades K-2)

Lucky Broken Girl written by Ruth Behar.  Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House LLC, 2017. ISBN: 978-0399546440

“These boots are made for walkin’…and that’s just what they’ll do. One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you!”  This is the song fifth-grader Ruthie Mizrahi, a Cuban-Jewish girl sings after receiving a pair of white go-go boots from her father.  Having recently immigrated to New York in the 1960s, we see the struggles her family faces with her mother missing Cuba, at the same time trying to forget it, all the while her father is working multiple jobs to make ends meet.  However, things start to look up for young Ruthie as she begins to adjust to her new life. She finds herself moving out of the “dumb” class at school and has become known as the neighborhood hop-scotch queen.  Then one night her family is involved in a tragic car accident and everything changes.  Ruthie is so badly injured that she is forced to lie in bed in a body cast immobilized for nearly a year.  Based on the life of author Ruth Behar, Lucky Broken Girl is an inspirational story that allows us to witness the struggles and successes that ultimately form the diverse friendships that bring hope and happiness into her life. (Grades 4-8)

2018 Américas Award Commended Titles

Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López.  Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2017.  ISBN:  978-0805098761

Young People’s Poet Laureate, Margarita Engle captivates us with her poetry in Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics.  Engle writes in the first person, detailing the past lives of a myriad of people from diverse countries.  Through her unique style of poetry, she shares chronologically the accomplishments of eighteen different Hispanic figures throughout history. There is Juan de Miralles, a successful Cuban merchant who helped defeat British Troops in Florida in the 1700s, Pura Belpre, author and New York Public Library system’s Spanish Children’s Specialist who is known as the first Puerto Rican ever hired in the system and for introducing bilingual story hours in the early 1900s, and of course the talented Tito Puente, a professional musician who became known as the King of Latin Jazz.  The vibrant illustrations of Rafael López complement each diverse character.  Additional biographical information called Notes About the Lives wraps up this beautiful book of poetry and offers a great introduction to many amazing Latinos! (Grades 2-6)

Disappeared written by Francisco X. Stork. Arthur A. Levine, 2017. ISBN: 978-0545944472

In this heart-racing thriller, Francisco X. Stork brings us the tale of two Mexican teenagers, Sara and Emiliano Zapata, who call the border town of Ciudad Juarez home. Stork expertly draws these two characters against a backdrop of challenging moral decisions that they face in their hometown. Sara, a budding newspaper journalist, is dedicated to exposing the stories of abducted teenage girls who have been disappearing from their city. Meanwhile, her brother Emiliano, is a star soccer player who is smitten with his girlfriend Perla Rubí, and dedicated to his small, entrepreneurial business in which he connects the work of local folk artists with buyers across the border. As we quickly learn, Sara and Emiliano’s ambitions, hopes, and goals begin to unavoidably pull them into a darker world rife with corruption and sometimes life-threatening decisions. Stork sensitively tackles serious topics such as drug trafficking, the persecution of journalists, violence and corruption in a multi-faceted way that is resonant with readers. While Disappeared is a fast-paced page-turner certain to have wide appeal, Stork does an outstanding job of portraying real-life challenges and the influence that deeply felt desires, such as ambition, greed, love, and hope, can have on one’s decision-making processes. Educators will find an array of rich, thought-provoking themes for discussion.  (Grades 10-12)

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora written by Pablo Cartaya. Penguin Random House, 2017. ISBN: 978-1101997239

In this humorous and tender novel, author Pablo Cartaya introduces middle grade readers to Arturo Zamora, a memorably drawn 8th grader living in Miami who kicks off his summer with a part-time job washing dishes at his Cuban-American family’s restaurant “La Cocina de la Isla”. Between hanging out with his friends, spending time at the restaurant, and developing a budding crush on an old childhood friend, Arturo’s summer gets off to a fairly typical start. However, that quickly changes once Wilfrido Pipo, a real estate developer, arrives in his neighborhood with an aggressive plan to build a new high-rise tower that would displace “La Cocina de la Isla”.  Together with his family, Arturo is drawn into a battle not only for their cherished restaurant, but also for his community’s identity and way of life. In telling this story, Cartaya artfully fuses meaningful family history imparted by Arturo’s grandparents, snippets of José Martí’s poetry, and themes of civic engagement and the importance of perseverance and self-confidence. The author also expertly sprinkles in Spanish in a way that is easily decipherable for readers who may or may not speak the language. As the tension ratchets up in The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, readers will find themselves rooting for his epic win as he grapples with new challenges and learns more about himself and his community in the process. (Grades 4-7)

Forest World written by Margarita Engle. Atheneum, 2017. ISBN: 978-1481490573

In this timely novel written in verse, Cuban-American author Margarita Engle introducers readers to the story of two siblings, Edver and Luza, whose family has been split right down in the middle due to the political circumstances surrounding the United States and Cuba. Edver, age 10, has resided in Miami much of his life with his cryptobiologist mother. Meanwhile, his sister Luza, age 11, has remained on the Cuban island with her father, as she helps him work to protect the diverse species that live on a World Biosphere Reserve. In shifting between the alternate voices of Edver and Luza, we gain insight into the conflicting emotions that the two have felt after not having seen each other since they were very young. As relations between Cuba and the U.S. have thawed in recent years, they are then reunited to spend a summer together in Cuba, and have much to learn in the process about each other and the lives that they have separately lived. In a gentle yet incisive style, Engle adeptly explores issues such as protecting biodiversity while permitting tourism and the sharp differences between life in Cuba and the United States, and the feelings that can arise as a result. Her well-researched novel presents an abundance of topics to be discussed in educational settings while still being an exciting and easy-to-devour eco-adventure. (Grades 4-6)

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra. NorthSouth Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-0735842694

This biography of Frida Kahlo is presented from the unique perspective of her beloved – albeit unusual – pets. Readers will enjoy the story that reveals her “spirited and entertaining” menagerie of monkeys, parrot, dogs, turkeys, eagle, cat, and fawn, who largely inspired her colorful character. The author describes the pets, referred to as Frida’s “special friends,” and compares their endearing qualities to Frida’s own while showcasing how they helped Frida keep a resilient spirit despite the drastic setbacks in her life. Readers will be captivated by how the animals lived and played a role in her work. A bonus feature for teachers is the Author’s Note, which can used to provide students with additional details about Frida’s life, including titles of the paintings that encompassed her cherished pets. (Grades K – 3)

Lucía the Luchadora written by Cynthia Leonor Garza and illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez. Pow Kids Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-1576878279

This picture book is about a young dark-haired girl who loves to wear a superhero red cape. She can flip, run, and jump off monkey bars in the park better than anybody. She is agile, brave, sharp, and fun. But boys playing near dart away when she tries to play with them. “Girls can’t be superheroes! Girls are just made of sugar and spice and everything nice!” the boys say. Lucía gets mad and with her Abu (short for abuela, or grandmother) scheme a plan. That night, Abu gives her a secret box. It has a silver mask and cape. These were Abu’s when she was a luchadora (female wrestler). Being a luchadora is more than having quick moves or a cool style. “A luchadora has moxie, and isn’t afraid to fight for what is right,” Abu explains. Lucía then takes on a new secret identity and starts wearing the silver mask in the playground. After a string of events in the park, Lucía saves a puppy yelping in fear stranded on the top of swirly slide. “Bravo!” everybody cheers, except a girl in a pink outfit who looks sad. Lucía wants to do what is right; she takes off her mask and smiles to encourage the girl in pink. Then, several others take off their masks. They are girls too. Indeed, you don’t need a mask to be a luchadora! This beautifully illustrated book offers a cultural view of “Mexican superheroes” and celebrates the courage, strength, wit, and determination of girls all over the world. (Grade K-3)

Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus Versos por la Libertad, written by Emma Otheguy and illustrated by Beatriz Vidal. Children’s Book Press, 2017. ISBN: 978-0892393756

This English-Spanish bilingual picture book is a short biography of José Martí (1853-1895), a famous Cuban political essayist and poet. The book is written as a long poem in free verse style, interspersed with stanzas of Martí’s “Versos Sencillos.” The story chronicles his political activism through his speeches, newspaper articles, and poetry. This book honors Martí and others like him who fought against slavery and the oppression of colonialism. Interestingly, unlike other children’s books about José Martí, a third of this book focuses on his yearning for Cuba. His homesickness is appeased by going for walks in the beautiful Catskill Mountains, which also provided renovated inspiration for his writing. In a way, he seemed to have embraced two homelands, two cultures, and two languages, like many Latina/o children growing up in the U.S. These connections would prove useful in classroom discussions, as well as for raising consciousness about issues of equality and democracy. The unique book illustrations resemble chalk pastel art, which add a blur effect to the drawings. (Grade 3-5)

Rubén Darío written by Georgina Lázaro and illustrated by Lonnie Ruiz. Lectorum Publications, 2017. ISBN: 978-1632456410

This picture book is the biography of Nicaraguan Rubén Darío (1867-1916). He was a journalist, essayist, poet, novelist, and diplomat. Darío was a clever innovator and is considered the father of the Modernism movement in Spanish literature. This book consists of a poem with 60 stanzas each composed of 4 verses, and each verse has 8 syllables with an A-B-A-B rhyming pattern. Verses don’t follow traditional sentence structure and also include picturesque words, intricate metaphors and symbolism, all emulating Dario’s style in his celebrated poem Margarita Esta Linda La Mar, or “Margarita the Sea is Beautiful.” This piece is learned in schools and recited by children in Central America. Writing and reciting complex poetry is highly regarded in Spanish speaking countries. Hence, the book highlights this cultural-linguistic tradition. Additionally, Rubén Darío like other literary celebrities is a role model for young authors. Puerto Rican Georgina Lázaro, writer of this book explains that it is part of a biographical series that “relates in a poetic and enjoyable manner the childhoods of people that left their mark in our world, and reminds us that tomorrow’s achievements depend on today’s children.” The text is supported by the distinctive drawings of Lonnie Ruiz, a talented Nicaraguan graphic designer. Due to its academic register, this book is suitable for use in a Spanish language arts class with students whose Spanish proficiency is intermediate-advanced or advanced. (Grade 3-5).

Sing, Don’t Cry written by Angela Dominguez. Henry Holt and Company, 2017. ISBN: 978-1627798396

The story, which is inspired by the Mexican ballad Cielito Lindo, is a loving tribute to the author’s grandfather. Readers of Mexican heritage will recognize the title translated from a verse in the song – rendered sweet lovely one – that is often sang to young children as a lullaby. Dominguez affectionately recounts how her grandfather, who was an accomplished singer and performer, would visit from Mexico and sing to her and her brother each night. He would warmly advise his grandchildren to keep an optimistic spirit whenever they were discouraged and sing rather than cry because singing “gladdens the heart.” The charming illustrations make it is easy for children to follow the storyline.  Teachers can use the story in lessons aimed to engage children in honoring their grandparents, sharing their own suggestions for staying motivated despite challenging setbacks, and comparing Cielito Lindo to lullabies from different cultures.

(Grades K – 2)

The First Rule of Punk written by Celia C. Pérez. Penguin Random House, 2017. ISBN: 978-0425290408

María Luisa, better known as Malú, is the daughter of a white U.S. American father who owns a record store and loves punk music and a second-generation Mexican-American mother who is a professor and strives to keep her daughter connected to her roots. Moving with her mother to a largely Chicano neighborhood in Chicago away from the home she’s always known in California, opinionated Malú must deal with the familiar challenges of being the new kid in town while making sure to express her punk identity. While she finds peers who challenge her Mexicanness and her ability to fit in, she also finds new friends and a new community. In discovering the history of Mexican-American punk music and creating some of her own, Malú brings together the parts of her own identity that previously seemed to clash. With endearing, complex characters, including a fierce Malú, this novel makes a compelling read for youth interested in issues of fitting in, self-expression through music, exploring one’s cultural roots, and biracial identity. One of the more colorful aspects of this novel is the inclusion of zines interspersed throughout which document Malú’s ever-evolving world. (Grades 5-8)

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Clarion Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-0544586505

In this story, main character Salvador, a seventeen-year old white boy adopted and raised by a gay Mexican father, is coming to reckon with an unknown part of himself as he approaches a new point of transition: senior year, applying for college, preparing to leave home. His best friend Sam has her own hardships and yearnings to endure, and through their respective journeys, they grow together. Along the way they befriend Fito, a young man on his own path toward brighter days. This is a story about what makes a family. It is a story of how culture is passed down and the values that go with it, including when the lines of family aren’t marked by blood. It is a story about the sacrifices of a parent, the sometimes silent questions of children, and what we need to know in order to survive. It is a story of resiliency. The novel drips with figurative language, poetic meditations, and the eager, hungry dialogue of people who love each other—even when they struggle to find the words. (Grades 9-12)

The Little Doctor/El Doctorcito written by Juan J. Guerra and illustrated by Victoria Castillo. Piñata Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-1558858466

This English-Spanish bilingual picture book is the story of Salvador, a young boy who dreams of becoming medical doctor after helping his Spanish-speaking abuela navigate a crowded clinic and an uncaring doctor. The books’ vibrant cartoonlike illustrations enrich the text, and the fact that the story is based on the childhood experiences of the author, who is now a medical doctor, make the book delightful to read. The author and illustrator are indeed role models for growing artists. This book also makes us aware of the diversity among Latinas/os while highlighting their shared cultural values of familism, empathy, education, and hard work. In the candid manner of a child’s perspective, the book introduces hefty issues about healthcare policy, cultural expectations, and stereotypes. Analysis of these themes could lead to rich classroom discussions and opportunities for fostering cross-cultural understanding. (Grades K-5).

Little Skeletons Countdown to Midnight/Esqueletitos: Un Libro Para Contar En EL Día De Los Muertos written and illustrated by Susie Jaramillo. Canticos, 2017. 978945635069

This unique nursery rhyme and number board book charmingly captures the celebratory spirit of Dia de los Muertos. The endearing illustrations coupled with amusing rhymes invite children to engage in the lively chorus found at the end of each verse. While intended for toddlers and young children, the story can be read to children of all ages to honor the holiday, which is commemorated by many Latino cultures. An added feature of the book is its accordion design, which when flipped presents the story in Spanish. A clock with movable hand pieces allows young readers to manipulate it as well. (Grades PK – 1)

Two Vanderbilt Historians Receive 2018 Guggenheim Fellowships for Latin American Projects

Eddie Wright-Rios and Joel Harrington are among 175 scholars, artists, and scientists named as 2018 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellows.

Professor of History Eddie Wright-Rios specializes in modern Mexico and its cultural history; he will use his Guggenheim to complete his book, Devotion in Motion: Pilgrimage in Modern Mexico. He noted in his proposal that this project requires scholarly sleuthing, creativity flexibility, and sensitive exposition, as it leans heavily on his oral interviews and participation alongside a group of market vendors during six days and 120 miles of walking to Our Lady of Juquila’s shrine.

Wright-Rios will devote the next academic year to honing his analysis of the Juquila’s growing online devotional presence, completing additional devotee interviews in Mexico and writing book chapters, as well as taking part in the pilgrimage again in November via bicycle. Part of the project entails a concerted effort to reach beyond the academy to a truly public audience through a travelling photography exhibit anchored in the project. CLAS worked with Wright-Rios to organize and host the exhibit on campus, as well as at Miami University in Ohio and Cumberland University in Tennessee.

Joel Harrington, Professor of History and department chair, was also selected for a Guggenheim fellowship. His project, “Hans Staden and the German Counter- Narrative of New World Cannibalism,” focuses on the sixteenth-century true story of a Hessian mercenary. Hans Staden was shipwrecked in southern Brazil and credited divine providence for his nine-month survival and subsequent escape from his cannibal captors, the Tupinamba Indians. Staden’s publication, True History, was promoted as a popular “maneating book” about the adventure and became an instant bestseller in 1557.

However, Harrington has found a disjunction between the lurid marketing of the book and the more sympathetic account Staden wrote about his “hosts,” also in contrast to the denigrating portrayals by Spanish and Portuguese contemporaries. Harrington plans to travel to relevant Brazilian sites and archives and make an archival trip to Germany, where he will review printed German accounts of the New World at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel.

—Contributed by Heidi Hall

Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer to discuss Haiti and health care

Vanderbilt’s Office of Health Sciences Education, in conjunction with the Center for Medicine, Health and SocietyVanderbilt Institute for Global Health and the Center for Latin American Studies, will host a public lecture and interview with global health expert Paul Farmer on Feb. 19 in Langford Auditorium.

The event, titled “Paul Farmer and Haiti,” will begin at 4 p.m. Ted Fischer, director of the Center for Latin American Studies and the Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Anthropology, will moderate the interview.

Farmer, a physician and anthropologist, is the chief strategist and co-founder of Partners In Health, Kolokotrones University Professor and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He also serves as U.N. special adviser to the secretary-general on community-based medicine and lessons from Haiti.

“Paul Farmer has changed the way we approach global health, and in doing so has improved the lives of countless people in Haiti and around the world,” Fischer said. “Recognizing that AIDS is about more than just the HIV virus, but also about race and sexuality, political policies and discrimination, he has forced us to look at the structures that lead to infection and illness. He continues to inspire.”

Farmer is an advocate for Haitians, Haiti, and the universal right to health care. He has written extensively on health, human rights, and the consequences of social inequality. His most recent books are In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez; Reimagining Global Health: An Introduction; andTo Repair the World: Paul Farmer Speaks to the Next Generation.

Nashville Teacher Winner CLASP National Teaching Award

In 2014, CLASP established the CLASP Teaching Award for K-12 Educators to recognize excellence and innovation in the teaching of Latin America and/or the Caribbean among elementary, middle, and high school teachers. “Each year the award process highlights exceptional educators from the across the country and brings to light inspiring teaching practices,” said Keira Philipp-Schnurer, chair of the CLASP Outreach Committee.

From among the outstanding teachers nominated in 2017, CLASP recognizes Anne Moctezuma-Baker as the winner of the CLASP Teaching Award for K-12 Educators. The award was publicly announced April 29, 2017, at the 51st International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association in Lima, Peru.

Moctezuma-Baker has taught Spanish for six years at Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet School in Nashville, Tennessee, a public school nationally recognized for academic achievement. In nominating Moctezuma-Baker for this award, Lisa Finelli, Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt University, observed that “Anne is set apart as an impressive educator with an undeniable dedication to infusing Latin American culture in her classroom and community. She certainly goes beyond the textbook by seeking a variety of opportunities to weave Latin America into her classroom through music, dance, cultural activities, and opportunities. Anne’s student, Jalisa, states that she credits Ms. Moctezuma for not only helping her learn but experience Latin American culture right in the classroom.”

This depth and richness of teaching can be traced, according to Moctezuma-Baker, to her roots in Mexico, where she was born and where she lived for sixteen years. And while she self-admittedly draws on her personal experiences to enrich the classroom experience for her students, she also acknowledges the diversity of Latin American perspectives and voices by inviting other Latin American speakers into her classroom.

The CLASP Outreach Committee, upon learning of Moctezuma-Baker’s extensive work within and beyond her classroom, were as impressed as Finelli by Moctezuma-Baker’s exceptional dedication to bringing Latin American culture and history to her students. As committee member Lindsey Engelman (Public Engagement Coordinator, University of Texas at Austin) noted, “Some of the many ways she does this is incorporating her own experiences living in Mexico into daily conversations in the classroom, exploring Latin American culture through art and literature, and bringing in speakers from all different parts of Latin America to share knowledge with her students. Additionally, the committee was impressed by Anne’s great efforts to share Latin American culture with the entire school, such as putting on Day of the Dead and Hispanic Heritage Month activities for the school and starting a Latin American dance club — activities that promote cultural awareness and understanding about Latin America beyond the classroom walls.”

CLASP member institutions nominate teachers for consideration of the award. Moctezuma-Baker was nominated by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Latin American Studies.

The awards are administered by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) and decided by the CLASP Outreach Committee, which was comprised of the following individuals in 2017: Keira Philipp-Schnurer, University of New Mexico (chair); Molly Aufdermauer, Stanford University; Emily Chávez, UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American Studies; Lindsey Engelman, University of Texas at Austin; Lisa Finelli, Vanderbilt University; Karen Goldman, University of Pittsburgh; Luciano Marzulli, University of Utah; Alfio Saitto of Indiana University-Bloomington; and Denise Woltering-Vargas, Tulane University.

CLASP’s mission is to promote all facets of Latin American Studies throughout the world. Its broad range of activities includes the encouragement of research activities, funding for professional workshops, advancement of citizen outreach activities, and development of teaching aids for the classroom.


More information about CLASP and the K-12 Teaching award can be found at 


2017 Américas Award Winners Announced

Lima, Peru–April 30, 2017–Susan Hood, author of Ada’s Violin and Alexandra Diaz, author of The Only Road, win the 2017 Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The award links the Americas by reaching beyond geographic borders and multicultural-international boundaries, focusing upon cultural heritages within the hemisphere.

Up to two annual book awards are given in recognition of U.S. published works that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. An additional two titles may be recognized as Honorable Mentions, along with a list of Commended Titles. Books are considered for their distinctive literary quality, cultural contextualization, integration of text and illustration, and potential for classroom use.

The announcement was made today by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) during the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) meeting held April 29-May 1, 2017, in Lima, Peru.  The award-winning authors will be recognized at a ceremony held September 22, 2017, during Hispanic Heritage Month at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Members of the 2017 Américas Award Selection Committee include David Campos of San Antonio, TX; Emily Chávez of Durham, NC; Denise Croker of Nashville, TN; Paula Mason of Waukesha, WI; and Maria Sheldon of Santa Fe, NM.

The awards are administered by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) and coordinated by both Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies and Vanderbilt University’s Center for Latin American Studies. Generous support is also provided by Florida International University, Stanford University, University of Florida, University of New Mexico, University of Utah, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

CLASP’s mission is to promote all facets of Latin American Studies throughout the world. Its broad range of activities include the encouragement of research activities, funding for professional workshops, advancement of citizen outreach activities, and development of teaching aids for the classroom. For complete annotations of all titles recognized by the Américas Award, as well as curricular resources for previous winning titles, visit  Follow the Américas Award on Facebook at for current news and author highlights, and join the conversation using #AmericasAward17.

2017 Américas Award Winners

Ada’s Violin written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. ISBN: 978-1481-430-951

The Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay has received international attention because of the extraordinary story of the children living in Cateura, home of the main garbage dump for the capital city of Asunciόn and how they became musicians using instruments made of recycled trash. Many of the townspeople work in the landfill earning as little as two dollars a day. Before the arrival of a consultant engineer to the landfill (Favio Chavez, who happened to be a musician), many of the children had no creative outlets and their futures seemed bleak. Ada’s Violin conveys the beautiful story of a young girl, Ada Rios, whose grandmother signs her up to learn how to play the violin through lessons given by Chavez. When there are more children interested in learning about music than there are instruments, Chavez turns to a local carpenter who begins to make instruments from recycled trash. At last, there are enough instruments for the children. Through diligent practice they develop the expertise to perform concerts for the local community. Their orchestra becomes so good, in fact, that they begin to perform in countries around the world. Coupled with magnificent illustrations, the author provides readers a background on the story, and website and videos links that teachers can use for extension activities, including a web address for how readers can help the orchestra. (Grades K-3)

The Only Road written by Alexandra Diaz. Simon & Schuster, 2016. ISBN: 978-1481457507

The Only Road describes the journey of a teenage boy, Jamie, and his cousin Angela traveling from their hometown in Guatemala to the United States. Author Alexandra Diaz illustrates the many obstacles, uncertainties, hopes, fears, and unexpected blessings that shape the teens’ migration in a way that is both honest and sensitive to its intended young adult audience. This is without a doubt an empathy-building novel. Being able to accompany the main characters through their harsh and humbling trek allows the reader to get a glimpse into what tens of thousands of Central American youth have experienced in recent years. The characters themselves also demonstrate a remarkable courage and humility, often observing the sacrifices that were made for them and acknowledging the even more dangerous and devastating hardships faced by others they meet along the way. Yet Jamie and Angela are not one-dimensional by any means; they are teenagers with human emotions, needs and curiosities. They struggle with each other and with themselves. The sensory-rich prose of this novel allows the reader to be right there with the characters—as they travel hidden in the back of a pickup truck, ride on the notorious bestia, sleep on the floor of a safe house and, through it all, keep going. Classroom discussion on important contemporary issues and universal questions is invited through the many moving events of this story, such as: What happens when life forces one to travel “the only road?” This book also contains a Spanish/English glossary and suggestions for further reading for youth and adults. (Grades 7-10)

2017 Américas Award Honorable Mention Titles

Malaika’s Costume written by Nadia L. Hohn and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher. Groundwood Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-55498-754-2

In Nadia Hohn’s touching and timely picture book, we are introduced to Malaika, a young girl living at home with her Grandma in the Caribbean while her mother is working far away in icebox-like Canada to provide a better life for her family. Told in distinctive Caribbean patois, Malaika’s voice genuinely rings out to the reader, as she describes both her excitement about the upcoming Carnival celebrations, and her feelings of sadness and disappointment in missing her mother on this special holiday. Accompanied by colorful collage-style illustrations by Irene Luxbacher that bring Malaika’s island home alive, the reader is introduced to the costumes and characters of Carnival. There are also numerous significant visual details to catch a young reader’s eye, such as drawings presumably from Malaika herself that provide a window into her emotional state throughout the story. Moreover, Luxbacher does a magnificent job of displaying tender emotion in the expressions of Malaika and her Grandma, adding an even deeper richness to the story. We watch Malaika, with her Grandma’s support, transform an old dusty costume into a bright and beautiful peacock costume. In the process, we witness her emerge as a “shiny and proud and strong” version of herself in the Carnival parade. Hohn’s demonstrates a deft, expert touch in handling challenging topics such as family separation and immigration in a way that speaks sincerely to young readers while presenting a tale of vibrant strength, ingenuity and spirit. (Grades K-3)

The Distance Between Us written by Reyna Grande. Aladdin, Simon & Schuster, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-4814-6371-3

This memoir is the story of Reyna Grande’s journey from childhood in Mexico to becoming an American college graduate and accomplished author.  This story beautifully captures what children who are left behind in Mexico experience as they long to be reunited with their parents who–ironically–have left their homeland to make a better life for them. Grande gracefully reflects on the love she had for her father who had left his family to cross over to the U.S., and recalls the ocean of emotions she experienced when she came to learn that her mother, too, was leaving. She candidly describes how she and her siblings were left under the care of her paternal grandmother who was harsh, and treated them as a burden and nuisance rather than the loving grandchildren they were. Holding true to his promise, her father returns nearly eight years later to cross his children into the United States. Grande does not hold back describing the discord in her life living in Los Angeles under the household of a loving, albeit abusive father. Many readers will be able to identify with themes of the book: loving parents who want the best for their children but at costs that are severe; the struggle to fit in at school while being undocumented and not knowing English; and the power of perseverance despite setbacks that are seemingly unfair. This book proves an engaging read. Grande includes a variety of photos of her family and of important milestones which make the memoir all the more enduring. (Grades 5-9)

2017 Américas Award Commended Titles

Burn Baby Burn written by Meg Medina. Candlewick Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0763674670

Award-winning author Meg Medina evokes the hot summer of 1977 in New York City when disco was king, temperatures were hot, and Son of Sam was on the loose. Seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez would just like to have fun in her senior year of high school, earn money in her part-time job at the hardware store, and go to discos with her friend Kathleen, but complications get in the way. Though she is academically talented, she feels torn about applying to college since her parents are divorced, her father is busy with his new family, and her first-generation Cuban mother relies on her to help at home and keep her increasingly challenging brother in line. Even when she experiences her first romance with Paulie, a college boy she meets at work, the fear of being caught by Son of Sam is a looming shadow over the relationship. She also carries the shadow of secrets she keeps from Paulie, her mother, her best friend, and even herself. Adult readers will enjoy this book for the cultural allusions to 1970s, especially in the clothing and music. Teen readers will appreciate this engaging, honest coming-of-age tale, layered with conflicts between first- and second-generation immigrants – family members who love each other, but who do not see the world in the same way. Medina writes powerfully, as she did with Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, and she does not shy away from including violence or strong language. (Grades 8-12)

Juana & Lucas written by Juana Medina. Candlewick Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0763672089

Energetic narrator Juana is quick to tell us what she loves, such as her hometown of Bogotá, her best friend Juli, drawing, and her furry canine friend, Lucas. Her very strong dislikes include her hot and itchy uniform—not at all conducive to playing fútbol at recess—and as we find out, “the English” she is expected to learn in school, full of impossible sounds like TH and Ws. With charm and stubborn persistence, Juana leads the reader on her initially reluctant journey to learn English. As she consults with family and friends, she begins realizing the many benefits of learning the language. In particular, her “abue,” short for Grandpa, tells her of how useful of a tool learning English has been for him, as it helped him in his education as a future neurosurgeon studying in the United States, and allowed him to make many more friends along the way. He also announces that knowing English would be especially valuable on an upcoming trip to Spaceland in Florida, where they’ll be going as a family. While this proves to be a large incentive, and one that speaks to her family’s socioeconomic privilege, Juana eventually learns the most important lesson of all: languages open doorways to other cultures, and the possibility to meet new friends around the world. With delightful illustrations and scattered Spanish throughout, Juana’s story succeeds in offering a slice of one spirited girl’s life in Bogotá, Colombia and the often challenging, but rewarding process of language learning. (Grades 2-4)

Lion Island written by Margarita Engle. Simon & Schuster, 2016. ISBN: 978-1481461122

This book of stories through first-person poems reveals an important part of Cuban history, that of the Chinese indentured servants brought to the island and other Chinese descendants who escaped to find refuge there in the late 19th century. Margarita Engle has used historical research and testimony to bring alive three main characters, Antonio Chuffat, Wing, and Fan. Their lives are shaped by love, loss, and the rare seized opportunity. Through these characters we see how Chinese identities and culture is maintained but also impacted by the burden of forced or low-wage labor and the need to resist. The poetic narratives also illustrate differences in mobility and opportunity for men and women.  We hear through Fan’s voice the perspective of a young woman who must find means of survival and expression that are distinct from her brother. The book raises simple but profound questions about resistance, its purpose and how it is effectively enacted; we see in the characters that some are called to violence, some to words, and others to art. Through the poetic testimonies of indentured and enslaved people in Lion Island, we see what it can mean to be a “warrior of words.” We see the power of stories. The larger narrative that is told is about fighting for both personal and collective freedom. The concept of honoring the past while manifesting strength and endurance to create a better future runs throughout this compelling text.

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth written by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raúl the Third. Chronicle Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1452123431

Cathy Camper’s book, Lowriders in Space, is, as the title promises, a chopped and channeled rolling ride of a story. The three best friends, Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria and El Chavo Flapjack make young readers feel like they are right there, in the low rider chop shop, dreaming with Lupe, El Chavo, and Elirio, of winning a low rider contest and a wheel of solid gold. As the adventure, and the low rider, take shape, the three friends take a detour, into – well, yes, space! The modern textures of the culturally rich and flamboyant world of custom cars leads the reader into a study of the stars, of astronomy and of how humans have followed the stars since the beginning of time.  The loyalties and challenges the trio face in the building of their low rider are funny, and engaging because readers can see themselves in them. Readers are delighted by the time-warp Camper creates as she skillfully draws familiar themes and images from Mexican culture, and makes puns in the tradition of the mariachi as she invents new lyrics. The easy switches between languages and cultures, between story and science with the result that students revisit this book, and delight in sharing it with others, time after time. (Grades 3-6)

Mamá the Alien / Mamá La Extraterrestre written by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Laura Lacámara. Children’s Book Press, Lee & Low Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-0892392988

This whimsical book with colorful illustrations takes on the important topic of immigration. When she looks at her mother’s old driver’s license, Sofia discovers that her mother is an “alien,” and she first imagines that her mother comes from another planet, and that she must have alien friends who visit her in flying saucers. After a funny mix-up, Sofia learns that her mother’s license means that she was labeled a “Resident Alien,” and that card indicated that she was allowed to live and work in the United States legally. Since then, she become a Permanent Resident, and the book ends as her mother celebrates becoming a citizen of the U.S. While the book does not discuss the negative connotations of the term “alien,” it does introduce key concepts of immigration to younger readers. The fanciful book is bilingual, and it includes a short glossary of Spanish terms. In the author’s note, she remarks, “I want readers to know that immigrants may be referred to as aliens, but this only means they come from other countries. We are all citizens of the planet Earth.” (Grades K-3)

Margarito’s Forest / El Bosque de Don Margarito written by Andy Carter and illustrated by Allison Havens. Hard Ball Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0997979701

This true story, set in a remote village in the mountains of central Guatemala, helps explain one Maya family’s understanding of living in harmony with nature. Margarito’s forest was inspired by Don Margarito and his lifelong commitment to the ecology of his community.  After a young Esteban complains of having to carry a seedling tree to his grandmother’s house, he is told the extraordinary story of Don Margarito’s adventures learning about the varied benefits of his country’s woodland plants and trees. Don Margarito planted trees throughout his life despite the ridicule he faced from some villagers. Readers find out how his forest proved beneficial to the community, including being the perfect hiding place that saved his family during an attack on his village. Unfortunately, Don Margarito perished in that war, but his daughter, Maria Guadalupe, continues to tend to his forest to this day. At the story’s conclusion, readers find Don Margarito’s great-grandson, Esteban, honoring his great-grandfather and his forest. The unique illustrations combine artwork from a professional illustrator and the children of an elementary school where the story is set. This bilingual English/Spanish story includes photographs; captions in the indigenous Mayan language spoken in Margarito’s village, Saq Ja’; and an explanation of Maya numbers. The author also provides ten study questions for teachers, librarians, and parents. (Grades K-5)

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat written by Javaka Steptoe. Hachette Book Group, 2016. ISBN: 978-0316213882

Javaka Steptoe’s most recent gift to readers of all ages is, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Steptoe, with color and theme, reveals the true and tragic events of Jean-Michel Basquiat in a way that redeems the artist and makes his brilliant work accessible. Steptoe guides the young reader into the realization that art was a path to success, and that almost anything can motivate a young person to make beautiful things that inspire others. Young readers learn from the simple, elegantly bold images Steptoe creates to illustrate Basquiat’s talent, persistence, and the challenges he faced. The messiness of these colorful, textured layers suggests to young readers a joy in creating art that is not constrained by rules. In simple words and phrases young readers see the world as a more complex place, one where beauty grows out of tragedy in wild, expressive, and even popular ways. They experience a short, brilliant life thru images they can make while learning to temper themselves at the same time, learning thru Steptoe’s story that it is better to climb a ladder than to ride a rocket to success over the course of a long, happy lifetime. (Grades K-3)

Rainbow Weaver – Tejedora del arcoirís written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri. Children’s Book Press, Lee & Low Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-0892393749

This is the story of Ixchel, a young Guatemalan girl who wants to weave beautiful fabrics just as her mother does, and as Maya women have done for generations. Because she cannot use the expensive thread her mother needs for her own weavings to sell at the market, Ixchel creates her own weavings, first with articles from nature, then from an unusual source: the colorful plastic bags that litter the village and fields. Her rainbow weavings have “blues as a clear as the sky, reds as bright as the flowers, and yellows as golden as the corn.” With her weavings, Ixchel is able to help pay for her own books and schooling. This colorful book celebrates the tradition of Maya artistry and emphasizes Ixchel’s girl power and ingenuity. The story is bilingual, told in English and Spanish, but it also points out that there are 23 different Mayan languages spoken in different regions of Guatemala. Ixchel’s language is Kaqchikel, and a glossary and pronunciation guide of key Kaqchikel terms are included. As the Author’s note mentions, “The Mayan people in contemporary Guatemala are among the most skilled, artistic weavers in the world. Yet they face many problems: poverty, lack of education, and employment.” Ixchel’s fictional tale illustrates one way to address these problems. This charming book could be connected with themes of recycling and repurposing, Maya culture, girls’ education, art, and languages. (Grades K-3)

Shame the Stars written by Guadalupe García McCall. Lee & Low Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1620142783

In Guadalupe García McCall’s Shame the Stars, she sets the tone of her novel with an explosive bang, by opening with an anonymous poem published in the local newspaper advising Tejanos that “these are dangerous/times in South Texas/times of trouble/times of loss.” At the center of this historical novel set in the borderland region of Texas and Mexico in 1915, a simmering tension can be felt between the native-born Tejanos, who have called this land home for generations, and the Anglo Rangers, spearheaded by the corrupt and power-hungry Captain Munro. Meanwhile, with the Mexican Revolution rapidly transforming the landscape south of the border, we meet Joaquín and Dulceña, two teenagers bound together in a Romeo and Juliet-style romance, as their families quarrel over how to best speak out for justice in their town. As the plot rapidly thickens, readers will take note of many relevant and modern themes at the heart of this very well-researched work, which the author infuses with real newspaper clippings from the era. Shame the Stars easily sparks discussions around concepts such as the freedom of speech, the role of a free and independent press, and female leadership in a male-dominated world. Students and educators will find this fast-moving novel to be both educational and exciting in its presentation of the past, and García McCall will keep readers racing to the end to find what becomes not only of Joaquín and Dulceña, but also their community as a whole as it reaches a significant crux in its history.  (Grades 6-12)

Somos Como Los Nubes / We are Like the Clouds written by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Alfonso Ruano. Groundwood Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1554988495

Jorge Argueta’s poetry and Alfonso Ruano’s images complement each other beautifully in this thoughtfully crafted book. The pages are full of both fantastical, whimsical, dream-like images and realistic illustrations, many showing the harsher aspects of life during migration from Central America and Mexico to the United States. The poems reveal both the fragility and strength of humanity. Familial relationships, especially between parent and child, are made into metaphorical comparisons with the celestial–sky, stars and the moon, those things which are eternal—even while the time and space of physical togetherness can be so fleeting. The poems offer a balance between the specifics of where the first-person narrator is from, what they remember, and what they will leave behind with the collective experience shared by many migrants from several countries who become, through the passage from global South to North, “a huge family of stars.” Pride, fear, victory and longing run through the pages. The poems are relatable and accessible. Through clear, simple description and colorful figurative language, this book creates a window into the journeys of migration taken by many millions of Central American and Mexican children and adults who move miraculously across miles—“like clouds.” (Grades 3-5)

The Memory of Light written by Francisco X. Stork. Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, 2016. ISBN: 978-0545474320

“How can you love someone and still try to kill yourself?” That is the question Vicky Cruz tries to answer for herself when she wakes up in a mental ward for teenagers after her suicide attempt. While the book begins in this jarring way, the journey that Vicky takes to heal is a profound and realistic one. Though she is in an under-funded public hospital in San Antonio that her status-conscious father wishes she would leave, after her initial resistance, Vicky decides that she does find relief there and fights to stay. More and more she is intrigued by her fellow Group Therapy Members: Mona, Gabriel, and E.M., and what they and Dr. Desai can teach her about handling the complications in her own life. Latin American culture is a backdrop to this novel that is chiefly about fighting depression, staying true to yourself, and re-knitting broken family bonds. There are, however, elements in Vicky’s and other characters’ lives that illustrate a multi-faceted, non-stereotypical view of Latin Americans and their quest to achieve the American Dream in the U.S. Inspired in part by the author’s own experience, Francisco X. Stork, author of Marcelo in the Real World, writes a highly engaging, literary novel that will speak to all teens, and provides a powerful message of acceptance and empowerment for anyone struggling with depression. (Grades 9-12)

The Princess and the Warrior written Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016. ISBN: 978-1419721304

The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes is an invitation to young readers to explore different worlds through imagination, culture, and language. In Tonatiuh’s tale, young readers return to an ancient historical and cultural past that speaks to them over the centuries, in the voices of the original people, princes and storytellers from times long past.  The enchanting illustrations which accompany the text seem to jump from the Mixtec codices, brought to life on the pages as the hero wins his prize. Tonatiuh is an award-winning author-illustrator with roots in San Miguel de Allende and New York, reminiscent of the position held in the art world of other Latin American artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Tonatiuh draws from the vibrant culture history and symbolism of the Mixteca, to resolve the struggles of self-definition thru the story of the Princess and the Warrior in a special way that young readers today embrace and devour, again and again. (Grades K-3)

The School the Aztec Eagles Built written by Dorinda Makanaōnalani Nicholson. Lee & Low Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1600604409

In this wonderfully well-researched work, author Dorinda Makanaōnalani Nicholson transports readers to a time of heightened global tensions during World War II as viewed through the relationship between Mexico and the United States. Nicholson excels at providing strong historical context as she first walks through periods of conflict between the two nations dating back to the 1830s and eventually to a time of cooperation in the early 1940s after both countries suffered wartime attacks. One example of such cooperation was Mexican president Ávila Camacho’s promise to send 30 of Mexico’s best pilots to fight alongside Americans in the Pacific. Nicholson simultaneously begins weaving in the inspirational story of Ángel Bocanegra, a dedicated teacher from the state of Morelos who enlists in the Mexican military. We learn that Bocanegra formed part of Mexico’s elite air fighter Squad 201, aka the “Aztec Eagles.” Before leaving for training, Bocanegra requested that a much-needed school building be constructed in his hometown, where he and his wife Laura both worked as educators. As this thrilling real-life story unfolds, readers have the opportunity to closely follow along with Ángel and his compatriots as they confront cross-cultural challenges, prepare and engage in combat, and persevere in their wartime mission. Large, well-situated photographs, together with posters and maps, capture the atmosphere of this time and undoubtedly bring this story to life while leaving readers with a deep sense of appreciation for the sacrifices and enduring legacy of Ángel Bocanegra and the other members of the “Aztec Eagles.” (Grades 4-6)