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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Sharing Our Stories: Gloria

By Gloria Suarez, Family and Community Engagement Liaison, Merrick-Moore Elementary School, Durham

My job at Merrick-Moore is to support reciprocal partnerships between parents, the school, and the Durham community. Book Harvest is a generous community partner that provides books for our students in our Family Center, at our family events, and during their Books on Break program. Our students love selecting books provided by Book Harvest, and they have books on a wide range of genres, topics, and reading levels from which to choose. If Book Harvest were able to provide more books that also represent racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, I believe their impact could be even more significant.

Three years ago, I proposed beginning a virtual book club to my four siblings after our brother, David, decided to move to Long Beach to build rockets for an aerospace company. Our other brother, Tomas, had a few months prior, moved to Manhattan because of a job promotion, and it had been challenging for us all to keep in touch with him as he became immersed in a new city and role. I worried that we would continue to drift apart, with another sibling moving away from the Triangle. They agreed to give it a try, and each month, we would rotate the book selection so that everyone’s interests would be incorporated.

When I was young, I loved reading, but I had fallen out of the habit of reading for pleasure in college. I wanted to also use the book club as an opportunity to read stories by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color whose voices had largely been absent in the books from my youth. During my months, we read Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, There There by Tommy Orange, and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Each book had me enthralled, but it wasn’t until we read the Young Adult novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez that I experienced something special.

Sanchez tells the story of a young Mexican-American teen named Julia coming of age in Chicago. I couldn’t relate to Julia’s joy of riding public transit to see her favorite painting at the local art museums or other experiences of city life. I grew up in rural, central North Carolina in the 1990s. My family was part of the early wave of Mexican immigrants to the region. My parents experienced great hardships immigrating to the US and parenting in an unfamiliar place with different cultural traditions and expectations. Sanchez is also a daughter of Mexican immigrants, and through her character, Julia, she articulates much of my teenage outrage, loneliness, and hopes. Julia has a rich internal life that resonated so profoundly with my own at that age. I cried. The story was good, but I cried because it was the first time I had ever felt fully seen by a piece of storytelling.

Sanchez’s book hadn’t been written yet when I was a teen. Maybe if it had and I had had access to it, I might have felt less alone. I wish I had been exposed to Mexican-American writers like Sandra Cisneros, Carmen Lomas Garza, and Juan Felipe Herrera when I was in school. Now there are even more including Yuyi Morales, Duncan Tonatiuh, David Bowles, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Pam Muñoz Ryan, writing incredible children’s books.

All children should have the opportunity to read stories that reflect their unique experiences. It is also vital that children have the chance to read stories of individuals who don’t resemble themselves at all. Books have the power to expand our worlds and relate and appreciate others’ stories. All children benefit from reading diverse stories that capture the complexity of the human experience. Please consider donating to Book Harvest on Giving Tuesday so that books representing a greater diversity of voices make it into children’s lives.

Want to help us ensure kids have access to the experience Gloria describes of finally recognizing herself and her life in a story? It’s easy to make a donation: just text DIVERSEBOOKS to 44-321 and indicate the amount you’d like to donate. Every $7 = one new high quality diverse and/or inclusive book!

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