by Steve Zaluksy
Libraries not only foster literacy. They also cultivate cross-cultural understanding. This will be amply demonstrated on April 30, when hundreds of libraries across the country will celebrate Día, a national library program that promotes literacy for all children from all backgrounds.
Día, also known as El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) is a commitment to include and celebrate a variety of cultures every day, year-round, culminating annually on April 30. Día recognizes and respects culture, heritage and language as powerful tools for strengthening families and communities.
An enhancement of Children’s Day, which started in 1925 and was designated as a day to bring attention to the importance and well-being of children, Día began in 1996, under the aegis of acclaimed children’s author Pat Mora, who proposed linking the celebration of childhood and children with literacy to found Día.
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), is the national home for Día, and the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA) and Mora are founding partners of the initiative. “Libraries provide opportunities to serve as mirrors to reflect those within the community and as windows to provide opportunities to learn about people from other cultures and backgrounds.,” said Andrew Medlar, past president of ALSC. “Through Día, libraries and librarians are transforming lives and communities by offering services and programs that challenge intolerance and cultural invisibility.”
Demographic projections show more than half of the country’s children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group in the next few years, and programs such as Día play a critical role in helping meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population, while also fueling cultural understanding and acceptance.
Through Día, libraries and librarians are using their expertise to nurture literacy by providing children access to and awareness of books that reflect their culture, heritage and language. Día events and activities have ranged from providing reading materials to children who are unaccompanied minors in detention centers and hosting bilingual story times for immigrant families from Somalia to visiting underserved communities on a bookmobile with book giveaways and fun crafts.
This year, libraries are planning a variety of Día celebrations that support inclusion, diversity and equity, including a show with Japanese drumming and storytelling in Los Angeles, a performance of traditional dances from Mexico and Spain in Broomfield, Colorado; and multicultural games and educational activities based on books from the Association for Library Service to Children’s 2017 Building STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) with Día Booklists in Portland, Ore.
In Oregon, the Springfield Public Library will celebrate with crafts, games and activities for children, as well as performances by Alma de México folclórico dance, Springfield High School’s Mariachi de Sol and the Chiffin Native Youth Center Students. The celebration will conclude with Nuestro Canto of Portland and their bilingual show Legends of Mexico/Leyendas de México. All youth who attend can receive a free book.
The celebration is a tradition for the library, which, in 2014, celebrated Día with a three-hour long festival attended by more than 500 hundred community members, including Springfield’s mayor, who opened the festivities.
For the last five years, libraries focused on engaging African-American children and families have received Día grants from through the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature to purchase books. This year’s grant winners include a library in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where students will research inspiring African-American authors and a library in Sharon, Pennsylvania, will present a program on the important contributions of African-American writers.