Fans of Disney’s Encanto might be aware of the healing power of Mirabel’s mother’s arepas, but can her healing food walk and talk, too?
The arepas in the bilingual children’s book La Arepa can. La Arepa was written by Venezuelan immigrants Samantha Cornelelles and Giuliana Ippoliti. The story follows a group of arepitas (little arepas) who discuss the culinary origin of the dish from a Venezuelan perspective as a means of spotlighting the food.
It’s important to note that arepas are a part of Latin America culture. And their origins stem as far back as pre-Columbian times aka before the exploration and colonization by Spanish forces. That’s why you’ll find arepas in Venezuela and Colombia. And why people from those countries are excited to see arepas in a big movie like Disney’s Encanto.
Arepas are small cornmeal cakes that can be filled with cheese, meat, avocado, beans, and more depending on where you get them from. And Cornelelles, who lives in Chicago, got the idea to write a book about personified arepas because she wanted her daughter to have a link to some of the culture and traditions of her family’s home country of Venezuela. Some of the characters’ names are even Reina Pepiada, La Sifrina and Tumbarrancho.
“I used to read to my daughter books in Spanish, but they were mostly about Mexican culture,” Cornelelles told Block Club Chicago. “There was one small book about tacos that I used to read to her, but I wanted her to have something that would connect her to Venezuela.”
Ippoliti, who lives in Barcelona, said during her writing career, she learned that Spanish was lost on many of the children of Venezuelan immigrants. She wanted La Arepa to help bridge the gap between the English and Spanish languages. Cornelelles agreed.
“I knew the book had to be bilingual from the start,” Cornelelles said. “My daughter is not Venezuelan. She is an American with two Venezuelan immigrant parents.”
Now that La Arepa is out there, we want a bilingual children’s book featuring talking gorditas and pupusas. Or here’s an idea: Cloudy with a Chance of Tortillas?