When we went to the library in February, there was a display of books celebrating Black History Month. One picture book in particular caught my eye, because it was about a famous astronaut, Mae C. Jemison. She is renowned as the first black woman to travel into space, and while her story as a trailblazer is inspirational, the reason why her book caught my eye is because of her name. Mae Among the Stars. Mae is not a common first name, and I had not ever read a book where the main character was named Mae. So I grabbed it and added it to our checkout pile, because I thought it would be fun to read a book with the kids about a main character with the same name as Mami.
Later as we were perusing the Spanish books section, I saw a bilingual book titled La Manta de Maya/Maya’s Blanket and I thought, how perfect!
Then I decided we needed a book with the name Mateo in the title. That proved to be a bit more difficult, but after searching our library network, the librarian found one book titled Kit and Mateo Journey into the Clouds and we ordered it from a neighboring library.
Once we had all three books at home, we spent three weeks reading and re-reading the adventures of Mae, Maya, and Mateo. While I have always made it a point to help my kids make connections with the books we read (text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world) there was something very special about reading our own names upon every page.
Which gets me thinking about why it’s so important for our children to be represented in the books they read, and the movies & TV shows they watch. These forms of media formulate our children’s sense of the world. What archetypes and schema do we want to instill in the psyche of our children? Do we want them to envision themselves as doctors and astronauts and scientists? Or maids, retail workers, and janitors? (Not that there’s anything less dignified about the three latter jobs, but the three former examples are careers, not jobs, and in my mind there’s a difference.)
Once in a parent meeting with an immigrant father, we asked him what his goals were for his son. He said, “I’d like him to have a job where he needs to wear a tie.” It was clear from his attire and calloused hands that the father was a laborer, and he wanted more for his son.
Don’t we all want more for our children? In order for our sons and daughters to consider or dream about jobs where they have to dress in a suit and tie to go to work, we need to put the image in their head that people like them belong in a suit and tie. They need to see images on the page and on the screen of BIPOC people in suits and ties, so that they can begin to dream, maybe one day that will be me.