Heroic efforts

Georgia Hedrick

Photo By Kat Kerlin

Georgia Hedrick, 68, writes, illustrates and self-publishes bilingual English-Spanish children’s books. Her book subjects include Cesar Chavez and Sarah Winnemucca, with one on Cinco de Mayo in the works. The retired teacher wants two things: To give kids a real hero and to get parents and kids reading to each other. She’s tried to get her books in the school system, but the district declined.

Hi Georgia.

Oh, hello! I’m at my computer now writing about Cinco de Mayo in as young of terms I can think of. I think a lot of people don’t know what Cinco de Mayo is about. … It’s like the underdog wins. Granted, six months later, the French came back and took over Mexico City, but they really got their patriotism up there because of that. Benito Juarez—he was Mexico’s Lincoln. He is a hero in every sense of the world.

Tell us what you do.

I write, and I illustrate, and I publish online children’s books that are bilingual. I do this on a website called Lulu.com at Georgia Hedrick’s Storefront. The books look great, I just can’t afford to buy them in order to resell them. I do buy them, and I sell them below cost. What I want as a teacher is to get books out to parents who are new to the country who want to know what their children are learning and who want to learn the language. But they’re so shy. So I thought, let’s see if the parents can read the Spanish side of the book to the children, and the other side is the English where the child can read back to the parent. If I’m writing “I am Sarah Winnemucca”, and they read “Yo soy Sarah Winnemucca” then I learn “yo soy” is “I am.” There! I’ve learned!

I am going to give kids heroes because we have so few of them. I don’t know any bigger hero than Cesar Chavez. … So I’m on the hunt for heroes. I’m looking at Benito Juarez and thinking Cinco de Mayo is the launching pad for Juarez. He’s the only Indian [a Zapotec] who has ever been a president of any of the Americas. Then I started thinking, “When did we start thinking we were Americans?” This whole continent, we’re all Americans, aren’t we? We just happen to be norteamericano, then there’s centroamericano and sudamericano. Who gave us the right to jump on the word “American” as if it was just us, the U.S.A.?

I started to research, and it said bilingual people are far in advance of monolingual people—and we’re talking development of brain. … We only have one dual immersion school in all of Nevada, and that’s Mariposa Academy. We are fourth in the nation for the rise of immigrants. I think, “I’ll put all this stuff in a booklet.” I finally get a meeting with the [Washoe County School District] curriculum committee. I say to myself, “With all these bilingual children who come in speaking Spanish, and when I tell them we’re on the increase of foreign-born students, surely they will see the value of my books and just put me on a supplemental book list.” But meeting with this committee is like meeting with the Iceberg 12. Only one person asked one question: “Is this all you have?” And I say, “Well yeah, five books.” It takes me a long time. They don’t just pull out of my head—rewrite is the name of the game. So I leave, and I get a letter the next day: “The committee has decided your books are not appropriate for inclusion in our district list.” Those words—"not appropriate"—that’s like a knife in the heart of a writer. “Not appropriate.” What did I write? Porn? Cesar Chavez is “not appropriate?” So I email them and say “What does ‘not appropriate’ mean?” I never got any answers. … We are what our history has made us. And if we don’t study our history, we are condemned to fail, we really are, and make stupid decisions like “those books are not appropriate to be on our lists.” How do you teach kids to know where all this multiculturalism comes from? You don’t. You just ignore it. And that just boils my bum. I cannot tolerate that limited vision. So I’m always on my march for money and my march to bring books to parents.