This year has been a time of many changes, among these being our expansion of the Shuronda Gardner Smith Collection at McCain Library. We are in the process of purchasing several multicultural books to add to the collection, aided by the funds awarded to McCain Library by the President’s Mini Grants for Social Justice. Many thanks to Kat Greer (Digital Systems & Acquisitions Librarian at McCain Library) for spearheading the grant application and the team working to expand the collection.
To celebrate Latinx Heritage Month, we have added a few books to the Smith Collection donated by Professor Rafael Ocasio, who has written a review (below) for the new materials.
It is an honor to write the inaugural post for books earmarked for the Shuronda Gardner Smith Collection. I worked closely with Dean Shuronda, and I can give testimony to her strong commitment to bring to the forefront dialogues pertaining to multicultural and racial issues both as an activist for social causes and as a leader among the first Black staff members working in upper-level managerial positions at the College. I am also proudly celebrating Latinx Heritage Month with my book, Race and Nation in Puerto Rico Folklore: Franz Boas and John Alden Mason in Porto Rico (Rutgers University Press, 2020), which explores the founding father of American anthropology’s historic trip to Puerto Rico in 1915. This is my first book written about the island of my birth, which I dedicated to a dear friend and mentor, Judith Ortiz Cofer, the late Puerto Rican-Georgian poet and novelist, and first Latinx writer nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The three books briefly commented upon here, Sonia Sotomayor’s Turning Pages: My Life Story, Reyna Grande’s A Dream Called Home: A Memoir, and Aiden Thomas’ murder mystery novel Cemetery Boys, reflect not only the socio-economic complexities of the Latinx communities in the United States but also ways in which native Latin American cultural traditions continue to exert such an important role in the daily lives of Latinx diasporic groups.
I worked closely with Dean Shuronda, and I can give testimony to her strong commitment to bring to the forefront dialogues pertaining to multicultural and racial issues both as an activist for social causes and as a leader among the first Black staff members working in upper-level managerial positions at the College.-Rafael Ocasio, Charles A. Dana Professor of Spanish
Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, in her loving memoir, Turning Pages – a short powerful text – highlights those books that most impacted her as a child of Puerto Rican parents in New York City. Sotomayor remembers her childhood activities, which included reading, as “Books were [a] lens, bringing into focus truths about the world around me” (np). Books were her refuge from an often convoluted world that included the plight of the Puerto Rican community’s struggles to adapt to financially overwhelming urban settings. Indeed, a strong theme shared among Latinx communities is an appreciation for education.
In A Dream Called Home (also available in Spanish as La búsqueda de un sueño), Grande’s expansive autobiography concludes that access to books is a basic right for “the millions of immigrants in the U.S. who fight every day for their dreams, for their right to remain, for their stories to matter” (324). Grande’s poignant life story, which began in the rural Mexican town of Iguala and continues to her childhood in California, documents her efforts to become an educator and fiction writer, being later inspired by the commercial success of a handful of Latina writers to tell her life story as a Mexican migrant. Like that of Sotomomayor, Grande celebrates her resilience in the face of social injustices.
A different kind of voice is that of Thomas’ Cemetery Boys, the first novel by an up and coming Latinx writer, whose activist voice is fully expressed in their Twitter account as “queer. trans. latinx. himbo. he/el/they. Oakland native.” Set within the traditional narrative mode of a mystery novel, Cemetery Boys is an innovative exploration of Mexican ancestral belief systems that managed to adapt to the passage of time and geographical setting. Set in Los Angeles, California, the plot challenges how manageable these traditions are when a transmale youth defies a group of brujos, who maintain a rather rigid definition of male gender identification as a prerequisite for admission in their all-male association as a novice for religious training to be a so-called “witch.” As a whole, these three books are a small window to the diversity of life experiences among various Latinx social groups and a tribute to the endurance of Latinx cultural traditions adapted to the always changing social and political settings and challenges encountered in the United States.
To check out any of these books, check out the Smith Collection on WorldCat and place a hold to utilize our Grab & Go services.