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People in Your Neighborhood: Juliana Anthony Hernandez looks to open a world of untold multicultural stories

La Joya Press co-founder and La Jolla resident Juliana Anthony Hernandez
La Joya Press co-founder and La Jolla resident Juliana Anthony Hernandez says the La Jolla-based publishing company will release children’s books this summer told from the Latinx perspective.
(Courtesy of Juliana Anthony Hernandez)

“There is a whole world of untold stories,” says La Joya Press co-founder and La Jolla resident Juliana Anthony Hernandez — stories from Black, Indigenous and Latinx authors that feature children of all cultures and abilities.

Her hope is that La Joya Press can be a place for those of different backgrounds to tell those stories. The La Jolla-based publishing company will release children’s books this summer told from the perspective of Latinx (the collective term for Latino and Latina). Plans are to produce more as the company gains traction.

As a bilingual educator in Texas, Hernandez often sought books by Latinx and Black authors. “I believe representation matters, and the best place for children to see themselves represented is in books,” she said. “So, I always looked for more multicultural books.”

There weren’t as many as she would like, she said.

“There are not a lot of Latinx writers, and those that do explore getting their works published face challenges. Writing the actual book is the easiest part, but paying the editors and helping with marketing is expensive,” she said.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic “pushing a lot of us to decide what we want in our lives,” coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement of the past year, she said more and more people are looking to tell their stories.

The planned logo for La Joya Press.
(Courtesy of Elena Gaona)

“It’s amazing but sad that through the Black Lives Matter movement, we realized the lack of awareness there is about other different cultures and how much we do think is based on stereotypes,” Hernandez said. “I realized this was the time for me to start a publishing company to provide a company that can tell these stories.”

Currently, her intent is to only publish children’s books.

The immediate focus is to release Hernandez’s book “Entre Amigos: Between Friends,” a bilingual children’s book, followed by one about Mexico and another about how tortillas are made.

“Entre Amigos: Between Friends” is about “friendships between children of different ethnicities and abilities; one child has a cochlear implant and others have special needs,” Hernandez said. “Children need to see kids that are different from them so they can learn they aren’t so different from them. Inclusivity matters, but a lot of literature doesn’t allow for that.”

From there, Hernandez hopes to fund and support young authors of different ethnicities in producing their books.

She said she wants all cultural representations to be thoroughly researched and is working on a story about capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music). “That way, a boy from Brazil can see themselves in books and a little boy from here can learn about capoeira,” she said.

Hernandez said she is guided by her experience as a teacher and the lessons of her father, who died last year, to start La Joya Press.

“I think it’s an important project that we’re doing,” she said. “It’s part of me and who I am and who my dad was. He was a community advocate and helped thousands of immigrants become citizens. He taught me to give back to the community, and I feel I am giving children a place to be represented in books.”

Hernandez called it “super exciting” and “surreal” to be launching her company.

A bonus is that she gets to run it with her best friend, Elena Gaona, a resident of Washington, D.C.

Gaona, a former reporter, said she has spent her life telling people’s stories, and the time came for her to tell her own.

“Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of books I saw myself in,” she said. “I loved the literature I had, but for young kids to see themselves in books is so powerful. For me, it’s about representation and opening worlds to kids and for the world to see our kids as well.”

Hernandez hopes to have her first book sold at Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla.

Though the connection hadn’t been made yet, Warwick’s director of events Julie Slavinsky said: “We feel empathy through reading is the fundamental purpose of a bookstore, and raising awareness of local and multicultural authors is a critical part of our mission. Lifting up and bringing these voices to our customers is what being an independent bookstore is all about.”

People in Your Neighborhood shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send an email to robert.vardon@lajollalight.com. ◆