It was a tough mommy moment that inspired Sulma Arzu-Brown to write her first children’s book. When her three-year-old daughter, Bella-Victoria, was labeled as having “pelo malo” or “bad hair” by her caregiver, she knew she had a choice.
“That encounter gave so many opportunities for things to go south really fast. But I chose to respond to the caregiver from a place of love,” Arzu-Brown told Vivala. “I took the time out to educate her on proper terms such as long, short, colocho, laciot . . . in a very respectful manner.”
The proud Afro-Latina authored the bilingual book, Bad Hair
Does Not Exist!/Pelo Malo No Existe!, as a way to debunk the notion that kinky,
curly, or course hair is bad hair. With it, the Bronx-bred mother of two hopes
to shatter superficial standards of Afro-Latino beauty, while encouraging young
girls of color to accept themselves.
"The media, television, and children's programming repeat themselves to us all the time, making it known that Afro-Latino beauty is second class. My book combats that. It puts the power back to the hands of the parent reading it to their children. It equips children with empowering terms and images they can relate to. They quickly learn that all aspects of themselves [are] ‘good’ and no one, not even media, can take that away."
Arzu-Brown is a Garifuna woman from Honduras, an Afro-Caribbean culture that originated with the arrival of West African slaves in the Caribbean. Before writing the book, the 37-year-old embarked on her own journey to self-acceptance. She cut off her once-chemically straightened hair and began growing it out naturally in order to be a positive "hair" role model to her daughters.
"I believe that it is irresponsible and mean to label any type of hair as 'bad hair' or 'pelo malo.' How can something that can tell the story of your roots and pays tribute to your lineage be labeled so negatively? Hair tells our unique story. Insulting our hair is like spitting on our faces. It will never sit well with me! It will never be excusable and it will never be acceptable," she said.
Arzu-Brown said the book — which she wrote in five minutes and without a publisher — has been received with a collective sigh of relief from Afro-Latinos, who at last see themselves reflected. Arzu-Brown hopes her book encourages kids to stay true to who they are as they grow.
"I hope that this book gives all children the courage to always do the right thing with love. Also that they climb up the ladder of success as they are, being true to themselves and doing right by their essence."
The book is the latest in a growing list of
looking not only to celebrate Latino culture, but to encourage
among young children of color. It's been a long road. Historically,
there has been a stark lack of diversity among children's books. A
recent study by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found that in 2014, out of 3,500 books it studied:
"Less than 9 percent were written by authors of color and only 11 percent of the books were about characters of color. In fact the trend has remained stagnant over the past 20 years, with no more than 10 percent of books published each year representing the diversity of our communities."The problem can be traced all the way up to the editorial houses, and book publishers Lee & Low did just that. A survey they released in early 2016 shows that editorial departments (the executives making decisions about what type of content gets published) were 82 percent white. Thankfully, this past year has also seen a boon in recognition for Latino authors of children's literature. Matt de la Peña became the first Latino author to win a Newbery Award for his amazing book. Margarita Engle and Pam Muñoz Ryan also received honors. Click below for a very brief list of books for and about Latinos that are sure to be kid-tested and mother-approved.
'I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me'
In I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me, by Sandra L. Pinkney, photos of Latino children and their families aim to highlight different aspects of the culture.
'Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant's Tale'
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant's Tale tells the story of a rabbit's bravery, but a deeper meaning points to the struggles of migrants who are far from home.
'Last Stop on Market Street'
Newbery Award–winning Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña is a moving look at socio-economic differences.
'Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras'
The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children went to Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh.
Author Pam Muñoz Ryan's book Echo (also a Newbery Honor Book) tells the story of a harmonica that mysteriously brings people together with shared fates.
'Drum Dream Girl'
Pura Belpré Award–winning illustrator Rafael López beautifully brings us Margarita Engle's true-life story of a Cuban girl who broke down the barriers for female drummers in vivid detail.