The Bilingual Writers’ Collective is a community of bilingual / dual language educators who believe in the power of stories to save lives. I loved to read when I was a child, but I was hard pressed to find a book with characters who looked like me. More than likely, I was able to find a book about a poor little, huarache-wearing Mexican boy who owned a burro. Kathleen Melville says that most students have come to know books as largely irrelevant to their lives, and I was not the exception. That poor little Mexican boy in huaraches was not part of my life experience growing up in the urban Los Angeles of the 60’s. Well meaning white teachers tried to use these books to reach out to me, but my only response was embarrassment and confusion. Unfortunately, that picture has not changed much. Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin.
According to a study by Nilsson “Despite a greater presence in children’s books reported by researchers, when relative representation in the literature is compared with relative Hispanic presence in U.S. society, Hispanics are grossly underrepresented in children’s books, and this situation has worsened considerably over time. For example, on the basis of the U.S. Census in 1990, Klein noted Hispanics made up 8.99% of the U.S. population but were only represented in 3.01% of the annotations of books recommended in Books for You (Aim, 1964; Christenbury, 1995) for high school students. This illustrates underrepresentation of 300% in the literature and shows a radical change from the slight underrepresentation in the literature in 1964 when Hispanics made up only 1.93% of the U.S. population and were represented in 1.84% of the book annotations.” A study conducted by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that out of 3,600 books published in 2012, 3% were about African Americans, 2.5% were about Latinos, less than 1% were about Native Americans, and 2% were about Asian-Pacific Islanders. This left 93% of the 3,600 books to be about White characters for a US population that is not 93% White.
As a bilingual/bicultural educator, I struggled at finding reading and instructional materials that reflected the reality of my own bilingual/bicultural students. I often felt less than successful in serving them. I knew what materials I wanted my students to read, but they apparently had not been written yet, and I did not have the confidence in myself to be the writers of these stories.
People like me
Even when children of color are represented in children’s books, these representations are often stereotypic or demeaning. Dean Myers speaks of the apartheid of children’s literature — “in which characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth.” This is the apartheid of literature that our children of color inhabit. No wonder they lose interest in reading! I like Dean’s description of books as not just mirrors to our lives, but maps for our minds. Our children are searching for their place in the world, and they are deciding where they want to go and what they want to be. “They create, through the stories they’re given, an atlas of their world, of their relationships to others, of their possible destinations.”
The problem with translations
Teacher of diverse students have always complained about the lack of culturally relevant fiction and non-fiction books that reflected the experiences of their students. They faced an additional challenge in looking for literature written in Spanish for our emergent bilingual students. They often found materials that have been translated from English and, most often, lacked cultural depth and authenticity. My students have often complained to me about this dearth of materials, and my response has always been that they need to quit complaining and begin writing these materials ourselves. As Toni Morrison said, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Disseminating the work of bilingual teachers
There are many talented bilingual teachers who have developed excellent instructional materials for their classrooms, or who have wonderful stories in their minds, and they only need a little nudging to get them on paper and technical support to get them published. Often when bilingual teachers get together, they share their ideas of successful lessons that they have taught, and perhaps they may bring copies of their lessons to share with their colleagues.
Over the years of teaching, they have developed wonderful materials that have inspired their bilingual students. and these students have benefited from wonderful learning experience in these teacher’s classroom. These instructional materials need to impact the lives of a broader swath of bilingual students than the ones in these teachers’ classroom. They need to be produced professionally and distributed to the wider bilingual professional educator community so that they can be utilized in a broader range of classrooms. These teachers need the opportunity to learn about the different outlets that are available for the distribution of their stories, lessons, and units. This is the purpose of the Bilingual Writers’ Collective.
Our plan is to provide a template and structure to guide bilingual and bicultural teachers in getting their work published and shared with their bilingual professional community. This will be an organic, relaxed, and unique professional development activity for bilingual educators.
The following is an action plan for the development of this bilingual writing community:
Develop a publication plan for helping Chicano/bilingual teachers get their work published.
- Develop a community that is committed to meeting on a regular basis, in person and/or online, for the purposes of sharing their work in progress and providing feedback and support to their colleagues.
- Work with this community to identify the books or materials that have not been written and that we want young readers to read, and develop a plan for writing them.
- Create a forum that will give aspiring writers an opportunity to share their writing with a living, vibrant audience and get feedback for revising their work and eventually producing publishable work.
Create a Publication House for bilingual educators.
- Develop a webpage where bilingual educators can submit their work for participation in the writing community.
- Develop a publication template that bilingual writers can use for the orderly and organized production of their work.
- Develop a webpage structure for bilingual writers so they can participate in the writing process for the improvement and publication of their work.
- Develop nonprofit status with the understanding that all proceeds of sales will go towards the support of activities supported by this nonprofit organization.
- Select a graphic image for the publishing house.
- Identify, evaluate, and select appropriate publication and dissemination outlets, including lulu.com,, createspace.com., authorhouse.com., blurb.com., amazon kdp.amazon.com., xlibris.com., etc.
Create a class/workshop/ seminar to help bilingual teachers publish their curriculum, lesson plans, and creative work.
- Participants will learn the power of the writing process
- Participants will learn strategies for prewriting including brainstorming, semantic mapping, etc.
- Participants will learn strategies for developing drafts and getting their thoughts on paper without concern for the editing state.
- Participants will learn strategies for revising their writing communally
- Participants will developing editing skills and strategies to prepare manuscript to publishing/sharing
- Participants will learn about current sources for publication including CreateSpace, Teachers Pay Teachers, writing blogs, etc.