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Why Every Child Should Read Books About Diverse Cultures

Picture of students in a classroom reading

Unfortunately, movies and TV often perpetuate the idea that Latinx people are “uneducated” and “dirty.”­­­­­­­ Recently, even the President insinuated that Puerto Ricans are lazy, after natural disasters left their land devastated, and he called the mayor of San Juan “nasty.”

I am a queer Latina. Since a young age, my mother has worked to combat negative ideas about my culture, always enforcing the idea that my culture is rich and beautiful and that Latinx people are bright, smart, and changing the world. Although I didn’t grow up learning Spanish and have never been to Mexico, she taught me about my culture by giving me books. I have over 40 children’s books by Latinx authors – books that changed my life.

When I was 6, my mom donated a book called Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto to my school. My teacher read it to the whole class, and afterwards, all the students wanted to learn to make tamales. That was the first time I saw other students wanting to learn about my culture. This was so important to students of color like me because it taught my classmates that other cultures are valid and important, where mainstream media often failed.

But the importance of these books is about so much more. At my small Montessori school, every year my teacher would have a week dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when we would listen to his “I Had a Dream” speech on a tape recorder. I remember my friend Ama waiting ever year for that week because she would see people who looked like her in our curriculum. She would beam with pride and happiness to learn about Dr. King.

In other words, reading literature about one’s own culture can be gratifying, and it can open a world of possibilities. The book Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge in the Bronx by Jonah Winter taught me that I can be and do anything, and that my ethnicity, gender, and sexuality cannot and will not hold me back. I now have dreams of being a biomedical engineer, all because my mom gave me books to show me that my Latinx heritage is bright and strong. The world is at our fingertips as long as we are shown how we can achieve our goals and dreams.

I call on educators, especially elementary educators, to include books and lessons about diverse cultures in their curriculum. GLSEN’s resources for supporting LGBTQ Latinx students are a great place to start. Books about diverse cultures can open young minds – about their peers’ rich backgrounds, and about their own bright futures.

Soli Guzman is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.

For educators looking to include Latinx literature in their curriculum, Soli recommends these books:

  • Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter
  • Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto
  • Chatos and the Party Animals by Gary Soto
  • Chato’s Kitchen by Gary Soto
  • Esparanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Si Somos Latinos by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy
  • Side by Side/ Lado a Lado by Monica Brown