Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Latina Bloggers React: We Need More Hispanic Authors and Books. Our Stories Matter.

In response to the New York Times article about the lack of Latino authors and books for childrenLatina 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.  In a series of posts we will not only share our personal experiences within the publishing industry, but provide ideas for changing the situation to benefit Latino readers and writers, as well as the industry itself as they tap into this growing demographic. To help the publishing houses and readers, we're providing our top picks of Latino/a writers - and we're not done. Look out for forthcoming Google hangouts, Twitter parties, and follow-up posts as this coordinated effort continues, working towards providing quality books for an emerging group of readers.

Reading the NYT's article made me think about so many things: my childhood, my own writing and the limited selections at bookstores. So a few of us Latina bloggers decided to make our voices heard. As writers, mothers and lovers of all literature we want publishers, marketers and booksellers to know that Latinos read, write and buy books. We want them to know that OUR STORIES MATTER

I grew up in a home filled with books. Not because my parents were big on reading but because my father worked in a book factory. We had every children's book imaginable. And while we didn't have a lot of money, seeing books on our shelves made me feel very rich. 

Growing up my favorite writers were Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. I read book series like Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High and the Baby Sitter's Club. I read all the time. Out of enjoyment, boredom, loneliness. I was that nerd girl whose nose was always in a book. I grew up reading about people I could not identify with and neighborhoods that didn't look anything like mine. 

I didn't realize I was missing something. And even though I grew up in a home filled with books not a single one was written by or about a Latino. I simply took for granted they did not exist. I assumed our lives were not worth reading or writing about. 

I will never forget the first time I read a book written by a Latino author. I was twenty years old. It was Esmeralda Santiago's When I was Puerto Rican and I read it in less than two days. It was empowering. I knew I needed to seek out other Latino authors (I say seek out because this was the age before Google). Esmeralda Santiago made me realize that our stories matter. And she inspired me to start writing.

At the time I discovered Esmeralda Santiago and Latino Literature, I was a failing college student. I didn't believe I was good at anything. I was working two jobs and I hated them both. And I didn't feel positive about my future. The next semester I  took an intro course in creative writing. I wrote my first short story and handed it in thinking it wasn't any good. On the day the professor returned our stories, I walked in twenty minutes late and as soon as I stepped in - the class started clapping. (For me!) The professor had been praising my work and called it the best submission she received. It was the first time any teacher had ever told me I was the best at anything. That was my academic turning point.    

Latino Literature opened a door for me that I didn't know existed.   

Now as a graduate student pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I've met professors and editors who have told me that it will be more difficult for me to become a published writer simply because I'm Latina. While it's discouraging, I know I will not give up until my name is in print. I believe in my writing. And I know my words matter.    

When I was pregnant with The Boy, I knew I wanted him to love literature. I knew I wanted his children's books to be a reflection of our culture. I want my son to grow up knowing Latino writers exist and that our stories matter.   

But it is so disappointing to walk into a bookstore and not have a selection of books (children's or adult) written by Latino authors to choose from. I don't live in a small town. I live in New York City. And one shelf in a major New York City bookstore is not enough. In all honesty, it's not enough regardless of where you live.

When I think about all the kids in my life who think reading is boring - I know it's because they haven't read a book that spoke to them. I know the right book could make them realize that reading is exciting and that learning through literature can be fun. All it takes is one good book to change a life forever. I know because a book changed mine. 

What Latin@ author and/or "mainstream" author most influenced you and why?

What YOU can do to help?

  • BUY - not borrow - books written by Latin@ authors. Money talks.
  • If you enjoy a book written by a Latin@ author - post a review on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.     
What I Would Have Loved To Read Growing Up:

What I Read To My Son

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AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.