In the last few months we have seen state legislatures throughout the country passing laws prohibiting the teaching of the 1619 Project and/or critical race theory. As someone who teaches in higher education, I can guarantee you that what K-12 teachers teach is not critical race theory, but instead a more three dimensional history inclusive of the many different histories represented by the diversity of our population. In this moment when the histories of people of color are being overtly silenced and erased, what is the role of literature?
Writers of color have always used their literary talents to tell the stories of those that have been silenced in our historical narratives, and this moment is no different. Two young adult books that take on this task are All the Stars Denied by Guadalupe Garcia McCall and The (R)evolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano.
Garcia McCall’s novel focuses on a Mexican American family’s experience of the repatriation movements of the 1930s, when government sanctioned raids took place throughout the southwest forcing Mexicans, whether they were citizens or not, to repatriate to Mexico. In this poignant story, the protagonist Estrella and her family are targeted for repatriation after they stand up to the local city council for their discriminatory ordinances against Mexican Americans. A mysterious fire breaks out in their home, forcing the family out of the house and into the hands of Texas Rangers who round the family up, separate the family and transport them into Mexico.
Manzano takes on a later moment in history, when a group of young Puerto Ricans, create The Young Lords Party, as an activist organization fighting for the needs of poor Puerto Ricans in New York City in 1969. In the novel, teenager Evelyn Serrano, comes to consciousness about her own Puerto Rican identity as well as the revolutionary moment that is taking place all around her. In both novels we see the ways in which Latinx communities have suffered in this country, but most importantly we see how they have fought back for their rights as American citizens.
These two novels not only document these historical moments, but also demonstrate to Latinx youth that they also have a history of activism. At a time when our stories are once again under attack, we need stories like these to remind ourselves and our children that we have a history in this country and that we refuse to be silenced.