By NoNieqa Ramos
As we finish celebrating Latinx Heritage month, I want to reflect on who we are. I know there are not enough trees on the planet to print the paper required to preface this reflection, not enough iCloud storage space on earth or in the Milky Way to broach a definition. But a few thoughts came to mind.
For one, the verb “are” is too static and too passive.
We who fight systemic racism and oppression with our voices, our marching feet, our raised fists. We who fight with the power of our vote, the power of our wallets, the power of our art, our joy, our cameras. We who fight alongside our families, our neighbors, our friends, our children, our allies. We who have fought behind our children and students as they led the way. Our sleeves have been rolled up, our hoop earrings have been flung, we have hydrated.
“Are” doesn’t cut it.
When I wrote The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary I fought to give characters like Macy, an emotionally disturbed teen whose brother is “kidnapped” by Child Protective Services, the power to define herself and control the narrative. Like my Macy, we fight to tell our own stories. And we don’t have to be saints to have permission to tell them. When I wrote The Truth Is, I fought to give Verdad, a neurodivergent queer teen dealing with the trauma of loss and confronting internalized racism and homophobia, the freedom to make big-time mistakes and challenge the status quo. Like Verdad, we will never stop questioning, challenging, disrupting.
But this article isn’t so much about that type of fighting.
When I wrote my picture books, I was picking a different kind of fight. When I wrote Beauty Woke, I had one resounding message:
WE Got Us.
Us may identify as Hispanic, Latine, Latinx, AfroLatinx… Us may be Indigenous. We are a library of stories that precedes libraries. Us isn’t from one particular country. The lineage of Us is complex, nuanced. Us stretches continents. Stretches like the true shape of a rainbow. A rainbow is not a bow or an arch. Most times, you can only see the perfect circle that a rainbow is from way up in the sky. It takes perspective to believe in the perfect circle of a rainbow.
So how do I talk about how we are? How do you? Would we agree? I don’t know. But I do know the relief when we find each other, when we find Us in that crowded room, that classroom, that workplace, that conference, even if we can’t articulate the definition of who Us is without arguing. But that’s Us too.
Us would have never seen a book like my picture book Beauty Woke as a kid. Us are the ones who were told as children that our stories, our histories, our heroes didn’t exist, didn’t matter. Even as the ink has barely dried on the few books that we have fought to publish, to teach, and to share, our books are being challenged and banned. Yet Us perseveres.
Soak in this cover art by renowned illustrator Paola Escobar. Soak in our artistic response to the propaganda “our stories don’t exist; don’t matter; are too political; are divisive.”
Beauty Woke is a retelling of the classic French and German stories of Sleeping Beauty. Beauty is about a little girl who is hurt and sad and needs her family. She needs their collective wisdom, the refuge only they can give. Beauty is healed when her abuelita reminds her that WE Got Us. We have the talent, the intelligence, and the gifts. Our power comes from within.
Beauty Woke is about the growing emotional and spiritual intelligence of our generation. Our kids can come to Us. They can cry in our arms and be held. They can tell Us they feel overwhelmed and need help. They can ask Us questions. They can challenge Us with their new understandings of the world. Our kids can find refuge in Us, our cultures, and our communities.
Beauty Woke is about coming into continual revelation of our historical contributions, unearthed layer by layer, from the oppressors who try to bury it.
Together, we fight against the continued pursuit of our erasure in history and literature. Named Texas’s “Most Homophobic Legislator” by the advocacy group Equality Texas, Senator Mike Krause created a book banning list of 850 titles that included The Truth Is. Book banning not only bans, disenfranchises, and erases marginalized people; it raises a generation of children who fortify the systems of oppression in place. We won’t allow a minority of oppressors to suppress Us ever again.
Together, we make sure our kids know we have always had heroes, and we will be each other’s heroes. Together we rest. Together we laugh and play and dance and sing. Our ancestors knew the intricate connection between play, song, dance, and battle.
Together, we share resources. We research and share information to understand the true underlying causes of the devastation of Puerto Rico. The colonization and subjugation of Puerto Rico by the United States government is as violent as Hurricane Maria in 2017 and Hurricane Fiona in 2022. Together, we take care of Us in crisis and do what we can.
This Latinx Heritage month, I’m reveling in the collective power we have only begun to unleash. Because of Us and the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color community and despite every obstacle imaginable, our children will grow up having sung and danced and cried to Coco and Encanto. They will have walked into a Barnes and Noble and among the stuffed animal canon of Winnie the Pooh, Pete the Cat, and the Very Hungry Caterpillar will find Little Lobo, from Raúl the Third III’s ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market (World of ¡Vamos!)! Ayo, they might have a Gloria Estefan Barbie!
They will have been nourished by Alyssa Reynoso’s picture book Plátanos Are Love illustrated by Mariyah Rahman, inspired by Karina Nicole González’ The Coquies Still Sing, illustrated by Krystal Quiles, “a powerful story about home, community, and hope, inspired by the rebuilding of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017.”
They will have been transformed by Elisabet Velasquez’s Gotham Book Prize finalist novel-in-verse, When We Make It. Masterpieces like Meg Medina’s novel Merci Suarez Changes Gears and Donna Higuera’s The Last Cuentista, will have been one of the many Newbery Award-Winning and life changing novels that helped shape them. They will have watched Laura Taylor Namey’s novel A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow and Lilliam Rivera’s novel Never Look Back on the silver screen.
They will reclaim their history through Aida Salazar’s Horn Book-starred middle grade novel A Seed in the Sun. They will talk about how they didn’t sleep without the night light on after reading Our Shadows Have Claws, an anthology of 15 Latine horror stories, edited by Yamile Saied Méndez & Amparo Ortiz and including 15 YA superstars like Alexandra Villasante and Mia García.
They will know that Hispanic/Latinx heritage is a celebration of what we will be doing every day of every year; watching Latinx, eating Latinx, reading Latinx, buying Latinx, shouting out Latinx.
We got a lot of work to do. But not alone. With our children on our shoulders, our flags and fists and voices raised on high, WE got Us.
Hurricane Relief Initiatives:
NoNieqa Ramos wrote THE DISTURBED GIRL’S DICTIONARY, which received stars from Booklist, Voya, and Foreword. It was a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection and a 2019 In the Margins Top Ten pick. Their debut picture book YOUR MAMA, which received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus, on April 6th, 2021. Their second picture book HAIR STORY releases from Lerner September 6th, 2022. NoNieqa is a proud member of Las Musas, The Soaring 20s, and PB Debut Troupe 21 collectives.