A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the Multicultural Institute Event at the University of Central Oklahoma (The Conference was reschedule for April 17th and 18th). The theme I chose for my presentation was Books for Diversity. I write books and I promote diversity so choosing that theme was pretty obvious, but I didn’t realize I would spend so much time researching and preparing my material for this upcoming presentation.
Researching about diversity has opened my mind to a new world. A world I knew existed but didn’t know that it needed my help. Let me explain:
What are diverse books, in the first place? These are books that portray main characters from different cultures and backgrounds. But diversity is a vast word, and in my case I focused on ethnically diverse books:
- An ethnically diverse book may tell a folktale or have a culturally driven theme, like the abuelita eating tortillas and making tamales in a small villa in Mexico. These books look to inform about different cultures and point at their traditions, customs and heritage.
- Other ethnically diverse books show diverse MAIN characters, of any race or color as part of a story, in any part of the world, and in an everyday situation.
- Also, a book is considered diverse when the author comes from a different background. In my case, my books are diverse not only because I’m a Peruvian who lives in the United States but also because I identify my characters as Latinos living universal stories. I introduce some or our traditions in a subtle way, as part of the story—their diversity is not what the story is about. For example, in No Birthday for Mara, she celebrates her birthday with a piñata; in The Wanting Monster, the characters Tito and Andy are depicted as Latinos, with a certain color to their skin. These books are also in Spanish.
You would think that in 2015 we have massive numbers of multicultural, diverse books published, but the reality is other. According to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), their latest data showed that only 10.48% of the 1,183 books with human characters that they received, featured a person of color. These numbers have been about the same for the past eighteen years! And from this data we can conclude that the numbers about Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and other ethnicities and races, are the same.
In my opinion, these low numbers are disappointing and only a reaffirmation that we, authors, have to produce great books that reflect all people. Some blame the publishing industry that only publishes trendy books. But the truth is that if we as writers don’t create manuscripts that depict interesting characters and stories with main characters who are ethnically diverse, then we won’t see those books on the shelves. Also, we have to take responsibility as readers, too. We need to purposely buy those books that have diverse characters because we need to send a message to the publishing industry: WE WANT MORE DIVERSE BOOKS!
Books serve as mirrors and windows. If we want our society to continue to grow and be inclusive, then we have to include all kinds of people in our literature, and help break the stereotypes that follow each ethnicity. Children dream through literature: let them dream freely of a world more equal and fair regardless of the color of their skin.
In the picture: My son Fabio joining the campaign #weneeddiversebooks