PALABRAS: Children's Lit Writer Uses 'Bifurcated Upbringing' to Preserve Puerto Rican Culture
This article is part of "Palabras," the Latin Post Latino Author Series.
Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor, attorney and author of "Martina Finds a Shiny Coin" and "Martina and the Wondrous Waterfall," uses her "bifurcated upbringing" to create stories that preserve and hearten Puerto Rican culture.
Gonzalez-Taylor grew up in both Puerto Rico and New York, bobbing between the two places, spending time here and there. As a young student, the future lawyer didn't receive very good grades, and detached high school teachers encouraged toward the workforce rather than education after graduation.
She did just that, spending two years at a banking job, until she was encouraged to pursue her education. After entering college, she realized her aptitude for learning and understood that her poor performance in high school was due to her tumultuous home life and the listlessness of her high school instructors. The future author eventually graduated from John Jay College and later started her career in public service. However, her writing career wouldn't come until much later.
"Being an author came later. Not by accident, but by coincidence ... with being a parent," Gonzalez-Taylor told Latin Post. "Parenting inspired me to be an author, and being an attorney was inspired by the parts of my childhood spent in New York. I'm a childhood abuse survivor, and also a domestic violence survivor. My father was mentally ill and an addict, so I said, 'When I grow up I'm going to be a super hero.' Not really, but I always said when I grow up, I want to do something to help somebody else, and that's what led me into public service, working with the NYPD and later the board of education."
As a parent, Gonzalez-Taylor always encouraged her own children to read, routinely telling them classic stories at bedtime. Her youngest, a seven year old, loves folk tales and frequently demands stories from her mother. Initially, Gonzalez-Taylor told her daughter stories such as 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' and 'The Little Pigs. Then one day Gonzalez-Taylor's husband suggested, 'Why don't you tell her a story from where you're from? I'm sure there are stories from Puerto Rico that are amazing stories.'
"I thought, that's true, why am I whitewashing my kids at story-time?'" said Gonzalez-Taylor. "Of course, we do it subconsciously, where we tell everyone's stories except our own. So, I tried to think of one of the stories that I really loved growing up ... and thought of 'La Cucarachita Martina,' I told my daughter the original story, and little by little we started changing the story.
"One night, we decided La Cucarachita was going to play the cello because my daughter plays the cello. Then, another night, we said, let's make her a singer, who likes to sing and loves to dance. Then, one day, I said, 'I've told this story so many times that I might as well write it down. Maybe this is a story that others might be interested in reading.'"
Although Gonzalez-Taylor has written her entire career as an attorney, she'd never considered becoming creative writer or an author. Nonetheless, she queried, but found that agents were resistant to a story about a roach. Rather than giving up, she decided to self-publish her book.
She took to research, weeded out the scams, found an illustrator and she published on her own. Then, she began "beating the pavement," taking her books to libraries and local bookstores, such as La Casa Azul. Once she did that, she came up with her second story, an original spin-off where Martina and her friends go on a adventurous journey to a waterfall while determining who the best musician is.
Gonzalez-Taylor said, "I wanted to give my daughter something that was cultural, and I wanted to preserve an adaptation of an original story, an Afro-Caribbean folk tale, which was first published by Pura Belpré, who was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. The adaptation is something I wanted to do for her. I made the cockroach a more cultured and educated creature, so to say, 'you can still attract people based on your character as opposed to your appearance.'"
The author indicated that La Cucarachita is a "never judge a book by its cover" story that highlights mutual interests and understanding as the most important factor in a relationship, not looks. The books' positive message is one that the author holds dear, and some of her proudest moments as an author involve her reading La Cucarachita books to groups of children, helping them to understand the importance of character.
Alongside developing new ideas for the next Martina book, Gonzalez-Taylor is working on an adult manuscript, which is a paranormal thriller based in Puerto Rico. Also, readers can expect much more in the future from the rising author.
'You have to commit yourself," Gonzalez-Taylor said. "Whether you're self-published or published traditionally, you really have to promote yourself, you can't be shy. Although writers tend to be shy, secluded and isolated, you have to put yourself out there; you have to promote your work. Imagination is one thing, but the work that has to go into it are drafts, editing, looking over your work and being careful. It's something that's important, especially now-a-days when there's a lot self-publishing. You have made sure your work is comparable to something published out of a traditional publishing house."
Gonzalez-Taylor will be making an appearance at the Barnes and Noble (Bay Plaza Shopping Center, 290 Baychester Ave) on November 7.
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