Banned Books Week & Diversity

BBW-logoThis 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.

WNDB_ButtonThere 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

How the Book cover

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.

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, educator, and historical consultant. She writes mystery fiction, with diverse characters and a touch of snark. She's currently working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook( However, Pinterest ( is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

9 thoughts on “Banned Books Week & Diversity”

    1. Hi Patricia,
      I hope you like the Hispanic stories. I’ve done three of them so far, and have two more coming out before the end of the year. It’s been a lot of fun writing them, also an education. You never realize all the social undercurrents of a myth as a child. Looking at them again with a critical eye is a bit unnerving at times.

  1. You’re very right about diversity. Without it, so many voices are lost, both as characters in books as well as authors to write the book.

    When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of books in the house. My mom was an avid reader but she read a lot of magazines, not books. She didn’t read to us. I loved books. I loved telling stories. But I never saw myself in any of the stories I read. In high school, three things happened that said to me that I could and should write my stories. First, when I was a freshman, my sister had to read The Pearl for her sophomore English class. I read it when she wasn’t using it. I loved that the characters were Mexican. I took note of that. Then the following year, my English class read Tortilla Flat and again these were characters I knew and places I knew. I again took note of that. Little by little, I was getting the message that there could be characters and stories that looked like the people I knew. Then the clincher. My sister graduated and started college. She bought all of her books for her classes. She actually dropped out about two months into the first year and she threw away all of her books. I got them out of the trash! One of the books, which is admittedly not great literature, was Pocho by Jose Antonio Villareal. Eagerly, I read it. I didn’t have Senior English because I had already met all of my requirements for English (through three years of journalism) so I was starving for books. I loved the book which is about a young first generation Mexican American boy growing up with his immigrant parents and how he tries to navigate his way through places where he doesn’t fully belong…home where his parents’ true wish is to maintain all of their Mexican roots and some day return to Mexico and then school where he is a shining academic star yet doesn’t fit in because of his culture. He wants to be both Mexican and American yet feels shunned by both because he isn’t a “true Mexican” or a “true American. This was me! My family had not assimilated much yet I was academically gifted and I wanted more than being at home cooking, cleaning, and having babies.

    Once I saw myself in books, I knew I could do anything. I wanted to write. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to share my stories with others and help them through the maze of family life and culture. When I went to college, I took mostly Chicano Writing and Chicano Lit classes however, my school did not offer a Chicano Studies or Chicano Literature degree so my degree ended up being from the Spanish Department which was the department that offered the classes that focused on Chicano themes.

    So yes, diversity in literature is extremely important. We can’t ignore it. It is upon our shoulders to carry it on.

    1. My eldest son read The Pearl for the first time about two years ago and talking about the book with him brought back so many memories. It is incredibly empowering the first time you see yourself reflected in a book. It is a moment that defines you. I love how you said it made you feel like you could do anything! That’s what it means, it’s like someone is throwing open a closed door and showing you the world for the first time. And it’s heartbreaking that many marginalized groups still need to fight so hard to give their kids that same sense of empowerment.

      Thank you for coming by. It was wonderful having you share your story.

      BTW I also loved Pocho, and I still have my old beat-up paper back copy somewhere. Thanks for reminding me about it. I think it’s time I find that book and pass it on to my sons.

  2. I thought I had read The House on Mango Street, but if I did, I did not remember to record it. I guess I’ll have to check it out and see if it sounds familiar! I know the Alvarez book has been on my to read list for awhile. Thank you for reminding me of both!

    1. Hi Paula,
      It’s a great book, I’m sure you will love it. So many Hispanic authors are challenged in the USA every year. Many of them are classic books and by noted authors, like Isabel Allende. It something we need to change. Thanks for stopping by today.

  3. Exactly what I am talking about on my blog today too! It’s been interesting to realize just how many of the banned/challenged books are the ones that provide diverse main characters — such important books for us to have.

    1. I just headed over and read your new post. Fantastic! But all you’re posts for Banned Books Week have been wonderful! : ) I’m glad so many people are picking up on the fact that diversity is such a huge factor in why some books are challenged. Until we acknowledge the bigotry behind some of these banner’s motives, we are never going to make this to stop.

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