When I started consciously reading diverse books, it was because I was teaching ESL. My students, nearly all of whom were born in Mexico, were in dire need of books that gave them representation. Any other "diverse" reading I'd done before then was in the interest of being well-read. We read Maya Angelou and Alice Walker and Toni Morrison and Chaim Potok in high school. I read Chinua Achebe and Isabel Allende in college. I read The Joy Luck Club and Stella Gets Her Groove Back during the years those were on everyone's reading list. But while I'd appreciate the insight into other cultures, it wasn't until I looked around and saw I was the only white person in the classroom that I began to have an inkling of what it might mean for students to see themselves in what we read.
So we read Gary Soto, who they loved, and Sandra Cisneros, who left them bored. We read the bilingual poetry of Cool Salsa. Alma Flor Ada and Francisco Jimenez.
Then I kind of ran out of titles and authors.
But that was in a whole 'nother century, and the world was not yet at my fingertips in the same way it is now. My awareness has also expanded. I'd never heard the word "transgender" at that time; by now I've had at least four students (that I know of) in my classroom who identify as such. I'd never heard of intersectionality either, nor even white privilege. Prozac Nation was a controversial new book about our controversial new tendency to take pills for depression. It was the dark ages, really. I was reading to expand my world, sure, but I didn't even really recognize what that world was.
I still skew towards the familiar. It seems that if I'm not reading white American women, then I'm reading European writers, or American men. I have to make a conscious point to beef up my reading of authors of color, of works in translation, of GLBQT authors and so on. That effort is important, and it's netted me some amazing reading. As someone who often reads for escape and delight, it helps to find works that aren't just serious "issue" books. Walter Mosley's mysteries or multicultural fantasy worlds are deeply satisfying ways to read outside my box.
In honor of that first impetus to seek diverse authors, I'm going to focus this week on Mexican American authors who write YA. (And I promise not to write rambling, self-absorbed essays in my future Diversity Spotlight posts.)
A Book I've Read and Recommend:
I Will Save You by Matt de la Peña
De la Peña garnered quite a bit of attention with his surprise Newbery win last year for a picture book, of all things. Last Stop on Market Street earned it, by the way, but I still prefer his YA novels. They are all quite good (and SUPER appealing to kids--there's nothing like saying, "So, the language is not exactly school appropriate in here, but if you think you can handle that..." to get a kid to pick up a book). This is one of my favorites. Kidd, a Mexican American kid who's just got out of a group home situation, is living at the beach for the summer. He meets a beautiful girl, but his friend from the group home has followed him to the beach, and starts making his life hell.
A book on my TBR
Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
A retelling of The Odyssey, only with sisters. Mexican American sisters. And magical realism. And La Llorona. Sounds good, yes? And I feel like I keep hearing about it lately, so I was surprised to see it came out in 2012.
An upcoming bookThe Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (expected publication March 7, 2017)
I so adored Benjamin Alire Sáenz's Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I keep wanting to read more by him. This one sounds lovely, and definitely works the intersectionality aspect well. Mexican American boy raised by two adoptive fathers in a coming of age story. I really can't wait! (I also notice that the cover echoes Aristotle & Dante's to an extent, although few covers are as beautiful as that one was.)