In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, Berkeley’s libraries planned workshops, classes, and booktalks and created reading lists.
Latinx Heritage Month began on Wednesday, September 15 and will last until Friday, October 15. At the Berkeley High School (BHS) library, a large colorful display can be found on a back wall that lists one book celebrating Latinx heritage for every letter of the alphabet. The Central Branch of the Berkeley Public Library (BPL) may not have colorful posters on its walls, but a glance at its website or social media reveals that it, too, is celebrating Latinx heritage this month.
At the BHS library, co-teacher librarians Sarah Rosenkrantz and Meredith Irby are including a wide range of perspectives in their “Latinx Heritage from A-Z’’ reading list. The list is on the BHS Library website, and books from the list will be highlighted on the BHS Library Instagram, @berkeleyhighlibrary, throughout Latinx Heritage Month.
“We’re trying to highlight the amazing diversity of Latinx young adult authors that are writing about a number of different really important issues that affect the Latinx community,” Irby said.
The reading list includes stories from different places and time periods with diverse depictions of the Latinx experience.
“[This includes] not just the immigration story but also the Indigenous story,” Rosenkrantz said. “We want to represent all of that and have that available to folks to really understand that when we say Latinx, that it’s an incredibly rich and diverse tradition.”
Rosenkrantz also said the reading list focuses on books by authors of Latinx heritage and descent, as opposed to ethnographers, or others writing about Latinx culture from the outside. One name that appears twice on the reading list is Elizabeth Acevedo, a Dominican American young adult author. All of her books have young, female, Latina protagonists.
“We focus on folks who write about cultures from within the culture, getting that internal perspective, versus an outsider’s perspective who’s making assumptions or judgments or interpretations of a culture,” Rosenkrantz said.
Rosenkrantz said that reading books which celebrate Latinx heritage is important both for people who identify as Latinx, and also for those who do not.
“Books are ways that we’re able to explore both the world that we know and the world that we’re unfamiliar with,” Rosenkrantz said. “It’s important to be able to have both of those experiences which is why we try to curate a collection that reflects our student population and also expands on it.”
According to Rosenkrantz, reading “within our own cultures” can help people gain a deeper understanding of their own experiences and serve as a reminder that within a culture there is a diversity of experience and belief. Reading books that center people of other cultures can also help one explore and learn more about the experiences of others in their communities.
“Latinx authors have a huge historical impact on the entirety of the Americas,” she said. [That comes from] an Afro-Latino background, a Chicano background, [and] looking at a real diversity of the Latino experience which is an Indigenous experience as well, predating any colonial experience.”
BPL spokesperson Aimee Reeder said in an email that staff members at the BPL often use the analogy, from Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, of “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Following this analogy, people at the library should see themselves reflected in the ‘mirrors’ of books and programs available at the library, and there should also be “windows and sliding glass doors” that allow the community to learn about traditions and cultures that are different from their own. People can look through the metaphorical windows or step through the metaphorical doors into new knowledge about different cultures.
This month, the BPL is working to achieve this with its lineup of special events in honor of Latinx Heritage Month. These include a family dance class with Cunamacue, an Afro-Peruvian dance company, and a performance by Cuauhtli Mitotiani Mexica, a program that supports Native youth.
“Too often the mirror has been only for white patrons, and Berkeley Public Library is committed and working hard to ensure our collections, services and programs mirror the diverse communities we serve,” Reeder said.