Rabbitbrush Rambler: Tell me a cuento

Once a month children come to the Alamosa Public Library for story time. As the storyteller shows pages of the book, the children may see bilingual words, the way that the StoryWalk outdoors does, so reading the signs is a learning experience besides being a fun walk.

Whatever the native languages of the kids, one of a library’s many functions is encouraging children to read and helping them to get started at a young age, before other interests take over. So, Bravo! to the public library and to the Alamosa Literacy Council for their programs.

Or maybe, a grandma from Mexico or Guatemala at home is telling an ancient story from Central America about La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, with no book or pictures or printed words. People of all ages from everywhere love a good story even if they are not yet readers. It might be a steppingstone to becoming a reader, though, with a little encouragement.

Not everyone reads or speaks the same language. Although English is the most widely used language around the globe for business and many other activities, Mandarin far exceeds English in its numbers of speakers, and Spanish outnumbers English-speakers, too, although English is the most common language here.

Knowing how to speak, read, and write proficiently in English is essential. Years ago when a family moved from a farm to Alamosa with a school that taught only in English, the little niños and niñas from a home where only Spanish had been heard were confronted with huge difficulties, unlike those of their classmates. At Del Norte, Hispanic children were relegated to separate rooms in the basement — a hard experience.

Then imagine children of migrant or homeless families who get hauled from one school or state to another with no continuity in their schooling. That makes learning and graduating nearly impossible.

Here in the Valley we have people with a great variety of needs and of pleasures too, but a fundamental for all is communication, whether we are speaking or listening, reading or writing, for business or pleasure, gathering or sharing information, or just trying to understand instructions on a traffic ticket about what you must do after failing to read a stop sign.

Or try getting a job if you can’t read the want ads in the Courier or fill out an application form for a job. Or try attending a public meeting without understanding the written information about it and then speaking your mind anyway and looking silly. Being literate really matters.

But getting back to story time. Stories are sneaky. Many have a moral or some cautionary advice tucked away in them to guide the children in daily life. That can be an important part of story time.

And stories can just be fun. They were here before TV, iPhones, and pads, or even before books, and some cuentistos, the storytellers, were popular at parties or just when sitting around on a bench with others. Depending on the listeners, jibes about authorities and churchmen might be slipped in the story for a laugh, too. We have lost that kind of oral entertainment, sadly.

I have a couple of wonderful books full of tales, some short, some long, often with one episode after another strung in chains of events. One of my favorite collections is “Cuentos: Tales from the Hispanic Southwest,” compiled and told by Maestas and Anaya, and one of my favorite stories in it is “The Man
Who Knew the Language of the Animals.” Reading it, I love eavesdropping on what the sheep are saying to each other while they nibble grass and the shepherd lolls lazily in the sun.

Juan B. Rael’s two-volume “Cuentos Espanoles of Colorado and New Mexico,” a doorstopper, will allow students to dig deeper. Like many other collections that are available in libraries and bookstores, this one
also has summaries in English. Take a look.