Reflections of Diversity in YA Lit and the darkness around us

I've done my best to remain apolitical in this blog because at the core of Random Strands is writing. However, I'm a writer because I'm a reader, and I'm a reader because I'm educated.

Education is one of my big pet issues. Same thing with immigration. And whenever there's something that kinda mixes the two, I care a lot. 

Just recently I found out that the Texas Teen Book Festival would not have any Mexicans in its lineup of 30 presenters. And of those 30, only one identifies as Latino as per the organizers.

The organization had the following responses when taken to task by someone on their page:

"We do have a Latino author, but I do not think she is Mexican-American.

"There are many elements that go into selecting authors for the festival. One of those is that we consider authors that publicist agree to send or the list of authors who submit themselves."

"We receive an upwards of 200 pitches a year for about 30-40 spots. If we make assumptions about heritage, ability, and preference, we would venture to say our lineup this year is about 45% diverse."

Now I think they definitely must be commended for diversity. The problem is that at no point, when finalizing the list, did they think, hey guys, Latinos are the largest minority in the state, and Mexicans make up the majority of those. Why are we only having one Latino present In the lineup? 

The organization has committed to, moving forward, including demographics in detail when they request funds and provide reports. Good. That's a start. And we'll see if there's more developments in the next coming few weeks. If there are, then I will be sure to reflect that in follow-up posts. 

I know there are many people that immediately roll their eyes at any mention of diversity. The majority of these authors are also not people of color. Interesting how that works out. 

"Ughhhh why is it so important, I mean, books are books, right?! children can't tell."

Well, except children can. 

I remember when I was a kid, I read a lot of books from the school library. Judy Blume, Beverly Clearly. I really enjoyed them. But I knew that there was a difference. They talked about sandwiches, no one mentioned tortillas. No one had names like the names I had or the names of people I grew up with. I didn't really connect with the characters.

Also, they had basements...which are still bizarre constructions for this Gulf Coast-raised boy. I saw my first basement for the first time in my life 2 years ago at my girlfriend's house in Chicagoland. SO WEIRD.

But why is having diversity important?

From my perspective, because lack of literacy and education is at the heart of every societal problem we have, from our health, to poverty, to crime. Education is at the heart. And when we don't have education, we don't have dialogues and that nets us an inability to get shit done or work together.

Speaking to diversity in literature, the American Library Association (thanks, Danielle!) states that:

Children encounter diversity on a regular basis in their interactions
with others at home, in school, or around their neighborhood. As
our nation continues to diversify, it is essential that children learn
to understand the important role of their culture and the cultures
of other people in creating an overall global culture respectful of
differences. One way that children learn about the world around
them and other cultures is through the social messages found in
stories. Stories help children understand how society perceives
their culture as well as the cultures of their classmates, teachers,
caregivers,
— http://www.ala.org/alsc/sites/ala.org.alsc/files/content/ALSCwhitepaper_importance%20of%20diversity_with%20graphics_FINAL.pdf

I mean, the entire paper is a great read but that quote right there exemplifies exactly why we need diversity. And if you're asking, is it that bad? Oh yeah, it is. Maybe even worse.

Hopefully clicking on it will expand the image, but if not, here's a direct link:.

Just for shits and giggles, I decided to look up Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao on Amazon (which I also just purchased for my 2016 reading list). A common complaint among the one-star reviews was "untranslated Spanish":

 

When I was still living in Mexico, and I read books in English, I had a copy of a dictionary with me at all times. Now, with your newfangled kindles and nooks and whathaveyou, IT'S EVEN EASIER!

I also looked up Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me and his one-star reviews come from people who took what he was talking about as an attack. The common thread among those reviews is "ugh he should just stop complaining, racism is not a thing durrr."

We need diversity.

There's a lot of darkness in the world right now. An NRA member was gunned down by a police officer who told him to get his registration. Five police officers were killed by a terrorist who specifically targeted them. Dallas PD and BLM have always had a cordial relationship and the initiatives spearheaded by Dallas PD have resulted in some significant changes to the way they operate. Case in point: One of the initial reports showed an armed man openly carrying (legal in Texas) a rifle. Rather than immediately gun him down, Dallas PD approached him, talked to him, and released him immediately afterwards. That was very responsible (unlike the response by many people I saw on twitter wanting to point fingers) of the police department to do. Here are the reactions to both event from my perspective:

Philando Castile shooting:

"Well, we must wait, I mean, we don't know all the facts. He might have been reaching for his gun as he was told to by the policeman, but we'll never know. And doesn't he have a criminal record? Looks like he has a criminal record. But still, we must wait on the facts and then, I mean, I don't know, he matches the description, I think, sorta. But yeah, let's wait for the facts."

Dallas shooting:

"UGH! I saw a black guy with a gun walking around! It's absolutely him! Yep, it's him! #BLUELIVESMATTER! There's four snipers! Wait, there's bombs! There's a biological attack! It's that guy with a gun! I know he was just released, but, I think we have to keep looking for him, JUST TO MAKE SURE! Time to change my profile picture to show that I support law and order."

Do all lives matter? Absolutely. But are some lives more at risk than others? Absolutely. As a Latino, I feel that BLM speaks to us as well.

Diversity matters. Listening matters. You can be pro-cop and pro-BLM (which I believe that Dallas PD was). It's easy to fall into the trap of hate when we reduce others to a skin color or a uniform. And when we're not exposed early on to other peoples' differences, we only hurt ourselves.