Friday, July 07, 2006

Changing demographics

If you haven't noticed, demographics are quickly changing. Classrooms that were once blue eyed and blond, are now varying shades of brown. Authors and illustrators who visit classrooms and school libraries will need to consider this new demographic in order to relate to the children presented to. I have no problem with this change; I've embraced it. Problem is, for reason's I can't put my finger on, I've had trouble making a connection with one particular group of students — though I'd really like to.

I need to be careful in attempting to define this group. I don't want to offend, make false assumptions, or put entire populations of people in a box. I've done many classroom and library events. My audiences have been everything from predominately white, black, rich, poor, Hispanic, male, preschool, elementary, high school, college, city, rural and mixtures of all of the above. Each audience is unique. But the group I seem to strike out with, are groups who are newly(presumed) immigrated — primarily Spanish speaking, or bi-lingual. 10 years ago, when I first started doing school visits in Iowa, "Spanish speaking" and "bi-lingual" weren't even a part of my vocabulary.

As I set up my presentation at a recent event, the 20 or so children I'd be presenting to, were in the next room. I listened to their chatter. None of the chatter was in English. I thought back to previous library visits, with similar audience makeup. Those that I recalled didn't go over so well. For reasons I’m not sure about, my attempts to connect with the children failed. They didn't laugh at my corny poems, and my attempts at getting them to interact with me proved impossible. I couldn't even get a volunteer to come up and allow me to draw a cartoon of them, something most groups of kids practically fight over. One librarian offered an apology saying the children were very shy.

At a recent event, the mostly Spanish-speaking children didn't seem as "shy." Before I started my presentation, they came up and looked at my work, they seemed interested. Maybe art transcends language. But, once I started speaking, the whole thing went flat, same as my other experiences with similar groups. I want to make it clear, it's not a Hispanic thing. I've spoken to many primarily Hispanic audiences. They are not much different than other audiences of children. Again, it appears to be that growing audience of Spanish speaking, or primarily Spanish bi-lingual children.

One mother at this recent event, sat with her two children. After my presentation, I went over to thank her for coming. She quickly looked away, mumbled something back, then completely turned her back to me. Maybe she didn't speak English, and my approach made her feel uncomfortable, I have no idea.

Again, I'm not blaming the children. I am the speaker, it's my job to connect with them, to engage and inspire them, and not them me. I need to make some changes.And I'd suggest, if you already haven't made some of those considerations to your programs, you probably should.

1 comment:

rindamybyers said...

Maybe something as simple as memorizing a few Spanish phrases might help break the ice for you in such situations. (Easy for me to say, though, as I read Spanish and can pronounce it properly) Or get a volunteer interpreter to help even though the children are bilingual. A good interpreter might be the ticket. Have them tell all about you in spanish as an intro first maybe. My guess is that it is a language/cultural barrier. Probably everyone should be aware, always in these situations, that in some cultures, eye contact or body gestures that are "safe" or normal in American culture might have very different meanings to a child from another culture. In some cultures, what we consider "normal" eye contact is not appropriate, that sort of thing. As a child in Thailand, we had to learn both Thai manners and American manners! And the Thai manners were much more strict, I can tell you! Whew!