“By weaving elements of music, poetry and movement into my picture books storytelling becomes a ‘happening’ and everyone can, and does, participate: We celebrate the story, storytelling, and ourselves.”

Dr. Raquel M. Ortiz, an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker, is a social anthropologist, educator, storyteller, playwright, performer, poet, composer, editor, illustrator, and author of children’s books and songs. Recently awarded a 2022 Cleveland Foundation Artist Fellow, Dr. Ortiz is releasing an album of Afro-Puerto Rican bomba songs for children. The songs in the album, entitled Que vengan los niños, are sung in Spanish and in English, and some are also bilingual. Created in collaboration with William Cepeda, a four-time Grammy-nominated Latin Jazz legend, composer, and educator, the 12 songs range in topics from the beauty of the island of Puerto Rico to animals, bomba music, and Boricua pride in the USA, and incorporate traditional Latin American children’s songs. Four of the songs are inspired by Dr. Ortiz’s children’s picture books and two theater productions.

“My books allow me to share culture, affirm Latinx pride and self love.” And, to share with my community, and others, beautiful, colorful complex Latinx children in all their glory.”

Dr. Ortiz’s stories about Afro-Caribbean and Latinx culture and experiences invite children and adults to join in on adventures. She co-authored Vicki and a Summer of Change! / ¡Vicki y un verano de cambio! (2020) tells the tale of the 1969 Young Lords Garbage Offensive and how, together, people make change happen. Her bilingual books include Broken Butterfly Wings / Alas de mariposa rotas (2021), which introduces El Yunque rainforest. Sofi Paints her Dreams / Sofi pinta sus sueños (2019) celebrates Dominican merengue music, Haitian metal art, and the power of creativity. When Julia Danced Bomba / Cuando Julia bailaba bomba (2019), explores how the Afro-Puerto Rican music and dance of bomba is a call for us to organize, unite, and celebrate. Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural / Sofi y el magico mural musical (2015) explores the Puerto Rican carnival trickster figure of the vejigante. Planting Flags on Division Street / Plantando banderas en la calle Division (2015) shares the story of the two largest Puerto Rican flags in the world. Dr. Ortiz is working on a Young Adult novel that explores folktales and Taíno mythology.

One of my goals is to helps us look through windows, into mirrors, and beyond sliding glass doors so that we can walk into the fantastic and experience what can and should be;

Dr. Ortiz’s bilingual multimedia storytelling using music, puppetry, and video led to a collaboration with Cleveland Public Library’s 2018 Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural musical performance and the Cleveland Play House play !A las nubes! inspired by Alas de mariposa rotas in 2022. Dr. Ortiz’s script and a song for Cucarachita Martina’s Musical Adventure, shown at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, earned her a 2021 Emmy nomination. Her creative-innovative work has been recognized by the Lincoln Public Schools Library Services (MOSAIC 5 Star Multicultural Book, 2020), the National Library Guild (Junior Library Guild Golden Selection, 2019), the City of Cleveland (Special Recognition, Hispanic Heritage Month, 2018), the New York League of Puerto Rican Women (Special Recognition Award, 2016), the National Puerto Rican Day Parade (Educational Leadership Award, 2016), the International Latino Book Awards (Second Place, Best Educational Children’s Picture Book, 2016; Honorable Mention, Best Latino Focused Children’s Bilingual Picture Book, 2016), and the Tejas Star Reading List (2016).

Dr. Ortiz’s most recent academic work includes the essay and teaching guide, “AmeRícan Storytelling: Puerto Rican Civil Rights Artist and Activist Jesús Abraham ‘Tato’ Laviera” published in Teaching the Struggle for Civil Rights, 1977-Present (2022).

Dr. Ortiz has a BA in Spanish and Global and International Studies (Latin American Studies) from Ohio State University (1994), a Master’s Degree in Puerto Rican and Caribbean Studies from the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe (San Juan, Puerto Rico, 2005) and a PhD in Social Anthropology from the Universidad de Salamanca (Salamanca, Spain, 2008). Her doctoral thesis, El Arte de la Identidad: Aproximación crítica al jibarismo puertorriqueño en la literatura, la música y las obras de arte, was published by the Universidad de Granada in 2011. Dr. Ortiz directed the 2013 documentary Memories on the Wall: Education and Enrichment through Community Murals.

Born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, Dr. Ortiz has held research positions at the Universidad de Granada (Spain), Kent State University, and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (Hunter College). She has taught high school art and Spanish and also cultural studies, anthropology and Spanish courses at Boricua College, Medgar Evers, and Lorain County Community College. She has worked for the education department of The Brooklyn Museum and El Museo del Barrio and as an editor for K-6 educational books.

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