INTRODUCING CUYITA TO THE WORLD
In May 2020, co-founder of Blossom Inspirations, a fair trade company, and now author, Rosa Chang wrote a semi-autobiographical children’s book, Cuyita Wants to Know the World. We sit down with Rosa to discuss her ‘blossoming’ inspiration behind the book, her experiences immigrating to Mexico and then the US, and creating a bilingual home for her family.
Scroll down to read CFT Executive Director Katherine Bissell Cordova's interview with Rosa Chang about the inspiration behind her book, her experiences immigrating to Mexico and then the US, and creating a bilingual home for her family.
Click on the video below to watch Rosa read the book to her kids.
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Between your full time job, running Blossom Inspirations, family, swimming and causes – where did you find time and what was the inspiration behind writing this book?
I started this project a little over a year ago. It started as a bedtime story. Of course, my kids are curious and asking about how I grew up and my life in Peru and then in Mexico. They know that the longer I talk, the later they can stay up. This book was born out of those stories and books we read to our kids.
You mentioned having a life in Peru, then Mexico and now living in the US. What was it like immigrating to a new country, not once, but twice?
Lots of paperwork! After graduating college and working a bit in Peru, I knew I wanted to find opportunities abroad and explore the world. I looked at Masters program in the US and Mexico and to be honest, I chickened out of taking the GMAT (entrance exam). So, I went to Mexico to study finance. The language wasn’t the problem, I was studying and working to get by and making life-long friends along the way. Immigrating to the US was altogether different. I remember going to Ciudad Juarez for the US immigrant interview in a wheel chair pushed by my husband due to a sport accident I had (playing volleyball in Mexico), while I was pushing the stroller of my daughter to arrive to the interview as a human train (laughing).
The reality is that, I had the support of my husband and his family. Practicing my English was my biggest challenge. I’m still nervous at times when I speak, but many people have told me: embrace your accent!
Creating a bilingual home is very important to you. How do you accomplish that?
It helps that we have several Spanish speakers like my mother and brother who also own a Peruvian restaurant @sangucheperu and they are living nearby and my husband, Jeff, who also speaks Spanish. Our rule is that we try to speak Spanish inside our home and when we go out with friends or my husband’s family, we’ll switch to English. We feel between school and friends, the girls get a good balance. I think the biggest challenge is switching the cartoons’ audio track to Spanish, much to the dismay of our girls or finding good books in Spanish to keep them interested.
Was that part of the motivation to write this bilingual book?
Absolutely! Every night, Jeff and I read to our daughters alternating a story in Spanish and another in English, with the intention that they are exposed and interested by both languages. Language is as part of the culture as food, art and dance. We want to maintain their connection to Peru and Mexico with Spanish alongside the US with English. It is the best legacy we can give them – identifying with their roots. In the long-term we feel they’ll be better able to adapt, be flexible and socialize in different cultural situations.
Is finding Spanish-speaking books, videos and content difficult?
It is an extra effort. Traveling for work, I’m able to pick up books and stories from various Spanish-speaking countries. Amazon has a great selection and we’re finding classic English books now translated to Spanish and even some Spanish books now in English. Definitely, there are a lot more options than when I grew up.
Having several bilingual speakers in your family is a clear advantage. What advice would you give families who don’t have those native speakers to converse with?
It’s true. It is a lot easier to impose our “Spanish only” rule at home when everyone here speaks Spanish. But I still think there are opportunities for households who don’t have native speakers. Bilingual books like Cuyita Wants to Know the World are a good start. I would read through it the first couple times in your preferred language, getting to know the story. Then try out the Spanish and you’ll start to pick up more and more words.
For me it’s the same in English. My 8 year old daughter is reading Harry Potter with her dad. It’s really hard for me to follow along. I’ll be reading to them in English on occasion after a long day and start to drift off. They wake me up laughing and saying, “The book doesn’t say that, Mama!”
How have your kids influenced this project? Or vice versa?
Like a lot of parents, those 30 minutes between brushing the kids’ teeth and finally turning out the lights are some of the most special and magical moments we have as a family. No phones. No screens. We unplug, we read, talk and laugh. I think that was what I wanted to capture in this book, the stories I was sharing with my girls. They would wake up the next day asking about “Cuyita”.
It became fun. Eventually, I was back to my high school hobby of drawing and illustrating some of the stories. I wanted to transport them magically to these other places – and of course, they got to color them in!
Does the book have any correlation with Blossom Inspirations and Fair Trade?
I wrote the book independent from Blossom Inspirations at the beginning.
However, later I realized that the book should have a more holistic approach, should be ways to be more inclusive, to promote culture and to support the artisans who I work directly with. Therefore, we were able to create a cute alpaca fur toy version of Cuyita that can go with the book and join the kids in their adventures.
You’re not a writer by trade, did you find the process difficult?
It took me the better part of a year of writing and rewriting the story. Along the way I was learning about the options of getting it published. I like how it turned out, and most importantly, my daughters like it – at times they were the toughest critics!
Looking back, this was a fun project that helped me connect with my kids, reconnect with my past. It just kept growing and growing. With all the talk about immigration, we wanted to make sure they grow up knowing my story and feeling proud about it. We want to teach them to look beyond their immediate surroundings, community and borders. To be curious about the world outside. They need to value what they receive and realize their situation is unique. I feel this will prepare them for their life ahead.
Thank you very much for the interview. Last question – who are you dedicating this book to?
The bilingual book, "Cuyita Wants to Know the World," is dedicated to all those people who have touched my life in some way or another. I hope that you will enjoy it, feel represented and motivated to explore (virtually, at first!), even in the midst of this global quarantine. Thank you very much!