Hispanic Heritage Month was created to honor the many contributions made by Latinos in our country. It was a no-brainer, then, for us to recognize José Luis Orozco, a man who for 39 years now has been relentlessly focused on preserving our rich cultural identity through songs and music for children, while at the same time exposing a wider audience to the heritage of the Spanish-speaking world. His name is very familiar and well-respected amongs educators, especially with bilingual (Spanish/English) teachers. Parents usually find him through a local library, word-of-mouth, their kids’ schools or when searching online for traditional Spanish folk songs for their children.
Orozco’s name was one of the first ones to come up when I started looking for music for my daughter. I was really looking for traditional arrullos that I was sure I knew, but just couldn’t remember their lyrics. I needed a CD that would open the floodgates of my memory. And, that’s exactly what happened when I found Orozco’s Diez Deditos album. I started listening to it and I found that song after song made me reminisce. Then, I ordered the accompanying songbook and now I have the lyrics to those songs, not that I really needed them since the canciones are simple to sing along to and most I’ve heard at some point; but the book will grow with my girl and it’s a great tool to teach her to read. As Orozco himself said when I interviewed him recently, “When the storybook and the CDs are used in conjunction, they are an amazing resource to promote reading in young children. They can read songs.” Orozco envisions his music and storybooks being used at home to create family unity and to engage in conversations about our traditions. The illustrations on the books are so rich and descriptive that they alone provoke and engage my girl and I in long conversations about the depicted scene.
Jose Luis Orozco’s passionate mission is “to promote and maintain the Spanish language, traditional folk music, songs, and Latino cultural heritage in the U.S.” Even though he’s been an advocate for bilingual education for four decades and he started at a time when, ironically enough, there were more resources to fund bilingual education in public schools, his message is better received now since there’s a larger audience than years ago. This is, in part, thanks to the continued growth of the Hispanic population and of people anxious to find ways to preserve their roots and language through their children.
Orozco stresses that “It’s important for us to hold on to our cultural roots because it’s a part of who we are and where we come from. Traditions help make us feel good about ourselves because we can with certainty say ‘This is who I am and here is where I’m at.’ Our heritage is a joyous part of us we can easily share and pass along.”
He has focused his life-long work on the art of transmitting music and folk songs because these are to him “a pathway for other communities to learn what our culture is about.” Music, he says, is an important tool to use as a language and culture promoter. It’s used as a cultural container in any group. As soon as we’re born we use the traditional nanas and arrullos that our parents sang to us. These folk songs are a motivating instrument used to teach language and to comfort.
The musician himself is a father of four and grandfather of two children. He was a first generation Mexican immigrant who left his native Mexico City at the age of 19 in pursuit of higher education. As a child growing up in Mexico, he had the good fortune that his talent as a singer took him to travel 32 countries. It was through his travels that he gained a wider perspective and world view that eventually led to him receiving his Master’s Degree in Multicultural Education.
Doing what he loves, he has built a successful career as a children’s author, songwriter, performer and recording artist, as well as a passionate advocate for preserving language and heritage by using music as an important learning tool in multicultural classrooms.
I was curious to find out how a man so passionate about raising bilingual and bicultural children did it himself. He shared with me that his strategy included:
- Speaking with his children and grandchildren only Spanish at home
- Visiting family in Mexico as often as possible
- Traveling overseas whenver feasible because travel broadens horizons and minds
- Enrolling his children in a bilingual school or any after-school program available
- Música en español, lots of it
I describe his songs as a portal parents go through to recapture those songs they heard as children and that might have been forgotten. José Luis Orozco agrees: “The idea is that one familiar song may trigger a connection to another one that we weren’t even aware we knew. Here’s where the real cultural sharing and transmission begins.”
I’m sure we all agree that every day is a special one to celebrate our culture, but as Orozco points out: “Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of our roots and independence. These celebrations are important to bind a community together through a common language and ancestry.” We thank him for his work and for providing a rich soundtrack for our children’s memory.
We are excited to give away a gift bag of Orozco’s CDs and storybooks worth $72 to one of the subscribers to our Newsletter. The first edition of our combined SpanglishBaby and SpanglishBabyFinds newsletter will be sent out the last week of October and will include the announcement of the winner of this amazing, musical gift. All you have to do is be subscribed. To find out more and to subscribe please go here.