Open Letter to Publishers About Diverse Bilingual Profiles
Hello readers and publishers alike!
Today, we would like to put out an open letter to publishers about the importance of diversity in the character profiles of bilingual children. As children of immigrants, we know that identifying with characters in books is key to reading success and a positive image of self. When students can relate with the characters on the page, they put themselves in their shoes, and see their own experiences reflected back at them. It gives them the desire to keep reading.
To that end, we at Hexagramm Books are kindly requesting that publishers make editorial decisions to be more representative of the great diversity of our readers’ experiences.
Over the last twelve years of curating books, we have found that certain bilingual children are portrayed more often than others. There are a great many wonderful books about the experiences of children moving between countries. We also have many books about children from lower economic status, but it is important to remember that the recently immigrated child, and the child of poorer families are only two of the many, many profiles that constitute our readership. They do not capture the entirety of bilingual learners. In short, there is no “one-size-fits-all” story or character!
We would love to see bilingual and bicultural kids that are comfortable in their shoes, not “torn between two cultures.” Younger picture books talk about one culture, or the other culture. Titles for young adults refer to struggling between navigating the expectations of two different sets of values. These stories are rich with meaning for many students, but some readers do not see any conflict between their two cultures. Their families have found ways to incorporate both cultures in celebrations, as well as in their day-to-day life. It would be very validating to see a positive image of the bilingual bicultural experience - one that is not a challenge.
We have seen many more young adult novels including later generations of immigrants, and would love to see similar characters in picture books, early readers, and early chapter books. There are many bilingual families with children who are second, third, or nth generation. Not all bilingual learners are recent arrivals.
Another way to break stereotypes is to include characters whose parents are from higher socioeconomic status. We’ve come across a few middle grade books with such protagonists, but many titles are not translated into Spanish. Recent immigrants can also be highly educated. Their degrees may not be recognized, but they are doctors, engineers, and teachers who may need to go back to school to earn a degree that is accredited by an American university. Some Hispanic parents today are better off than their parents who immigrated to the country. Their lives should also be featured in books.
We would also like to remind publishers that the Hispanic community is a “salad bowl” with many minorities. Afro-Hispanics, Chinese-Hispanics, American-Indian-Hispanics - all of these groups have their own distinct cultures, and cannot simply be lumped in with the rest. So few books recognize that countries like Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico have a rich and vibrant Afro-Hispanic community. Asian-Hispanic communities exist all over Latin America, and yet they are underrepresented. While some of our students come from Mexico, many are from American-Indian minorities that do not speak Spanish at home. When we only show one face, we diminish the plurality of cultures present on the continents. We are coming across a few more characters in the middle grade and young adult novels, but these profiles are still lacking for younger audiences.
Some regional narratives dominate others, which is expected as new waves of immigrants enter the country. Most culturally-relevant titles reflect the experiences of Mexican-, Puerto Rican- and Cuban-American characters. It is rare to come by protagonists from Central America, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela - even though many of our students’ families are from these countries and regions. More stories from these groups would go a long way in helping our newest influx of students feel validated!
We’d like to push our request a little further beyond character backgrounds. We would also love to see more kids with agency. So often, children are treated more as having events happen to them, rather than being people with actionable intentions of their own right. We would love for bilingual kids in lower grades to see spunky, charismatic and resourceful characters. This is invaluable in helping build self-esteem. Writing about characters who are problem-solvers, inventive and curious can go a long way in building our next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders and scientists!
Finally, we would like to remind publishers that when a book features a Hispanic child, one of the first conversations should be about when this book will be translated to Spanish. Too many amazing English titles have not yet been translated. While we will not name specific publishers, we are asking that you take a look at your catalog, and see if some titles do not merit a translation. It is our sincere hope that more books written about Hispanic experiences are made available in Spanish so that language does not remain a barrier for kids who love reading.
We have made great strides towards diversity and inclusivity in the last five years, but there is still much to be accomplished! Publishers play a key role in building the vision we make of ourselves. Thank you for working even harder to include all of our readership into your published works.
Yours in curation,
Diego Romero and Marie Bouteillon, Curators at Hexagramm Books