UNG Reads Celebrates Story, Culture, and Words with “Bless Me, Ultima”

We’re honored to have Dr. Tanya Bennett as a guest author for today’s blog. Dr. Bennett is a Professor and Dean of Honors at UNG as well as the project director for UNG Reads.

Although the population of North Georgia is diverse in culture and ethnicity, language, religion, educational background, and economic class, there is one important value we all share: a strong commitment to young people. To foster a love for books, improvement in literacy rates, and cross-cultural understanding, the UNG Reads program will feature events throughout October, reaching across boundaries to bring together campus and community, work across city and county lines, and appeal to residents of all ages and backgrounds to celebrate reading and its benefits.

As we read and discuss Rudolfo Anaya’s beloved novel Bless Me, Ultima, or Bendiceme Ultima in Spanish, we will engage together in conversations about the challenges of growing up, the gifts of the natural world, and the importance of elders in a thriving community. In the process, parents, teachers, and mentors will model for younger readers the insight and joy that a book can bring.

Through the program’s companion books—Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Call Me Maria and Samantha Vamos’s The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred—we’ll read to and with younger readers, enjoying together the communal experience of stories and words. Research tells us that the human brain undergoes a significant period of development before the age of four years. Children who are read to during this phase of their lives often develop vocabularies notably larger and richer than those who are not read to and engaged in ways that convey to them that their thoughts and ideas are interesting and important. Further, reading with an adult teaches children the power of the written word and the role of their imaginations in understanding themselves and the world. And what warmth and excitement a child experiences sitting in the lap of an adult or older sibling and traveling through a story together! The wonderful feeling of such moments can turn into a love for books themselves, which can greatly smooth the path of adulthood.

The October UNG Reads program will create opportunity for us to read together as a community, sharing and learning about the rich culture of North Georgia’s Hispanic residents. And in the process of encouraging young people to read, we’ll have a ball! Because, as even the eldest of us knows, you’re never too old to enjoy a good story.

If you’d like to join us, events will be hosted across all five UNG campuses. More information can be found at the UNG Reads Facebook page.


Oct. 7: UNG Reads Kickoff, 1-3 p.m., Vickery House

Oct. 11: Movie, “Bless Me, Ultima,” 6 p.m., Hoag Auditorium

Oct. 16: Book discussion, “Bless Me, Ultima,” Noon to-1 p.m., Hoag Student Center 209, Meeting Room C

Oct. 25: Visiting Author Daina Chaviano, 6 p.m., HNS 232

Oct. 26: Fantastic Women Marathon Read, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Hoag Great Room

Nov. 2: Day of the Dead Celebration (hosted by Dr. Maria Calatayud), 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Hoag Student Center, Great Room


Oct. 4: Book discussion, “Bless Me, Ultima,” 12 p.m., John Harrison Hosch Library, Room 134

Oct. 5: Movie, “Bless Me, Ultima,” 5:30 p.m., Continuing Education & Performing Arts, Room 108

Oct. 25: Visiting Author Daina Chaviano, 6 p.m., video-conferenced at John Harrison Hosch Library, Room 134

Nov. 1: Day of the Dead Celebration (hosted by Dr. Ken Martin), 12-12:50 p.m., Student Center, Robinson Ballroom


Oct. 3: UNG Reads kickoff potluck breakfast, 7:30-8:30 a.m., Room 125

Oct. 25: Visiting Author Daina Chaviano, 6 p.m., video-conferenced, Room 246

Oct. 30: Movie, “Bless Me, Ultima,” 6 p.m., Room 104

Nov. 2: Day of the Dead Open Mic Night Celebration (hosted by Dr. Fenton Gardner), 4-5:30 p.m., Room 125


Oct. 18: Book discussion, “Bless Me, Ultima,” Noon to 1 p.m., Student Resource Center, Room 570

Oct. 23: Movie, “Bless Me, Ultima,” 5:30–7:30 p.m., Student Resource Center, Room 522

Oct. 25: Visiting Author Daina Chaviano, 6 p.m., video-conference, Student Resource Center Room 522

Oct. 31: Day of the Dead Celebration (hosted by Dr. Ken Martin), Noon to 1 p.m., Student Resource Center, Room 512

Blue Ridge

Oct. 25: Visiting Author Daina Chaviano, 6 p.m., video-conference, Room 107


Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month With Us!

Today is the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month! It’s a month long celebration of Hispanic and Latino culture which runs from September 15 to October 15 in the U.S. We’re excited to learn more about it, and we hope you join us!

What is Hispanic Heritage Month?

Hispanic Heritage Month started in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Originally only a week long, it was to honor the contributions and sacrifices of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the U.S. President Ronald Regan expanded it to a month-long celebration in 1988. It begins on September 15th because five Latin American countries celebrate their independence today: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico, Chile, and Belize also celebrate their independence during the month.

Why is Hispanic Heritage Month Important?

Hispanic Heritage Month gives people an opportunity to connect to their heritage that they may not have otherwise. Over 17% of the U.S. population is Hispanic or Latino, making Hispanic Americans the largest minority in the U.S., whether ethnically or racially. 9.4% of Georgians are Hispanic or Latino as of July 2016. The Latin American diaspora has separated many people from their homelands and identities. Hispanic Heritage Month allows them to reconnect with their communities and strengthen their cultural identity.

Ways to Participate

We believe that everyone has a right to their heritage and cultural identity. “Local is Global” after all. Each Hispanic Heritage Month, the University of North Georgia hosts a series of events for students and members of the local community. Dance performances, guest speakers, and a Day of the Dead presentation will all be occuring. These events are sponsored by the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) on the Dahlonega campus, the Latino Student Association (LSA) on the Gainesville campus, and the Spanish Club on the Oconee campus, as well as Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA), directed by Dr. Robert Robinson.

UNG Reads will also be reading Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya for Hispanic Heritage Month. Project director Dr. Tanya Bennett says that this novel was chosen because of “its relatability to north Georgians with a Hispanic heritage.” UNG Reads will host campus events through October, including visiting author Daina Chaviano on October 25. More information can be found here.

Learn More

Each Wednesday during Hispanic Heritage Month, the Press will have a blog post featuring different Hispanic authors and books, as well as any updated information about the UNG events. Below are our first three recommendations. If you want to discuss these books, or have any other recommendations or requests, leave a comment, tweet us @UnivPressNG, or follow us on Facebook!

1. The Barbarian Nurseries — Héctor Tobar

The Barbarian Nurseries follows the Torres-Thompson family—half Mexican only in name—and their live-in Mexican employee, Araceli Ramírez. When the Torres-Thompson parents disappear, leaving behind two boys who Araceli has never spoken to, she must find a way to bring them to their grandfather. Tobar’s tongue-in-cheek tone creates a compelling narrative. The duality of American and Mexican identity follows each character in this book about humanity and what it means to belong.


2. The House on Mango Street — Sandra Cisneros

A classic. Taught byevery English teach, read by children and adults alike. The House on Mango Street is a bittersweet memory shared to the world. Told in a series of vignettes, Cisneros wrote a novel that “can be opened at any page and… still make sense.” Mango Street creates the universal ache of growing up, the pain of conflicting identities and forlorn hope that each person experiences. But in its sorrows, it reminds us that we are not alone in the world. “You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are.” But you can still be free.


3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — Junot Díaz

The de León family is cursed. The fukú has followed them for generations, in the Dominican Republic, in America, lurking in every corner. The story rotates between characters, following Oscar, his sister Lola, and their mother Beli. This novel is heart-wrenching. A dreaded tale where something always gets worse. Your heart breaks for the de León’s, but the multigenerational tale creates the feelings of being part of something greater than everyday life. The novel makes you unsure of your footing from the start, but the chaos is authentic, and as you’ll learn, ever family has their own fukú.

National Hispanic Heritage Month 2017 (Gov)
National Hispanic Heritage Month 2017
U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Georgia
Latino Student Association connects UNG students to Hispanic culture
UNG reads “Bless Me Ultima”