Getting ready to hit la piñata at Latinx birthday parties is arguably the most special moment of the celebration. Kids get in line and sing the popular Mexican piñata song that goes, “Dale, dale, dale, No pierdas el tino,” which roughly translates to hit the piñata and don’t miss.
But for 7-year-old Natalia Heiman Samaniego, this moment causes her a little bit of anxiety. She doesn’t like having to cover her eyes with a blindfold to hit la piñata.
“You can’t put anything to cover her (Natalia) eyes,” said her mother Martha Samaniego Calderón. “She has always been scared of that. So all of a sudden, having to see that people had to wear masks was something very scary for her.”
At the beginning of the pandemic Calderón, who’s also a graduate student in the College of Visual Arts and Design at the University of North Texas and her husband Dan Heiman, assistant professor of bilingual education at UNT, were having a hard time convincing their daughter Natalia and son Nicolás, 11, to wear masks.
“Me se sentía muy como no quiero usar una máscara y toda la gente tenía máscara y yo estaba como que yo no,” Natalia said in Spanish. She said she didn’t want to wear a mask.
Calderón said during the pandemic, her daughter’s fear is amplified. Every time the family grabs their masks to leave the house, Natalia hesitates.
In order to explore those emotions, Calderón began talking to her kids about their feelings and COVID-19. Natalia would tell her mother how sad she felt about people having coronavirus and how much she missed friends and soccer team.
“Books have always been part of our lives. So we decided to create a children’s picture book,” Calderón said.
Calderón knew she wasn’t the only parent having conversations about COVID-19 with her kids. So, she and her husband decided to self-publish a bilingual children’s book called, Behind My Mask or Detrás de Mi Cubrebocas.
“What’s really interesting is that in the DFW metroplex, we have the growth of dual language programs where Spanish isn’t used as a transition. It’s actually used as a way to foment bilingualism and biliteracy and biculturalism in students,” Heiman said.
He said having the book available in both languages is very important, especially in the North Texas community. Dallas Independent School District has the largest number of dual-language campuses in Texas.
Latinos make up more than 40% of the population in Dallas County. According to the Texas Tribune, Tarrant County continues to see the fastest growth of Hispanic residents in the state. Since the start of the pandemic, KERA has reported a dramatic increase of COVID-19 cases among North Texas Latinos. For all these reasons, the Denton couple felt it was necessary to continue spreading the message: Masks save lives.
“I think it’s really important as educators and as parents that we really address what kids are feeling in terms of their emotions and their identities,” Heiman said.
The book tackles the importance of wearing a mask by following a young Latina who explores her emotions during the pandemic. There are a total of five masks and each represents an emotion and social issue.
“Naming emotion is so important. It’s so important because you bring to light these emotions like fear, anxiety,” Calderón said.