I remember how exciting it was to wake up on the morning of April 30, put on my white and gray uniform, my red comfy sweater and my rubber-soled shoes, take the bus and arrive at school for a full day of festivities and treats. The teachers would assemble us in the school patio to read a few short poems and perform a puppet show. Then we would go to our classrooms where an array of tasty goodies, prepared by our parents, awaited us. At the end of the day, we were given a bag full of candies, fruits, pencils and stickers, and still it was not over. At home, my mother would serve my brother and I our favorite dishes, meatloaf for Francisco and chicken in orange sauce for me. El Día del Niño always made me feel special and cherished by both my parents and my teachers.
When I became a mother in this foreign culture, I realized that the celebrations I loved so much would not be a part of my child´s upbringing. The happiness I felt on those special dates would not be a part of my son’s sense of comfort, appreciation and belonging. I attempted to reproduce elements of some celebrations, but this intent slowly fades away when you don´t have a society, or at least a community, that gains a sense of joy from those practices — a joy and that helps build and sustain a cultural imaginary.
Sadly, a gap or disconnect begins to build between a first generation immigrant and his or her offspring. That beautiful wave of bonds supported by a family, a community and a society begins to break, creating a real and a psychological sense of isolation. As the years go by living as an immigrant in the U.S., I recognize that we have to work harder to create spaces and situations in which people like me, from different cultural backgrounds, can experience a stronger degree of integration. I believe that strengthening that sense of integration translates to feeling safe, appreciated and useful to the community.
In Latin America El Día del Niño is a day to recognize the importance of children as the center of family and society. Parents as well as educators coordinate their efforts to make sure that children know they are cherished, loved, and acknowledged. El Día del Niño is not only about pampering children. It is a day about bringing awareness about the rights of children and reminding parents and teachers of their responsibility to safeguard children’s well-being and integrity. It is a cultural practice that recognizes the importance of nurturing the younger human beings of our societies.
Worldwide, El Día del Niño became an official celebration in 1954, when the U.N. General Assembly recommended this day to promote the well-being of children everywhere. In the U.S., the first, newly named Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros was observed on April 30, 1997. Community organizations, libraries, and universities worked together to link El Día del Niño with children’s language and literacy. The day is now a nationally recognized initiative that emphasizes the importance of literacy for all children from all backgrounds. It also promotes a daily commitment to connecting children and their families to diverse books, languages and cultures. The common goals of the celebration are to:
Celebrate children and connect them to the world of learning through books, stories and libraries.
Nurture cognitive and literacy development in ways that honor and embrace a child’s home language and culture.
Introduce families to community resources that provide opportunities for learning through multiple literacies.
Recognize and respect culture, heritage and language as powerful tools for strengthening families and communities
Día de Los Niños in the U.S. is not only a cultural event, but also one that has broad social implications in that it brings awareness to the importance of respecting other cultures and backgrounds. It is an annual event that can be placed alongside Cesar Chavez Day, Día de Los Muertos, and Carnaval in terms of inclusion, acceptance, and recognition of multiculturalism as a means to bring ideological wealth to our society. All of these celebrations inspire us to keep fighting for human rights and the understanding and acceptance of difference as a viable way to maintain healthy, prosperous individuals and societies.
Oregon is celebrating Día de Los Niños this year by bringing children and families of different backgrounds together. I am especially happy to see that the celebration that brought me so much joy as a child is alive in this community. What it is saying to me — to Latino immigrants — is yes, you are a welcomed part of this society.
Paulina Romo Villaseñor is the executive director for Downtown Languages. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, she has a master’s degree in romance languages from UO, and taught Spanish at the UO, Willamette University and University of Portland for 10 years in addition to serving as an academic advisor at LCC.