The Love for Knowledge Starts at Home
“If reading bears fruit, let the trees read,” said the writing on a Ministry of Education’s wall in the city I lived a few years ago. Some scolded teenager wrote it after begging his teacher for a passing grade, and not getting it.
But even a cringe-worthy message such as this, requires some literacy, even if was obtained through a “Coquito” edition.
Vanessa Nielsen Molina, from Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, is the mastermind behind Sol Book Box, a service focused on providing families with books in Spanish. The idea came about by sheer boredom of the same books at libraries and bookstores.
“My husband and I wanted our kids to grow up bilingual and I noticed that there were services like this for books in English but not Spanish.”
A city like ours – the sixth largest in the country and with a 40% Latinx population–, should have more than one bookstore with a good selection of books in Spanish, Barns & Noble’s doesn’t cut it and the Spanish section at Bookman’s or Half Price Books is very limited with sporadic treasures (if you know any in La Phoenikera please suggest them).
“It mesmerizes me that in a country as diverse as this one, where so many cultures coexist, there isn’t an interest in learning other languages like in Europe where the majority of people are fluent in 3 or 4. I believe that’s why people, and not only Latinxs, should feel proud of their culture,” says Vanessa.
Under a system that more frequently and shamelessly tries to undermine people of color, Sol Book Box is relevant, it makes it possible for kids to see their culture reflected in books written in Spanish.
When ignorance is king and idolized, it’s vital to go back to the oldest source of wisdom: books. No foolz, the interwebs don’t count.
Vanessa is a bit of a bookworm, reading has always been an important part of her life, starting with Harriet The Spy and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler, all the way to her more hippic choices during her teenage years.
She left Nuevo Casas Grandes at 18 to go to college in Utah and got a bachelor’s in Latin American Studies. Initially, the plan was to work for an embassy or hold some diplomatic office, but sometimes plans have other plans.
After graduating she moved to La Phoenikera to pursue a master’s in communication at ASU and work her way into the marketing/public relations industry, which she did for a few years.
After devising Sol Book Box’s concept and execution, navigating through unforeseen details endemic of startups (in her case, choosing a manufacturer for the boxes, their design, insurance, providers, etc.), Sol Book Box delivered its first boxes earlier this year and since then subscriptions have gone up.
In the near future, Vanessa wants to focus on establishing a nonprofit that offers the same service to lower-income rural communities where kids can’t access books in Spanish.
If Vanessa’s lil’ lectora approves, then the book is good to go, or maybe if Vanessa likes it or her partner suggests it. Ramón Preocupón (“Worrisome Ramón”) by Anthony Browne is a good example. This story based on Guatemalan lore is hella cool.
In short, it’s about a worrisome boy whose bedtime gets constantly hijacked by anguish. One day his grandma’ suggests to tell all his concerns to these figurines called “quitapesares” (“worry snatchers”) and to place them under his pillow. According to the story, they take care of the rest.
The point of the 30-dolla-a-month subscription is not just to ship a book, but to include toys and goodies to make reading time a culturally relevant and interactive experience.
But some say Latinxs don’t read, let alone with their kids, right?
It’s true that a lot of parents are hesitant to read to their kids in Spanish because of the misconstrued notion that if you do, their academic performance is hindered or they’ll get confused. It has been proven that the idea is a steaming pile of fresh caca. On the contrary, all evidence shows that the benefits of a bilingual or multilingual brain are insurmountable.
The assumption that Latinxs don’t read for themselves or their offspring is mistaken and shameful according to Vanessa. In any case, she believes that these “certainties” should be refuted, instill reading habits onto kids at home, find ways to keep them curious, and also guide them to find value in their bilingualism. This is especially important when there’s evidence that supports that reading is so closely related to academic success and graduation rates.
Someone I deeply admire and who helped determine the course of my life would always harass me asking what I was reading. It didn’t matter what genre, author or title (sometimes he would give me shit for reading comics), so long I was reading something. “At last read the dictionary, waway,” he’d say. Sol Book Box brings the opportunity for kids to have access to relevant reading materials in Spanish, so they can constantly be reading something.
In the age of imbecility, when ethnic studies are censored; when immigrants and people of color are openly denigrated; in which scientific evidence is constantly dismissed and leisure is wasted in front of a screen; when women are still dehumanized and men still try to legislate their bodies and when the rights of LGBTQ communities are stomped upon, the most powerful resistance is education, culture, and art.
So tell me ¿What are you reading?