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Fronteras: ‘Vitamina T for Tacos’ is a children’s A-B-C book and cultural guide that embraces Spanglish

Spanglish is often frowned upon or associated with shame for people who grew up in bilingual households.

But it’s increasingly being embraced, whether in academic spaces or more creative initiatives, including a new A-B-C children’s book, “Vitamina T for Tacos: A children’s alphabet book, taco dictionary and cultural guide.”

The book was intentionally written in Spanglish, according to one of the book’s co-authors Suzanne García-Mateus, assistant professor of education and director of the Monterey Institute for English Learners at California State University-Monterey Bay.

“Spanglish — we call it ‘translanguaging’ in academia — happens all over the world when people speak more than one language and when people grow up with more than one language,” said García-Matues. “And so we really one of the aims that we were doing is trying to destigmatize Spanglish by normalizing it and by having it in a children's book.”

The Spanglish children's book "Vitamina T for Taco" was co-authored by Mando Rayo and Suzanne García-Mateus and illustrated Martha Samaniego Calderón.
The Spanglish children's book "Vitamina T for Taco" was co-authored by Mando Rayo and Suzanne García-Mateus and illustrated Martha Samaniego Calderón.

Taco journalist and IDENTITY Productions producer, Mando Rayo, said some publishers were hesitant to take on the project, which he believes emphasized the need for diverse content to appeal to not only those who relate to the language, but to also serve as a gateway to the culture.

“At the back of the book we have definitions of some of the references that you might not get from the visuals, from the illustrations, or from the actual text of the book,” explained Rayo. “So we want to make sure that people (who) may not be as familiar with the food or the culture, there’s a reference point for you there, and so that way it allows for people to be curious and look at this book as a way to learn something new.”

Illustrator Martha Samaniego Calderón described working on the book as an “organic process,” as she channeled inspiration from her childhood memories visiting her favorite taquerias or watching her grandmother cook.

“I think growing up in Mexico and having this lived experience on my own of what it is to eat (these dishes), to smell them, to cook them made it very easy for me in a way to portray the aesthetics of the illustrations,” said Samaniego Calderón.

From a trompo turning with a slice of pineapple hoisted at the top in “A” is for Tacos Al Pastor to a tray of smiling chips ready to go for a dip in “Q” for is Queso, Samaniego Calderón helps brings the embracement of Spanglish to life.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren