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Friday Reflections: Hispanic/Latino YA and A Discussion with My Teens by Christie G

Christie G and I work at two separate branches for the same library system.  Like most library branches, they each have their own unique clientele.  Christie’s branch, she calls it a “twig”, is a smaller branch that is also part of a recreation center.  It’s a pretty cool set up.  And she has a lot of regulars every day after school.  Christie also has a high Latino population that she serves.  So today she is going to share some of her unique reflections as part of our series on Diversity.
Karen J asked me to write a post on my teens and how they like Hispanic /Latino characters in YA fiction.  And I realized that I couldn’t do, although not for lack of trying.
I live in a RED state.  I work in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.   I talk a LOT with my teens.  When we’re slow, I sit down with them in the back and we talk.  They come into my office and talk.  We are definitely talkers.
We embrace our cultures.  We cheer on the Mexican soccer teams with the same ferocity we cheer (or more often curse) the Dallas Cowboys.   It’s not uncommon to have mariachi music and dancers practicing in the community rooms across the hall, or quinceneras renting out the gym for the night.   
Yet my teens laugh when I try to talk to them about books featuring Latino/Hispanic teens. 
“It doesn’t fit us, Miss.”
We have Alex Sanchez in my collection, when I can keep him on the shelves.  He is VERY popular for the GLBT content, and either I will find his books hidden behind a plant, or they will go on walk-about (my personal term for missing) for a while, then miraculously appear again, very nicely shelved in their proper place, along with other GLBT YA fiction books.  So it’s not the HISPANIC characters that are keeping the interest up.
I can rattle off authors with the best librarian, and we have some of the books off of YALSA’s Lee por el gusto de leer .  They’ve tried them, laughed, and given them back to me.
“Don’t bother, Miss.  When does the next Rosario + Vampire book come in?  Or do you have that one you were talking about yesterday?  Anna Dressed in Blood?  That sounded cool.  And when is the next lock-in?”
So I asked them what they would like to tell other librarians about those books, and how they would like to be seen.  Most of it was that they’re sick of being seen as a group, being painted with a brush so wide that it encompasses everything and everyone, without looking at the whole.
We’re not all Catholic
We’re not all from Mexico
We don’t all live in violent households
We don’t all have sex
We’re not all in gangs
We play Yu-Gi-Oh
We read
We like THIS library
Then we started talking about what they’d like people to know in general.  My teens are that limbo generation that is getting a lot of attention.  A lot were brought over to the US by their parents when they were small, and so they may or may not be legal.  I don’t ask- I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, if you come in my door and want to use the library, please.  They have little in common with the characters in a lot of the YA books that get published- either the historical fiction doesn’t ring with them (it does with their parents), or they won’t connect with the specific culture, or the settings aren’t right ( really, Miss, they all have cars?!??!).
So we got to talking about what they wanted people to know in general about them.  It got evident really fast that while people can think teens are clueless, they are not.  They have real fears, and real dreams, and don’t know how to achieve them.  And they are really tired of assumptions that others place on them.
·         Just because we’re not from here, doesn’t mean you should treat us like dirt
·         Just because we’re Hispanic doesn’t mean we’re illegal
·         Just because we’re proud of our heritage doesn’t mean we’re not proud of        America; we’re just not proud of what’s going on right now
·         Just because we can speak Spanish doesn’t mean that we can’t speak English
·         Just because look like we should speak Spanish doesn’t mean we do
·         I’m scared to register for the Dream Visa because what will happen when it’s over
·         I’m scared what would happen if I registered for it (the Dream Visa) and then it got revoked
·         I don’t know how I’m going to get to college
So why do my teens read?  They read to get away from things.  They can’t do anything about their situation right now because they are in limbo.  They’re waiting for outcomes that they have no say in, but have everything to do with their future.  So they read to escape, and in order to escape, they need to connect.  And my teens, unfortunately, haven’t connected with the books that I have for them.  Maybe I just haven’t found the right ones yet.
Karen J asked me to write a post on my teens and how they like Hispanic /Latino characters in YA fiction.  Maybe I should just get my teens to start writing their own books instead.

More on Diversity:
Racial Stereotyping in YA Lit: a reflection by Stephanie W
Race Reflections, Take II


  1. Sometimes it seems like we adults are too worried about the multicultural aspects of books, and they just want to read..what everyone else is reading. And “Caucasian” kids want to read about other cultures — but it's not because of the other cultures — it's because of the stories. Sometimes I think teens are just so much better than us. We need to give them more credit. Let them read what they want.

    I think books are better when they have characters that just happen to be from other cultures — like they are better when they just happen to have characters that are LGBT — not books “about” another culture or “about” an alternate lifestyle. Because then we get into the stereotypes, and they see right through that.

    I'll stop now. As you can see, I found your post very interesting.

  2. I sometimes feel like I'm not serving my teens by having these “wonderful resources” that pop up in discussions because “all teens” need access to them. And then when I try, my teens figuratively pat me on the head and go, it's OK, Miss. You're doing good. So from a professional standpoint, everyone raves about these things, and I'm in my corner of the world thinking, but, they don't work here… What am I missing or what am *I* doing wrong? But then I see that I have 5-10-20+ teens coming in after school until we close, and yes, they're on the computers, but they're also checking out the new Walking Dead books, and they're playing Yu-Gi-Oh in the back, and asking when we can see the Avengers, so in my own backwards way I must be doing *something* right, even if we don't get the “best” of Latino characters, or the best of Printz or other booklists that come out…

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