DENVER — Every world-changing moment, every passion fulfilled, starts with a childhood dream, a vision of something that you can do to make the world a better place, an interest or a passion revealed and your desire to hone and share that craft with others.
Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers by Juliet Menéndez gives us the tales of 40 Latinas, presented to us in vivid, beautiful illustrations, the colors bright and stark, each of the women presented alongside items that defined their life’s work. We see a young Selena Quintanilla, alongside a cassette tape and a microphone; Wanda Díaz Merced, with a galaxy springing forth in front of her; Sandra Cisneros unleashing a world from the book held above her head. We see them as children, playful, smiling, happy, well before they all changed the world. In each profile they share their dreams with us, from their desires to be storytellers, world builders, activists, dancers, singers, doctors, architects and more.
Latinitas moves between the various eras, countries, sweeping across the entirety of the Americas, starting with Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican writer, poet, and philosopher. From there, we move to Juana Azurduy de Padilla, a Colombian freedom fighter who used her societal position as a seamstress to spy.
One of the notes that Menéndez shares with us in her introduction is that she wishes she would have known of these women when she was just a girl; her hope in creating this work is to make sure that a generation of young girls can see themselves and dream of possibilities. Latinitas is far-reaching and connects us to a multitude of Latina experiences from the mid-17th century to present day, reminding us that our history and roots are deep.
A discussion of Latinidad can be complex, but author/illustrator Juliet Menéndez navigates it well. There is a depth to Latinidad —race, ethnicity, indigeneity— that is not always captured in books; so often the stories that are told center whiteness, and typically erase stories beyond that experience. In that way, Latinitas does a great job of presenting a number of Latinas from a variety of racial backgrounds.
Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers arrives just in time for Women’s History Month, as we celebrate the contributions of many who have played vital roles in our communities while often being removed from our collective histories. Latinitas does a great job of restoration and care, bringing these stories to the forefront and giving us the chance to hold on to these new narratives for future generations.
LATINITAS: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers
by Juliet Menéndez
Holt Books for Young Readers
Manuel Aragon is a Latinx writer, director, and filmmaker from Denver, CO. He is currently working on a short story collection, Norteñas. His work has appeared in ANMLY. His short story, “A Violent Noise,” was nominated for the 2020 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. Twitter: @Spacejunc.