by Janine M. Schall, University of Texas-Pan American, Edinburg, TX
This is the third of a four part interview with author and illustrator Xavier Garza, 2005 América’s Award Honor Book winner. This interview was conducted electronically by Janine Schall.
Janine: All of your picture books are English/Spanish bilingual. What made you decide to write bilingual books?
Xavier: I am a firm believer in the advantages that come from being able to speak more that one language. While I agree that everyone should learn English, I see no reason to give up the tongue of your ancestors. I disagree with those who spout an English only point of view. I find it silly that they would seek to portray an individual’s ability to be bilingual as being something bad. They forget that America isn’t composed of just one culture; she is a varied and diverse nation that is made up of many, many different tongues, traditions and ideas. She is forever changing, never staying constant for too long.
Janine: It’s lovely to hear such a strong defense of bilingualism — even here in the Valley I sometimes hear teachers denigrating Spanish. I imagine that growing up in Rio Grande City it would be difficult not to be bilingual, but was that something that your family and/or schools supported? I noticed that you don’t do your own translations for your books. Why is that?
Xavier: I can communicate be it speaking or writing, but don’t really have a grasp of the commas and accents and such. I do have some input into it, namely asking that words that are more commonly used in the Valley be used. My Spanish is more of a Tex-Mex Spanish such as using the word, ‘carro’ instead of ‘coche’ when talking about a car. I grew up learning Spanish from my dad and grandparents. Spanish was my first language as a child. Prior to entering public school, I was introduced to English by my mom, comic books and Sesame Street.
Janine: It seems to me that your books are grounded in Hispanic themes and traditions. They are popular with the children and teachers I’ve worked with in the RGV, who are mostly Hispanic. Is there an audience for your books outside of Hispanic readers? Lately I’ve been reading a lot about multicultural literature and the publishing industry. There seems to be a perception that books with “minority” characters aren’t going to sell well, which is one reason so few get published.
Xavier: For the most part my books have been very well received. Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask is probably my most popular book that has had the most crossover appeal. It is the one book done by me that is carried by almost all the Barnes and Noble stores. The booming Hispanic popularity in the U.S. has made book publishers take notice. We are an up and coming market, and they know it. In twenty years this misconception about books that have minority characters not selling will be proven wrong. They used to say that minorities didn’t read, and that is beginning to be disproven today. I see nothing but good things for Hispanics in literature.
The video clips below show excerpts from Christina Quesada-Mayne’s read aloud of Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask. She is reading to 2nd and 3rd graders from Ynes B. Escobar Elementary in the Roma Independent School District, Texas. Our thanks to Christina Quesada-Mayne and Gracia Garcia for the videos. (Administrator note: The audio in the first set of clips on the read aloud has a buzz. The second set that includes student responses is clearer.)
How do students respond to Xavier’s books? Below are video clips of 2nd and 3rd graders from Ynes B. Escobar Elementary in Roma, Texas sharing their drawings and art after listening to Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask and Juan and the Chupacabras/Juan y el chupacabras.
Next week Xavier will discuss his illustrations and upcoming work. Janine will also share more student responses to his books.
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