Diversity in YA

There's been a number of posts lately discussing diversity or more like lack of it in YA/MG novels.

Here's some:
Kate Messner has an ongoing discussion going on about it.
The We Need Diverse Kids Books Campaign.
Stacy Whitman's own comments regarding diversity in children's literature


I thought I needed to add my own take on this discussion. If anything? I think my own background helps as I was a bilingual teacher for fifteen years in two different inner school districts. Plus, I'm also diverse. My own grandfather was half Mexican and his family dealt with racism to the point of refusing to acknowledge their heritage. Professor Ortega of Chicano Studies at CSUFullerton in the early 90s(when I took a class with him) said this was very common.

My great-grandmother Cipriana Acuna when she was 15 years old:



When I first started teaching in 1988, there was hardly any novels that reflected the Latino community. I remember how hard it was to find books for my first graders. At the time, Xuxa was huge. If you don't know who she was? She was a Brazilian Pop singer very popular in Latin American countries.



Photo courtesy Wikipedia


Britney Spears was huge too. If you watched any telanovelas? Most were fair skinned, blondes.

The biggest thing that got to me? During the first week of school I had a bulletin board called, "About Me". Students drew themselves and then I took photos that I posted underneath. One very disturbing thing occurred. Almost all my first graders colored themselves fair-skinned, blonde, with blue eyes.

This really bothered me to the point that I felt something needed to be done. But what? I even had to 'borrow' from another bilingual teacher materials to use with my classroom. Santillana had some great materials but were limited at that time. But most of the curriculum out there was boring and in black and white while the 'regular' reading series was colorful. I still remember one year when we were taught a new phonic program and then being told at the end of the inservice? Oh, by the way sorry if you're a bilingual teacher but the English only texts are in color. Serious.


At the time I was also researching my own history and found that my grandfather's family changed their mother's(my great-grandmother) last name to make it more 'Anglo'. I couldn't believe this. I couldn't believe the resentment and threats I got at the time to find out the truth of who I was. Mimi Lozano of SHHAR-Society of Hispanic Historical Ancestral Research- helped me find the truth. To this day some still deny it. Professor Ortega said that this is common. I refuse to continue denying part of who I am. Through Chicano Studies classes and also doing my own research, I found a very rich history that I'm proud of.



My point is I think that by refusing to show different cultures in YA and MG novels, we are continuing the 'shaming'. By only showing a 'white' world we deny the rich heritages and cultures of other children and teens out there.

This was one huge reason I wrote EARRINGS OF IXTUMEA. I wanted to show a world that reflected not only the heritage of my students but mine too.



Today there are a few more novels out there like UNDER THE MESQUITE by Guadalupe Garcia McCall that share another diverse fantasy world.



There's Cindy Pon's fantasies that show an Asian backdrop that are nothing short of amazing.



Loved the Native American heroine in the dystopia KILLER OF ENEMIES:



I love that more are coming out but I want MORE.

I want books that reflect the Muslim backgrounds of my two adorable nephews. I want more books that show Latino/Native American/African-American/Asian worlds.

I refuse to accept that no teen/tween cares if a book has diversity or not. I know they want books that mirror themselves.

The biggest thing is to not only continue to discuss the lack of diversity but to support the publishers/authors who are brave enough to have these types of books out there.

One huge reason why I'm supporting: http://stacylwhitman.tumblr.com/post/84019227505/we-need-diverse-books-campaign

Tu Books walks the walk and actually publishes books with diversity!

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