Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Part 5

By Andrea García, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, and Carmen Martínez-Roldán, Universtiy of Texas, Austin, TX

Stories, novels, are the truth according to character… you are not talking about the truth universally, you are talking about the particular individual embodiment of different truths. — Julia Alvarez (2009, Radio interview KUER)

Whether multicultural literature is alien or exotic is not inherent in itself, but rather lies in the perception of the reader. From the perspective of marginalized ethnic groups this new category of literature is not alien or exotic at all. Instead, it represents their world, reflecting their images and voices. When it is incorporated into the curriculum, children from these groups find characters with whom to identify in the books they read in school. (Cai, 2002, p. 11)

Graffiti Board response to Return to Sender

In the last decade, much has been written about the multiple and contested meanings of multicultural literature. In particular, scholars focusing on this issue caution that different definitions of what constitutes multicultural education may impact the ways in which this type of literature is used in the classroom. Making a distinction between a pedagogical and a literary definition of multicultural literature, Cai (2002) writes that, “the pedagogical definition of multicultural literature is predicated on the goal that this category of literature is supposed to achieve: Creating a multicultural curriculum and implementing multicultural education” (p. 4). In this respect, multicultural literature has the potential to help expand the curriculum and bring a pluralistic perspective, one that is inclusive and democratic versus exclusive and hegemonic.
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Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Part 4

By Andrea García, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, and Carmen Martínez-Roldán, Universtiy of Texas, Austin, TX

Image of graffiti board in response to Return to Sender

In their discussion of Return to Sender, our students expressed some of their transactions with and responses to the text through the use of Graffiti Boards. In each collective graffiti created by the teacher candidates, specific reference to the letters written by Mari appears as an important element of those transactions with the story.
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Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Part 3

By Andrea García, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, and Carmen Martínez-Roldán, Universtiy of Texas, Austin, TX

“The girls told me about how they build altars to their relatives who have died, most especially the ones who’ve died in the last year,” Grandma is explaining. “So I asked them if they’d help me do one for Gramps. I don’t call it an altar,” Grandma quickly adds as if she might get in trouble with Reverend Hollister at church… “I call it a memory table.”
Drawing of a reader response diagram for Return to Sender
In Return to Sender, Alvarez’ storytelling weaves together the cultural practices that define her characters’ interactions with their worlds. Friendship, hard work, loss, and family ties, are all deeply shared values and experiences that influence how each individual character defines his/her role within the narrative.

Through events such as the transformation of the Mexican practice of creating “altars” into what Tyler’s Grandma defines as a “memory table,” we are reminded of the dynamic and ever-changing nature of culture (Nieto, 1999). Like González (2005) indicates, our day-to-day practices are always informed by multiple cultural systems, which in turn help us develop a hybrid and intercultural knowledge base of the world.

This week, we invite readers to consider the ways in which Mari and Tyler begin to discover and understand each other’s cultural identities by sharing and learning about their cultural practices. From sharing El Día de los Muertos to sharing star-gazing at night, Alvarez’ story is rich with cultural encounters between what is considered the majority and the minority culture in this story.
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Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez, Part 2

By Andrea García, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, and Carmen Martínez-Roldán, Universtiy of Texas, Austin, TX

Literature educates not only the head, but the heart as well. It promotes empathy and invites readers to adopt new perspectives. It offers opportunities for children to learn to recognize our similarities, value our differences, and respect our common humanity. In an important sense, then children need literature that serves as a window onto lives and experiences different from their own, and literature that serves as a mirror reflecting themselves and their cultural values, attitudes, and behaviors. Bishop, cited in Wolf, 2003.

Literature can become a conduit-a door-to engage children in social practices that function for social justice. Botelho & Rudman, 2009, p. 1

graffiti board for return to sender Continue reading

Living Between Two Cultures: A Digital Literature Discussion of Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez

By Andrea García, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, and Carmen Martínez-Roldán, Universtiy of Texas, Austin, TX

In our work as Latina teacher educators, we prepare teachers to be successful literacy educators in a multilingual world. In our teaching, we use high quality children’s and adolescent literature in order to invite our students to read multiculturally (Hade, 1997). That is, through small group and whole class literature discussions, we engage pre-service and in-service teachers to make personal connections with the literature and to take a critical stance to explore questions that often reveal the many sociopolitical forces shaping the education of minority students in the United States. These include interpreting signs of power, race, class, and equity, among others, as they are represented in the literature.

In the past, we have selected books that address some of the familiar challenges encountered by recent immigrants to the United States, including the process of adapting to a new schooling practices and language learner. We have also used books that describe the day-to-day complexities of living in between two cultures from the perspective of cultural insiders. Examples include A Step from Heaven by An Na (2001), Tangled Threads by Pegi Deitz Shea (2003) or Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat (2002)

This semester, Carmen and Andrea have planned for a Digital Literature Discussion Project with students enrolled in a graduate teacher preparation program in New York, and in an undergraduate program in Texas. During the month of March, our WOW Current posts will help to facilitate an online literature discussion of Return to Sender. This latest book by outstanding Latina writer Julia Alvarez, was recently announced as the recipient of the American Library Association’s prestigious Pura Belpré Award, which every year recognizes excellence in children and adolescent literature that “best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.”
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