“Cuando los lagartijos corren.”Wolf, from Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
When I read Tiger Eyes, I had no idea other people added little Spanish into a book written in English. I knew Spanish books existed. My grandma’s Bible was in Spanish, but I never encountered any real Spanish in a book. And especially not a young adult book. And most certainly not a young adult book at my school.
Four little words. “Cuando los lagartijos corren.” This is what Wolf said to Davey when he told her needed to go away for a while. She didn’t know what it meant, so he told her to look it up. I knew what it meant, so I translated for her. Being a book character, she didn’t answer until she figured it out later, but I thought we could totally be friends.
And New Mexico! Hello, Texas neighbor. I certainly never read books set in New Mexico! Back then, I didn’t know a thing about “windows and mirrors” through literature. I did know that watching Maria on Sesame Street and listening to her speak Spanish was one of my favorite parts of the show when I was much younger. I even secretly liked watching it with my younger siblings because, you know, who doesn’t love Maria? Now, she writes her own books, holding up those windows and mirrors for today’s generation, just not on Sesame Street.
When I started my teaching career as a bilingual teacher, I made sure to get my hands on bilingual books for my classroom library. I wasn’t ever aware these books existed, or at least I didn’t have experience with such books, but I was glad to find them. But why were they so hard to find? I now know both the easy and hard answers to this question. The easy answer: There aren’t many authors writing these books. The hard answer: There are authors writing these books, they’re just not getting published for a million reasons disguised as “that’s just not what we’re looking for.”
Well, people are looking for these books. They always have been, but the stories have been held back. Or authors have been discouraged. Or [insert a random reason here, you know the one].
Judy, did your editor give you any push-back for including those four little words, renegade of a writer that you are? Did they suggest you stick to English so that you wouldn’t lose any readers? Was that ever a controversy when your book came out or was it merely the issue of Davey’s father’s death? Was there an issue with Davey having a Spanish speaking boyfriend, because back then, interracial couples were not the norm?
I was just a teen who wanted to read a good book, so I didn’t keep up with things like this. What you impressed on me most were those four little words. A tiny bit of a language I was in danger of losing because it wasn’t “cool” to speak Spanish, so why was it offered as a class in high school? Can I go back with a smidge of wisdom to have the guts to ask hard questions? Would anyone be able to answer them?
Thank you for reading. Will you even read this? If you do, will you write back? Por favor?
Your fan since I was in fifth grade,