A CHILDREN’S BOOK THAT HONORS CHICANX STUDENTS CULTURAL AND LINGUISTIC HERITAGE
It was an honor to write a blog post promoting Isabel Quintero’s book, My Papi Has a Motorcycle, for many reasons, but one of them is because I also grew up in Southern California. The illustrations, Zeke Peña, created resonated with me because they reflected store icons, like the panadería, and murals, like the one about migrant workers marching for justicia, that I grew up seeing in my hometown of Santa Ana, CA. This multicultural and multilingual book, Mi Papi tiene una motocicleta (also available in Spanish) offers readers a description of the rich linguistic and cultural background of a little girl, Daisy Ramona, and her father cruising through their (gentrifying) neighborhood.
The book starts off with Daisy describing her Papí and the kind of construction work he does, but also his love for motorcycles. The misconception that exists in our nation that bilingual and Latinx students “do not have the vocabulary they need to succeed in school” is problematized with Daisy explaining, “From [my Papí] I’ve learned words like carburetor and cariño, drill, and dedication.” Teachers could use this as a way to start a conversation with students about the kind of work their parents do. By inviting parents into the classroom to share about their (cultural) funds of knowledge (Moll, 2005) related to their occupation or their culture teachers validate students backgrounds and place value on the knowledge their parents share with them.
As a scholar and practitioner of bilingual education, this is also an ideal book to talk about gentrification and the implications it can have on communities of color. For example, the closing of the raspados (shaved ice) shop and the construction of new homes are both signs that a neighborhood is changing. Gentrification is the notion that by changing a neighborhood to reflect “White and middle class” norms, it is also perceived as an “improvement” to the existing community. Daisy gives readers a different perspective about her beloved community. The author and the illustrator do a wonderful job portraying what Daisy values about her unique barrio: the people who live there! Educators could also discuss the shops that are reflected in the book such as the tortillería, panadería,and the raspados y carnecería. These are iconic neighborhood stores in traditionally Mexican communities in the U.S. where pan dulce (sweet bread), tortillas, and raspados (shaved ice), and meat are sold.
Teachers could also use this book as an opportunity to invite other languages, like Spanish, into the classroom. Daisy is bilingual and draws from her linguistic repertoire to share about her Latinx friends, family and the community they live in Southern California. In fact, the use of Spanish and English is woven throughout the book in a way that elevates the status of Spanish, which is crucial especially in the U.S. context. Quintero literally placed Spanish above English when translated. Quintero also, at times, leaves out the English translation because it simply is not necessary, or perhaps she wrote the book with bilingual children in mind who do not need translations. Most importantly, Quintero uses Spanish and English in, what I like to think of as the authentic ways individuals from bilingual communities speak. For example, Daisy’s Papí asks a co-worker in Spanish, “Trabajando duro, muchachos?” and the co-worker responds in English, “A little bit, not too much.” They are using different languages, but understand one another and do not need to translate: linguistic brilliance.
I do hope all readers enjoy this book and are able to see it as either mirroring their own community or a window into another community and as an opportunity to learn about people who may be different than themselves. Lastly, my favorite part about this book was that it illustrated people of color doing everyday things in life and just being themselves. Those kind of high quality books about people of color are hard to come by! Isabel and Zeke, thank you for sharing such a beautiful story! I fell in love with it!