So What’s A Mexican Reading Room?

It’s kinda like a library, but you can’t take the books home with you. Find out why
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

Winston Virgen and Nixania Barragan are two Mexicans who are  concerned about kids reading printed books. Winston is a teacher in the local Cobach, a public high school. Nixania is a former contemporary dancer but now she is committed to youth reading clubs she and Winston founded. Unfortunately not all Mexican schools have reading comprehension programs, so Winston and Nixania have started their own. They call their organization Ysabela´s Little Sis. Their focus is to encourage children and teens to go back to the experience of reading printed books and then share with others what they learned or liked about the story they read.

They agree there is nothing wrong with reading online, but point out there are so many distractions online, like video games and Facebook, which they believe distracts from reading.

G is for gato, everyone knows thatThey opened their first reading room in their own neighborhood and from there they expanded by opening other reading rooms in public parks, plazas and in school yards. These reading rooms are open for business weekends and afternoons after school. They also have pop up reading rooms at bicycle events and in some cafés like Cabo Coffee, which donates space. No, the kids don’t have to buy coffee to sit and read the books the couple brings with them.

There are now 20 locations and there are more than 150 titles that Conaculta, (Mexican Institute for Arts and Culture), donated to them. They also have another 50 books donated by the Californian Culture Institute. Both these organizations are deeply involved in promoting art and culture.

The idea is not to use reading for only education but also as fun for recreation. They encourage light and friendly stories, fairy tales, poetry, or any story appealing to youth.  “It is worth emphasizing that the most important single activity to promote reading is reading”, says Winston. “It is even better if this is done with a purpose, and if we regularly write about and discuss what we read.”

Every session kids are encouraged to read something they choose. Their leader then asks questions to determine if they got the point of the story accurately, and if they can write about something in the story that is meaningful to them. They are encouraged to talk to peers about their reading and writing and to listen to a good reader read aloud to them.

Of course, the most obvious responsibility of the kids is to read the book. Other ground rules are discussed at the first meeting of a new group. The discussion might include issues of punctuality. At what time will meetings begin and end? How will books be chosen? Will there be one facilitator or will the role rotate among adult members? The facilitator is responsible for monitoring start and stop times, encouraging dialogue from all participants, searching the book for specific discussion topics, and keeping the discussions focused. The groups work in an independent way once they are formed by Winston and Nixania, who go on to the next barrio to set up another reading room

There can be take home books on occasion, but this depends on each facilitator, as there needs to be an expectation of getting the books back eventually. And therein lies the difference between libraries as you know them and a Mexican reading room; Mexicans do not have a culture of returning borrowed books. For this reason a lending library just wouldn’t work. Also, these groups need a facilitator because so many Mexican parents are not readers themselves. That makes it difficult to encourage their kids to read, and they sure can’t read to them. 

Instead of one member deciding what everyone will read, with all the cost implications of acquiring multiple issues of that title, these clubs usually snag any book, from wherever they can. Books are expensive in Mexico, with no tax breaks for them as we have in the United States. Duty lodged against them as they enter the country is killer.

Winston’s and Nixania’s long range goal is to open reading groups that will nurture the interest and skills so some of those members will be inspired to open their own reading group, and from there to expand ever larger networks of young people who will pick up the healthy habit of reading. If you would like to participate by either forming a reading group or by donating books, you can phone 624-177-5399 or email  todossomoselotro@gmail.com.  ,