2023 marks 43 years since Jimmy Carter declared via a Presidential Proclamation that the week of March 8th would be “Women’s History Week.” In his message President Carter said, it's time for “libraries, schools, and community organizations to focus their observances on the leaders who struggled for equality.”
Seven years later, in 1987, Congress passed Public Law 100-9, choosing March as “Women’s History Month.” I was born around the time PL 100-9 passed and yet I have few memories of school-wide celebrations or a focus on the courageous, brave women that fought to be seen, represented, and valued just as much as their male peers at my local library. Luckily, there has been an improvement in representation of women (and here I’d like to focus on Latina women specifically). For example, just search for Latina authors and you’ll get a variety of successful, NYT’s bestselling Latina authors; on TV, Jenna Ortega’s, Wednesday Addams topped Netflix’s most watched list for weeks; and, in music, Latinas are making their mark on the music industry and bringing in the big bucks.
But there’s still a lot of work to be done. In 2018, only 3 percent of employees in book publishing identified as Latine/x. This lack of representation directly affects the types of books we see on bookshelves, and this is where Sol Book Box comes into play, a book subscription service that prides itself on diversity, inclusivity, and makes it easier for busy parents to create a shared cultural landscape where Latine/x stories and people are visible. With that in mind, I’d like to share a recent conversation I had with a fellow Latina mom that really conveyed the importance of representation in our homes.
On a breezy, cool Miami day, as our kids played tag, Mama X and I shot the literary breeze and exchanged our favorite recent reads when we swayed into a conversation on representation in the media and, more specifically, as it pertained to POC and women. From this we moved on to discussing my kiddo’s favorite books, one of which is a series of famous women in history. Mama X was surprised that my kiddo, who was born male would be interested in “a girl’s book.” This got me thinking about how often I’d read books with white male protagonists and never thought twice about the character’s gender (Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Where the Red Fern Grows, the Percy Jackson series, the list goes on...). I then wondered about how widespread this idea of “boy” and “girl” books actually is. Unfortunately, the research shows that girls are more likely to read books with boy protagonists but, frustratingly, the same can’t be said for boys.
This is where intentionality and reflection comes into play. As parents, we have the power to curate our children’s education and experiences. We can highlight women’s stories and put them front and center where they belong and although I think that promoting women and highlighting their achievement should be a year-round endeavor, by thinking critically about our bookshelves and diversifying the types of stories we read we are on our way to expanding our children’s viewpoints. As Christina Escobar, co-founder of LatinaMedia.co said in an article about the importance of boys and girls reading across genders:
"We read to experience a panoply of perspectives. We read to learn of people and situations outside and beyond ourselves, so we can deepen our connection and understanding. We read to prepare for life. It follows, then, that we are raising our boys to dismiss other people's experiences, and to see their needs and concerns as the center of things."
On that note, here are my own personal Latina heroines (and the books that accompany them) to begin our celebrations of Women’s History Month:
A beloved fixture of Cuban salsa music, Celia Cruz was grace and coolness epitomized. As an Afro-Latina, she conquered music at a time when racial and gender inequalities were (even more) widespread and normalized. With her hypnotic smile and powerhouse voice she paved the way for other Latina singers and lovingly reminded us to live our lives with joy, love and AZUCAR!
The first Spanish addition to the best-selling Who Was? board book series is a biography of Celia Cruz celebrating the life and songs of one of the most influential performers of our time.
I am not only a fan of Frida’s artistry but also of her incredible work ethic and grit mindset. Frida, in many ways, was a woman ahead of her times. She dared to live her life authentically and was unafraid to question gender and cultural stereotypes. A bout with childhood polio and a car accident left her with lifelong medical issues and limited use of her body. As respectability.org, a non-profit seeking to destigmatize how society views people with disabilities, states: “The global economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace. People like Kahlo have made a difference.”
A New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2017 based on the life of one of the world's most influential painters, Frida Kahlo, and the animals that inspired her art and life.
I first learned about Pura Belpre through Sol Book Box (another reason to subscribe!). Pura Belpre was the first Puerto Rican librarian in the New York Public Library system. Pura believed that a library’s responsibility included providing services that would directly impact the local community. Pura’s library, located in Harlem, had a large population of Spanish speakers yet had little to no Spanish books for either adults or children - it also didn’t have any bilingual storytimes. Pura sought to change all of this and because of her we now have access to all sorts of diverse programming at libraries across the United States.
This magnificent portrait of the librarian, author, and puppeteer reminds us of the power of storytelling, and of the extraordinary woman who opened the doors and championed the idea of bilingual literature.
The first and only Latina supreme court justice, Sonia Sotomayor is a force to be reckoned with! A proud daughter of immigrants who was raised by a single mom in the projects of NYC she made history by swearing in America’s first female vice president, Kamala Harris. She’s also a successful children’s books author. In her book, Just Ask, she writes about differently abled children and all they have to offer not despite their differences but because of their differences, “I want every child to understand that whatever condition they bear in life, they are special in a good way.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor and award-winning artist Rafael Lopez create a kind and caring book about the differences that make each of us unique.
Karina Batchelor is a Latinx mama from the Magic City that runs on books and cafecito. Her haunts include her local leafy library, her homeschooling cooperative, the warm comfy nook near the window, and the theatre, where she works as a professional dramaturg.