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6 Books in English and Spanish to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day as a Family

Mother sitting by daughter using digital tablet
We can start to talk to kids about Indigenous communities with the help of books.
Let's celebrate Indigenous peoples' cultures and resilience with our families all year long with books that tell us their stories.
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Este recurso fue desarrollado para un público de habla hispana. Lean la version original en español.

What's the significance of Indigenous Peoples' Day?

Indigenous Peoples' Day in the United States is just around the corner. On October 11, we celebrate the resistance and resilience of the tribes, peoples and nations that for more than 500 years have resisted European invasion and protected their cultures, languages and ways of seeing the world. But what does this day mean for the Latino and Hispanic community?

For some people, October 12, 1492 marks the discovery of the American continent. However, for many others, that day changed history forever. More than two-thirds of the Indigenous population throughout the continent disappeared, either because of wars or diseases brought by Europeans. In addition to colonizing Latin America, Europeans invaded Native American territories in what is now the United States.

A colonial order was imposed throughout the continent that continues to affect Indigenous communities. We can see this clearly in how schools teach us, with texts and songs, that the arrival of Christopher Columbus was peaceful. We are taught that he was greeted with tributes and celebrations; but in reality, we know very little of what actually happened, or of the efforts Indigenous peoples everywhere made to survive even 529 years after the arrival of the Europeans.

And of course, this did not happen only on the American continent. When speaking of the negative impact and irreparable damage of colonization, we must include the many mistreated and undervalued Indigenous peoples around the world that we honor every August on the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.

Thanks to the efforts of many communities in the United States, including members of the Latino and Hispanic community, in the 1980s, a movement for the acknowledgement of Indigenous Peoples' Day began. The movement initiated a conversation around two questions: What happened to the Indigenous communities in the American continent and why don't we celebrate our Indigenous communities?

For that I ask, why don't we start by raising our children's awareness together with the help of books?

Children's education is extremely important. Childhood is when imagination and ideas develop without boundaries, which is why we must be cautious in what we teach them. It is also worth noting that different Indigenous populations on the continent — and around the world — developed different forms of writing that are used to tell creation stories, decipher the universe, or narrate important events of each region. With the arrival of the Europeans, Indigenous peoples used the writing patterns imposed during the colonial order to keep their languages and texts alive as a form of resistance.

Let's celebrate the culture and resilience of Indigenous peoples all year long as a family with resources like the six children's books listed below.

"Undocumented: A Worker's Fight" (Ages 5-7)
Written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

"Undocumented: A Worker's Fight" Escrito e ilustrado por Duncan Tonatiuh
"Undocumented: A Worker's Fight," written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

To decolonize how books are written, author Duncan Tonatiuh used the Mixtec Codices to talk about the barriers undocumented people face through Juan, a young man of Mixtec origin who at 18 years old decides to emigrate to the United States, becoming an undocumented migrant.

The story begins with the message, "you don't know our names but you've seen us," to talk about the Indigenous migrants and undocumented workers we live with on a daily basis but don't know.

When he arrives in the U.S., in a poor neighborhood where his cousins and uncles live, he becomes a victim of constant harassment by the police. At the restaurant where he works, Juan is a victim of unfair wages, earning $3 an hour — working 12 hours a day — seven days a week, all because he is undocumented. Juan has to work because his wife is pregnant and they have no other choice. One day, Li, who is a waitress at the same restaurant, invites Juan to a meeting where she invites him to organize with other workers to fight for better wages. At the workers' center, Juan meets other Mixtec workers who join the cause and sue the boss who had been stealing workers' wages for a long time.

Children will be surprised to see two things. The first: Juan uses the Mixtec language to organize with other Indigenous migrants who speak the same language to prevent the boss from understanding what is going on. The other is that Juan does not sell out himself when the boss offers him a lot of money so as not to continue with the lawsuit. By being part of a community, Juan understands that the struggle affects everyone and that he must stand with workers everywhere. His newborn daughter, Esperanza, represents the reason to fight for a better future.

Find a read aloud of "Undocumented: A Worker's Fight" in this video.

"We Are Water Protectors" (Ages 3-6)
Written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade

"We Are Water Protectors," written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade
"We Are Water Protectors," written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade

This story invites us to connect with the Native American-led movement to fight for water rights and to care for water because water is sacred to their communities.

The illustrations and poetic messages invite us to think about the sacred from the cosmovision of one of the first indigenous nations, the Ojibwe people, where Nokomis, grandmother of the girl who is in charge of safeguarding and protecting her community's water, tells us about the importance of taking care of it. The reference to the "Black Snake" represents the pipeline megaprojects that seek to privatize water to search for oil and natural gas beneath Indigenous territories. That Black Snake is very similar to the Dakota Access Pipeline that caused the mobilization of many Native American peoples who fought to protect their waters and sacred places.

In the book there is a promise that children can make to protect water, mother earth and those who fight for a better world, away from the pollution and corruption of those who seek to contaminate the sacred. Are you willing to protect the sacred as a family?

"We Are Water Protectors" is available in Spanish as "Somos guardianes del agua." Find a read aloud of the book in English with Spanish subtitles from PBS.

"Colors of Guatemala" (All ages)
Written by the collective La Comunidad Ixim

"Colors of Guatemala," escrito por el colectivo La Comunidad Ixim
"Colors of Guatemala," written by the collective La Comunidad Ixim

This is a beautiful collective art piece that tells the story of Guatemala's Mayan community through Gaby, a non-binary child, in Los Angeles' Macarthur Park, in California.

The book includes several opportunities to interact with your children through coloring activities that include words in Kʼicheʼ, the language of the Maya Kʼicheʼ group. Also, the authors use the stories about Gaby at school and their dreams to talk about the civil war and the genocide that the Maya people lived through, as a way to seek healing from the past. It also talks about forced displacement and invites us to walk with the Mayan diaspora living in Los Angeles. It is also a testament to the migration of unaccompanied children from Guatemala to the United States.

"Colors of Guatemala" is not available for sale yet, but is available at Libros Schmibros, a library in Los Angeles.

"(Ba' du' qui ñapa luuna') El niño que no tuvo cama" (All ages)
Written by Natalia Toledo and illustrated by Francisco Toledo

"(Ba' du' qui ñapa luuna') El niño que no tuvo cama," escrito por Natalia Toledo e ilustrado por Francisco Toledo
"(Ba' du' qui ñapa luuna') El niño que no tuvo cama," written by Natalia Toledo and illustrated by Francisco Toledo

Don't be surprised if this story makes you contemplate where your parents, your grandparents or you came from. The great poet Natalia Toledo writes a wonderful story told by her father, one that her grandfather told him, the master Francisco Toledo, one of the best Zapotec artists.

In this family story about the life of the Zapotec people in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, Mexico, Natalia Toledo narrates a story in her native Zapotec language and Spanish, giving a very direct message: Books are essential to learn from and reconnect with our roots, languages and identities.

This book is another attempt to rescue the Zapotec language. Revitalizing Indigenous languages is important, and what better way to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day than by learning about Indigenous languages and fighting to keep them alive.

Find a read aloud of "(Ba' du' qui ñapa luuna') El niño que no tuvo cama" in this video.

"Islandborn" (Ages 5-8)
Written by Junot Diaz and illustrated by Leo Espinoza

"Islandborn," written by Junot Diaz amd illustrated by Leo Espinoza
"Islandborn," written by Junot Diaz amd illustrated by Leo Espinoza

A fundamental part of celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day is recognizing the Afro Indigenous communities of the continent. The Latino Hispanic and Black Indigenous community is rarely discussed and commonly ignored. However, it is fundamental and Junot Diaz, in "Islandborn," invites us to appreciate this community, as well as to imagine and use the power of memory to recreate where we come from.

In the story, Lola, a girl from an island in the Caribbean, is tasked with drawing the place where she comes from, but she cannot remember where that is. So, she turns to the memories of her relatives to reconstruct the place where she comes from piece by piece.

"Islandborn" reminds us how valuable it is to sit back and reconstruct the places and loved ones we may have forgotten. It was difficult for Lola, but she managed it by using her imagination and creativity in that special way that children do. Surely your children can help you do this exercise as a family to remember where your family comes from and not feel so lonely, even if you are far away from home.

"Islandborn" contributes something very important to the celebration of Indigenous peoples: The power of building an imaginary territory is important in to stay connected to our roots.

"Islandborn" is available in Spanish as "Lola" Find a read aloud of "Lola" in this video and a read aloud of "Islandborn" here.

"Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Arcoíris" (Ages 5-8)
Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

"Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Arcoíris," escrito por Linda Elovitz Marshall e ilustrado por Elisa Chavarri
"Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Arcoíris," written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

You're going to love this book! The colors, "huipiles" and traditional "cortes" (or clothes) represented in "Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Arcoíris" are beautiful symbols of the Mayan peoples in Guatemala. They are among the most culturally and linguistically rich communities in the continent. The Maya of this area are very respectful of their customs and weave their clothes in a traditional way, something you will see through Ixchel, the book's main character.

In the book, Ixchel's desire to have an education drives her to want to work on what her family has always done: weaving. However, her mother won't let her work because she is still too young, but Ixchel won't give up. She has an incredible imagination and uses whatever is around her, such as colorful bags, to give life to a beautiful textile that she manages to sell at the town market. The sale fills Ixchel with hope and motivates her to follow the traditions of her people to pay for her education.

The bilingual book invites us to think about Indigenous communities in two languages. It also helps us reflect on the socioeconomic situation that the Mayan communities of Guatemala face and how we treat Indigenous peoples. Ixchel's story speaks of hope despite the lack of education and resources in the rural areas and mountains where Maya communities live.

Find a bilingual read aloud of "Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Arcoíris" in this video.

As parents and caregivers, you have the tools to help create a different mentality in future generations. That initiative, coupled with resources and books by Indigenous authors, can help us change the way we think about Indigenous communities and help us appreciate them. Here are some extra resources to help you keep learning.

Resources to further explore Indigenous Peoples' Day

  • In Mexico, the Las 13 semillas Zapatistas project, led by women, aims to make us reflect on 13 points that are important to indigenous communities in Mexico. Each seed represents a fight, a hope and a future. Each one is worth reading and discussing as a family.
  • Yasnaya Aguilar Gil is an indigenous author who writes about the history and stories of Indigenous communities. She writes a column in Spanish in "El País" where he talks about the inequalities that Indigenous communities face.
  • On the All My Relations podcast, Makita Wilbur of the Swinomish and Tulalip people, along with Adrienne Keene, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, discuss issues affecting Native American people, such as the fight against the disappearances of Native women, what children are taught about Thanksgiving and efforts to protect the sacred.
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