El Día de los Niños at local library shines light on different cultures, languages in the Tri-State

BOND HILL - No matter the language, the story stays the same, said Diane Smiley, about this year's El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros (Children's Day/Book Day), where children got a taste of culture, diversity and tolerance and how books can play a part in all three.

On Saturday, the Bond Hill Branch Library was transformed into a cross-cultural town square of sorts, as children and teens immersed themselves in the diverse heritages that surround them in Tri-State. The event was jointly presented by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and Kenton County Public libraries.

Smiley, who is youth services and program coordinator for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, said learning to embrace one's own and other cultures is important for children.

Known as Día for short, the multicultural fiesta used books and music as bridges for children and their families, celebrating literacy across different cultures and backgrounds. Representatives at the event hailed from the Japan America Society of Greater Cincinnati, the Academy of Multilingual Immersion Schools, Mexico, Africa, and India.

"Many of our neighborhoods are becoming more diverse. At the library we reach out and teach a wider, more global view," said Smiley, adding that when a child learns about their own culture, they also learn about themselves.

A changing Tri-State

According to the 2012 Census, 6.6 percent of Hamilton County is home to bilingual families. And just across the Ohio River, 4.2 percent in Kenton County speak another language at home other than English.

With both Native American and African heritages flowing through her veins,10-year-old Nadia Glover  positioned herself front and center at Día, listening intently as the three-man ensemble, Charles Braddeck and the African Drum Corps, beat on their djembe drums. 

"It's really cool to get to see different people's traditions and what they do in their homeland," said the fifth-grader from E.H. Green Intermediate School in Blue Ash. "I'm really starting to love this library!"

An African elder known as "Baba" Ron, lightly tapped the middle of the djembe drum and asked Glover and a dozen other young library-goers:

"Do you feel that? It's like a heart beat," he said, explaining that in Africa the sound of the drum and a certain rhythm once conveyed messages between villages.

"This was used as a cell phone 5,000 years ago and it didn't cost a penny," he told the mesmerized youngsters. Baba Ron said the drums were used to message neighboring towns about births, deaths, weddings, birthdays, travel and danger. Glover asked if the African elders would play a message for them. They obliged and tapped out the death rhythm, a slow, deliberate, repetitious beat. It was finally time for Glover, along with Camar Poindexter, 11, and 3-year-old Da'mari "Rocco" Phillips, to take their seats at the djembes. Their small hands patted the tops of the drums.

"I want him to be proud of where his ancestors have come from," said Ronald Greene of Roselawn of Rocco, his grandson. "I wanted to expose him to the library. It's of importance that our children are knowledgeable. The more they read the more knowledge they have." %page_break%

All about los niños

Día was an opportunity for many to learn and embrace diversity and cultures other than their own. That's why Gwen Boggs brought four grandchildren and a grandniece to the library's event.

"I thought it would be educational and a chance to experience multicultural. Plus, it beats watching cartoons all morning—it's been a wonderful experience."

Día also gave the sponsoring libraries a chance to showcase the fun of reading with multilingual story time. Children were also offered a free book in English or Spanish.

"Research shows early literacy skills are most important young," said Smiley.

Padma Chebrolu, artistic director of the Cultural Centre of India in Cincinnati, introduced her dancers to those attending Día's festivities.

"Indian culture is very unique and ancient," she said. "We love to share it."

Six girls clad in lavender and gold danced for the spellbound crowd, sporting stacked gold bangle bracelets and dangling earrings. On each, a golden, bejeweled headdress kissed the dime-sized red dot in the middle of the forehead. A boy, dressed in all-white with a matching lavender sash tied around his waist was part of the performing troupe. Their ankles garlanded with small bells, the dancers jingled and jangled with each step.

While all of the dancers were born in the United States, Chebrolu said, they are learning and their own heritage from their parents and grandparents.

"[Día] is a nice exchange of ideas and thoughts and grow respect for each other. That's what America is all about," said Cherbrolu. "There's so much diversity in Cincinnati, it's incredible."

The roots of Día

Pat Mora, a bilingual author of children's books and poetry, sparked the idea behind Día. Back in 1996, Mora used the idea of Mexico's El Día de los Niños, and added a celebration of books. With support from librarians who lived in the southwest, El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros (Children's Day/Book Day) grew.

In 2004, Kenton County Public Library hosted a small Día celebration in Covington. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County joined in the festivities in 2006. They now share the event, trading off locations between each side of the river every year.

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