Why Are There No Latino Images In Schoolbooks Today?

Today in the United States, 25 percent of children under age 5 are Hispanic; by 2050, that percentage will be almost 40 percent.

In 2011, for the first time, Hispanics became the majority of public school students in Texas.

In the 2010-2011 statistics for California, Hispanic or Latino students make up 51% of those attending K-12 public schools, with White (non-Hispanic) coming in at 27% and African Americans at 7%. The Los Angeles Unified School District is made up of 73% Hispanic students and 10% African American students.

While the number of Hispanic, and other “minority” students is rising rapidly, where are the books to help them learn?

From The New York Times:

Hispanic students now make up nearly a quarter of the nation’s public school enrollment, according to an analysis of census data by the Pew Hispanic Center, and are the fastest-growing segment of the school population. Yet nonwhite Latino children seldom see themselves in books written for young readers. (Dora the Explorer, who began as a cartoon character, is an outlier.)

Education experts and teachers who work with large Latino populations say that the lack of familiar images could be an obstacle as young readers work to build stamina and deepen their understanding of story elements like character motivation.

This lack of familiar images will be much more than an obstacle to understanding story elements. When kids can’t relate in any way to the books they are reading, they lose interest and become disengaged. They begin to see how their language and culture are not valued by the school. This can lead to feelings of shame about who they are, or to anger that they are required to suppress who they are, and adopt the “majority” culture.

Young people need to be able to see themselves in good literature.

I grew up in the UK reading history books that rarely mentioned women. I knew I loved history, and yet I found nothing to engage me in those deadly texts and always did poorly in history class. That was before the birth of herstory, although many history textbooks nowadays still feature a preponderance of men.

And then there’s the issue of dolls.

From The New York Times:

The reality is that most dolls made today are still white, despite the fact that racial and ethnic minorities now make up 43 percent of the country’s population under 20 (and even more in New York City). Yes, doll manufacturers started diversifying their doll lines decades ago. While early “black” Barbies were essentially Barbie dipped in color, Mattel has done a better job with increasing the colors of its doll palette. In recent years, the success of Dora the Explorer has helped bump the Hispanic presence in the doll market. And the popular American Girl line introduced a variety of ethnic dolls a few years ago.

But in spite of the existence of these diverse dolls, it’s still really hard to actually find one in a store.

As a high school English teacher, I worked hard to persuade my department to get rid of some of the DWM (dead white males) and include such firsts as Sandra Cisneros’s “Mango Street,” Amy Tan’s “Joy Luck Club,” and Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.”

Now it is vital that younger children of all cultures also have the opportunity to see themselves in literature: not the creation of token minority kids in a white story, but real literature reflecting their lives.

As Jane Fleming, an assistant professor at Chicago’s Erikson Institute told The New York Times:

“Kids do have a different kind of connection when they see a character that looks like them or they experience a plot or a theme that relates to something they’ve experienced in their lives.”

The racial and ethnic composition of students enrolled in public schools was just 58 percent White in the 2007-2008 school year, the latest year for which figures are available.

With that figure predicted to decrease rapidly over the next decade, it’s past time for educators to come up with reading texts that reflect the reality of American schools today.

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Photo Credit: thinkstock


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

Aren't we getting a little silly? Who cares about the pictures as long as the content is factual? We need to save our concern for what our children are learning and whether it is correct. They are now leaving out important facts because they are not PC, who cares about that as a mother and now a grandmother I worry about whether they are learning the truth and the whole truth no matter how ugly it might reflect on any group.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Deborah J.
Deborah J5 years ago

It's often been said that we hate what we fear, and fear what we don't understand, and don't understand what we don't know. The first step to undoing the fundamental ignorance is to get to know others who are different from us - to discover in what ways we ARE different and also what we DO share. And hey, in my experience (b. 1953), men and women come from different cultures!

It's much easier to "get to know" others as characters in a book, or movie/TV show - whether from a different place and time, or right now across town. Reading or viewing gives you time to form an impression, think it over, without having to interact and put yourself on the line.

To borrow a phrase: We are ALL minorities.

Sarah A.
Sarah A5 years ago

To me this whole We got to coddle other races to make them feel Oky about themselves Is getting out of hand.. WHO cares what color a made up person is in a book. If a child can not Use there imagination to make that chercter into who they want it to be then thats sad for the child..

Arild Warud

Change the system.

Jessica Larsen
Janne O5 years ago

Joan, thanks for being understanding. Writing a story with such a character is a good idea. I enjoy writing.
Of course, it wouldn't be the same though, as I can't surprise myself.

V. W.
V. W.5 years ago

Dear Katie K - Yes, you're correct about our forefathers not always behaving in a fine, upstanding way and being out for what land they could grab -- but it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Also, educate yourself on some of the unbelievably cruel behaviors which many Native Americans accepted and practiced against opposing tribes -- even before white men showed their ugly, pale faces on this Continent. I'm pretty sure they eventually made their captured prisoners of war slaves, if they didn't torture them to death first. Read James Michener and Larry McMurtry -- they may be fiction writers, but they have a lot of the background material correct. As for Mexico, we should all be thankful every day that most of our laws and traditions have an English origin -- I'm sure the Mexicans became pretty adapt at ruthless behavior themselves considering their Spanish roots.

Katie K.
Katie K5 years ago

Our histroy books contain only what "they" want us to know. Our fore fathers weren't the nice guys they portray them to be, American Indians weren't in any of the book I studied in school let alone any truth about the Mexican wars we fought to steal all their stuff too. We're the intruders that came and took what we damn well pleased by mudrer and deception. Our ilk was just more ruthless and had better weapons because we are so ruthless. Maybe in the future we'll be truthful with our children but I doubt it.

Thorn Briar
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you

V. W.
V. W.5 years ago

Pretty ridiculous, if you ask me -- some people definitely don't have enough to worry about -- when I was in grammer school, I loved reading about people with lives that were very different from mine -- like Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House books, Nancy Drew mysteries, etc. Although my family background was Italian, it never occurred to me (nor should it have), that I needed to read stories with little Italian girls or boys as the main characters. As a teen, I read James Baldwin, Malcolm X, books authored by British and German males, Asian men and women and some by gay men. I relished and learned from them all -- mainly because their lives and backgrounds were so different from mine. I thought you were proponents of "diversity??" Latinos and their parents need to focus on learning and speaking English as much as possible if they hope for fulfilling lives here.