The Importance of Family: Learning through Our Heritage

By Josh Hill, Kami Gillette, and Julia López-Robertson, University of South Carolina

Bishop (1990) discusses texts as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Texts, Bishop explains, allow children to see into another person’s reality and should also allow children to see themselves and their own realities in a book. The three texts we discuss this month, Valerie Muñoz’s story, Los Hormigueros, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, and One Crazy Summer, can serve as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors and provide clear examples of Yosso’s (2005) notion of Community Cultural Wealth, specifically of familial and resistant capital.

All three stories show the importance of family–birth family and/or family that was created–and the importance of learning about one’s culture. In Los Hormigueros, Valerie talks about both a physical and emotional journey; she and her family travel from their home in the United States to Mexico. She sees the family homestead and lands, meets her abuelos, and learns about making dulce de leche from her abuela. While Evelyn doesn’t travel, her abuela does–she comes from Puerto Rico to live with Evelyn and her family. Evelyn does have an emotional journey though; she learns more about her family’s history of resistance along with seeing pictures of her abuelo. And even though their relationship is rocky at the beginning, [Evelyn resented abuela for taking over her bedroom], Evelyn learns to appreciate her abuela and her fight for justice. In One Crazy Summer, the Gaither sisters travel from New York City to California to visit their mother. Initially, the girls do not feel loved or cared for by their mother as she ignores them, and sends them out of the house to a summer camp. However, by the end of the book the three sisters realize that their mother does care about them.

As an African American who grew up in the south, I [Kami] have experienced similar situations as the Gaither girls in One Crazy Summer and as Evelyn did in The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano. The Gaither girl’s grandma, Big Ma, is the elder in their family and the one looked to for guidance. She does the best she can to teach them what she thinks is right. I reminisced about some the etiquette rules she teaches the girls, especially on how to act when in public among White people. It reminds me of how my grandmother would impose a mini lecture on me and my cousins before we went out in public. Similar to the events in these books, I attended camps that provided meals as a way to build community and keep us out of trouble. It is particularly interesting to see that this has taken place throughout history in communities of color. Although I did not travel to another country to see family members, I did travel to spend time with my father’s side of the family. I relate to learning new recipes like the dulce de leche. I distinctly remember watching a hog’s meat be removed, cleaned and cooked for a cookout. It was traumatizing but definitely a new experience for me with my family. It brought my cousin and me closer as we experienced it together for the first time.

I [Josh] am not a person of color. I am white. I did not travel to another country to meet family like Valerie Muñoz and I knew my grandparents from an earlier age than it seems Valerie did. Reading and discussing The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano and One Crazy Summer, I learned about some of the ways that People of Color have resisted oppression. The Black Panthers worked in their community not only to agitate for external change, but they brought change to their communities as well. They created summer camps for children to provide them a safe place to go when school was not in session, they provided meals to the community, and they taught the community, especially the children, their cultural history. The Young Lords in The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano serve a similar purpose. They not only agitate for external change, but they unite a community. They bring the community together for meals and for education. These books provide a way for someone who is not a cultural insider to see and experience the African-American community in One Crazy Summer and the Puerto Rican community in The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano.

These three texts, Los Hormigueros, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, and One Crazy Summer, can be windows and mirrors for students. They help students learn about families and cultures that are not their own. And possibly more importantly, they help students of Color to learn about some of their cultural history and see themselves in the books they are reading. As we discussed in earlier posts, Yosso (2005) offers the idea that Communities of Color have their own cultural wealth that is not always valued [by “mainstream” society]. The awareness that students gain from reading books that are not about white, male characters, serves as an example of resistant capital. These texts give young girls of color a mirror to view their own experiences and resist the notion that books should not reflect their experiences.

Taken together, the ideas of Bishop (1990) and Yosso (2005) allow educators to use texts to connect with and support children of color. Children of Color are supported when they see representations of themselves in the texts they read; they see that stories do not have to be about others, they can be about them. We also support Children of Color by providing them with stories that allow them to see that there is a well-documented history of People of Color who have helped [and continue to help] their communities. When students read texts and see stories such as these about their communities, their culture, and their history, it further disrupts the single story that Adichie (2009) discusses in her TED talk and provides children of color a more complete view of their world.

References
• Adichie, C. (2009). The danger of a single story. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
• Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3), Ix-Xi.
• Manzano, S. (2012). The revolution of Evelyn Serrano. Scholastic
• Williams-Garcia, R. (2010). One Crazy Summer. Amistad.
• Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. https://doi.org/10.1080/1361332052000341006

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