The Search For Salvadoran Characters

jreading

In response to the New York Times article regarding the lack of Latino authors and books for children, Latina bloggers have launched the “Latinas for Latino Literature” campaign which works to identify the problems in today’s publishing world that contribute to this lack of diversity so that we can provide ideas for changing the situation to the benefit of not only Latino readers and writers, but to the benefit of the industry itself as they tap into this growing demographic. Look out for forthcoming Google hangouts, Twitter parties, and follow-up posts as this coordinated effort to bring quality books to an emerging group of readers continues.

I kneeled on the coarse, crimson carpet at the library, the third library I had visited that week, trying to find something, anything, on the shelves about El Salvador – the native country of my new husband. I often left libraries and bookstores defeated, with a stack of novels about Mexico, Mexicans, migrant workers – stories that I ended up loving, and still love – but what I really wanted was a book with Salvadoran characters, and I couldn’t find any. Any book I did manage to find about El Salvador would be non-fiction, and usually about the civil war.

When I became a mother of two boys, two Salvadoran-American boys, I wanted desperately to buy them books and read them stories with characters they could relate to. Again, visits to the library and bookstore turned up books featuring Mexican and Mexican-American characters, when we were lucky.

These days, the library selection has gotten better, and the online selection is a dream come true compared to what I faced when my boys were younger. I’ve read books about Cubans and Puerto Ricans, Argentinians, Venezuelans, Guatemalans and Paraguayans, and thanks to Sandra Benitez, an amazing book called “Bitter Grounds” with a diverse Salvadoran cast. I stayed up late turning the pages, almost not believing that after so many years, I was finally reading a book with Salvadoran characters.

Why am I writing this? – Because I want the publishing industry to know that I am here – an avid reader, hungry for these books for myself, for my husband, for our boys, and for the children out there whose parents won’t go to the trouble I’ve gone to – the children who are at the mercy of whatever their school librarian decides to put on the shelves.

I want it to be known that I hunger for even more diversity, for Latin American characters and characters of Latin American descent from all walks of life. Don’t stop telling the story of the migrant worker, the immigrant, of Mexicans – but let us hear other voices too. We want to hear from characters who are rich, who are poor, and everything in between. We want characters who are white collar workers, and blue collar workers. We want characters who are beautiful, ugly, inspirational, relatable, flawed, ordinary, outrageous, wise, hilarious, serious, complex – in other words, we want all the diversity of voices that are available in the general market. Please, keep seeking out fresh authors and publishing their stories – We are here waiting for them, (and in some cases, some of us are here writing them, too.)

A few of my favorite books for children. Click the image for more.

A few of my favorite books for children. Click the image for more.

These are some of my favorite Middle Grade and YA books. Click the image for more.

These are some of my favorite Middle Grade and YA books. Click the image for more.

These are some of my favorite books for adults. Click the image to check out more.

These are some of my favorite books for adults. Click the image to check out more.

Do you feel there’s enough diversity in the books commonly available in bookstores and libraries? Which Latino/a author or book most influenced you and why?

Chécalo: Other “Latinas for Latino Literature

19 thoughts on “The Search For Salvadoran Characters

  1. OH! I LOVE this post! You write so well, you need to write a book yourself!! And what great book suggestions. You’re right. It is SO HARD to find diversity within Latino (children’s) literature. I wish we had lots of books that every Latino family could relate to. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I completely agree! My husband’s mother is Guatemalan making my husband the first generation born in the US. I want desperately to find books with characters and traditions from Guatamala for our son. Just because Guatamala is right next to Mexico everyone assumes it’s all the same. It’s not! There are so many different foods and customs and I would love to find children’s literature that expresses that! Thank you for a great post and for bringing awareness to an area many give no thought to! :)

    • So true! My daughter is Guatemalan and while I am glad that she embraces the Mexican traditions on her father’s side, there are specific Guatemalan customs that I want her to know as well. In terms of the books we have available to us, through the library I am able to obtain a great range of books but yes, wish they were more readily available and mainstream.

  3. Tell me about it!! Bitter Grounds Is one of my favorite books! Growing up I craved and yearned to read books that I could identify with and never found any!! I get excited now when I see/hear the words “El Salvador”. I agree with Monica I would love to read a book written by you. I am addicted to this blog lol

  4. During the Spanish book fair in L.A. this year, I bought wonderful kids’ books from Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru! I was very happy to see different countries represented. But it’s really sad that you have to go to these type of events to find them. They should be available everywhere!

  5. I think I’ll be taking a trip to the library today with my 2 and a half year old…..I have got her a few books with Mexican stories, and I got her that Magic Dogs of the Volcanoes (it’s sitting under our Christmas tree as I type this). She’s half Mexican, but my husband is from El Salvador and I’ve been looking for books everywhere recently.

  6. SALVADOR SALAZAR ARRUÉ «SALARRUÉ» Cuentos de cipotes (1945-1961)
    De la Guanaxia Irredenta by José Roberto Cea
    Jaragua : Napoleon Rodriguez Ruiz

  7. if you’re looking for books with Salvadoran characters or by Salvadoran authors I strongly recommend the books by Jorge Argueta, Manlio Argueta, Rene Colato Lainez, or just have your suegra tell the stories she heard as a child e.g. La Sigüanaba, El Cipitío, Los Cadejos, Los Micos Brujos, Tío Conejo & Tío Coyote, etc. It’s all a matter of looking for them even if it is hard at times, also Cuentos de Barro or Cuentes de Cipotes by Salarrué are good for kids although the language might be difficult to understand. If poetry is your thing Claudia Lars, Claribel Alegria, or Roque Dalton are all good. El Libro del Tropico by Arturo Ambrogi is also a good read about Salvadoran life.

    • Thanks for listing these here for everyone, Jesus. Yes, I have found many of these books, and own a few too. (If you click the images of books on this post and go through to my GoodReads account, you will see them there.) Thanks to a friend, I have a copy of this book as well:

      But back when my boys were very young, I couldn’t find these books. These days, we can find them on the internet, but they are still not easy to find on the shelves of brick and mortar bookstores or in libraries – and I think that needs to change because not all parents will go to the trouble to search the internet and buy them that way… In the end, it’s the kids who miss out — And not just Latino children. I think it would be good for all kids to have a more diverse bookshelf.

  8. I am so excited about this mission! My debut novel comes out in May, and the lead character is Latina. I had an incredibly tough time getting it published, and after about 50 agents and editors, finally found a small house who has picked up the entire series.

    Here’s hoping we can see a lot more color and diversity on the pages!

  9. Thank you for sharing your quest for Latino literature for children. And thanks too to those who contributed comments. I agree with Jesus that a very great gift to children is to hear stories that are passed down from a family elder (and recording them if possible).
    My quest for Latino literature started in the late 1970-early 1980’s when my children were young, and continues to this current era, searching for books to read to my grandchildren. (Note: because my heritage is Mexican, I tend to have books that have Mexican topics.)
    Many of the books in my collection are not necessarily by Latino authors, but do have a Latino perspective. Some of the books are bilingual, some of them are based in the south-western states of the US (mainly Texas and New Mexico).
    The following list of books are those with a Christmas theme (however, I didn’t get to read any of them to the grandkids this year):
    – Nine Days to Christmas, by Marie Hall Ets & Aurora Labastida (1954)
    – Spirit Child (A Story of the Nativity translated from the Aztec), by John Bierhorst (1984)
    – The Christmas Gift, by Francisco Jimenez (2000, bilingual)
    – Home for Navidad, by Harriet Zieffert (2003)
    – Uno, Dos, Tres, Posada!, by Virginia Kroll (2006)
    – Pablo’s Christmas, Hugo Martin (2006)
    – N is for Navidad, Susan Middleton Elya & Merry Banks (2007)
    – Charro Claus & The Tejas Kid, by Xavier Garza (2008, bilingual)
    Some are better than others – but anytime I can read to my grandchildren, it is a joy.
    Another time I will share some titles from my non-holiday collection.

  10. I cannot say that I agree with this post. When you say that you want more diverse readings you need to understand that having Latino character books does not equal diverse. I am a teacher within a high school which is not diverse at all. Its a school with a large population of latinos. Diversity means different and various groups. Diversity does not equal minority. If it is anything your own children will be able to relate to it is books with American characters who are of mixed ethnicity. As a teacher of high school freshman who have various latino/mixed ethnicities, I wish I could get my hands on literature that really speaks to them and their culture. We can only read so many stories about immigrants or stories about immigrant children who do not speak english well and feel ashamed. We have SOOO many stories about that topic, and my students are not interested. Maybe it is because they are teenagers, I dont know.

    I would love to come across a story about a mixed-race character and the experiences they have being American from two different backgrounds in a society where you have to belong to a group, where you have to fit into one box. My students could really relate to something like that. My students are latinos, but they are not immigrants and they all prefer english (as for most of them, that is their first and only language). These supposed stories about the “real Latino experience” does not speak to them. They prefer to have their iPods stening to Lil’ Wayne and 2 Chain or whatever that rappers name is. They dont care. Latinos authors like Julia Alvarez only present characters whom represent a very small percentage Latino youth. The rest of them do not and will never understand what it is like to be an immigrant and most do not care. I speak from personal experience as I was one of those kids.

    Now is the time for the emergence of a new generation of Latinos. Ones who may or may not (and its ok!) speak the language of their parents fluently but do not forget their parents or where their parents come from. Ones who do not express cultural unity, but unity of all people and combining cultures instead of sticking to ones own. Ones who understand their heritage but welcome other ways of life. This is what I want for my kids and what I would love for the society to turn to. I am tired of the idea of cultural unity when our youth themselves come from mixed backgrounds and feel that they cannot embrace either side fully because others make them feel excluded or that they need to “choose”. People who are mono-racial/ethnic do not know this feeling and never will. Today more than every, our children come from beautifully mixed backgrounds, and you want books that are mono-cultural in nature. My wish is that someday, these ideas of mono-cultural literature for only a select group are demolished along with the ideals that these groups want for “their children”. OUR children from every racial background need books that educate them and expand their minds, and to narrow the list down to ones that are solely for latino/black/or whatever is a ridiculous notion.

    Not only that, most books with latino characters describes them as being dark skinned and that being beautiful, as it signifies their heritage. What about my students who look completely white (and there are many) or have one white parent and one latino parent and they look completely caucasian with a latino surname? What does this ideal about latinos say to them? That they are not latino or beautiful? Instead of more latino authors, we need authors who do not embrace the ideal that everyone should fit neatly into a little box. While it is true that our society is getting “darker” so to speak…our latinos in the U.S are getting “lighter”. The little box for grouping people needs to be done away with.

    Sorry about my rant, but this just presses my hot button. I hate labels and I hate cultural exclusivity.

    Rant over

    • We actually don’t disagree at all here! You’re 100% correct that multiracial, 2nd/3rd generation, and Latinos not fitting the “dark skinned” stereotype are not well represented in literature. That’s why I say in the post:

      “I want it to be known that I hunger for even more diversity, for Latin American characters and characters of Latin American descent from all walks of life. Don’t stop telling the story of the migrant worker, the immigrant, of Mexicans – but let us hear other voices too. We want to hear from characters who are rich, who are poor, and everything in between. We want characters who are white collar workers, and blue collar workers. We want characters who are beautiful, ugly, inspirational, relatable, flawed, ordinary, outrageous, wise, hilarious, serious, complex – in other words, we want all the diversity of voices that are available in the general market.”

      I think we’re saying the same thing here?

      Believe me, my sons are 1/2 Salvadoran, 1/2 Anglo. They speak Spanish but aren’t fluent. They prefer English. They are proud of their roots but they are American in every way. They love their video games and iPods – they listen to some Spanish language music, but prefer English language music. They eat traditional Salvadoran or Latin American food for dinner often but if you gave them a choice, they’d usually ask for pizza or hamburgers. My older son is darker-skinned and my younger son is fair-skinned with freckles. Neither of them has ever lived on a farm or struggled to speak English – so stories about migrant workers don’t resonate – they can’t identify.

      Just as you want stories for your students, I want stories for my sons. I think that stories about immigrants and Latin Americans born in Latin America have their place – I love those books – but the younger generation here in the U.S. needs to see themselves too.

  11. I hope that Anonymous – Jan 8, 2013, will encourage her students to write their own stories about their own experiences. Maybe they could put together an anthology of short essays or stories about their experiences.

    • Love that idea….thank you for suggesting it! As of now I am working on helping my students put together a portfolio in their various writings on per books they read and writing reflections on them.

      I agree with you 100 percent Tracy. I was talking in response to the article:

      Latina bloggers have launched the “Latinas for Latino Literature” campaign which works to identify the problems in today’s publishing world that contribute to this lack of diversity so that we can provide ideas for changing the situation to the benefit of not only Latino readers and writers, but to the benefit of the industry itself as they tap into this growing demographic’

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