I’m not the first person to say that we need more diverse books (There’s an entire foundation about it!), and I’m sure I won’t be the last. But the simple fact that it even has to be said this many times shows you how far we have left to go. Any trip to a local bookstore is all it takes to see that latin lit is one area in which we are sorely lacking.
In children’s books, characters remain predominantly white, even though nearly a quarter of all public school children today are Latino. Demographics have shifted, but kids’ lit has stayed stubbornly white-washed. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, the author of Bad News For Outlaws and several other famous books said,
“Young people need to see themselves represented on the page so that they will continue reading.”
She went on to explain that white children have to see characters of different races too, not only so they can learn appreciate their differences, but also so they may “see the sameness, and so those other cultures are less seen as ‘others’.”
Growing up, my reading material was vast and varied. When I first started elementary school, I didn’t understand why all the books featured white characters and no one like me. Children are told they can grow up and be anything they want to be. But then, these Latino/a children only see white characters achieving their dreams instead of protagonists who resemble them. They need books in which they can see themselves and in which aspects of their culture and traditions are reflected back to them, providing them with a strong sense of pride and validation of their cultural background.
In addition, it’s very likely that reading catered to Latino children would improve their reading proficiency. I don’t know about all American Latinos out there, but growing up, I didn’t understand a lot of words in my books. Words and phrases like I “prefer the latter”, “bosom,” and “ditto,” among others, were especially hard for me to grasp. It took hard work and a lot of dictionary reading to finally read and comprehend on the same level as my white peers. The National Assessment of Education Progress in 2011 found that 18% of Hispanic fourth graders were proficient in reading in comparison to 43% of white fourth graders.
Could this have something to do with the fact that hispanic fourth graders aren’t seeing their world reflected back at them in the literature they’re taught to read with?
I certainly believe so.
America is a great nation filled with cultural diversity, and our reading material should reflect the same.
Happy diverse reading; let’s grab some latin literature and mix things up!