By Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor
An eclectic group of writers, editors, and publishers, most of Latino heritage, gathered at Las Comadres y Compadres 2nd Annual Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn on Saturday, October 5, 2013.
I am fairly new to creative writing, having just published an illustrated children’s book, Martina Finds a Shiny Coin. I networked, made new friends, and was impressed with the panels, which offered a wealth of information for writers at any stage of their writing careers. Panels ranged from self-publishing to presenting quality proposals for agents and major publishing houses. They had great craft shops on creating literature of all genres and for all ages.
The conference focused on the need for Latin@ literature and how Latin@s are underrepresented as an ethnic group in this industry. We live in the most diverse nation in the world, yet we are underrepresented in the stories we read to ourselves and our children and grandchildren. Even more alarming is the fact that, in the age of diversity and equal opportunity employment, we are underrepresented in the editing, publishing, and promotional arms of the literary industry.
At the conference, representatives from Random House, editors, and small press publishers all seemed to have the same message for the aspiring and published authors—there is an open invitation to produce quality material that suits the beautiful blend that is the Latino culture. Latin@ writers of all genres are invited to produce quality fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and children’s literature geared toward a population that is thriving and growing more each day in the United States.
As a mother of three children, I have felt frustrated at not finding literature that reflects them or me. By pure coincidence, what began as an afternoon project with my five-year-old became a retelling of my very favorite Caribbean folktale, La Cucarachita Martina y el Raton Perez. One day, my husband asked me if there were any Puerto Rican folktales I could share with her, and immediately la cucarachita Martina came to mind. I heard it a thousand times growing up and even participated in my kindergarten class’s rendition of the fable/folktale.
I frequently told my daughter the original version, or at least what I remembered of it, that my grandmother recited to me when I was growing up in rural Caguas, Puerto Rico. When we traveled to my grandmother’s funeral in 2011, my daughter, then three, asked me if a tiny house nestled in the mountains was Martina’s. Of course, I told her it was, but explained that Martina was very busy and could not have visitors.
After telling the story many times, we sat and rewrote it, adding all sorts of ideas that popped into our heads. We made Martina a cellist because my daughter is a cellist. We made her an avid reader, and a dancer, and a singer of bomba y plena. We sent Martina on a journey of self-discovery after she found the shiny coin. We based Martina’s world in my world, the place where I lived for many years, Parcelas Viejas, in El Barrio Borinquen, Caguas, PR.
The book carries the folktale’s original message of self-acceptance no matter what. The story also sends the message to appreciate all gifts, not just the ones that make you look good. Of course, this is not just a message for Latin@ children but for all children!
In addition to writing Latin@ children’s literature, I am also compelled to seek out and promote contemporary authors who are producing similar literature.
It is a fact that communities thrive economically when residents invest in local business. There are many ways to do this, including visiting small bookstores like La Casa Azul in El Barrio NYC, which caters to our cultural needs. Other ways include supporting and attending Latin@ author readings and signings, or donating to, or volunteering for literary organizations like Las Comadres or any other non-for-profit organization that furthers the mission of promoting Latin@ literature.
We must commit to investing in Latin@ literature for our own sake and the literacy of our children.
Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor is a public service attorney working with at-risk youth in NYC. Before working with young people she worked as prosecutor for Bronx County. Martina Finds a Shiny Coin is her first children’s book. It was illustrated by Alba Escayo, a Spanish Artist who has ancestral roots in Cuba. Yadhira lives with her family in New York. Follow her on twitter at @ygonzaleztaylor or Martina the character on twitter at @martinascoin.