Alt-Ac Fellow Elena Valdez Co-Curates Latina/o Exhibit

"The Art of Children's Illustration: 25 Years of Piñata Books."

We are proud to announce that on Saturday, February 2nd at 12:00pm, an exhibit of illustrations for Latina/o American children's books will go on display at the historical Julia Ideson building's beautiful second-floor gallery. The exhibit was co-curated for Arte Público Press and the Houston Public Library by Elena Valdez, our 2018-19 alt-ac fellow. Elena is currently finishing her Ph.D. in the English department.

Below is an excerpt from Elena's introductory remarks for the opening event:

When I combed through the boxes of illustrations at Arte Público Press, I began thinking about the role illustrations play in children’s literature and how visual art functions as a powerful educational tool.

Some of the illustrations and prints made me recall a trip to my mother and father’s favorite restaurant when I was about seven or eight years old. The restaurant catered to working class families like mine. It was small and a little shabby, but it was the kind of place where you could get pozole with menudo anytime of the year for a reasonable price and you’d run into at least one person you knew every time you visited.

This one particular trip, we sat at a table pushed up against a wall. Hanging on the wall and to my left, just above eye-level, was a large poster. From far away, the poster looked like a portrait. There was a huge face of a man with black and white hair who reminded me of one of my uncles. Up close, I could see the face was made up of what looked like hundreds of smaller people, some holding picket signs in their hands. I became interested in the image immediately, and so I asked my parents who the person in the picture was supposed to be.

“That’s César Chávez,” my mom said. “He was a very important man. He helped a lot of people. He helped the farmworkers.”

This of course led to a conversation about farmworkers, that is, what they do and why they needed help. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that poster, which I later learned featured the work of Octavio Ocampo, introduced me to a facet of American history that I would never hear about at school, at least until I went to college.

All these years later, the memory of the conversation that image created between me and my parents stuck with me. I think this is because the image contributed to my historical knowledge and cultural literacy and, most importantly, it the discussion it sparked was part of a process wherein I learned people like César Chávez are important. Farmworkers are important. People like my mom and dad are important, and I am important. This is exactly the kind of work the visual arts are capable of doing for people of all ages, especially for children.

Thankfully, for 25 years now, we’ve been able to expect this kind of generative experience from Piñata Books. Through bilingual narratives and engaging illustrations, Piñata Books provide young readers with opportunities to see more nuanced representations of themselves, or their neighbors, in similar ways. The original illustrations and prints on display provide an opportunity to think about the role visual culture plays in storytelling, particularly for telling stories that are sensitive to unique cultural experiences and diverse histories.