For our first set of posts, each of us will respond to the question: “Why Latin@ Kid Lit?” to address why we created a site dedicated to celebrating books by, for, or about Latin@s.
Why Latin@ Kid Lit?
Well, why not?
Growing up in Hollis, Queens, I never thought of myself as a minority. Personally, I think that word is crap. Are we minor things? Less-than things? Not at all, but this is what they (the proverbial they) call it.
I had my friends, some fourth-generation Irish, some Filipino immigrants, some Guyanese, Jamaican, Mexican, Mexican-Haitian, and the list goes on and on. But this is NYC and diversity is not foreign to us.
This same diversity was not reflected in the television I watched or books I read. My favorite shows were Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Dawson’s Creek. My favorite books were by Sarah Dessen. I was a freshman in high school and I had encountered zero characters who look like me, as I recently noted over at Diversity in YA.
I’d like to think that Latino Lit has come in waves. First, THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET by Sandra Cisneros and HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS by Julia Alvarez, and while those stories are still relevant, they might not pertain to the kids who have already assimilated. I moved to New York when I was six; this Fall I will be celebrating 20 years here. While I most definitely know where I come from, my identity very much belongs to New York.
I want to see myself in the books I read.
Junot Diaz says, “Every single immigrant we have, undocumented or documented, is a future American. That’s just the truth of it.” And he’s 100% right. The future of Latin@ Lit is being written right now. I believe that not every book with a Hispanic or Latin@ character has to be an “issue” book. Not all of us have issues with our heritage. We just are.
Some good examples of this are GOING BOVINE by Libbra Bray, SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD by Lindsay Leavitt, and YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS by Meg Medina. Each of these novels has Latin@ characters, but the story is not centered on being Latin@.
In GOING BOVINE, Paul Ignacio “Gonzo” Gonzales is a video-game-playing hypochondriac who has an overbearing Mexican mother. He’s dealing with lots of issues, but being Latino doesn’t seem to be one of them. The MC in SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD, Payton Gritas, is half-Colombian. Hers is a story of family and first love. Along the way, her ethnicity is mentioned, but it’s not the center of the narrative. In Medina’s novel, the MC is a Cuban-American–the new girl in school who is bullied by another Latina. Of course, the story includes plenty of background and action that touches upon Latin@ culture, but the central issue is not about racial or ethnic discovery.
We need stories that are as diverse as the Latin@ community, stories about Latin@s like me who are as American as they are Latin@. This is one of the things I want to explore in this blog with wonderful writers and readers like yourself.