SDSU and students in the Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education hosted the second annual Voice Your Language forum on February 12, 2016. Voice Your Language is a grassroots organization dedicated to recognizing the dual character of language as both “a means of communication and a carrier of culture and identity.”
Among its guest speakers this year was 21st Poet Laureate of the United States Juan Felipe Herrera and the first Latino to hold the position. Herrera acknowledged the long-standing issue of accessibility when it comes to children’s books, especially those aimed at multilingual or ethnic families. These are books that harness plots, images, and characters with diverse experiences that need to be told and read across America. But the problem is that “books are not accessible to everybody,” as Herrera explained. What attracts us as readers and parents to certain books are the colorful, beautifully appealing pictures, which then become a double-edged sword for families with limited incomes. The more beautiful the book, the glossier the pages, the more expensive it is to buy. And that is only a fragment of the obstacles multilingual students face in the classroom.
But Herrera has a few ideas for overcoming these obstacles. “Have your students [in the classroom] break through the paper. Write on the other side all the whys,” Herrera suggested, as a way to shed the negative stereotypes attached to being multicultural and bilingual. Educators should have them physically break through the paper with all the reasons aimed at them to hold them back: because they can’t do it, because it’s shameful, or because they speak Spanish.
At the end of the event, Juan Felipe Herrera stayed to sign books and gave each of the people that came to see him a little bit of his time to chat and expand on the topics touched on in the talks. We, here at the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, would like to thank Mr. Herrera for attending San Diego State University this year and voicing his opinion and knowledge about how multilingual educators, citizens, and learners can imagine the future of multilingualism in schools.
And for this great picture!