Rudolfo Anaya has woven a bilingual holiday fairy tale for children

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A picture by the author Rudolfo Anaya will be exhibited on Thursday, December 23, 2021 in a library named in his honor in Albuquerque, NM.  Known as the father of Chicano literature, Anaya left a children's story about Christmas in the American Southwest when he died of natural causes in 2020.  The bilingual story appears posthumously and expands a cycle of illustrated children's books with a playful cast of young animal figures.  (AP Photo / Susan Montoya Bryan)

A picture by the author Rudolfo Anaya will be exhibited on Thursday, December 23, 2021 in a library named in his honor in Albuquerque, NM. Known as the father of Chicano literature, Anaya left a children’s story about Christmas in the American Southwest when he died of natural causes in 2020. The bilingual story appears posthumously and expands a cycle of illustrated children’s books with a playful cast of young animal figures. (AP Photo / Susan Montoya Bryan)

AP

An author known as the father of Chicano literature left a bilingual children’s book after his death in 2020 that tells a story about Christmas in the American Southwest.

The story of Rudolfo Anaya, who died of natural causes at the age of 82, is published posthumously for the Christmas season by Museum of New Mexico Press with parallel text in Spanish and English. The story expands on a cycle of Anaya’s illustrated children’s books with a playful cast of animal characters centered on a tiny, curious owl named Ollie Tecolote.

The book was carefully created by Anaya in its closing year to invite children to explore literature in English and Spanish, said Enrique Lamadrid, a publisher and retired chairman of the Department of Spanish Education at the University of New Mexico. Lamadrid worked closely with Anaya in his final years to translate the series “Owl in a Straw Hat” into Spanish.

“We designed it really, really, very carefully to make the kids comfortable,” said Lamadrid, who first befriended Anaya in the 1970s. “You start well with love with it.”

Anaya achieved lasting literary fame and influence in 1972 with the novel “Bless Me, Ultima” about the growing up of a boy in New Mexico after World War II under the guidance of a traditional spiritual healer. The book became a film – and an opera.

Anaya wrote his “New Mexico Christmas Story” for children initially in English and sprinkled a few Spanish-language words and phrases about Hispanic festive meals and traditional Christmas pranks performed by “abuelos”.

Literally translated, “abuelos” means grandfathers or grandparents, while it is also used as slang for costumed family elders in northern New Mexico who traditionally go door to door at Christmas time to ask terrified children whether they were naughty or nice.

The images in the book are by painter and pop culture mural painter Moises Salcedo – known as El Moisés – and offer a lively visual tour of northern New Mexico winter vacation traditions, from handcrafted “Farolito” candlelights to steaming “Pozole” – Stew and an adventure that touches the three wise men.

Michelle Garcia, a preschool teacher for the City of Albuquerque, reads a previous book about an owl in a straw hat to her 4- and 5-year-old students, who are seated in a semicircle, for comments and questions.

Hispanic traditions run deep into New Mexico, where Spanish settlers arrived in 1598. Nearly half of the state’s population claims Hispanic heritage, and some – but not all – of the students in Garcia’s class recognize the Spanish words in Anaya’s book. Garcia says there is a short English-Spanish glossary in the book to help her answer any questions.

“There are so many different phrases you can use, especially if you’re of Chicano or some sort of Hispanic ancestry,” said Garcia, who traced her Hispanic roots and comfort in Spanish terms to grandparents in northern New Mexico and southernmost Colorado.

Garcia took a day off to meet Anaya shortly before his death, knowing he would appear on his behalf at the inauguration of a public library.

“He said he met his wife in the library,” said Garcia. “It was just this amazing story to encourage kids to come into the library and read and open a book. It only encouraged me to tell these stories. “


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