Local anthropologist and author, Raquel M. Ortiz on Monday, Nov. 30 released her newest children’s book, Vicki and the Summer of Change!/¡Vicki y un Verano de Cambia!, inspired by the actual 1969 events that took place in Harlem during the Young Lords’ Garbage Offensive.
Ortiz co-authored the book with New Yorker and activist Iris Morales, an original Young Lords member. The book is written in both English and Spanish.
Vicki and A Summer of Change! ¡Vicki y un verano de cambio!The Young Lords Organization was a group of Puerto Rican people who united to fight for neighborhood empowerment and, in 1969, took to the streets of East Harlem to clean up the rotting trash that sat in the streets—ignored by sanitation workers.
Summer of Change tells the story of Vicki and her older sister, Valentina, who join the Young Lords and begin cleaning the streets of East Harlem. “You’re never too young to make a difference,” Valentina tells Vicki as they clean up.
Ortiz says this is the message she also wanted to send in her book. “I wanted a child to be in the middle of it, with a younger sister tagging along,” she explains. “For [Vicki] to be invited to be a part of this community movement and help clean up the streets—can be a metaphor for many things.”
Ortiz, a social anthropologist, says she likes to focus on her Puerto Rican heritage, popular art, and the power of young people in her works. While thinking about a topic for her next book, Ortiz’ brother, who works for Policy Matters Ohio, suggest she write about young people making change.
“My brother said, ‘you need to something about social action,’” Ortiz recalls. “I read about the Young Lords. And I really wanted children to be a part of making the change happen.
Essentially, what I figured out is, everyone gets that garbage is nasty. People coming together to push back against trash seemed like something everybody could understand. All of us are here to make change and make a decision about what part you want to be.”
Vicki and A Summer of Change! ¡Vicki y un verano de cambio!Ortiz says she thought about the topic for two or three years before collaborating with Morales. The pair worked with a small New York publishing house, Red Sugarcane Press, which Ortiz said helped bring the book to life within a year (with many rewrites, Ortiz says).
Ortiz says she hopes Summer of Change will inspire others to stand up and act—just like Vicki, Valentina, and the Young Lords.
“I hope people enjoy this story, but I hope it sparks conversations about how change happens and what needs to be fixed,” she says. “We want to share this story to let children, and adults, know that together we make change happen. We need to protect our neighborhoods and our world. That means we have to work together to fix problems like garbage on our streets, dirty water, or have funds for schools and libraries.”
Ortiz currently is the featured author on Cleveland Public Library’s Dial-A-Story, reading her book, When Julia Danced Bomba/Cuando Julia Bailaba Bomba, through Sunday, Dec. 20. Call (216) 777-6500 to listen.