Culture

A Latina Author In New Mexico Is Delivering Books To Asylum Seekers On The Border To Brighten Their Spirits

It was a normal day at her New Mexico bookstore when author Denise Chávez was approached by a customer who needed help finding Spanish-English dictionaries. As is common in life, asking questions is what generates the most change, and the customer’s answer to her question of “Why?” sparked an idea. The customer wanted to help out the migrants who were passing through and finding refuge at the Peace Lutheran Church respite center. Understanding language as the vital life source to forming social bonds, communities, and basic navigation in society, Chávez decided to go a step further. In May 2019, Chávez started bringing bilingual storybooks to the Peace Lutheran Church shelter. Soon, word got around and she began to expand the project, initiating a soul-nourishing project called “Libros Para El Viaje” or books for the journey.

Chávez’s book drive has been promoted and supported by various bookstores across the country, including national nonprofit, the American Booksellers Association (ABA). Since then, Chávez has hand-delivered thousands of books to migrants on both sides of the border, offering the gift of exploring unknown worlds from the unacceptable confines of a tent, detention center or hiding.

Meet Denise Chávez.

CREDIT: @BOOKSELLERSOFAMERICA / INSTAGRAM

Chávez grew up in the border community of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the daughter of a teacher and a lawyer. “I was just inculcated from the very beginning with books, books, books,” Chávez shared her story on social media. “Growing up as a Chicana close to the Mexican border, my stories came to me in many languages, including Spanish, Spanglish, border language… I was filled with the beauty of spoken words. And I’ve always loved books,” she shared on Booksellers of America’s featured bookseller post.
“Bookselling means more to me every day,” Chávez shared on her experience of owning Casa Camino Real Bookstore, which serves as a community center and art gallery honoring border culture. “The stories of connecting, the people who come in—booksellers attract all sorts of people. To sell a book or to give a book away is a profound experience,” she added.

Chávez sees proof every week that giving a migrant a book is “a major healing experience.”

CREDIT: @RIVERDOGBOOKCO / INSTAGRAM

Libros Para El Viaje’s success is, in large part, thanks to Chávez’s presentation at an ABA conference that garnered national attention from booksellers. ABA has promoted her project, which has spurred many other community projects to help fund Libros Para El Viaje. For example, Minneapolis booksellers Red Balloon Book and Wild Rumpus created “Books for Border Kids” to host a two-month book drive. Those two independent booksellers alone sent over 3,000 book donations to Chávez in Las Cruces, according to The Salt Lake Tribune

“Every week, I distribute books in Spanish to families and children,” Chávez shared on social media. “So my work has deepened because we’re reaching out to people who arrive with nothing. To get a book means something. It’s a major healing experience. So when I see a tiny, little woman—and I wish people in the United States could see the people that stand in front of me with those ankle bracelets; they’re small people, they wouldn’t hurt anybody—I try to remember her face. She is on a journey. She’s going on a bus. She’s going on a plane. And she’s taking a book for the journey. I mean, wow! Right?”

“Books can heal us,” Chávez believes.

CREDIT: DENISE CHÁVEZ / FACEBOOK

Whether it’s a Guatemalan teenager looking for a Stephen King novel or seeing the beauty in a mother “hugging three Isabel Allende books,” Chávez has found healing in her project. Whether “somebody is picking up a Spanish language version of H.G. Wells’ A WAR OF THE WORLDS. Or to give a dictionary to an older man who’s learning English. It’s exciting. This is truly being connected with what a book does, which is to inform, empower, enlighten,” she testified in a social media post.
“My reason to be a writer is because I have been healed by books, and I do believe that books can heal us. It is a challenge to be a bookstore, but I continue because I know the power of a book,” Chávez attests.

You can support Casa Camino Real Bookstore‘s Libros Para El Viaje by purchasing any of these recommended bilingual books and mailing them to:

Casa Camino Real Bookstore
314 South Tornillo Street
Las Cruces, New Mexico 88001

READ: Lil Libros Finally Adds Musician Ritchie Valens To The List Of Icons Highlighted In Bilingual Children’s Books

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Instagram’s Beloved Summer Read Mexican Gothic To Become Limited Hulu Series Produced By Kelly Ripa

Fierce

Instagram’s Beloved Summer Read Mexican Gothic To Become Limited Hulu Series Produced By Kelly Ripa

Penguin Random House

During these times, Noemí Taboada is more than just the heroine of the novel Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. She’s also become the hero come to rescue us from our pandemic boredom. The story of the 1950s Mexican socialite summoned to save her vulnerable cousin has entranced summer readers stuck at home during the pandemic and without much new material to thrive on. Sales for the horror novel soared just as soon as the book hit shelves this past June and now fortunately for fans, news about the novel gets better.

Hulu has picked up Mexican Gothic and given it the greenlight a drama series!

The series comes from Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos’ Milojo Productions and ABC Signature.

According to Deadline, Moreno-Garcia is set executive produce the series alongside Milojo’s Ripa, Consuelos, and Albert Bianchini.

Moreno-Garcia is a Mexican-born author currently living in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is the best-selling author of Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things and Untamed Shore. Speaking to Deadline, the author explained that she is “excited to see the novel come to life and to meet the talented, diverse crew and cast members that will take us on this journey.”

“We feel like we hit the literary jackpot, and cannot wait to bring Silvia’s gorgeous writing to life, together with Hulu,” Ripa also commented in a statement.

Mexican Gothic was published this past June and welcomed with critical acclaim.

The book follows Noemí Taboada, a young socialite living in 1950s Mexico City who takes to the Mexican countryside and the mountains of Hidalgo after being summoned by her cousin who is worried that her new husband, a rich and enigmatic Englishman, might be attempting to kill her.

But it’s not just the mystery and intrigue of the story that will captivate readers. For those interested in rich histories and exploring their own roots, this book will bring so much intrigue if you haven’t already read it.

At the heart of Moreno-Garcia’s story is an examination of the effects of eugenicism and colonization in Mexico. 

Speaking to NPR about her novel, Moreno-Garcia explained that the inspiration for it came from a real town in Mexico that had been mined by the Spanish and overtaken in the 1800s by British forces.

“It has an English cemetery, just like in my book. And that is what inspired the novel. I went there one time and I was walking around the cemetery and it was misty. And it’s kind of chilly and rainy there, especially certain times of the year. And I looked around and I thought, this is something out of a Hammer film. So it never really quite left me,” she revealed. “But the other reason to set it there is because, I think when people think about Mexico, sometimes they do know that it was conquered by the Spanish. And they think the Spanish left and that was it. That was the only case of colonialism that existed. But obviously, many other forces came into Mexico throughout the years and engaged in explicit warfare or more subtle types of control… Americans came and all sorts of foreign interventions have taken place throughout the history of Mexico. And I just thought it was an interesting bit of the colonial legacy, to look at the British legacy, and to set it in Mexico to examine some of those forces colliding.”

Readers of the hit book have been quick to comment on its new status as an upcoming television series. “I will say my favorite was the atmosphere and gothic suspense. I enjoy horror, but I’m quite picky with my horror and that aspect of this book was the least appealing part to me. It was tame for most of the book, but there are some really twisted scenarios towards the end that were really unsettling… and not in the spine-tingling way I generally enjoy. Prepare to be disturbed.⁣ And maybe even a little grossed out.,” one user wrote about the book in a post to Instagram.

“I love how the writer uses most of the key elements of the gothic genre, but at the same time subverts it in order to discuss racism, feminism, and colonialism,” another commented.

Fans who loved the characters and plot of Mexican Gothic will likely fall in love with Hulu’s new take and we, for one, can’t wait!

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Alaina Castillo’s New TikTok Video Is Empowering People To Embrace Their Latinidad

Culture

Alaina Castillo’s New TikTok Video Is Empowering People To Embrace Their Latinidad

Not everyone has the privilege of growing up surrounded by their cultura, with parents there to pass on knowledge of traditions and customs from home. That, combined with heavily opinionated internet trolls, has led to many people struggling to feel confident in their identity. In a digital world that tries to force us all to fit into boxes, what does “Latino enough” mean and how do you know if you’re there?

Recently, we asked our Instagram community “what does being Latino mean to you?” and although some responses had details in common, for the most part they were as unique as every member of the community itself. There is no one definition of Latinidad, and therefore there is no way to measure what exactly makes someone “Latino enough.”

We got the chance to talk to Alaina Castillo, musical artist and TikTok Queen, about how she identifies with Latinidad and what this TikTok video means to her.

@wearemitu

Checklists don’t define you so don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not enough! 😤@alainacastillo #AreYouLatinoEnough #FamiliaLatina #hhm #orgullo

♬ original sound – we are mitu

What does being Latina mean to you? – mitú

“It means that I have something to identify with and be proud of because of my family members, my culture, and the things that I participate in as a Latina.” – A.C.

Side note, this was a personal reminder that we represent the community wherever we occupy space, whether we realize it or not. We are all participating in things as members of the community.

What’s something that, as a Latina, you are proud of? – mitú

“The strength and endurance that we have. I’ve seen it in my dad, his family, and so many others and it makes me feel proud as well as encouraged to achieve my goals with the same mindset as them.” – A.C.

While they may not be perfect (and let’s face it, who is?), our parents are the definition of hard working. Remembering that their blood runs through my veins always keeps me going when the going gets tough. Si se puede!

What Latino figures inspire you? – mitú

“Selena, even though she was an artist that I didn’t really grow up listening to. When I found out who she was, she was someone who I related to because she was a Mexican-American learning to speak and sing in Spanish, while breaking a lot of barriers that people had set up around her.” – A.C.

La Reina del Tex-Mex was a trailblazer indeed! Who else could forget Selena’s iconic “diecicuatro” blurb when she appeared in an interview with Cristina Saralegui? The important thing to focus on is that she was TRYING! As long as we’re all working on improving and being the best versions of ourselves, that’s the best we can do, and it’s okay to make mistakes along the way.

IMAGE COURTESY OF ALAINA CASTILLO

Name one meal that, no matter where you have it, always reminds you of home. – mitú

“Homemade tamales!!!! 100%” – A.C.

You know we love some good tamales, so naturally our next question was…

Where is your family from? – mitú

“My dad is from Mexico and my mom is from Ohio.” – A.C.

Mmmm…Mexican tamales 😋

Have you ever been to those places? – mitú

“Yes, both places. I went to Mexico when I was really young, maybe about two times, and then I’ve traveled to Ohio on various occasions to see family. I was young each time I went to those places so they’re little memories I think of when I miss my family.” – A.C.

What would you say is the most “Latino” item in your home? – mitú

“We have these blankets from my grandma that I grew up using. I thought they were normal blankets but then I saw on social media that almost every Latino household has some and I was like hmmm, what do you know?” – A.C.

IMAGE COURTESY OF ALAINA CASTILLO

What would you say to people who think that not speaking Spanish makes you less Latino? – mitú

“I think it’d definitely be nice to know the language fluently but some people aren’t taught Spanish growing up and that’s not their fault. Not speaking the language doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same customs or should be rejected from the culture that their family is from. I decided to learn on my own because I’ve always been interested in Spanish, and also so I could speak with my family and I see that’s what a lot of other people are doing too.” – A.C.

One more time for the people in the back: not speaking Spanish doesn’t make you any less Latino.

How do you celebrate your Latinidad? – mitú

“With pride. I wouldn’t be who I am today without influences from my family so it’ll always be something I carry with me and proudly show throughout my life and career.” – A.C.

What do you hope people take away from this trend? – mitú

“That Latinidad is something you’re born with and it can’t ever be taken away from you,” – A.C.

So forget about the opinions of other people! All they’re doing is projecting their beliefs onto you and that is not an actual reflection of who you are. We hope you are inspired to embrace your Latinidad on your own terms, and that you walk more confidently in your identity. So duet us on TikTok and don’t forget to use the hashtag #AreYouLatinoEnough to join in on the fun!

Did we mention quarantine has not stopped Alaina Castillo from dropping new music? Check out her latest single, “tonight,” below!

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