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The Salve of Culture in Pandemic

When Alexis Ruginis ’10 and her sister, Janike, launched Veoleo Press in 2018, their mission was clear: publish linguistically accurate, culturally attuned board books in Spanish for the US babies of the Latinx diaspora. “Veoleo is a portmanteau of the Spanish verbs ‘I see’ and ‘I read,’ explains Ruginis. “Our market was strictly kids 0 to 3.”

Their first book, ¿Dónde está el coquí?, sold 90 percent of its initial run of 1,500 in a little over a year; they now have two additional books in production. As Veoleo’s co-founder, Ruginis still gives her legal skills a workout. “I knew what I needed to do to establish the company. And I don’t have to wait around waiting for someone to draft a contract.”

Donde esta el coqui - un cuento sobre la ranita cantanteThen COVID-19 hit and Ruginis and her sister saw the need to expand Veoleo’s mission. “Our mom is a teacher. We understood that all of a sudden, there were all these kids at home and parents wondering what to do. We wanted to do something to help.” Ruginis teamed up with eight Latinx artists to create coloring sheets that are fun to do and sneak in lessons on Spanish language, culture, and heritage. “We’re offering them on a ‘pay as you wish’ basis on our website,” notes Ruginis, whose efforts were recently profiled in Forbes.

Then Ruginis capitalized on a connection she had made with Elio Morillo Baquerizo, a Latinx NASA engineer who works on the Mars Rover. “I asked him if he would do an online Q&A for older kids, and he said ‘absolutely.’” She created a Spanish word search of space terms and sent them to the 90 or so families who signed on. Ruginis then made the webcast and worksheet available online for educators and families.

To Ruginis, who was born in the US and raised in Colombia, the novel coronavirus is an opportunity to celebrate the best of Latin American culture. “It’s the Latinx spirit to have this community mindset,” she concludes. “It gives us a chance to come together and collaborate.”

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