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La Llorona

Críticas, Interview with Joe Hayes

Meet Joe Hayes, Bilingual Storyteller

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Cinco Puntos Press released a new, full-color, hardback edition of Hayes’s groundbreaking bilingual retelling of La Llorona/The Weeping Woman, the classic Mexican folktale. The original bilingual edition has sold over 90,000 copies to date.

What first inspired you to retell Hispanic folktales in particular, and to do so in both English and Spanish?

Joe Hayes: As a child in Arizona, I was surrounded by and attracted to Hispanic (although no one used the word at the time) culture and the Spanish language. My only formal study was two years of high school Spanish, but life constantly put me in situations where my knowledge of both and language and culture would grow. I had many Spanish-speaking friends as a student at the University of Arizona. I then taught high school English at a school where Hispanics were the minority population. I worked in mineral exploration in Mexico and Spain. Finally, in 1976 I moved to northern New Mexico and discovered the Spanish colonial culture of the region including its huge body of traditional narratives. When I started telling those stories, I instinctively incorporated both English and Spanish into my telling because it sounded authentic to me. Later, I became aware of how much the mixture of languages enriched the stories for listeners, and how satisfying and validating it was for children whose first language was Spanish to hear the stories in their own language.

Criticas’s 2004 Public Library Survey indicates that the interest for bilingual books is rising. What changes have you perceived in the children’s bilingual market since you began writing in 1982?

Joe: Understanding and respect for bilingualism in this country has grown exponentially in the past 20 years. In the early 80s, bilingual books were something of a curiosity. In general, people responded positively to the use of both English and Spanish but didn’t have an awareness of how bilingualism typified American culture. That has changed. Bilingualism has asserted itself in advertising, the mass media, even the presidential campaign trail. I now find that even readers who don’t know Spanish like the idea of having both languages in the same book. And of course, the number of children in our schools who are working hard to become bilingual is enormous. Some start with Spanish as their first language and some with English, but in either case, bilingual books have proved to be a powerful learning asset. Today, using two languages in a book is a definite selling point.

You are the resident storyteller at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe and are often invited to schools to tell your stories in classrooms. What aspects of storytelling do you most enjoy?

Joe: I love the simplicity and directness of storytelling. A told story create a bond, a real sense of community, among the listeners and between them and the teller. Seeing that happen gives me hope for the future. Even if all our vaunted technology were to come crashing down around us, we’d still have each other. And we’d still have our stories.

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