I don’t want to start this post with a question, like ‘what does diversity mean to me?’ Instead, I’m going to start with introducing my favorite muppet/monster from Sesame Street. My favorite muppet/monster is Rosita. Originally from Mexico, she lives on Sesame Street and can speak English and Spanish. She’s smart, tenacious, and kind.
Now, why am I talking about my favorite Sesame Street monster? A few weeks ago, in early to mid-November, there was chatter on Twitter about the desire and the needlessness for diverse lit.
It got me wondering, how can people consider diverse lit (especially kid lit) unnecessary? I don’t want to assume the people claiming this are all white or part of the mainstream culture (*wink, wink*), so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
So, two questions – Why do they deem it unnecessary? and Why is it necessary?
In comes, Rosita.
I’m a Tia (that’s aunt for my english speaking friends), and I watch Sesame Street with my young nieces. I watched it while I was growing up, my oldest niece watched it, and now the youngest is watching too.
Sesame Street content has gotten better and better over the years, with great segments, great lines, and new ways to introduce educational and everyday living concepts to children. But, there was one episode that really stuck out to me, precisely because it dealt with the talk and issues winding through Twitter.
In said episode, Rosita is growing frustrated with the books she’s been reading. She’s excited to pick up a book about a child who is just like her – Mexican. But time and time again, the characters in the books are depicted stereotypically by wearing sombreros, taking siestas, and sleeping beside their burros.
[Sesame Street, Season 44, Episode 4408 – Mi Amiguita Rosita]
Let’s look at our two questions again: Diverse Lit – Why do they deem it unnecessary? and Why is it necessary?
Why do they deem it unnecessary? – Obviously we already have books about little Mexican children. We know enough of their culture and mannerisms. They like siestas and have burros for pets. Cool.
Why is it necessary? Because Rosita doesn’t take siestas or have burros and neither do I.
Luckily, I’ve read enough books to know that members of the mainstream culture (white people) have a variety of experiences, traditions, and cultural nuances. For instance, I know there are white people who live in poverty, but there are also white people who are wealthy. I’ve read of teens with divorced parents and with parents that are still together. White teens who have done drugs, white teens who have fallen in love, white teens who met a vampire and werewolf and lived to see the next day.
I’ve seen Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and other Latinx as gang members, drug users, and living in poverty.
Here’s the nitty gritty part of this – it’s not enough that we have diverse lit (and we need more of it), it’s the availability of diverse narratives (why it’s necessary).
White people are a default when it comes to children’s, Middle Grade, YA, and genre fiction. I’ll put this out there – I’m glad to see and read about white teens going against the odds. But, I want to read about a person of color as well, beating the odds (it’s literally built in our DNA).
It’s about having more than one narrative. No more story after story of siestas and burros (although burros are cute). But, stories of love, survival, meeting a vampire and werewolf and living to see the next day. It doesn’t mean no more white people.
Diverse lit and multiple narratives break down stereotypes and broaden perspectives. Something necessary in the world we live in today.
Rosita, tired of the stereotypes, decides to write her own book! She wants others to know what her life is like. With the help of Mando and Chris, Rosita learns about herself and breaks the stereotypes surrounding her.
With more diverse lit and more narratives, I’m seeing less and less Latinx as gang members or stuck in poverty. I see them as multi-faceted with adventures of their own.
Back to our questions:
Why do they deem it unnecessary? Honestly, I don’t know why. Maybe they’re part of the mainstream culture (this pertains to USA). Perhaps their culture is the one others need to assimilate into. Perhaps, their culture is the default. Maybe they don’t see or perceive the necessity and the damage single narratives have on a reader’s perception.
Why is it necessary? Because it’s possible to have a variety of narratives starring a cast of diverse characters (including white people and cis-het individuals). Having these types of stories, doesn’t make it seem or feel ‘other’, because these stories are entirely real.
Diverse lit can eradicate stereotypes and learned prejudices. More diverse lit and more diverse narratives will not only reflect American society as a whole, but make it seem less unusual, less foreign.
Because, I’ll tell you right now, I’m not unusual or foreign at all.
So, I’ll leave you with this thought, if we live in a multicultural society, why isn’t that the default in the books we read?