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Virtual Book Club Helping Educators Understand, Teach the Latina Experience

Since February, the New Orleans Public Library, AfterCLASS, and the Tulane University Stone Center for Latin American Studies have been bringing educators together to facilitate discussions about the Latina experience.

When Alexandria Simon first heard about the Reading Latina Voices Book Club, she immediately knew she had to sign up. 

“I had participated in a virtual book club last summer when I was in D.C. and it was so great, so I was really excited when I heard about this one,” Simon said. 

The book club is designed for high school educators to discuss works focusing on the Latina experience in order to enhance classroom instruction on a topic that is especially relevant to today’s world but is often missed in curricula. 

“Women of color are the world’s most silenced voices, and I think it is absolutely important for educators to be more aware of works written by people other than white men. No one is disputing the literary importance of “Animal Farm,” or “The Crucible”, but let’s also teach something new,” Simon said. “This book club has been a great way to not only give educators ideas of what titles they could add into their curriculum but also allowed us to brainstorm on the best ways to discuss the topics they bring up.”  

Simon is not currently a classroom teacher but works on a youth apprenticeship grant with the department of labor.

“I’m not in a classroom, but it is still education; and, we work with a lot of underserved kids, so I do feel like I’ve gotten a lot out of this. And while I won’t be having the same type of instruction I would inside a classroom, I do feel like, if nothing else, I’m walking away with a better roster of recommendations to hand to my students, so they can feel seen and represented,” she said.

In addition to connecting educators in New Orleans and across the country, the Reading Latina Voices Book Club invited author Elizabeth Acevedo, who wrote two of the group’s selections, to come and speak.

“That was really special. It was great to be able to hear from her, in her own words, why she wrote these books and how she hopes they will impact younger audiences,” Simon said. 

Denise Woltering-Vargas is the senior program manager for the Stone Center for Latin American Studies and helped organize this reading group. During planning, she said it was a “natural fit” to bring in Stone Center partners AfterCLASS and the New Orleans Public Library.  

Instead of reaching only the Stone Center’s audience –– which would likely already have an interest in Latin American voices –– Woltering-Vargas said partnering with these two organizations opened participation up to those who might never otherwise explore these conversations. 

“We all bring different experiences and perspectives to the conversation which help add a new layer to the story we read,” she said. “It’s been a great outlet to connect once a month with others from around the country discussing new stories and exploring how they connect with our own lives and communities.” 

Librarian Adrienne Johnson coordinated the Library’s partnership on this program, which they said applies to the Library’s vision to be a catalyst for change. 

“This partnership has allowed us to amplify the voices of the Latinx community as well as offer support and resources for our teachers and their students,” Johnson said. “The Library is strongly committed to serving and celebrating the diverse communities of New Orleans, and the book club is a great chance to learn how we can improve these services through direct conversations with these communities.” 

Overall, Simon said this group has been a wonderful way to expand her horizons, open up her perspectives, and connect with a new community during an otherwise difficult time.  

“I’ve met people that I never would have known, and that’s been an unexpected joy of a terrible situation. This book club, along with other virtual activities and programs I’ve participated in during the pandemic have really been a comfort, and I’m glad to have had these experiences,” Simon said.

The Reading Latina Voices Book Club meets for the fourth and final time on Thursday, May 13 at 6 p.m. to discuss “The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano” by Sonia Manzano. New members are welcome. To register, click here. 

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