The Fabric of Culture

Illustrated image of Lola Lopes Cruz, a second-generation Latin-American girl, with her extended family at the dinner table with the text "The Fabric of Culture"
Headshot image of ¡Hola, Lola! author Keka Novales

Keka Novales

The Fabric of Culture

September 9, 2022

 

I was born in Guatemala. It is the country south of Mexico. In Guatemala, they weave beautiful fabrics with bright colors. Each thread is essential. The thread by itself is just one color, but woven with the other colors makes a magical creation! The same is true with every individual. Each child has unique stories and experiences that make them who they are. 

I am the youngest of three sisters, and they are 9 and 12 years older than me. Growing up, I often felt like an only child since my sisters were much older. I was timid. I went to a traditional Guatemalan elementary school, and English was not a priority. I loved attending school and playing with friends but didn't enjoy reading. The books they gave us were translations of English classics or books that were not for our grade level in Spanish. Plus, there was a lot of bullying while reading out loud. Kids would shake your desk or pull your paper away from you while reading.

My parents did something different than most Guatemalan families. When I was in 6th grade, they let me decide what path I wanted to follow. Most kids in Guatemala would start kindergarten and graduate from the same school. My parents made sure I had a voice in my destiny! I had a few choices; I could choose to go to an engineering school like my older sister or become a teacher like my other sister. Instead, I decided to attend a school where the main focus was on learning English... Little did I know that decision would be one of the most important ones I have ever made! 

When I went to take the admissions test at the new school, I had to read a passage about a "dove." I had no idea what that word meant. We spent the day speaking and learning in English and the other half in Spanish, and I had to immerse myself in the language. I am thankful for my teachers, who helped me catch up with my friends with love and patience. That dove, like magic, had transformed my world. I discovered that I loved reading in English. I wanted to be a children's books writer when I graduated high school and create books that would help children find the love of books. 

Collage image of book covers from the ¡Hola, Lola! early chapter book series by Keka Novales and illustrated by Gloria FelixCollage image of book covers from the ¡Hola, Lola! early chapter book series by Keka Novales and illustrated by Gloria Felix

I never imagined that I would live in the U.S., but life had other plans. I got married to my high school sweetheart and moved to the U.S. My husband was working at the time in South Carolina. I always got the same reaction when I introduced myself as a Guatemalan. People would smile and nod (you could see they had no clue what Guatemalan was) or ask me, "where is that island?" When people learned I spoke Spanish; they would ask me if I was Mexican. Latino/a or Latinx is a term that includes 33 unique countries diverse in culture and rich in traditions. I realized that I was a cultural ambassador, and as a Latina, I had to work hard to break prejudices. Love and kindness would be my business card to the world.  

We moved several times because of my husband's job, and I had to leave great friends along the way. I always wanted to become a writer, but my dream had to be placed on hold as we moved. I fell in love with the U.S., the culture, the people, and now I felt at home. Fast forward a few years. We had three children. I loved reading nursery rhymes and books to foster their love for reading. But there were not many books that would help them connect with their Guatemalan heritage and culture. I knew they were part of the American culture, but I didn't want them to miss out on learning about their Guatemalan side. I wanted them to have the best of both worlds. Understanding where they came from, they would love and appreciate where they are going.

I realized how vital weaving cultures and traditions were essential in my family. I remembered my dream of becoming a writer. Through stories, not only my children but other kids would establish that cultural connection; that is how Lola was born.

Illustrated image of Lola Lopes Cruz, a second-generation Latin-American girl, on a walk with her grandmother and motherIllustrated image of Lola Lopes Cruz, a second-generation Latin-American girl, on a walk with her grandmother and mother

The ¡Hola, Lola! books portray a second-generation Guatemalan-American child. The central character, Lola, can be a mirror where second-generation children can see themselves or a window for children from other cultures to see Lola's world as Lola experiences a lot of firsts of growing up. 

Why is heritage important? Heritage is the set of traditions, values, and customs that make each person. Heritage is the building block that gives individuals a solid stand to grow. Heritage and love provide a head start to see the world differently. Honestly, I started appreciating my culture once I had children. I realized how important it was for my kids to learn about traditions and feel connected with that invisible fabric of culture. 

Lola is the type of book I would have loved reading growing up. When I write, I remember myself as a child, how I struggled and didn't want to read. I write Lola's stories with themes I would have loved knowing as a child.

I hope to inspire children to dream, hope, and be kind while feeling represented. Why is representation important? Because when you identify with the characters, it is easier to read; it lets you know that your experience matters. Your story is an important part of the beautiful fabric of life. Your traditions and culture are important because you have a place in this world, you are seen and heard, and most importantly, you can be the hero in your own story!

 

Download a Chocolate Caliente recipe from the ¡Hola, Lola! book series

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