Hispanic Heritage Month: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
This week is the first week of Hispanic Heritage Month. It runs from Sept 15 - October 15. The opportunity to draw community attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion, I will admit, gives me a small tingle of pleasure in my bones. Over the course of my twenty-five years as an educator, the challenge to weave writers of color, or protagonists of color into the curriculum has been fraught with angst, heartbreak, frustration, anger, and alienation.
Indeed, when I began my career in California, I taught at a school that was 85% Latino and 15% Filippino. Getting books into the library and into the curriculum by Rudolfo Anaya, Denise Chavez, Cherie Moraga, Victor Villasenor, Isabel Allenda, or Gabriel Garicia Marquez, (just to name a few), was an uphill battle, and very often, a losing battle. I was shut down because “they aren’t American authors”.
My purchase requests from my department were shunted to special needs budgets and then declined. I was encouraged to write grants offered from the Annenberg Foundation. I was asked to jump through prohibitive hoops not with the intention of helping me get the materials into the curriculum, but to prevent me from getting the materials into the curriculum.
I finally sat down for one final fuss with my department chair and had to set him straight about the “not American” misunderstanding he had about all of these authors that could be included into the curriculum. He wanted Hemingway. I wanted Allende. He wanted Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (not American by the way), and I wanted Denise Chavez. He wanted American authors, and I wanted American authors. His authors were “real” Americans and mine, in his estimation, weren’t. I would like to say that I entered the meeting like Daenerys Targaryen on a fire breathing dragon, carrying a sword made from Valerian steel. I did not. I walked in with an armful of my personal books, well worn with love, and some printed biographies of the authors to prove that, yes, they are American!
Far less dramatic scenario than the dragon one. Some would say seriously anticlimactic.
Rudolfo Anaya was born and raised in New Mexico. He wrote and published in English. Victor Villasenor was born and raised in California. He wrote and published in both English and Spanish. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Until at long last, and after six years of fussing, I finally got Bless Me, última into our English Department book room and curriculum. (Quick sidebar - his works are here in the ISD library as well).
Flash forward to 2019, and the struggle is still real. My cultural and political context has shifted, however. I live in Senegal, and our student population is African and of the diaspora. When I first took on the role of Department Chair for the English department, my then principal told me that the ISD board members would like to see the curriculum reflect more diversity and inclusion. When I left the English department and shifted to the library, an analysis of the library collection revealed a collection with resources that had fewer than 10% inclusion of Africans, African-Americans, or other Africans from the diaspora. The continued need to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, (DEI), reveals that there is still work to be done. But now? Now I am in charge of the budget!
Here, you must pause and picture my victory dance, like Napoleon Dynamite doing a little disco.
Change can happen because someone who actively seeks diversity, equity, and inclusion is willing to invest the time and money into making the library collection meet those ethical requirements. I am filled with hope. I see an educational shift that strategically pursues diversity, equity, and inclusion. And this makes me very happy.
If you seek literary works that reflect DEI, here are some handy websites and pages for you and your children to explore.
We Need Diverse Books (includes YA, middle school works, and picture books for children)
Latinxs In Kid Lit (includes YA, middle school works, and picture books for children)
CBC (YA, middle school, and picture books for children)
Bouba & Zaza (children’s books)
Pura Belpre Award Winner Page
TEDTalks about the need for DEI:
Alvin Irby: How To Inspire a Child to be a Lifelong Reader
Liz Kleinrock: curricular content for K-12 students around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion
Preserving Openness Through Responsibility