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This book uses tacos to help kids find their cultural superpower


by Julie Le 25 Oct 2021 6:05 AM

“Vitamina T for Tacos” encourages young Mexican and Latinx readers to embrace their cultural identity and love for tacos.

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A delightful addition to Spanglish children books is here: “Vitamina T for Tacos” encourages old and young readers to embrace their cultural superpowers.

The book is really three tools in one: an alphabet book, a taco dictionary, and a cultural guide. It’s written in Spanglish. From meats like birria, borrego, and bistec to unifying ideas like unidos con los tacos, it’s clear that something as simple as food can help people embrace and celebrate something as complex as cultural identity.

Taco journalist Mando Rayo, scholar Dr. Suzanne Garcia-Mateus, and Denton-based illustrator Martha Samaniego Calderón teamed up to create the book. Rayo and Garcia-Mateus share similar upbringings: both grew up in the Texas Borderlands and became friends through their cultural blogs.

Together they started writing “Vitamina T for Tacos” at coffee shops in Austin, swapping ideas on how to create a book that is accurate in its representation of Latinx identity. They both embraced the use of Spanglish, emphasizing the importance of writing to accurately reflect how millions of people speak.

“Speaking Spanglish is just something bilingual people do,” said Garcia-Mateus. “We have to honor Spanglish in the classrooms and make space for it.”

Cover of “Vitamina T for Tacos”. Image courtesy: Martha Samaniego Calderón.

They shared the manuscript with Calderón at the beginning of 2021. This is Calderón’s second book. She and her husband, Dan Heiman, wrote “Behind My Mask,” a bilingual book to help kids get comfortable wearing masks during the pandemic. Art&Seek reviewed “Behind My Masks” in another article.

She digitally illustrated the book, using styles from her Mexican background. Calderón, a graduate from UNT’s College of Visual Arts and Design, drew from her arts education background when illustrating “Vitamina T for Tacos.”

“How can we use this book to serve this idea of mirrors and windows?” said Calderón. “It can mirror our Latino students in the classroom, but it can also be an opening for other students with other cultural backgrounds to understand where we come from.”

Arranged alphabet-book style, “Vitamina T for Tacos” includes a dictionary, reinforcing readers’ vocabulary. Whether you know Spanish or not, the book offers affirmation of cultural identity and encourages the use of language as a form of cultural empowerment.

“Vitamina T for Tacos” is the first of a three-part series. The next two, “Vitamina C for Culture: Celebrando Nuestra Cultura” and “Vitamina P for Places: Honoring the Places in our Neighborhoods” publish next year. The book is available through Jade Publishing and Amazon.

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