Two birds, one stone - Los Dichos Moms

Reply Mon 6 Mar, 2006 01:52 pm
Mon, Mar. 06, 2006

Two birds, one stone

By Luis Zaragoza
Mercury News

They're known as Los Dichos Moms, and they're bursting with stories.

They have the stories they read aloud in Spanish to schoolchildren throughout Silicon Valley.

They have the stories they share with each other of growing up in Mexico and then coming to America, apprehensive, hopeful, yet excited by the opportunities.

And they have the stories of realizing they wanted to preserve their culture and language as their children assimilate.


Perhaps their most memorable tale, though, is of their own transformation: Not so long ago, they were anxious about contact with their children's schools because they speak little or no English. Today, they are campus darlings because they can read aloud in Spanish.

Since their debut nearly two years ago at a few San Jose elementary schools, the group has grown to about 80 moms reading weekly at a dozen area elementary schools. Some have become deeply involved on campus, catching the attention of schools throughout Santa Clara County that are looking for ways to involve Spanish-speaking parents in school activities.

to be continued (source at end of article)
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 6 Mar, 2006 01:53 pm

``Yes, people are afraid sometimes, but you have to get past that to do what's going to help your children do well in school,'' said Maria Delosangeles Romero, a Los Dichos Mom who reads at Horace Mann Elementary.

For Martha Ayala, who reads at Anne Darling Elementary in San Jose, being a Los Dichos Mom means becoming familiar with a new book each month. A recent one was ``Cuadros de Familia,'' or ``Family Pictures,'' by Carmen Lomas Garza.

Seated in front of a class of squirmy first-graders one day and perhaps third-graders the next, Ayala must engage the kids in Garza's childhood recollections, each vignette accompanied by eye-catching illustrations.

So she uses words and pictures to relay the experience of cracking a piƱata at a birthday party, gingerly picking prickly nopal cactus with grandfather and watching grandmother slaughter a chicken for dinner.


Another recent offering from Garza was a huge hit with the moms, too.

``Making Magic Windows'' explains the craft of papel picado -- cut-paper art that results in banners distinguished by lacy designs. During training, the moms learned how to fold tissue paper in such a way that strategic cuts resulted in lacy banderitas, or banners, resembling those dating back hundreds of years.

The moms emphasize that they want their children to carry on cultural traditions -- from papel picado to Sunday supper to the tamale-making extravaganza known as the tamalada -- that sometimes fade away because making a living takes up so much time and energy.

``More than anything, we don't want them to forget where they came from,'' said Ana Vivaldo, a Los Dichos Mom from Anne Darling.

Los Dichos Moms is shorthand for Los Dichos de la Casa, the formal name of the storytelling program. Dichos are proverbs that Mexicans, especially moms, often use to punctuate a bit of news or a recollection.

One goes, ``Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres,'' which translates to ``Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.''

Such a mom thing to say, whatever the language. While traditional dichos come up during the mom-led story time, the main activity is reading from books that reflect life in Latin America or immigrants' experiences in America. Hearing these stories in Spanish reinforces for the children that their heritage is important, the moms say. Hearing the stories read by real moms only enhances the experience.

Meanwhile, interest in Los Dichos Moms continues to grow at schools across Santa Clara County that have large numbers of students from homes where Spanish is the primary language. The hope is that adopting the program could result in substantial growth in parent involvement at schools that need it most.

At Anne Darling, one of the first campuses to embrace the program, the moms banded together to sell treats to pay for good citizenship awards and are spearheading campuswide celebrations.

Because of their increased involvement, ``We're looked at differently, by the teachers and by the kids -- we're getting respect,'' Ayala said.

``In all these years, I never saw a group of mothers with this much dedication,'' said Ana Frias, an instructional aide at Anne Darling.

No one expected the program would sweep through schools so quickly and with such impact. Even the storytellers are amazed by their growing influence on campus.

``We've come to realize we're a force for change,'' said Evangelina Gonzalez, a newly minted storyteller at Willow Glen Elementary.

Linda Silvius, a former teacher and partnerships director for Project Cornerstone, calls the storytellers ``trailblazers'' who have only begun to realize their potential. In addition, she said, they're helping dispel the perception that Latino parents are uninterested in schooling.

Project Cornerstone is the San Jose-based collaborative of public and private organizations that serves as an incubator for programs benefiting children. It is providing books and coaching for the moms. Los Dichos Moms who have moved from the area, Silvius said, are proposing similar programs at their children's new schools, and inquiries are coming in from all over Silicon Valley and the nation as news of the moms' rapid integration into campus life spreads.

As the program evolves, its nickname might have to change. Some dads have expressed interest in doing some reading.

Meanwhile, the moms are becoming used to being recognized by students outside of school. Strolling through the market or a panaderilla, a Mexican bakery, kids will sometimes rush up and greet the moms enthusiastically with, ``Maestra! Maestra!'' That's Spanish for teacher, a title that in Mexico carries enormous respect.

``Moments like that become very emotional for us,'' said Ayala, the Los Dichos Mom from Anne Darling. ``During the short time we're in class, we do feel like the teacher.''

source: San Jose Mercury News, print version pages A1 & A4, online article
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Reply Mon 6 Mar, 2006 01:55 pm
This is wonderful, thanks for sharing it.
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