This book made me smile from beginning to end because it shows a healthy relationship between two children of opposite genders that grows over the years into something beautiful despite challenges. People of color are so often presented with dysfunction and abuse as the norms for their relationships in media. We’re not able to see healthy interactions despite the wealth of them out there in real life. So books like this are important as they battle the tidal wave of images telling minorities in America that the basis of their lives is dysfunction.
It also shows a side of relationships that we don’t normally get to see in in the media, except for maybe in romantic comedies. The book depicts the relationship between Cecelia and Miguel as a slow-growing one that takes its time to mature and blossom into something beautiful. We don’t see that so much anymore. The standard seems to be two people with an attraction to each other immediately end up in emotional and psychical complications. This book doesn’t take that approach and not that I suspect it would considering it’s a children’s book. But my point is that the foundation for many of our interactions later in life are established in our childhood. Much like a diet has an effect on our bodies, what we read and see in media has some effect on our minds.
In the era of “50 Shades of Grey” where you see abuse being glorified, it’s good to know we still have books out there that present healthy relationships based on mutual respect and care for one another. This may be a children’s book, but what we read as children carries powerful weight. Positive media and positive relationships are vital in a land that constantly tells minority children that they are worth less.
Some might read this and think this book somehow enforces old gender roles. It doesn’t. I never once felt like Cecelia and Miguel weren’t on equal footing. There was definitely an equality of value created between the two characters. Neither were shoe-horned in expectations of what girls and boys should do. Along the way, you get to learn a few cultural items that readers outside of the Latin-American community might not know about. Though these touches were simple, they felt very deliberate and helped to make a simple story into a very progressive one.
So this is the first children’s book that I am featuring on the blog. I know a lot of the people who actually read the blog and keep up with it have children. And it’s vital for children to see themselves in media. The earlier they see themselves positively, the better it is for their self-esteem and it keeps their interest too. Despite what some critics of diversity might have you believe, seeing yourself visually is important. It is a sinister, subversive matter when people try to suggest that the skin color of characters shouldn’t matter. That is simply racism by omission and it harms our children.
This book doesn’t play into that notion thankfully. The illustrations are vibrant, colorful and make the backdrop of Cuba look absolutely amazing. Through its tiny references, this book is unabashedly embracing a locale that is often demonized in America. I loved seeing this beautiful country come to life and displayed as something besides for a so-called “communist prison camp”. America finds a way to always portray the worst parts of other cultures like Mexico, Cuba, and many African countries. Let’s call it for what it is, it’s propaganda. It makes books like these even more important for people who might never see Cuba, but can see it properly through this book.
Another issue this book tackles is the notion of hair. As Adiche has said previously, “hair is political”. Why? Because American culture attacks the beauty and “rightness” of hair in other cultures all the time. It is a psychological attack on our kids right from the very beginning telling them that their hair doesn’t meet a certain level of beauty and therefore, they aren’t beautiful. And people with lower self-esteem are less likely to demand changes in the social and political atmospheres. This is why media is important and why books like this are vital.
The character of Dalia is a vibrant, spirited young girl who is unafraid of people’s opinions and believes in the beauty of what she’s doing with her hair when even no one else does. She remains me of so many young girls who are ready to go out and tackle the world before they’re told over and over again that they shouldn’t. When I closed the book, I couldn’t help but to think how far would a young woman like Dalia go in life? What changes could she bring about? There’s such promise in this children’s story. Grab it for your kids and show them that beauty isn’t defined by the American “default”.