The history of the United States is a patchwork quilt of different textures, colors and patterns. It is taught, to one degree or another, in schools throughout the Country. I emphasize the word taught, because as most adults realize, history is written by the winners, skewing our rearview; and, more practically, school boards control what is taught in that they select the books upon which the educational foundation rests. Majorities control school boards. Majorities, almost by definition, are cut from the same bolt; not differing in textures, colors or patterns.
A textbook can emphasize one point in time over another; characterize one man’s freedom-fighter as a terrorist; identify a man (it’s always a man if it’s historically important, no?) as an explorer, a colonizer or a conqueror. Words are important. Stories are important. And, those who control the stories, control the access to history–thereby controlling what pieces make it onto the final quilt. Piecing history, just like piecing a stunning, intricate quilt, is difficult. Fortunately, books like The Wind Called My Name, a historical fiction* book set in Depression Era Wyoming, provide a much needed missing piece that brings diversity to the tapestry of Americana. Because, let there be no doubt, Sanchez’ story is as much a part of the American tradition as is Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie.
Margarita and her family move from New Mexico to Fort Steele Wyoming, where her father has been able to secure a job working on the railroad. Leaving the life she has known for all of her ten years behind, she embarks on a new adventure where she tries to make new friends, navigates growing up and faces discrimination, while at the same time remains true to her Hispanic Heritage.
The newly christened “Maggie”, proves to be a hard-worker and earns the trust of the local shopkeeper. Eventually, after the usual dance between cultures, she builds a solid friendship with the shopkeeper’s granddaughter. And, together, they embark on solving a great mystery that has ramifications throughout the whole town. Margarita’s indomitable spirit carries the day and helps bridge the culture-gap inherent in xenophobia and only magnified by the Great Depression.
Along the way, the reader learns quite a bit of historically accurate information; not the least of which is that part of the Civil War was fought in New Mexico by proud Latinos who supported The Union. This, I was not taught in school. Indeed, the book is filled with such information, woven intricately into the story.
Yes, to some degree or another adults understand that many flags have flown over the lands now occupied by the United States. However, when it comes to this Latino family’s heritage, a point often overlooked in the general curriculum, Sanchez sums it up succinctly and plainly by turning up the heat:
Our family didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us.
Sanchez’ writing is strong, clear and warm. The story progresses effortlessly between English prose and Spanish dichos (idioms) without faltering. In fact, the extensive glossary provided at the back of the book may not be needed by careful readers (although it is a wonderful addition and an excellent pronunciation guide). She fills the story with careful Easter Eggs, one including Georgia O’Keeffe, that bring a smile to readers who recognize the implicit references. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez has the ability to capture a moment vividly, and unflinchingly:
He stood up and rubbed his eyebrows with his fingers. It was like he was trying to erase from his mind what I had done.
From a pedagogical perspective, exposing young people to well written pieces is essential in developing not only their reading skills, but also their writing skills. Moreover, the unique cultural influences Sanchez’ embodies in the cadence of her writing, her choice of words (note, although it would have been more American to write “word usage,” the point would have been lost), and the rich traditions of the generations who came before her, help expand a young reader’s view of the world. At a time when the world still uses some of the slurs hurled at the Latinos in the book, an expanded worldview is necessary.
We need to know more stories like Margarita’s story. The projected Hispanic population of the United States for July 1, 2050 is 132.8 million people, or 30.2% of the nation’s total projected population on that date. Our future is built on our past; indeed, it’s built on all of our stories.
*For the uninitiated, the Historical Fiction genre sets out to capture as much detail as it can about the time place and people of a given time, and builds a story around those details. [That’s a very basic explanation, click the link for a more thorough one.] In The Wind Called My Name, Sanchez acknowledges that her book is loosely based on her mother’s life. She details, in a lengthy Author’s Note, what familial details were included in the story.
The Wind Called My Name
Mary Louise Sanchez
an imprint of Lee & Low Books
More books for this Age Group can be found here.
My thanks to the Author for providing a copy of this book. The views expressed herein are my own.
Please, leave comments! I love a HEALTHY exchange of ideas. After all, critical thinking is essential to life.
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