National Library Week is April 9-15, 2017. It’s the perfect time to share the books that shaped our librarians!
By Noelle Cruz, Adjunct Librarian
I didn’t grow up instantly in love with the written word. Unlike most, I did not learn to read until after the age of six and when I finally did, I unknowingly used reading to learn my second language after migrating to the U.S. at eight years old.
My first memories of reading were during weekend afternoons after everyone has returned from church or the market; we all sat around the living room taking turns reading Filipino komiks (comics) that draw their inspiration from local folklore and mythical creatures. But reading wasn’t a necessary skill because the illustrations made it clear that the protagonist never survived her encounters with the aswang, a monster in Filipino folklore known to prey on pregnant women — not really stories for kids.
There was no reading about seeing Spot run or waving goodnight to the moon during this particular period of my literary education, because it wasn’t until I came to America that I was exposed to books more suitable for my age.
While in the Philippines, it never occurred to me that books were available to read for leisure, and so I eagerly awaited storytime at my American schools when the teachers gave us brand new books, books where you were the first owner, the one who makes the first creases and folds, and when the crisp smell has not been tarnished by previous owners and their own smells latched onto to the pages.
I learned about the American culture, the ideals it valued, and their language through books like The Baby-Sitters Club, exhibiting the entrepreneurship spirit at a young age; The Boxcar Children, displaying the American independence and resilience; The Giver, of stepping beyond your comfort zone and resisting the restrictions handed to you; and The Outsiders, with society defining your role based on the class system you were born into and soundly predicting where you end up in life.
In my younger years, it wasn’t one definitive book that made an impact on me. Rather, it was in the giving of these books that have stayed with me and that have made me. The friends who gave me their secondhand The Baby-Sitters Club books and their collection of the campy Sweet Valley High. The teachers who allowed me to keep hardcover copies of books and abridged versions of classic literature because I couldn’t let go of them and they recognized my need to read Charlotte’s Web silently and ahead of the class.
Without the books from my childhood, assimilation to American culture would have been more difficult, especially while speaking with broken English and a heavy accent, painfully aware that these are used as a measure of intelligence. But the books presented to me gave me a peek inside my adopted culture. And armed with that that knowledge, I learned how to blend in seamlessly, almost a little too well. . . almost at the expense of my Filipino identity.
As I indulged in popular fiction and western-based classics, my heritage took a secondary role. It lay dormant long enough that I lost the identity momentarily. In an effort to be as American as possible, I began self-identifying as an American teenager, passively downplaying my Filipino identity and forgetting the language, the history, and our unique connection to America.
And so another literary education began. This time to reclaim the culture I left behind when I moved abroad. While the rest of my family members were tired of hearing about Jose Rizal, a Filipino nationalist they were required to learn about, I couldn’t get enough of him and his contemporaries. They left a legacy of battling against Spanish and American colonization in the Philippines that still affects the country today. Rizal Without the Overcoat by Ambeth R. Ocampo was my early informal introduction to Rizal while Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters exposed me to a set of literature where I found voices I recognized and understood on a familial level.
So it is through these collection of books where I learned how to enjoy both my cultural identities and have them peacefully co-exist rather than fight for prominence in my life.
The Book That Made Me” is a blog mini-series about books that have changed our lives. Interested in writing about a book that has changed your life? Email: Tavish.Bell@csn.edu