Last year at the National Book Festival, audiences at the KidLit stage heard from Juliet Menéndez, the Guatemalan-American author, illustrator, and teacher behind Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers. Latinitas is an illustrated children’s book that celebrates the lives of over forty influential Latina heroes, ranging from singer Selena Quintanilla to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we invite you to watch Menéndez’s 2022 National Book Festival appearance. Then examine, listen to, and watch Library resources related to 6 of the 40 individuals profiled in the book.
- 2:05- Menéndez talks about her background as a teacher, including how the book began as a poster project to create classroom decor that better reflected her students’ lives
- 6:50- Menéndez explains who Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was, and how the book shares the evolution of Latino feminism
- 10:55- Menéndez answers a question about how the childhood dreams and explorations of the women she profiled drove their work
- 16:00- Menéndez speaks about her artistic process and how the colors of Latin America influenced the watercolor paintings she created for this book
- 20:40- Menéndez describes how she chose the forty women represented in the book
- 22:00- Menéndez shares about her bilingual writing and thinking process
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Writer
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a writer and philosopher from seventeenth-century Mexico. Although Sor Juana lived at a time when many girls were not educated, she taught herself to write in Spanish as well as the Aztec language Nahuatl. Becoming a nun was an alternative to marriage, which allowed her to write feminist poetry and plays. If your family reads Spanish, check out her book in the Library’s collections –Obras selectas de la celebre monja de Mejico, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, or “Selected works of the famous nun from Mexico, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.”
Teresa Carreño, Pianist
If your child plays an instrument, they may be inspired by the story of child piano prodigy Teresa Carreño. When Carreño was eight years old in 1861, her family moved from Caracas, Venezuela to New York City. She performed for many famous figures, including Abraham Lincoln, and was so well-known over the course of her life that her image was used to advertise pianos. She was a prolific composer as well as a performer. She wrote her first composition when she was only four years old!
Frida Kahlo, Artist
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist known for fantastic, colorful, and surrealist paintings. This photograph of Frida Kahlo was taken by photographer Toni Frissell as part of a Vogue magazine story, “Senoras of Mexico”. She was featured in that 1937 story as “Senora Diego Rivera”, as her husband Diego Rivera was also a famous artist. But in Menéndez’s book and illustrations, she stands on her own, an artist in her own right. Today, she is probably even more well-known than Rivera.
Celia Cruz, Singer
Celia Cruz was a Cuban-American singer, the “Queen of Salsa”, and one of the most famous performers in the world during her lifetime. She won several Grammys including a Lifetime Achievement award, and her album “Celia & Johnny” with percussionist Johnny Pacheco was added to the Library’s National Registry of Recorded Sound in 2013. If you collect coins, keep an out for Celia Cruz! It was recently announced that Celia Cruz will be the first Afro-Latinx featured as part of the American Women Quarters Program, an initiative that will issue quarter coins celebrating the achievement and accomplishments of a diverse group of American women. Once Cruz’s likeness on the coin is released, you may find her in your pocket, but until then, you can find her photograph in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division.
Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice
Sonia Sotomayor grew up in a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx, New York. She joined the high school debate team, then followed her childhood dreams of becoming a lawyer, and later, a judge. In 2009, she was the first Latina appointed to the Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor has appeared at many Library events, including this special visit with Washington D.C. middle school students, and an appearance at the National Book Festival. In 2020, photographer Camilo Vergara took this picture of a mural made in 2015 in Sotomayor’s childhood hometown of the Bronx.
Sandra Cisneros, Writer
Poet, essayist, and Chicana activist Sandra Cisneros found refuge in the same place many of us do —books. She studied literature and writing in college, publishing books of poetry before achieving breakout success with her novel, The House on Mango Street. Cisneros has appeared at the Library many times, both to record her poems and to speak at the National Book Festival. With your children, watch this special message from Cisneros for the 2020 Book Festival during the pandemic.
- 1:01- Cisneros speaks of the pandemic as a spiritual time
- 3:56- Similar to Menendez, she talks about how her students’ stories inspired The House on Mango Street
- 5:39- Cisneros reflects on the interconnectedness of stories and power of telling them
- 10:46- Cisneros describes her ongoing attempts to find a “home in the heart”
- 12:15- Cisneros shares some final reflections on spirituality and home
This Women’s History Month, why not follow in author Juliet Menéndez’s footsteps, by creating portraits and biographies of fascinating women you’ve identified and researched? You can begin by using the search bar at www.loc.gov/collections. As you learn more about women you’d like to profile, you can narrow your search to different time periods, or sort by format and narrow your search by images. Juliet Menéndez said of her work: “A big part for me of showing this history starting from the 1600s is that Latinas have always been here. They have always been shaping our history. They’ve never been on the sidelines just observing it.”
We hope these Library collections can be a place for you to start your own research into women – of all backgrounds – who shaped history.