A week ago, an article was released in The New York Times that hit home for me. The piece confirmed the sinking feeling I had been having when I looked at the current literary landscape: Latino students are not seeing enough leading characters in the books they read that look, sound and act like them.
Despite the ever-growing Latino population in our country, we are still seeing a majority of white characters in main character roles in books that our young people are reading. Some might say, so what—reading is reading, right? Others might argue, why should it matter if characters are Latino or multi-ethnic?
Jane Fleming, an assistant professor at the Erikson Institute, a graduate school in early childhood development in Chicago, told The New York Times, “Kids do have a different kind of connection when they see a character that looks like them or they experience a plot or a theme that relates to something they’ve experienced in their lives.” And that connection leads to an engaging learning experience.
And while this article does address the derth in Latino characters, it also highlights a few authors who are dedicated to giving Latino characters leading roles in their writing, like Pat Muñoz Ryan, Julia Alvarez, Gary Soto, and Alma Flor Ada. And I would personally like to add two others, Malín Alegria and Sofia Quintero, who both create relatable and real teenage Latino characters in their young adult novels.
The Times article also points out the importance of creating characters and stories about Latinos in everyday life, not just around holidays like Cinco de Mayo. “It should be as natural reading about these characters as white characters,” Julia Alvarez told the Times.
I’m personally very thankful to authors who are already making efforts to organically weave Latinos into their tomes. I smile when I can picture myself, and someday, my children in their stories. I will do my best to support them, and I hope you will, too. And for those of you who are thinking about writing the “great American novel,” remember that Latinos are an important thread in the fabric of our nation’s culture.
So this holiday, give the gift of reading to the young people in your life and support Latino authors, who are featuring young Latinos in their works, at the same time. A quick tip for an easy and fun way to find some of them: visit Latino bookstore, La Casa Azul in El Barrio, where you can find an amazing collection of Latino literature, from the classics to up-and-coming voices. Owner Aurora Anaya-Cerda joyfully brings her passion for Latino literature to NYC’s most famous Latino neighborhood.