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The Looking for Carrascolendas Page is a review of Aida Barrera's book about her Mexican American educational TV program Carrascolendas.

Looking for Carrascolendas by Aida Barrera

In her book, Looking for Carrascolendas, Barrera accomplished much more than relating the technical and financial obstacles that had to be surmounted to produce Carrascolendas: a bilingual Spanish and English television program intended mainly for Mexican-American children. She also excavated her own past to uncover a treasure trove of Tex-Mex cultural jewels to produce a moving and vivid memoir of her journey from childhood to adulthood, which provided her with ample material for her television program. As producer of Carrascolendas, Barrera used her well of experience to create vivid and believable Mexican-American characters. An example of one of these was Agapito, the main character, disguised as a lion, proficient in both English and Spanish. However, the actor playing the role of Agapito was Harry Porter, an Anglo-American. This is just one example of how this innovative television program broke away from the straitjacket of the Mexican-American stereotype.

From 1970 to 1976 Carrascolendas was broadcast throughout the United States on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) television network. In 1975 Carrascolendas was broadcast by around 200 out of 243 public TV stations in the United States. It was the first American program to win the UNICEF prize in Japan for its contributions to cross-cultural understanding and was still in sporadic reruns even into the mid-1990's. When author, Barrera, had to decide on a name for the television program, her mother told her: "Ponle Carrascolendas, hijita." "Carrascolendas" is an oral transposition of "Carnestolendas," the old name for Rio Grande City, Texas, which means "carnival."

Carrascolendas undoubtedly broke new ground. There were no previous television programs to serve as models; and no related books that could serve as good sources of material. As a result, Barrera had to pioneer. She had to dig into her own personal experiences and family relationships for inspiration and material for her television program. Barrera writes, "I turned to the one model I knew. I consulted my mother (Margarita Hernandez Barrera). . . . My mother carried within her generations of Hispanic memory and had a gift for sound and poetic devices that was unrivaled." Growing up in Rio Grande City, Barrera's mother was exposed to the vibrant and vast Hispanic culture through her friendship with Maria S. Guerra, who, according to the younger Barrera, was "a gifted painter and as close to an artistic doyenne as Rio Grande had."

At a young age Aida Barrera was exposed to many of the great Hispanic poets, including Ruben Darío (Nicaragua), and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Mexico). Aida Barrera's mother kept her own family entertained with popular Spanish songs, puns, sayings, stories, and games from her Mexican culture. Another source for entertaining and educational material for Carrascolendas was derived from Aida Barrera's experiences in movie theaters. During her teenage years, she worked in a theater that played comical and picaresque movies from La Época de Oro del Cine Mexicano (The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema), with famous Mexican movie stars like Pedro Infante, the great charro singer; María Félix, a role model for Mexican feminists; and Cantinflas,a picaresque, comical character. Of course, like most Americans, Barrera also had viewed many of the classic Hollywood movies.

In relaying her bicultural experiences, Anglo-American and Mexican-American, Barrera explains how she had to deal with two major challenges. Firstly, she had to put in the effort to retain her bond with Mexico, her mother country. When, as a child, she went to visit her relatives in Mexico, she did not feel comfortable there. Her Mexican relatives challenged her by correcting her Spanish and grilling her about her knowledge of Mexican culture and history. Secondly, she had to deal with embarrassing experiences when confronted with the challenge to master the English language while learning to assimilate into the dominant Anglo-American culture.

Anyone interested in reading many anecdotes, laden with laughter and tears, from the rich Mexican-American culture, will enjoy Barrera's book. Reading about the pressures minorities face when forced to assimilate into the dominant culture, and the challenges they face when trying to stay connected to their mother country, can offer the reader valuable insights about the diversity of the American experience. <<Writings>>