Monday, September 15, 2014

Where are the Latinos in fiction? We sit down with @LatinosInKidLit to find out!

Like February, we don't particularly highlight specific months for promoting diversity in books. Non-Latino Blacks, and Latinos(of all races) definitely get the shorter end of the stick when it comes to the months encouraged to educate others of our history. African-American/Black History happens to be the shortest month of the year. National Hispanic Heritage Month gets smacked into two months, which we feel totally throws people off.

Being Afro-Latino, growing up, not only did we never read or learn anything that we didn't already know from elementary to high school, there weren't as many books or resources that catered to that demographic. 

It's a bit disappointing that children who identify as Latino have so little resources to find main characters in books that they can identity with in books. We do try to highlight and find out about more latino authors, but the truth is, we could be doing more.

That's why Latin@s in KidLit is so awesome. They are composed of several authors, all of whom contribute regularly to the website. They range from Fantasy, contemporary fiction, graphic novels, and so much more!

We had the pleasure to get a hold of four of Latin@s in KidLit contributors. To make things easier, each author is highlighted in a different color. Zoraida Cordova's correspondence will be in orange-red, Lila Q.Weaver's correspondence is in coral, Sujei Lugo's correspondence is in fire engine red, and Cindy L. Rodriguez is in brick. Our as always is in oxblood! Now...Without further ado!

1. Tell us a little about Latinos in Kid Lit, It's contributors and how your fantastic blog came to be!

I’m Lila Quintero Weaver. In 2012, I published a graphic novel called Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White. It’s about my family’s immigrant experience in Alabama during the turbulent sixties. We emigrated from Argentina when I was five and ended up in the American South, where precious few Latin@s lived.

I’m Zoraida Córdova. I was born in Ecuador, raised in Queens, and like in Manhattan. I’m the author of The Vicious Deep Trilogy. My goal is to include more Latin@ characters in YA Fantasy.

I’m Cindy L. Rodriguez. I was born in the U.S. My dad is Puerto Rican and my mom is Brazilian. I worked as a journalist for seven years after college and then switched to teaching in 2000. My debut novel, When Reason Breaks, releases from Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books on Feb. 10, 2015.

Our blog came to be partly because of my journalistic background. After years of calling strangers for interviews, I really have no problem reaching out to people I don’t know. That’s what I did with Lila, Zoraida, Ashley (who is on a hiatus), and Stephanie (who recently left the blog). I knew who they were from social media and their books, but we have never met. I reached out to them through email and simply asked, “Hey, want to start a blog?” I figured the worst thing they could say was “no.” Since we’ve started, Sujei Lugo, a librarian and picture book expert, was recruited and we’re thrilled to have her!

2. What inspired the idea behind Latinos in Kid lit and what is your mission?

Lila: Cindy L. Rodriguez is our fearless leader and the one who dreamed it all up! She can tell the story behind the dream better than any of us. I’d just like to add that collaborating on this blog is a great opportunity to connect with Latin@ readers and the many non-Latin@s that support the kind of literature we promote. It’s also a terrific excuse to explore books, authors and a multitude of hot topics, like diversity in kid lit. That comes close to describing our mission.

Cindy: I’ve taught middle school, high school, and adults who were training to be teachers. This means I have read lots and lots of middle grade and young adult novels. Also, my master’s thesis was about masculinities in contemporary Latino fiction, so literature and diversity are major interests in my life. Within the last few years, the topic of the lack of diversity in kid lit has gained steam. I was paying close attention to this conversation and realized that, as far as I could tell, there was not a blog dedicated to Latin@s in Kid Lit. Several amazing blogs are out there--don’t get me wrong--but as a Latina, a mom, a writer, and an educator, I felt like there was room in the Blogosphere for something that highlighted and celebrated Latin@s in Kid Lit specifically. So I emailed Lila, Zoraida, Ashley, and Stephanie, and they were all thinking the same thing and were willing to help launch the site. Since we started, we have published 97 posts, which have included interviews with superstar writers and illustrators, including Margarita Engle, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Meg Medina, René Collato Laínez, Juana Martinez-Neal, and Joe Cepeda. We’re also hosting a Reading Challenge and in the fall, we’ll have a pitch event for writers.

In general, our mission is to celebrate and promote interest in Latin@s in kid lit, and not only within the Latin@ community. We recognize that this is a group effort, and we have had many posts featuring non-Latin@ writers who have included Latin@ characters or settings in their stories.

3. What is something you wish people knew about Latino culture and/or experience?

Sujei Lugo: People should know that Latinos/as are not a monolithic population. We are characterized for our racial and cultural heterogeneity, as well as for our differences in terms of class, educational levels, language proficiency, length of residency and social and political backgrounds. At the same time, we will encounter shared experiences that will serve as tools of empowerment, collaboration and reflection of our Latino identity.

4. I think one of the most painful things to deal with in terms of how the media portrays Latinos are the stereotypes. How can Non-Latinos who are interested in incorporating Latino characters in their writing do so without resorting to stereotypes? (------It seems like a silly question but you would be surprised :P)

Lila: I believe it’s wise to fully educate ourselves about stereotypes so that we can recognize them in our writing before we’ve committed them to print. Let’s review a few Latin@ stereotypes that we see all over television and movies: street gangster, undocumented immigrant, provocatively dressed mamacita, and housemaid. If any of those show up in your story, think long and hard about how necessary they are to your plot, how well you’ve balanced their presence with other Latin@ characterizations, and how fully you have layered them with complex, humanizing qualities. That’s a starting point, but there’s much more to the topic. Study up!

Zoraida: Research. When I watch TV and the maid is without fail a small Latina woman who mutters curses in Spanish and is the butt end of an immigration joke...I get rage-y. I also think it’s lazy writing. If you want to have a Latin@ character then the first thing you should ask yourself is where they’re from or where their parents are from. We don’t all have the same origin story. Our countries are lumped together because of language and location, but my story as an Ecuadorian immigrant who’s been in America for 20 years is going to be different than a kid who is third generation Mexican American.

I get that not everyone has Latin@s in their community. And yes, because “minorities” (I hate this word) sometimes live in a “certain side of town” not everyone will have access to befriending someone with a different experience than their own. Thanks to the interwebs, we can do a lot more research. If you want to write about an Ecuadorian girl, I swear I will answer your questions. Seriously.

I also touched on this subject on Latin@s in Kid Lit recently:

Cindy: I agree with Lila and Zoraida. Do Latin@ gang members and housemaids exist? Of course, but come on. Those cannot be the only ways we’re portrayed. And if you do write a gang member or housemaid, at least give the character depth. Piri Thomas was, at one point in his life, a convicted criminal, but he was also a brilliant writer who allowed us to experience his three-dimensional life through his work. So, criminals, housemaids, and immigrants can be done well if you don’t use them as one-dimensional props or punch lines. Give them a story. Give them depth. Or move along and create other characters: teachers, doctors, firefighters, teens in cities, suburbs, and rural areas who have a variety of interests. Latin@s are in every profession and socio-economic bracket. Explore the possibilities.

5. What is your process when it comes to discovering books with Latino culture and Latino main characters?

Sujei: I go through book distributors and publishers’ catalogs and I also visit online catalogs of independent publishers and small presses that publish Latino books. Following (in social media) writers, illustrators, literary magazines, blogs, independent bookstores, publishers, teachers, librarians and educators interested in and that use or read multicultural books is really helpful to know what’s new, what’s old but we should revisit and what our kids and teens are loving.

6 .In terms of dream story, what are some themes you'd love to see that feature Latinos in the forefront of the story? (For example, I've never read a story featuring Latinos in steampunk or dystopian.....Why do we all die off????)

Sujei: It is not necessary a theme, but I would like to see more MG and YA comics and graphic novels with Latino characters and main characters. Stories that go beyond the superhero genre, and explore fantasy, adventure, horror, and everyday life.

Lila: Amen to what Sujei said! I’m searching around for graphic novels with Latin@ themes or authors and coming up with little. Apart from that, I’d love to see more of what Meg Medina pulled off with Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, namely a riveting plot with universal themes that star a Latin@ character, but without his/her Latinidad necessarily occupying the center of the story.

Zoraida: I would love to see a Latina superhero. (Why are we always the villains?) One of my favorite things Salma Hayek said in an interview to Latina Magazine is that “When you’re Mexican, the closest thing you come to playing a Queen is the Queen of a drug cartel.” Granted we do have Lana Parrilla playing the baddest queen in Once Upon A Time…Still, we need more. I am currently working on a YA fantasy that centers around a matriachy of brujas. So we’ll see what happens with that.

Cindy: My major love is realistic/contemporary fiction, so I agree with Lila about stories with universal themes with Latin@ main characters. My debut novel has a Puerto Rican protagonist who suffers from depression. I’ve read a lot of realistic YA and I can’t think of a single title that centers on a Latin@ character dealing with mental illness. Corinne Duyvis from Disability in Kid Lit and I had a recent email exchange and we came up with only six titles of novels that featured disabled Latin@ main characters. The list is awfully short, too, when considering LGBTQ issues and AfroLatino/a characters. So, more realistic issues of all kinds featuring all kinds of Latin@ characters.

7.Give your list of your top 3 Children's Lit, MG and YA books that feature Latinos as main protagonists. (P.S. It'd be great if you can list 3 a category but only if time permits!)

Sujei: I usually don’t like to use “Top” or “Best” when talking about children’s literature since it is difficult to measure with the same criteria the variety of books with have out there. I will state some of my favorite children’s books: Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day by Pat Mora and Rafael López, Grandma’s Records by Eric Velasquez and The Streets are Free by Kurusa and Monika Doppert (This one is a Latin American children’s book that talks about kids getting involved in community organizing and activism. Transnational issues that are relevant to Latino and non-Latino communities.)

Lila: With me, my favorites are whatever I’m currently reading. Right now, that’s a short stack by Margarita Engle and Benjamin Alire Saenz’ Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

Zoraida: The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan, The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales, The Living by Matt de la Peña

Cindy: That’s a tough question. I’ve read so many great titles just this past year. Some recent ones include: Confetti Girl by Diana López, Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes, and Wonder by R. J. Palacio. I’m also a big fan of Sandra Cisneros, Margarita Engle, and Matt de la Peña.

8. What are some topics/issues you'd like to see explored in more books that feature Latinos as Main protagonists? 

Sujei: I would love to see more pop culture-loving Latino/a characters. Also, books about LGBTQ Latino families and Latinos/as growing up and living in the Midwest or the South (outside of the big cities and communities with a large Latino population).

Cindy: I think I covered this in #6. I kind of combined these questions.

9. Lastly, Where can people visit to learn more about you and all the other talented contributors @ Latinos in Kid lit?

@sujeilugo -Sujei Lugo

Twitter, Pinterest & Facebook: @LilaQWeaver; Website:

-Zoraida Córdova

For Cindy:


  1. Ack! This was so great! I shared it on Google + and I hope that heaps of people see it. I love what they're trying to accomplish. More diversity isn't just desired in YA - IT'S NEEDED! In all fiction, really. Great post!

  2. @The Book Of Jules,Thank you so much for the share! Latinos in Kid Lit is definitely one of the stronger resources for latinos/as who are authors,librarians or just looking for anything kid lit/YA with latinos in mind! Hope you tune into them in the future too!


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