Young Readers Wish Books Had More Latino Characters

Tucson, Arizona has been at the center of many book debates. In 2010, the Tucson Unified School District banned books taught in the high school's Mexican American Studies classes, which sparked a caravan of Ethnic Studies activists from across the country to smuggle the books back into the state. A judge has since ordered the school district to end segregation against Latino students and reinstate Mexican American Studies.  

Today, young readers like Tucson eighth graders Christina Cuevas and Emma Peterson, who were interviewed by Tucson's channel 4 news recently, are noticing the lack of Latino characters in the books they love to read.

And they're right. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Latino students now make up nearly a 1/4 of public school students across the country, but less than 3% of the books published in 2011 featured a Latino as its main character.  

"The number of books available should be equal to the population of students in our schools," said Kathy Short, director of the University of Arizona's World of Words, whose mission is to bring diversity to books read by children and young adults.

Short  said it's not just that kids want to read books only about themselves, but they want to read books about many other topics, cultures, perspectives, and points of view.

"If you never see yourself in a book, it really starts to send out strong messages," Short said.

Latinos aren't alone. The missing character is prevalent in Native American, Asian and African American cultures too. These groups represent only 10% of what's being published.

But the problem isn't that the books aren't out there. You just have to search for them at independent bookstores like NYC's La Casa Azul and L.A.'s Espacio 1839, which specialize in stories about people of color.