Marsupial with a message
A Tulsa author tackles the issue of bullying through a character named for her own mixed heritage.
Cindy Lou Barraza is the creator of Mexiroo, a children’s character promoting compassion and positive self-esteem.
What do a kangaroo and a sombrero have in common, you ask? A colorful creature named Mexiroo, who has come to life in a children’s book series by Tulsa native and author Cindy Lou Barraza.
Mexiroo is an imaginary character with a purpose: reminding children to have compassion for one another in their daily lives, regardless of their heritage or diversity.
Barraza, who calls herself “the original Mexiroo,” is of Mexican and Irish heritage and is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia. She also has lived in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
When a friend jokingly called her Mexiroo, the nickname developed into an idea for others to embrace their mixed heritage.
The first book in Barraza’s Mexiroo series, “Mexiroo Says, ‘So What!!’” teaches children to avoid bullying and celebrate their differences. She is working on a second Mexiroo book, which focuses on healthy habits.
Why did you develop the Mexiroo book series? I think, sometimes, whenever you have that (mixed) heritage, you can feel like you maybe don’t fit in because you are different than a lot of the students around you.
When I volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and was a C.A.S.A. (Court Appointed Special Advocate), I found that a lot of the children that I dealt with came from these multicultural backgrounds, and their self-esteem was pretty much nonexistent because they were being bullied and picked on. These kids would say, “I’m different, because I’m half this or half that,” and that’s kind of where the whole Mexiroo thing got started.
What have you learned from your own heritage and living abroad? It definitely opens your eyes to so many different things. People are the same around the world. They’re different in their cultures, but deep down they’re all still the same. They have the same wants, the same needs, regardless of where they’re from. There’s no way you could ever learn in a classroom the things that you can learn by traveling.
What feedback are you receiving from parents on the Mexiroo series? The parents are like, “I’m so glad you created something these kids can relate to and that you are touching on bullying and getting it out to these kids so they can understand what it is and how to stand up for themselves.” A lot of the things you see on bullying today tend to be focused on (students who are) high school age, but if we can nip it in the bud when these kids are younger, it won’t get to that.
What is your long-term hope for this project? If we can influence and change the patterns and habits these kids have at a younger age, they don’t have to be dealing with it as they get older. A lot of our population today is mixed heritage. If I can stop one child from committing suicide because they’ve been bullied and didn’t know how to address it and let them know it’s OK that they’re not like everybody else, I feel like this has all been worthwhile.