Straight talk from the sisters about blood, sweat and ink
Banned Books Week & Diversity
This is Banned Books Week, a time we celebrate and remember all the wonderful books that have been challenged for their content. I think it’s clear we are making progress in some areas. However, there are still many grassroots movements looking to suppress and restrict public access to certain kinds of books. And I fear their numbers are growing.
In the USA, these groups direct the bulk of their influence on schools and toward libraries. Places where the argument they are “protecting” young minds can be used as a battle cry. Although honest-to-goodness “banning” might be on a downward trajectory, book suppression isn’t. That is alive and flourishing!
Since this is also the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, I felt like this was the perfect time to let my cultural flag fly and talk about diversity. This is an important cause and it’s also the main reason many books are targeted for a banning.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I am Hispanic. As a Latina, I’ve seldom seen myself or my family’s culture reflected in books. When I do find a character of color they are often stereotypes, or minor characters relegated to the background of a world populated by powerful whites. Growing up in a predominately white neighborhood, finding books with Hispanic characters became a major comfort to me and made me feel less isolated. Even as the world grows smaller, pockets of intolerance still flourish. I see some of the same issues I faced growing up echoed in the lives of my own kids and that angers me. No single group, no matter what their race, religion or sexual ordination is, should ever be left out of the stories. Never! It’s just wrong. Books need to reflect the full spectrum of the human experience.
There are groups helping to make changes and working hard to set up programs to encourage marginalized authors to tell their stories. I’ve been Inspired by the We Need Diverse Books movement and I’ve been working hard to promote my own culture many different ways. I’ve even started writing for a second blog once a month and there I write about Hispanic myths and legends.
Reading about difficult topics (like race, gender identity and class oppression) often helps people see situations from a fresh viewpoint. With the right story dynamics, fiction can start social movements that politicians could never create. That’s part of the power of fiction and why it comes under such aggressive fire from censorship groups: books have the power to change the way people think. We still have a long way to go before book diversity reflects world demographics. It’s up to all of us to support the cause and demand that books portray the world as it is, with all its many races, religions and lifestyles. And we need to do this with cold hard cash. If publishers see we want to buy books that include diversity they will sign more authors who write these books.
In honor of the week’s events, I want to give a special shout out to two of my favorite often challenged books featuring Hispanic characters:
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.
I hope everyone enjoys the Banned Books celebrations, and that you all make a point of reading some banned books this week. However, I prefer to spend this week focusing on the work we still need to do.
Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.
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