Dr. Oriel Maria Siu: “Columbus was a hideous being.”
In her latest children's book, ‘Christopher the Ogre Cologre, It's Over!’, Dr. Oriel Maria Siu dismantles one of the biggest lies still taught in schools today
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When Dr. Oriel Maria Siu had her daughter Suletu in 2013, she had already lived in the United States for 16 years. Born in Honduras to a Chinese-Nicaraguan father and a Salvadoran Nahuat-Pipil mother, the academic, teacher, and children's book author realized the tremendous difficulty she had finding children's books where the protagonists were children of color or that did not approach diversity from a very naïve point of view.
This fact and the deportation of her brother-in-law, in 2011, causing her niece — then a child — to grow up far from her father, filled the author with indignation.
Seeking to create another narrative around the immigrant drama and deportation policy, which greatly affects Central Americans, in 2020 Dr. Siu published the children 's bilingual book ‘Rebel the Joyful in the Land of Ogres’ / ‘Rebeldita la Alegre en el País de los Ogros’, starred by a brave and funny mestizo little girl who believes in justice and the right of children and their parents to live happily.
Two years later, Dr. Siu made Rebeldita come back in a new book: Christopher the Ogre Cologre, It's Over! / Cristóbal Cologro ¡Tu Fin por Fin Llegó! with one purpose in mind: to tell the story of the first Ogre to arrive in the Americas, Christopher Columbus.
A real Ogre
“The book was born out of the need to disrupt the fairytaled stories children are still taught at schools about Columbus and the history of the Americas”, said Oriel Maria Siu in a recent interview with AL DÍA News.
According to Dr. Siu, if we consider the indigenous populations of the Americas who had been living in this continent for 70,000 years when Columbus arrived, Columbus was a real Ogre.
“Columbus not only initiated the genocide of more than 100 MILLION indigenous people during the first 100 years of European occupation of the Americas. From 1492 to 1592, Europeans decimated close to 98% of the hemisphere's indigenous populations, bringing this population from 100 million in 1492 to approximately 2 million people by 1592,” she explained.
Dr. Siu believes that Columbus contributed to European's greedy extraction of natural resources from the earth, and the imposition of a new system of domination in the Americas based on their invented concept of race. “Columbus did all this. He was a hideous being. There is nothing to celebrate about him”, she added.
And yet the story the great majority of children throughout the Americas continue to learn at school about Columbus today, 530 years after his arrival, is one that neglects facts, disfigures reality, and dispossess children and all of us from the truth. “Children are still taught a fairytale about Columbus. Through this book, it is my intent to stop this fairytale”, she concluded.
As a mother to a Black, Indigenous and Chinese child, Dr. Siu needed to write children's books that spoke the truths that her schools will refuse to teach her, while at the same time teach her that she and all children of the Americas come from incredible people, struggles, and beautiful unapologetic affirmations of life.
“Christopher the Ogre Cologre, It's Over! is a book for all children of the Americas. And it is also a book for teachers and parents”, she said. “I gift it to the world as a tool of empowerment and repair, so that children and adults can begin to normalize speaking the truths of our past in order to better understand and intervene in the consequences of 530 years of white settler colonialism in our present.”
Despite being born and raised in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Dr. Siu doesn’t identify with the term “Latino”.
“I am one of two daughters to a beautiful and strong Nahuat-Pipil mother from El Salvador, and my Chinese father from Nicaragua. Like millions of people from Central America, I had to leave the homelands in the late 90s due to the increasing violence we lived in post-war Central America. My life, indeed, changed tremendously”, she explained.
Dr. Siu was only 16 when she had to leave without her parents or sister, to Los Angeles, California. But one beautiful thing about Los Angeles is that it offered her “the opportunity to get to books, libraries and meeting so many communities whose histories continue to inspire me to continue writing our stories.”
That’s perhaps the main difference between her 8 year old daughter and her. “She has access to books while growing up. I didn't. But we both have our parents' stories.”
Experiencing racism was not a big issue during her childhood, nor for her daughter, who besides being Indigenous and Chinese is also Black. However, her decision to write anti-racist, decolonial books for children is “because racism is systemic; it is a system so engrained in this hemisphere's social, political, and economic structures that it can easily be dismissed, negated, or simply, not seen.”
“I have witnessed how 18 year-old young adults are arriving to college with fairytaled, white-washed notions of the land we live on, the history of this continent, and ideas of race. I came to the conclusion that it is imperative that we produce more anti-racist teaching material at the K-12 level if we are to truly eradicate racism,”, she concluded.