January 16, 2004

American Library Association Belpre Award

By Katia Lopez-Hodoyan

As immigrants in the United States find it increasingly important to preserve the language and tradition instilled in their culture, libraries throughout the nation face the challenge of representing different cultures through the distribution of books. Members of the American Library Association gathered in San Diego’s convention center last week to underline the importance of culturally diverse readings for children. One of the highlights used to introduce this concept was the Pura Belpre Award given to both illustrators and authors that best reflect and honor the Latino culture. This year’s winners were Yuyi Morales from “Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book,” as well as Julia Alvarez who authored “Before We Were Free.”

The first Belpre award was presented in 1996 to Judith Ortiz Cofer, a Puerto Rican woman who authored “An Island Like you: Stories of the Barrio”. Since then, the award has been presented to Latino authors every two years. Although several awards presented by the ALA are given on an annual basis, the lack of Latino authors for children’s books has prevented the Belpre award from being granted every year.

“Publishing companies need to become more in tune with the Latino population in this country,” said Committee Chair Rose Treviño. “There is a large number of underrepresented groups that need to be accounted for.”

Author, Jullia Alvarez.

In San Diego county 27 percent of its 2.8 million residents are of Latino descent, 85 percent of which are bilingual and bicultural. Reflecting these numbers, stands the San Diego county library which has increased it’s purchase of both books in Spanish and books written by Latino authors in the past few years, according to Arian Collins from San Diego library.

Although critics advise that there is much work to be done in order to equate the ratio of books written by Latino authors to those written by Anglo-Saxons, purchases seem to be improving not only at a local level buy at a national level as well.

“ I have seen a tremendous increase of books written by Latino authors in our libraries,” said Ana Alba Pavon, an ALA member from the San Francisco branch. “Although there is still work to be done, there is a growing demand for the narration of our stories.”

One of the primary goals set for the conference was to distinguish minority groups that have for many years been ignored or misrepresented. Because the foundation of this goal has already been established, the association is now focusing on recognizing books written by Latino authors at the same level as those in the mainstream.

“Several years ago, books misrepresented Latinos by only focusing on gangs and violence,” said Treviño. “They didn’t event think Latino’s could read.”

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