From Classroom Reading to Collective Action: Praxis and YAL
The post-Gurba discussion can be with engaged with on NPR Latino USA, (and Vulture and The Guardian), and these sites are thorough in ways I won’t elaborate on here. Briefly, American Dirt is about a migrant fleeing Mexico and heading towards the US on top of La Bestia, the freight trains migrants ride on their way north through Mexico. Cummins was critiqued for her lack of research for the book, her naivete about Mexican Spanish and culture, and her glorification of violence in the main character’s journey, with some calling it "trauma porn." The conversation has called for more diversity in publishing, more solidarity with #OwnVoices authors, and more responsibility for (white, cisgender, heterosexual) authors in terms of researching and respecting marginalized characters or communities before writing them into books. Furthermore, the hashtag #DignidadLiteraria was used to call for more representation of Latino authors in the publishing industry.
La Bestia (Images and Stories)
American Dirt, A "Grapes of Wrath for Our Time"...? I Don't Think So.*
Through young adult literature, readers are exposed to #OwnVoices and other diverse texts and authors. With a book about immigration, young adults are reading a narrative to set alongside public discourses about migrant caravans and border walls. Are we, as teachers, educators, and readers of young adult literature, doing enough to ensure that youth are ALSO engaging with the way our government’s policies and social conversations impact real people on individual and personal levels? We can exchange American Dirt for a young adult title with a better representation of migration to the US. We can curate diverse books for our classrooms, ask critical questions of our students, and challenge youth and ourselves to think deeply about immigration. This is all essential work by academics, educators, teachers, and students. What I would like to add to this conversation is how we can – as citizens of the world – broaden our applications of praxis through reading young adult literature.
How can we foster praxis through young adult literature? Ideally, readers would decide what praxis looks like for them in each setting, through a process of collective and responsible critical conscious-building. Perhaps, after reading a book about immigrant experiences, readers might investigate school policies that could make the space unwelcoming to immigrant families, or plan a meeting with lawmakers about federal immigration law and advocate for sanctuary spaces. After engaging with LGBTQ young adult literature, perhaps readers will see and act upon a lack of gender neutral bathrooms in city buildings or in the school.
We must commit to making a connection between young adult literature and direct action upon social injustices. Our students’ identity as a reader must include a critical consciousness component, where reading prompts a critical understanding of a topic. This allows readers to build an active critical consciousness that works for and engages with the humanity of our communities.
Gracias al poeta Omar, mis hermanos Guato y G.L., y mi prima Grecia por la plactica sobre el tema
These five titles centering youth and the Latino immigrant experience (and more) are on my list of “to-reads”:
1) Children of the Land (Marcelo Hernandez Castillo)
2) Fiebre Tropical (Juli Delgado Lopera)
3) Running (Natalia Sylvester)
4) Ordinary Girls (Jaquira Diaz)
5) Across a Hundred Mountains (Reyna Grande)
* Neither Kate nor I think American Dirt deserves any more undue attention when there are so many other, authentic options.
Dr. Kate Kedley can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org