Hispanic Culture Online Interview
Getting ready to interview Suni Paz, the wonderful Argentinean singer and songwriter, I started gathering all the information I could to know and enjoy the time we were going to spend together.
Suni is a talented musician, composer, writer, singer and educator involved in social activism. She is what we would call a real "maestra." Using music, Suni started to teach kids Spanish within the schools at a time when this methodology was unheard of. All this information about her sounded impressive to me, along with her multiple awards and participation as a Board Member of the Smithsonian Folkways in Washington, DC. However, what really caught my attention was her beautiful message of cultural awareness, which is very important for www.hispanic-culture-online.com also.
Bringing Hispanic Awareness to Your Child : In her songs, Suni reflects her belief in the connection of human beings through their roots, Hispanic Culture Online's slogan is "Connects you to Your Roots," so I asked her to share her advice on how parents today can connect our little Hispanic American children to their Latino roots. Her response is simple and beautiful. Based on her slogan "A bridge between cultures," she thinks parents can do a lot just by sharing their stories, who they are, where they grew up, their customs, beliefs, languages, songs, sayings, poems, recipes, etc. and by ALWAYS speaking at home to them in their own language. "A tree without roots, can't give flowers." Suni Paz considers her Hispanic heritage vital and enriching. Sharing her Spanish heritage with children and adults marked, defined and determined her entire career and life. While speaking with her I had this feeling of connecting with a soul who never wants to stop learning. Educating herself and constantly learning is important. She has a Masters degree in Hispano-American Literature and a BA in Sociology. Even though her passion is creating and adapting songs for children, she started working in Chile for an American Advertising firm. In New York, she translated and adapted popular songs in both languages, even from French and Italian into Spanish. Recently she wrote a jingle in Spanish to improve health in families for an American product.
The Birth of Suni's Cultural Awareness Message : I asked Suni what motivated her to make cultural awareness her message in the U.S. and how she came across it. She revealed it all stemmed from her teaching experience in schools and from her personal life. Suni shared that in the schools, she saw the result of not acknowledging the children's heritage. Children felt disrespected, ashamed of whom they were, felt they should hide the origins of their families and keep it a secret. "My own sons were bullied in schools and reprimanded by teachers and principals for speaking Spanish. I also saw children whose cultures were ignored and mocked: indigenous people from North America, their own country! The same happened to Afro-American children; they were discriminated against or ignored. Then I promised myself to try to make a difference." Suni Paz created inclusive programs that allowed her audiences to feel cared for, loved, respected and in the process she educated herself. Candidly she admits being very ignorant about the different cultures in the U.S.
Infusing Love for Your Culture : Her Hispanic Heritage has been at the center of her life however, she likes to reach and share other cultures. One particular experience she shared with me was bringing to six graders and high school children a book written in Nahuatl and English to read from it. "They were amazed" she said with lots of excitement in her voice. Suni is now adapting some of the songs we know in Spanish from our culture into English and vice versa. She loves folk music and the folklore of this country therefore this project is a perfect fit for her. The Smithsonian-Folkways Institution has provided her throughout the years with plenty of songs from every conceivable culture, a fountain she thinks parents should access. In her aim to be inclusive, when she enters an auditorium she doesn't want anybody to feel ignored or unimportant, so she adapted North American songs into Spanish and Spanish songs into English. In her words "IGNORANCE of each other cultures is to be blame many times for hate, racism and misunderstandings."
Her Own Story of Discrimination : This accomplished Latina told me that once, she was thrown out of a Denny's for asking for coffee with milk for her four and six years old children. As she says it: "That was OK in Argentina, but not here. Neither the waitress, nor I knew each other's cultures." This type of experiences interested her in exchanging, sharing, and becoming a true bridge between cultures. One of her more recognized works are the songs and stories she adapted for Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy into English. Now with Elizabeth Mitchell, she is adapting North American folk and current songs into Spanish. Her messages, many times, come in both languages. She happily says she owes to school children her life career and endeavors. Arriving here, feeling lonely and isolated from her culture, made her create a program of Latin American folk songs, many indigenous, that followed the school curriculum. The children received her like rain on arid land. To show their affection they made her "ojitos de agua," drawings, paintings of her and their families. Many times her students would give her "ojitos de agua" in secret while whispering in her ear: "my father is Cherokee,""my mom speaks Zapoteco." She became determined to study about her children's cultures, the Civil Rights Movement, the plight of the indigenous people, and the farm workers who put the food on our tables, when she saw these school children trusted and identified with her. From this point on, Suni Paz listened and learned from the folk music masters with a conscience: Peter Seeger, Guy Carawan and Ella Jenkins are some. From them, she learned how to present Hispanic culture. She brought instruments and ponchos to her presentations, and she shares that she is still learning because the population is changing. She admits: "I owe to my students my education, determination, relentless studying. They were my best teachers, so I'm still here writing, singing, translating, and adapting: amazing! I'm very grateful!"
Suni Paz and Her Favorite Foods : I asked about her favorite food and not surprisingly she loves tamales, tostones and tostadas, empanadas gallegas (and Argentine of course,) and the food from Vietnam and India. Did you know she wrote a series of poems and songs (not yet published) to every food she loves beginning with garlic, humus, tortillas and tostones? In Spain, Alma Flor Ada introduced her to the head of the Real Academia Espa&tildenola (Royal Spanish Academy) and she sang for him her Garlic song. He loved it and requested a copy of her recording. "It is a very poetic Garlic song." She says... Suni Paz is a warm hearted and prolific artist who loves to communicate through music, poems and songs. She tells me how in school, she used to memorize long poems, and how much she enjoyed it.
Passing Her Heritage to Her Kids : Suni passed her heritage and Spanish language to both of her sons who became her sound engineers and arrangers, and both write their own songs and poems. She also raised a North American girl as her daughter. She learned flute and now lives in Panama, speaking Spanish. Suni believes the arts allow us to become better human beings and to express our deepest feelings constructively, and she honestly tells me she fears for the school children of today who don't have these musical experiences.If you would like to know more about Suni check out this artist Spotlight article about her from the Smithsonian Folkways
Getting Suni's Work for Your Children : I have recommended now for a while Ray del Sol and his wonderful bookstore where he carries her work along other wonderful books in Spanish and bilingual Spanish/English from other authors. Check his store here at Del Sol Books.