Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A successful fifth year of Libros para Todos with Reyna Grande

It would be hard to describe the week with author Reyna Grande for the fifth year of Libros para Todos. Most of you who are reading this post know that it started small in my Spanish conversation class and now is reaching epic proportions. During the Thanksgiving week in and around San Miguel de Allende she spoke to nearly 1000 people and signed 600 books and many more bookmarks. Reyna's ability to express herself with candor and openness drew us into her story like a magnet. Both young and old were able to experience her journey as if it were our own. THANK YOU REYNA.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words so I will post many here and highlight the major events along with a few stories that happened.

Tuesday night was a concert of Cuban pianist Fidel Leal to a standing room crowd. This was a benefit performance for Libros para Todos and special guests were Reyna, her husband Corey, their two children and nephew.

Wednesday was our first rural community event in Banda. This is a very small school where 30 read Reyna's memoir "La Distancia entre Nosotros". We always wonder before the first event how things will go but she was very well received by these young adults (age 13-16) who were moved by the sad and difficult stories of her childhood. This is the class where Richard taught English over several weeks this past fall and so he felt very connected to all these young people.
Each person in Banda wrote their own book
based in each chapter of Reyna's

Here are many of the books written by
the students in Banda.

Here is a review from her website of the book.

"Born in Mexico and raised by her grandparents after her parents left to find work in the U.S., at nine years old, Reyna enters the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant to live with her father. Filled with hope, she quickly realizes that life in America is far from perfect. Her father isn’t the man she dreamed about all those years in Mexico. His big dreams for his children are what gets them across the border, but his alcoholism and rage undermine all his hard work and good intentions. Reyna finds solace from a violent home in books and writing, inspired by the Latina voices she reads. After an explosive altercation, Reyna breaks away, going on to become the first person in her family to obtain a higher education, earning a college degree and then an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.

At a time when immigration politics are at a boiling point in America, Reyna Grande is an important public voice for Mexican Americans and immigrants of every origin. The Distance Between Us has the power to change minds and hearts."

Wednesday evening Reyna was invited to the PEN lecture series and spoke to an audience attentive to this timely story of immigration as she spoke in English with a complete translation and pictures on a large screen. She was introduced by colleague Sandra Cisneros, author and longtime supporter of Libros para Todos.

Thursday began a full day with three events - Los Rodriguez, Naciones Unidas and Pantoja (with students from Don Diego). Each event was well received by the schools and communities that invited us. Common denominators of all the events were gifts and letters handed to Reyna as well as large posters and drawings related to the stories in the book. Bouquets of flowers covered her table as she patiently looked into the eyes of each student as she signed their book addressed personally to each one. 

Friday was spent in Delores Hidalgo - first at a large event in a Secondaria (Middle School) where 200 had received the book however the event included all the school - seats and bleachers were filled. After her talk and Q&A a young woman came with her mike and sang acapella in the most glorious voice I have heard in a very long time. I spoke with her afterwards to find out that she has never had a voice or music teacher. I hope that she encounters someone like Reyna did to help her in the world if she chooses music as her future. 

After a fun few hours in Delores Hidalgo including delicious tacos for all and ice cream at a shop of the family of one of the students, we were off to a very large event of close to 300 people. These were students of local book clubs as well as many parents. Here again the students shared special programs that had been planned for her, gifts and a second song by the same young woman. 

Saturday was a special breakfast for Reyna and her family and our many volunteers and supporters at the lovely Posada Corazon. After a few words from me and Daniela, Reyna spoke and again signed books. A surprise for me followed with all singing "Las Mananitas" along with a birthday pancake and candle. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate a birthday.

And probably the most emotional of all came on Saturday afternoon. Students in the school at Don Diego were moved by her story and the caravan of asylum seekers passing through Mexico and decided to raise money to buy items of necessity for these people. We took 3 carfuls with bags of goods to ABBA House in Celaya - a safe house for these people. We were given a tour, met some of the refugees and witnessed with our own eyes the reality of this situation. After these many days with Reyna, listening to her story of immigration and realizing that this is a very real life for so many people here in this part of the world and in many other parts, now was the opportunity to actually witness it. The emotions were overwhelming for me and many others.

And lastly on Sunday morning Reyna spoke at our local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of SMA on the topic of writing for therapy. Once again, well received by an overflow crowd.

A short summary of my thoughts after a week of Libros para Todos....

  • I am very proud of all our accomplishments to reach so many with a special book. Thanks to the whole team of Libros para Todos and especially to Daniela Franco. It would not happen without her.
  • I would not be surprised if this might be a book that changes the lives of some of these young people. Reyna told us that she received so many personal letters during the week with young people reaching out to her with stories of their pain and suffering.
  • I have hopes that LpT will add a writing program in one or more schools. The students in Pantoja each wrote a personal story as part of the reading of La Distancia entre Nosotros.
  • I am more connected in a visual way to the pain and suffering of so many people escaping difficult situations with the hopes of a better world for themselves and their families after bearing witness to this firsthand at ABBA House.
  • I never doubted the value of writing to work through difficult personal issues but am now even more aware of how it can help change one's inner struggles.
  • I hope that Libros para Todos can make a small difference in the world of some people.
  • I was deeply connected in a personal way knowing that my parents who were Jewish refugees left Germany to come to a better place. Here I am many years later thinking about them and their lives. I have written much in my life about this but am even more connected than ever before. Thinking about Reyna and her family and her ability to understand her parents better after years of writing helped me to realize how I have finally understand a bit more about my own parents and my past.
With our LpT intern, cousin Noa Bearman
Thank you to all our family and friends for following our Libros para Todos program and for supporting us with contributions as well as moral support. We love you all.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Studying and enjoying Guanajuato (GTO), Mexico

I can't believe it has been almost one year since I wrote on this blog. It doesn't mean we haven't done anything or been anywhere. I don't really know what it means.

Steps at the University
Anyway, we had a few weeks free and decided to spend some time in this young and vibrant city - a university town with the U of Guanajuato occupying the attention of all. The city is alive at all hours of the day and night with young people studying, drinking coffee in the many coffee shops, eating and just "being students" as they are all over the world.
Typical scene in our "hood"

There is lots happening for adults as well - a large educated Mexican population and a very small expat community makes a different feel than SMA. We've been to both theaters attending the GTO band concert (at Teatro Juarez) as well as the GTO Symphony (at Teatro Principal). We were lucky to be at the Symphony the night Alfredo Muro (world famous guitarist whom we know from SMA) was playing as a guest musician.

We attended Escuela Falcon for 2 classes/day for 2 weeks working again on the Spanish challenge. We are both far ahead of what we once were however there is always a need for much improvement.

Steps in Museo de Arte
Our small apartment is shared in a house with other students - one from Turkey and one from the Philippines with her husband from the US. I feel like I am back in a college setting of the past - one way to keep us "young".

We are enjoying the many museums, parks and walking up and down the steep cobblestone alleys. The street and several surrounding our house are car free as they are too narrow to accommodate vehicles. It makes for good daily exercise which we were used to in San Miguel where we have been for the prior 3 months.
Diego and Frida at the museum

The city with the cathedral and university in the middle.

E-Hacienda San Gabriel
de Barrera
There were several excursions from school including a walking tour of the city and a visit to the Ex-Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera which was built in the early 18th century and was taken over by the government after the 1910 revolution. It consists of a museum, the house with period furniture and numerous gardens.

Delicata Mitsu

I would be remiss if I didn't talk about our favorite activity - eating at restaurants that cater to our style of food and Guanajuato has numerous to choose from. Favorites included Habibitee (Middle Eastern), Delicata Mitsu (Japanese) and all time best - Los Campos which serves an eclectic menu of well presented and tasty food. Having a kitchen at home allowed us to eat meals at home many evenings while enjoying our nightly habit of watching Spanish speaking soap operas (listening in Spanish with subtitles in English).

We are headed back to San Miguel tomorrow to partake in the "big read" event for Libros para Todos. Author Reyna Grande will visit the rural communities surrounding SMA next week. From then we will begin our 4 1/2 month travel adventure in Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia. Look forward to posts as we travel once again.

Words from Ricardo...

We have returned to Guanajuato for the fifth time since our retirement nine years ago. This is the capital of the state in Mexico, the same state in which San Miguel de Allende resides.  It is a very picturesque university town that at one time was the richest town in the world due to silver and gold mining. Guanajuato is known for its largest vein of silver.  Because of its past wealth many things were constructed such as underground roads, theaters, plazas, haciendas and magnificent churches.  Beside enjoying life here we are attending Spanish classes (Escuela Falcon) which rounds our days along with our usual touring. This is a young town in contrast to San Miguel de Allende which has an older population. 
Richard's favorite expression -
Belly full, heart content!
I would like to recommend visiting both places just to experience the contrast. The prices in Guanajuato are much less than San Miguel de Allende and the ambiance here is faster, younger and more colorful however our great community and many social action projects along with the beauty of SMA make it important for us as well. Guanajuato is historic not just for the mines but due to the 1810 revolution when Mexico fought for its independence from Spain. 
Come and spend some time here that you won’t regret, I’m sure.