Library to celebrate culture, literacy

One of the events that earned Marshalltown Public Library a National Medal for Museum and Library Services will highlight cultural and ethnic diversity while encouraging children to read.

Dia de los Nios/ Dia de los Libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) is an annual celebration of childhood and bilingual literacy, emphasizing its importance regardless of cultural or linguistic background. The Marshalltown Public Library will host the celebration 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday. The library was the first in Iowa to celebrate the day and has done so for 12 years.

“It just pretty much seems to get bigger each year,” said Joa LaVille, youth services librarian and chair of the steering committee for Immigrant Allies. “People like to say they value children, but something like this it’s kind of putting your money where your mouth is.”

This year’s activities will take place both indoors and outdoors. Many of the outdoor activities will take place on the library’s west lawn. A Marshalltown Fire Department engine will be on hand, and the Marshalltown Police Department will have a squad car for kids to explore. Dance demonstrations and a soccer kick challenge will also be held outdoors.

Indoors, in the large meeting room, children up to grade 12 will get tickets they can trade for a free book. Children will also have a chance to win one of a few larger prizes. Face painting and local puppeteer and storyteller William and Blackjack will also be included in the festivities.

Nahui Tonanzin, a local indigenous-style group whose name means Mother Earth in the Aztec language, will perform.

Jose Valdez, music and dance coordinator and frontman for Nahui Tonanzin, said the music and dance are not only for Hispanics; they are for anyone who is curious about other cultures in addition to those who want to know more about their own culture.

“This is something that comes from tradition, so there is a lot of Hispanic children who don’t know what this is all about We bring something that not many people know,” he said. “We let them know everything has a root, has a beginning we teach children to be a good person.”

All activities are free and open to the public. Bilingual volunteers will be present to help families register for library cards. For a child to obtain a library card, a parent of legal guardian needs to sign for and provide proof of name and address for children ages 3-12. Library cards are free.

Charlotte Santana, a Marshalltown High School Spanish teacher who organizes the MHS Estellas de Fuego Latin dance group, said adding cultural elements teaches non-Hispanic children about Latin culture and makes Hispanic children feel welcome.

Santana said getting children to embrace dance or other cultural touchstones builds a foundation of acceptance. It fosters in them a curiosity about other cultures.

“It’s like Fourth of July,” she said. “You come and see all the fireworks and festivities, and you wonder why it’s more than just the dance.”

LaVille said part of the day’s goal is to show children that the community is there for all children. The library would never dream of holding an event that excluded anyone, she added.

Valdez echoed that sentiment saying that he isn’t trying to change the existing culture. He is simply trying to share some aspects of Latin culture. The two can coexist.

Dia de los Nios/Dia de los Libros is made possible by the Marshalltown Friends of the Library and various community organizations.