While she was growing up in Houma, Rose Espiritu — who is of Nigerian and Filipino descent — struggled to find literature that reflected her heritage. After graduating from Louisiana State University and living in Los Angeles for four years, Espiritu relocated to New Orleans. She then launched Culture Chest, a subscription service of children's books and activities focusing on a different culture each month.
The mission is twofold: promoting literacy and an appreciation for diverse cultures among parents, teachers and children, the intended audience.
Culture Chest offers packages that educate and entertain children 5 to 9 years old about various cultures and ethnicities around the globe. Each box comes with two or three books and up to four other items, including activities such as making arts and crafts or snacks that are relevant to the culture featured in that month's package.
Espiritu personally curates the packages in accordance with a changing monthly theme. In May, for example, goods will focus on Japanese customs and traditions to celebrate Asian Heritage Month.
Espiritu has customers all over the United States. She also plans to partner with local schools to create a classroom-sized box that contains one set of themed goods for each student.
"I have a multicultural set of friends," she says. "I started bringing books as presents for their kids, and a lot of parents had never heard of these books before."
The feedback has been positive. Espiritu says children are fully engaged with the activities and trinkets. One child was so excited about a Chinese gold coin that "she slept with it under her pillow for a week."
Espiritu sees a lot of potential for growth in her adopted hometown. "In New Orleans, a melting pot, a lot of people really want to expose the kids" to other ethnicities, countries and lifestyles. "(Adults) know there is value in creating cultural ties, and it promotes empathy," she says.