Diversity in Tween Literature

For those who do not know-I am Menominee, Mexican, and a daughter of a Seneca man. My family is made of many different cultures and ethnic groups.  We celebrate both Native American and some Mexican traditions. The reason I bring this up is that diversity has been something I have been interest in for a long time because of what I have experienced as a person of multiple backgrounds.  A number of the schools, I went to as a child (and adult) I was either the only Mexican, the only Native student, or sometimes both the only Native and Mexican student. This is hard because I would often be surrounded by white students who were all from the same culture and background who were not exposed to many people from different backgrounds. I was the one they were exposed. I ended up having to teach both students and teachers about my culture.  Sometimes they were sensitive to that and sometimes they were not.  I had to constantly remind myself that they did not experience the things I did, and so they did not realize when they were being ignorant or racist.

I think that is why it is important to have students read books from different cultures. For this blog, I read both “Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and “Bud, Not Buddy.”  There are things in ‘Diary of a Part-Time Indian” that resonate with me because of my own experiences of being a Native in an non-Native environment.  This story is about a Native boy who goes to a non-native school.  It does feel a little like being an alien going to a non-Native school.  I think that for non-Native people this is a good book to read to get some of the experiences of the clashes of culture between Native and non-Native. “Bud, Not Buddy”  shares a different story from the Great Depression because it focuses on African-Americans. Bud is a ten-year old African-American boy whose mother has died. He is searching for his father. It details his experiences as he searches.  It shows how people in a different time period but also a little bit about what happened to children without parents.

Students need to have experiences that are different from their own so that they are better able to relate to people who are different from them.  Reading books from different cultures can provide that exposure and help them to learn more about different people. There is a tendency among tweens to think that anything that is different is “wrong.” The truth is it is just different and it does not make it right or wrong. I just read a study that said people who read are more likely to identify personally with characters in books rather than movies. They are more likely to feel the experience of the character more when reading because they put themselves in the character’s shoes. If this is true, that is why students should read books about people different from themselves.

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