The Spanish language has a gender problem. Nouns ending in an “a” are regarded as feminine and those ending in an “o” are considered masculine. In addition to its limiting duality, the tongue has also been called sexist, particularly because preference is given to male pronouns. Case in point: A crowd of nine women is referred to as “Latinas” until the moment one man joins the group, turning them into “Latinos.” People have increasingly resisted this linguistic male superiority and binary by introducing gender-neutral identifiers like Latin@, Latinx, and Latine. While it’s simple to understand the rationale behind the new terms — making the Spanish language more inclusive to people of differing gender identities — it hasn’t been as easily adopted by Spanish-speakers. To break gender-neutral language down and introduce it to individuals at earlier ages, a California-based elementary school teacher has written a bilingual children’s book on the topic.
“They Call Me Mix” (“Me Llaman Maestre”), written by nonbinary kindergarten teacher Lourdes Rivas.
The autobiographical book is about the instructor’s life, starting from being assigned a girl at birth to learning the fluidity of gender as an adult and identifying as nonbinary. In their classroom at the Sylvia Mendez Elementary School in Berkeley, Rivas has long had to answer students’ queries about calling them “maestre” instead of the more common “maestra” or “maestro,” and this picture book aims to answer that question in a way that’s simple and engaging.
“I wrote the book so I can use it in my classroom to explain why I use non-binary pronouns,” Rivas told the Oakland North, adding that they hope it will allow children to challenge gender binaries earlier, before the social constructs are more deeply embedded in their way of thinking, and encourage them to ask people their gender pronouns before assuming them.
While critics might say that school-aged children are too young to be introduced to topics on gender identity, Rivas disagrees.
According to Rivas, the earlier that one can engage in these conversations the better — but approach, and remaining kid-friendly in these discussions, are key. That’s where “They Call Me Mix” comes in.
“I think about my mom and how she had her way of doing things because she didn’t know any better. But now she does because she’s experiencing it with me and she’s trying her best to use the correct pronouns,” Rivas said.
The author, who began writing “They Call Me Mix” in 2016, created a Kickstarter campaign to cover the costs of publishing the book in August 2017, surpassing their goal by raising $12,545. Since then, Rivas has teamed up with local Afro-Latinx illustrator Breena Nuñez, who produced the artwork for the literature.
“They Call Me Mix” is in final technical review at the Ingram Spark Publishing House, where printing is expected to begin on December 26.
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