(Posted on behalf of Sarah) I once observed that no month needs a party like long dreary November. This is not yet November, but I tend to find the same principle can apply in October. The air gets colder, the nights start sooner and run longer, the days get a little greyer, and people start talking about vitamin D supplements and warm places. And because 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, it’s time to find something to celebrate.
Enter Latin American Heritage Month which runs throughout October under various names across the country. This is an opportunity to celebrate Latin American culture and learn more about the way Canada’s Latin American community shapes the fabric of our nation.
Broadly speaking (perhaps too broadly), Latin America is considered to be made up of countries in North, Central, and South America where Spanish and Portuguese prevail as colonial languages; and the largest Latin American Canadian communities are Mexican Canadians, Colombian Canadians, and Salvadoran Canadians.
Any celebration starts with music, and there are many Latin American Canadian musicians to check out this month. Juno award winning Chilean-Canadian guitarist Oscar Lopez has been making music since the 1970’s. He started out doing rock covers before finding his niche in Latin-style acoustic and flamenco music, and winning awards for his beautiful instrumental work. He also teamed up with folk singer James Keelaghan to explore the place where Latin and Celtic music meet. Lopez’s Best of album Flashback is a lovely introduction to his work.
And in another part of the scene, you will find Toronto born country and roots artist Lindi Ortega. whose music is influenced by her Mexican and Irish heritage as well as her experiences across Canada, and her time spent in Nashville. Her voice has been likened to Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. Her latest album, Liberty, is available on Hoopla.
Then, of course, we can’t have a party without food. Since visiting local restaurants is difficult, right now, a fabulous cookbook can help with this task. The South American Table offers 450 recipes from around Latin America and other South American countries. The book reminds us of the oft forgotten origins of some staples of the North American diet – remember where chocolate comes from, after all – and explores the way food travels and blends across history and cultures. It’s a yummy way to celebrate and explore the influence of Latin American cuisine.
But, while food is central to any culture, it is far from all there is to learn, and the artistic and literary influence of Latin Americans cannot be overstated. There are the classics, such as the Nobel Prize winning magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in A Thousand Years of Solitude, or more modern stories for young people like Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia which explores Hispanic folklore as skeptical young Paola disbelieves her mother’s ghost stories and superstitions until an unsolvable mystery forces her to face the possibility that her mother’s tales were true. This book is available both in branch and online on Hoopla.
Biographies are a deeply personal way to explore cultural experience. Chilean Canadian playwright Carmen Aguirre’s memoir Something Fierce, about her life as the child of revolutionaries was the winner of CBC’s Canada Reads in 2012, and her follow up memoir Mexican Hooker #1 explores her struggle to overcome early traumas. Then, of course, there is the intimate memoir of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the third woman appointed to the US Supreme court. She describes her childhood in New York’s Bronx neighbourhood with her Puerto-Rican born parents. It is a portrait of struggles and overcoming them.
And for children there is the biography of the iconic artist Frida Kahlo from the Little People, Big Dreams series. It is a simplified, child-friendly account of her life with unique illustrations that are bound to catch the eye. Similarly, Texas based Xelena Gonzalez’s All Around Us offers children a gorgeously illustrated examination of life and our interconnectedness through circles, and in What a Party!, originally published in Portuguese, renowned Brazilian children’s writer Ana Maria Machado invites us all to a celebration that grows beyond itself with joy.
For more interesting reads about Latin American culture, check out our staff list on BiblioCommons!