Rodriguez: Storytelling part of what made me who I am


Helena Rodriguez

This is a continuation of last week’s column on how, rather than my parents reading my sisters and I books as children, we listened to children’s records.

However, in writing the column, I realized two things.

While I grew up under a rich oral tradition of our Hispanic culture, an oral tradition which shaped my views of myself and the world, books were not completely out of the picture. Books were influential. At first, the books Mom had laying around were dangerous … until I learned how to use them; then they helped guide my dreams.

Let me back up now. Due to space constraints, I will have to continue this column next week.

Helena Rodriguez

My dad only had a sixth-grade education. He can read and write, but he had to learn to fill in the blanks during his adult life. Spanish was his first language. He had to quit school and work with his migrant family in the Texas fields. My mom had some college education.

We mostly listened to children’s records at home, but during hot summer days, we’d walk with my uncles, aunts and cousins to the Portales Public Library. I got hooked on “The Boxcar Children,” “Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew.” I’d also stock up on books at our school library at W.E. Lindsey Elementary. Mrs. Walsh called me a bookworm.

We didn’t have children’s books around our house, so there were no nighttime stories. But during the summers when we camped at Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Villanueva State Park, Palo Duro Canyon or Buffalo Springs Lake, Dad told us stories around the campfire, stories about La Llorona, the legendary weeping woman, and stories about his growing up in a migrant family, moving from town-to-town, field-to-field, following crops. Mom also told us about her childhood in northern New Mexico.

As I hit puberty, though, money became more scarce. Reaganomics hit us hard.

There were no more summer camping trips. During the summers, my older sister and I watched my younger sisters while Mom and Dad worked. That is when I noticed Mom’s books, “450 Años del Pueblo Chicano/450 Years of Chicano History,” “Aztlan,” “Cesar Chavez,” “Luis Valdez and his Teatro Campesino” and more. These were the first books I discovered, before Rudolfo Anaya’s “ Bless Me, Ultima,” which I have written about many times before.

These first “Chicano Power” books were dangerous at first read. They were somewhat divisive, until I learned how to use them to really “empower me.” Tune in next week for the rest of the story.

Helena Rodriguez is a Portales native. Contact her at: [email protected]


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