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  • Author Visits | Untold Narratives

    The Moonlit Vine The Moonlit Vine can be a wonderful addition to your English and History curricula. To learn more about the content of the book, visit The Moonlit Vine overview page. To enhance student understanding of the material, you can bring the author, Elizabeth Santiago, to your school for a visit. Here are details around school visits, lectures, workshops and other discussions . ​ Potential Curricular Topics to Accompany The Moonlit Vine To help scaffold integrating the book into your lessons, below are some potential topics, guiding questions, and articles to include in your planning . These are only a few ideas to consider. ​ Topic 1: Who are the Taínos? Background Reading (to begin): Genes of “Extinct” Caribbean Islanders Found in Living People . Science Magazine Researchers Find Cave Art in Uninhabited Caribbean Island . Repeating Islands Abuelas, Ancestors, and Atabey: The Spirit of Taíno Resurgence . Smithsonian National Museum of The American Indian What Became of the Taíno . Smithsonian Magazine Guiding Questions: Taínos are still here! Recent discoveries reveal the truth about the existence of people who were said to have become extinct. What does that say about the power of narrative and which stories and histories are elevated and learned ? Why are the Taíno called Taíno? Why do Puerto Ricans refer to themselves as Bori n queños? What are the Taíno contributions to language, history and culture? ​ ​ Topic 2: The History of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican Identity Background Reading (to begin): The History of Puerto Rico . Puerto Rico - History and Heritage . Smithsonian Magazine History of Puerto Rico . Frommer's Guiding Questions: How has music, food, religion, and belief systems been influenced by Puerto Rico's African, European and Indigenous cultures? What is the Jones Act of 1917 and what is its relevance to Puerto Rican history and identity? How is Puerto Rican migration to the United States similar or different to other groups who have come to the U.S. to pursue economic stability? ​ Do you want something more in-depth? Check out publisher Lee and Low's Teacher Guide ! School Visits and The Moonlit Vine Specific Workshops ​ In person or virtual school visits, lectures or presentations 1-hour to 90-minute long presentation and book talk $500-$750 In an hour or 90-minutes, there will be an overview of the book and the inspiration for it, selected readings from the book​ and open discussion. Elizabeth has also met with student creative writing groups to review student projects and discuss writing craft. ​ In person or virtual workshops 90-minute to 3-hour long workshop $500-$1000 Workshops typically include an overview of the book and the inspiration for it, selected readings from the book​ and open discussion. Building off that, workshop topics include identifying and capturing little known histories, tapping into your story​, writing about ancestors and writing about family and community. ​ Covering Travel for In-Person Events Local (within 1-2 hour driving distance of Boston, MA) does not require an overnight stay. No additional coverage for travel needed. Non Local (more than 2 hours from Boston, MA) depends on location, but train or airfare should be covered by requester as well as one night of hotel stay, again, depending on location. ​ Visit Elizabeth's Teaching Books page to learn even more about her and The Moonlit Vine! ​ Reach out to discuss options and schedule a visit! Contact Us

  • Memoir | The Untold Narratives

    What is Nonfiction? Nonfiction is a form of writing that tries to accurately represent an event, information, people, or community. This means that the subject of the writing really happened. It is different from fiction because the writer does not make up the story, but it can be told from a subjective (how our biases, opinions and experiences shape an event) or an objective viewpoint (an attempt to be free of biases or a specific perspective). Nonfiction attempts to be accurate, but that doesn’t mean it always is, it just means that the author believes that their account of the subject is truthful. Nonfiction can take many forms including self-help books, biographies, memoirs, history, cookbooks, news articles, op-eds, and travel writing. Types of Nonfiction Did you know that nonfiction books are the most sold books in the United States? There are many types of nonfiction, so these are just some to get to you started: Narrative Nonfiction : Narrative nonfiction (sometimes called creative nonfiction) tries to tell a true story about an event, place, people, or community. This genre, although telling a true story, is written like a fictional story and flows as though it was a novel instead of real life. It often includes, like in fiction, a climax and a resolution to the story. Expository Nonfiction : Expository writing educates the reader about a specific subject and exposes new information or teaches them a new skill. It presents information and can come in many different formats. Examples include news articles, textbooks, or cookbooks. Examples of Nonfiction Here’s a list of nonfiction examples that can help you start thinking about your own writing. A couple of questions to ask yourself for further thinking are included after each link. If Your Schools Won’t Teach Anti-Racism, Here’s What You Can Do at Home : by Meena Harris How did the author use real life experiences and examples to support her thoughts? How does she provide new information? Teaching Ferguson & Black Lives Matter : by Bettina Love How did you feel reading about the author discussing events that happened in their classroom? How does the author convey a story through their writing? Exercise: The Ultimate Form of Self Care : by Dr. Jacque Strait, PhD What did you think of the way the information is formatted? How is the writer’s point made? Stay Curious in Tutka Bay: Because Small Things Matter : by Juno Kim What did you think of how the story of the travel is told? What impact does reading someone’s account of a place, you may not have been to, have on you? Nonfiction Topic Ideas When you write nonfiction you generally need to have some sort of research or knowledge of the subject to support your writing. You may need to do some additional research depending on the subject you wish to write about. Now You Try! Read the following topics and pick 1-2 that you might be interested in writing about. Try to come up with a few ideas for each topic, which can help you form an outline for your writing: What event in history do you find really interesting, or do you think needs to be told from a different perspective? Is there a person in your community or family who has a cool or interesting life? Who is it and why would you want to write about them? Are there recipes from your family or community you would want to share? What are some of the recipes? What current issue (schools, pollution, etc.) do you feel passionate about and have a strong opinion that you can express? What research would you need to support your opinion? Is there a place you’ve traveled to or a community you live in that you think the world needs to know more about? Where is that place and who are the different people or things someone would need to experience? Is there a skill or subject you know a lot about and want to teach other people? What is that skill or passion you have? How would you go about writing about it if you had to describe it step by step? Nonfiction Prompts Pick 1 of the prompts below and write a response to it: What event in your life has angered you the most? Write the scene where it happened, and tell us what you would do if it happened again. Write about a secret that you’ve never told to the person you love. Find an object that means a lot to you in some way. Using the memories, the connection, and meaning of that object to you, try to create an advertisement as to why someone else should have this object as well. Free write a diary entry about your schedule as soon as you woke up today. Pick a very specific topic you have always wanted to learn about. For Example, dark matter in space, cat’s purring, tornado weather, etc. Do research on this topic and explain how it works. Want More? Here are a few nonfiction works to help you generate ideas about topics you can write about: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: The history of the United States is often told through the perspective of those who have colonized others and held power. This history book is told from the perspective of Indigenous people on how history unfolded. The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table by Minda Harts: Drawing upon her knowledge working in many businesses, the author wrote a book that helps women of color figure out how to navigate the workplace. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Che Guevara: Born in Argentina, Che Guevara, then a medical student, took a journey across South America in honor of his friend’s birthday. In this book, the audience learns more about how the trip and how the people he met on it changed his life. Vietnamese Food Any Day by Andrea Nguyen: Our parents and families are often a key part of how and what we cook. In this cookbook, the author draws upon her experiences growing up and her mother’s cooking tips to write a book about the food of her culture. Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin by John D’Emilio: This biography of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin describes his life and the way his background and identity shaped his life and legacy. Other Helpful Examples The 20 Best Works of Nonfiction of the Decade ‹ Literary Hub Ten essential resources for nonfiction writers Learn About Nonfiction: Definition, Examples, and 9 Essential Nonfiction Genres - 2022 - MasterClass Are you ready to submit your nonfiction worl or a section of it? Upload here!

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Blog Posts (2)

  • Move Beyond Imposter Syndrome, Be a Champion Instead

    Representation matters. I hear these words a lot these days and they are absolutely true. As I think about representation, I can’t help but reflect on my own professional journey and the role representation, or lack thereof, has played in my career trajectory. ​ Over the years, many colleagues have told me about experiencing imposter syndrome. That nagging feeling that they are “faking it” in their professional lives, and any day they will be found out for the imposter that they really are. I have had enough of these conversations to feel confident in writing that many people, regardless of race, gender, or background feel like imposters. I can honestly say that I have never suffered imposter syndrome because I know there is absolutely no way I would have achieved what I have achieved in life without having a certain level of skill, intelligence and drive. I know that because I grew up in a community where there were very few professionals that I could emulate or even people who encouraged me to go farther in my education and career. The fact that I had completed high school was more than enough, so anything beyond that was gravy and I treated it as such. If I wanted something, I tried for it. If I didn’t get it, well, I shrugged it off as not for me. ​ What I have felt, though, was lack of belonging. When I have entered certain spaces as a Puerto Rican woman, who grew up poor and left high school before finishing, there were certain assumptions around what I could expect to achieve. When I dropped out of high school, I vividly remember the social worker who asked me why she should help me find a job when I would most likely get pregnant and become a welfare recipient anyway. Those low expectations heavily weighed on me even as I did eventually finish high school, earn a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and, most recently, a doctorate. Low expectations were sometimes set by my family because they didn’t know what was possible. More often they were set by others outside of my family or community because of strong narratives about people like me (see previously mentioned social worker). In either case, I entered a lot of spaces alone and without a road map. As I moved up in my career, I saw fewer and fewer people who looked like me or who had similar experiences to mine. There was a lack of representation at all levels, and it caused me to hold back and go the safe route for fear of standing out or, worse, for fear of failing and causing some folks to continue to believe negative narratives about people like me. Stereotype threat, anyone? ​ On the surface, I did just fine despite all of that background noise and despite the lack of representation. I built a great career where I had senior level roles in quality organizations and, most recently, started my own organization appropriately titled, The Untold Narratives. I do wonder, though, what my life would have been like if I had been surrounded by more people in my professional life who looked like me, who came from similar backgrounds to mine and who pushed me beyond where I safely thought I could reach. ​ I remember a conversation I had with a member of my team many years ago. We were discussing long-term career goals and they shared that they did not see themselves in a larger leadership role. As this person’s boss, I had to admit I was surprised, because I did see that for them. This person had strong analytical skills, strong collaboration skills and a willingness to learn and reflect – all attributes I consider to be the foundation for larger leadership-level positions, so I had to carefully contemplate my response. This person is a person of color who I know from discussions also did not see many people like themselves in leadership positions. I couldn’t tell if they were saying that they didn’t want to be in a leadership role because they truly did not see themselves in that type of role, or if they were reacting to the fact that there had been a lack of representation in their professional lives. ​ When there is lack of representation, many people don’t live up to their full potential. From my observations over the years, living up to one’s full potential is part internal drive and part external opportunities. With a lack of representation, it seems impossible to achieve certain positions unless you are exceptional or unless you have a champion. If you in any way feel like you don’t belong, then how can you achieve? You honestly need an internal drive that’s made of steel, or you need that strong champion. A champion can create opportunities for you and push you into roles you may not see for yourself. I know I personally shied away from certain roles because I didn’t want to stand out. I didn’t want to push harder because, really, what I had achieved was enough, wasn’t it? ​ My response to my team member actually was easier for me to formulate than I had expected. I said “I understand that you don’t see this for yourself, but as your boss, I see this for you. This is a role you can accomplish and excel in, so I wonder if you are hesitant because of lack of representation or if deep down a leadership role like this one is not one you want? If the latter, that’s fine. If the former, let’s discuss ways that you can start to visualize the role for yourself and discuss the ways I can support you in this journey because the profession, the organization and I need you.” No pressure, though! ​ It’s not easy to be on an island when you want to succeed and want great things for yourself and your family. That’s why I have made the commitment to be a champion of people who are simply trying to come up in the world but have few role models that look like them or who understand what it’s like to move beyond low expectations. Until we change the narrative of imposter syndrome to truly understand the role of representation and how lack of it affects our growth, we need champions and people willing to see beyond us as individuals faking it until we’re making it. Let’s create the representation we need and be there for each other as we continue to create spaces of belonging. Elizabeth Santiago, PhD is an author, educator, learning experience designer and founder of The Untold Narratives. Contact her at

  • The Little Known History of Forced Sterilization in Puerto Rico

    By Elizabeth Santiago, Founder, The Untold Narratives and author of The Moonlit Vine When I wrote The Moonlit Vine, a young adult novel that interspersed Puerto Rican history with present day occurrences, I wanted to shed light on aspects of history that are often ignored or even suppressed. Puerto Rico’s status as a territory of the United States is nuanced and complex. While the island’s political standing is not the focus of this blog, this dynamic plays into why Puerto Rican women were used for years as unwilling test subjects for birth control and forced to undergo horrific and unethical sterilization procedures. If you haven’t read The Moonlit Vine, the story starts with a vignette from 1492 where the Taíno leader, Anacaona, is navigating the aftermath of European invaders on her land. She understands the Taíno people are outnumbered and will not win. She hands her daughter a precious object to save and pass along to her future daughters to help keep the Taíno alive. This is an extended metaphor for how Taíno survival was based on the matrilineal line. Now, imagine, the year is 1950 and you are handed a precious object that has been in the family for almost 500 years. You might feel honored, humbled, awe-inspired and eager to keep the object safe so you can pass it along. You try to have children but discover that you have been sterilized against your knowledge. When I conceptualized this scene, I put myself in the shoes of the character, feeling her anguish, anger and deep disappointment. I wrote a historical vignette I wanted to include, but it didn’t fit with the overall tone of the book. While not including it was the right decision for the story, I have been haunted ever since by what I developed. I still cannot fathom what it would feel like discovering that the choice of having children had been stolen from you. I recently re-read the excerpt and decided I would share this more widely to shed light on the barbaric and racist practices Puerto Rican women endured in the name of science and progress. Before you read the vignette, explore some of the context for why and how this was allowed to happen. The Historical Context La Operación In the 1930s, doctors in Puerto Rico falsely pushed women into sterilizations as the only means of contraception. Between 1947-1948, it’s estimated that 7% of Puerto Rican women were sterilized and by 1954, the rate had doubled (see reference 1 below). In many of these cases Puerto Ricans were told their “tubes were being tied”, medically known as a tubal ligation, which was agreed to, but patients were never informed this was an irreversible procedure. In 1982, La Operación, a documentary directed by Ana María García showed the widespread sterilization operation led by the United States during the 1950s and 60s in Puerto Rico (see reference 2 below). Women and their families were promised security after they underwent “la operación,” or sterilization. The operation was marketed to them as a way out of poverty and many women thought that once their “tubes were tied”, they could be “untied.” This was not the case and they ended up losing their reproductive rights. The filmmaker was quoted as saying, “All the women interviewed could be you, your mother, your wife, your sister, your daughter, and your friend. One way or another this issue touches everyone's life." (See reference 3 below) Test Subjects for Birth Control Puerto Rican women were also used as test subjects (unbeknownst to them) for the then considered experimental birth control pill. This started with Margaret Sanger, a birth control advocate who in 1916 opened the nation’s first birth control clinic. Sanger also supported eugenics, a theory that non-white or less desirable populations could be reduced or eliminated by controlling their breeding. While she believed that women weren’t free until they had control of their bodies, she did not believe that all women were of equal value. She partnered with Gregory Pincus, a biologist who specialized in mammal reproduction, to create a large-scale, modern form of birth control. Pincus had preliminary success in Boston through small trials for the Pill in 1954 and 1955, but without large-scale, human trials, he knew he would never get FDA approval, which was necessary to bring the drug to market. Given the strong opposition to birth control in America in the 1950s, he had to find an alternate place to conduct his experiments. In the summer of 1955, Gregory Pincus visited Puerto Rico, and decided it would be the perfect location for the research trials he needed. There were no anti-birth control laws and there was already a network of birth control clinics in place. I also learned that Pincus thought that by showing Puerto Rican women could successfully use oral contraceptives, he could quiet his critics' concerns that oral contraceptives would be too complicated for women in developing nations and American inner cities to use. (See reference 4 below) Dr. Edris Rice-Wray was in charge of the trials. After a year of tests, Dr. Rice-Wray reported that the pill was 100% effective when taken properly. She also informed him that 17% of the women in the study complained of nausea, dizziness, headaches, stomach pain and vomiting. Pincus quickly dismissed the conclusions believing that the benefits outweighed what he considered minor issues. Although three women died while participating in the trials, no investigation was conducted to see if “the Pill” had caused the young women's deaths. In later years, Pincus's team would rightfully be accused of deceit, colonialism and the exploitation of poor, brown women. The women had only been told that they were taking a drug that prevented pregnancy, not that the pill was experimental or that there was a chance of potentially dangerous side effects. In other words, they were given no choice as to whether they would want to participate in these trials. Pincus and others believed they were following the appropriate ethical standards of the time. In the 1950s, research involving human subjects was much less regulated than what we see today. Would he have gotten away with the same behavior toward middle class white women in the United States? Probably not, which is why the argument that they thought they were following the appropriate ethical standards rings completely false to many. The medical community thought they could easily exploit Puerto Rican women and they did exactly that. Unused historical vignette from The Moonlit Vine San Sebastián 1950 Ides gazed toward a vast piece of green land that stretched out into nothingness. The sun was rising, but the beauty of the morning light illuminating the countryside was lost to her. All she could think of was how she could never have children. Hot tears filled with loss, anger, and frustration sat on her face. She held the amulet her mother had given her for safekeeping and for passing on to the daughter she would never have tight against her chest. A sound escaped her mouth and soon she was screaming. Why would they do this to her? What had she done? She had been treated like a nothing, a thing unworthy of a future. THEY approached her at the hospital where she was being treated for appendicitis. Do you want children? No, not now. We can help! THEY helped alright. THEY helped themselves to her daughters and sons. Now that Puerto Rico was ruled by the United States government, they wanted to keep the population under control. We are like rats to them, Ides thought. They wanted to control the spread of us and they did this without permission or mercy. Ides dropped to her knees – the weight of her unborn children pulling her toward the soil. Who might she have given birth to? She thought. Perhaps one of her daughters would have set them all free. She opened her palm and looked at the amulet wondering what would happen if she unlocked it. If she called her ancestors and if they came. What would they do? Could they help? No. Ides thought. No one could help her now. She would have to give the amulet back to her mother and tell her to give it to Juana or to Isaura. She would have to reveal what she learned at the clinic just yesterday. She had gone there to inquire what she might do to get pregnant since she and her husband had been trying for three years without luck. It was then she learned that she had had “la operación.” Ides walked back into her home, which consisted of two rooms. Her husband lay asleep in one room while she put all of the items back into the box with a note for her mother. The note simply read, “fallé.“ She left the box in the hiding place her mother had shared knowing her mother would look there first for the items. She then walked off never to return. No one knew what happened to her. One day she was there and the next she was not. Esmerelda, her mother, did find the objects and tried to understand the message, “I failed,” but never figured it out. Three years had passed before Esmerelda passed the items onto Isaura, her youngest daughter. References: The Role of Sterilization in Controlling Puerto Rican Fertility, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Nov., 1969), pp. 343-361 (19 pages) La Operación (Short 1982) - IMDb "La Operacion" by Kimberly Safford The Puerto Rico Pill Trials | American Experience | Official Site | PBS Want to learn more about this topic? The long history of forced sterilization of Latinas | UnidosUS The First Birth Control Pill Used Puerto Rican Women as Guinea Pigs - HISTORY The Untold Narratives is a website to help you learn the art and craft of storytelling so you can tell whatever story you want to tell and bring your voice to life. Not seeing oneself or one’s community represented in narratives can make you feel like you don't belong. It can also give an inaccurate representation of history and reality. Visit us to learn more. We look forward to experiencing your amazing stories!

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