Please welcome back to the blog, Nadia, of A Bookish Way of Life!
A LESSON LEARNED: DIVERSITY IN BOOKS
Sandra Cisneros was my first reading experience with a Latina author. I was nineteen, attending college, and majoring in English Literature. I’d chosen Latinos in Literature as one of my courses, because it sounded interesting. Mind you, I’m Latina and for some reason I found the idea of reading books about my own culture to be interesting. My Mexican culture was a part of me that I didn’t really identify with. Sure, I spoke Spanish, listened to my mom’s CDs by Gilberto Perez and Ramon Ayala, ate tacos and enchiladas - but that was extent of my Mexican cultural knowledge. As for books, well all of mine were written by ‘dead white guys’ or whoever was topping the latest bestseller lists. I grew up in a small town reading Christopher Pike, The Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High – what did I know about diversity in books?
The first day in my Latinos in Literature class, the professor gave us our syllabus filled with names I could pronounce, but didn’t recognize. She spoke about the importance of Hispanic culture and how this class would open our eyes to a world of literature that was integral to American history and culture. Her passion for this genre was so effusive and inspiring that I found myself eagerly opening up the first page to The House on Mango Street. Reading about Esperanza’s life filled with rice sandwiches, Spanish phrases, and hardworking parents that woke up before the crack of dawn was like coming home. I found myself within these pages, these words, these characters, and their stories. I could speak the language, recognize the neighborhood, smell the food, wear the clothes and fit right in. This story was my story. Sandra Cisneros’ words represented my culture, my family, and me.
As a result of reading this book, I began to seek out books by other Latino authors and immersed myself in stories that felt both familiar and foreign. I also encouraged family and friends to diversify their reading repertoires as well. This class was integral in teaching me the importance of reading diversely and it was a lesson that I’ve kept with me ever since. By reading authors of color I’ve learned more about myself and the world at large. I’ve found myself inspired, fulfilled, and excited about the different countries, cultures, and people I’ve read about.