As the back-to-school season of 2023 approaches, the excitement and anticipation in the air are undeniable. As a parent of a 15-year-old and the Executive Director of the Dominican Writers Association (DWA), my heart is filled with hope and determination. This isn't just a new school year; it's a fresh opportunity to shape young minds with the power of literature that reflects the diverse world we live in. Through my dual role, I am driven to advocate for a curriculum that not only educates but enriches, not only imparts knowledge but also fosters understanding. I firmly believe that the incorporation of culturally inclusive books can be the catalyst for this transformative change.
In my role running DWA and as a parent, I've come to recognize the profound impact that literature has on a child's development. Stories have the remarkable ability to shape perspectives, instill empathy, and create connections. With each page turned, young readers embark on a journey that takes them beyond the confines of their own experiences and into the diverse landscapes of cultures, traditions and lives different from their own.
As a parent, I have seen firsthand the spark of curiosity that lights up in our children's eyes when they encounter characters who share their background – characters whose stories resonate with their own. It's a moment of recognition, of feeling seen and understood, that is immeasurably valuable. And yet, I am equally aware of the importance of exposing them to stories that broaden their horizons, that introduce them to worlds they might not have encountered otherwise.
Reflecting on my own journey, I recall not encountering books that truly represented me until I reached my twenties. The absence of characters who shared my cultural background left a void in my reading experience. I yearned to see myself reflected in the stories I consumed, to witness narratives that mirrored my own struggles, triumphs, and aspirations. This absence, though unspoken, was deeply felt. It's a sentiment I wish I had not experienced, and it further fuels my commitment to ensuring that today's young readers have the opportunity to discover themselves within the pages of the books they read.
I am driven to advocate for culturally inclusive literature in schools but also to actively share Dominican books that capture the essence of our culture, history, and experiences. By embracing these stories, we not only celebrate our heritage but also invite more Dominican readers to connect with narratives that resonate with them on a profound level.
For your consideration, the following titles are my recommendations for the upcoming school year:
The novel explores the challenges of living with a chronic illness, the importance of family relationships, the power of secrets, the impact of trauma, and the role of faith in coping with challenges.
The novel is a story of hope, resilience, and the power of love. It challenges the stereotype that people with chronic illnesses or disabilities are weak or helpless and explores the importance of family and community support. It is a reminder that everyone experiences trauma at some point in their lives and that it is essential to talk about trauma and to seek help if needed. The novel shows how faith can be a source of strength and comfort during difficult times.
Genre: Middle Grade
High Spirits is a collection of eleven interconnected short stories from the Dominican diaspora, from debut author Camille Gomera-Tavarez. It is a book centered on one extended family – the Beléns – across multiple generations.
It is set in the fictional small town of Hidalpa – and Santo Domingo and Paterson and San Juan and Washington Heights too. It is told in a style both utterly real and distinctly magical – and its stories explore machismo, mental health, family, and identity.
Genre: Young Adult
The book Until Someone Listens explores the themes of immigration, family, speaking out, and hope. The book deals with the issue of immigration, specifically the deportation of undocumented immigrants. Estela's mother is deported to Mexico because she is undocumented, and this has a devastating impact on Estela's family. The book explores the challenges and heartbreak that undocumented families face, as well as the importance of fighting for justice.
Genre: Children's Book
In this imaginative, blistering poetry collection, Marte looks at the identities and histories of the Dominican Republic and Haiti to celebrate and center the Black diasporic experience. Through the exploration of themes like self-love, nationalism, displacement, generational trauma, and ancestral knowledge, this collection uproots stereotypes while creating a new joyous vision for Black identity and personhood.
As we prepare for the upcoming school year, I am passionate about encouraging the use of these culturally inclusive books in the curriculum. Join me in this journey as we explore the profound impact of culturally inclusive literature on young minds. Together, we can create an educational experience that imparts knowledge but also cultivates understanding, empathy, and a lifelong appreciation for the diverse world we share. As we embark on this new academic adventure, let's ensure that our children, step into their classrooms ready to learn not only from textbooks but from the stories illuminating the human experience in all its vibrant hues. And let's continue to grow the community of Dominican readers who find solace, inspiration, and connection in the pages of our own stories.
P.S. If you are an educator we'd love to know which Dominican books you are using in your classroom, let us know in the comments.