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The New York Times has a piece lamenting the lack of Latino faces in kids books:
But Mario, 8, has noticed something about these and many of the other books he encounters in his classroom at Bayard Taylor Elementary here: most of the main characters are white. “I see a lot of people that don’t have a lot of color,” he said.
Hispanic students now make up nearly a quarter of the nation’s public school enrollment, according to an analysis of census data by the Pew Hispanic Center, and are the fastest-growing segment of the school population. Yet nonwhite Latino children seldom see themselves in books written for young readers. (Dora the Explorer, who began as a cartoon character, is an outlier.)
It’s a typical piece from the NYT, the purpose of which is just as much about getting the target group up off its feet as it is to stick its thumb in the eye of the white status quo. The NYT generally values reading and things reading is A-OK but Latinos don’t really seem to agree but the NYT thinks that they should agree. That they don’t agree implies some systematic roadblock. If our society were truly fair then Latinos would *want* to read just as much as the kids who read Judy Bloom and Harry Potter.
The lack of familiar faces is probably responsible for a substantial part of the achievement gap:
Hispanic children have historically underperformed non-Hispanic whites in American schools. According to 2011 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a set of exams administered by the Department of Education, 18 percent of Hispanic fourth graders were proficient in reading, compared with 44 percent of white fourth graders.
Research on a direct link between cultural relevance in books and reading achievement at young ages is so far scant. And few academics or classroom teachers would argue that Latino children should read books only about Hispanic characters or families. But their relative absence troubles some education advocates.
There is little discussion of cultural or national differences in enthusiasm for reading. While, yeah, there are many fewer literary role models for Latino kids, this might also be a function of a weak cultural affinity for reading in the first place. People from down south of the border really love tortillas and chili peppers, and they’ve certainly brought that aspect of their culture with them and infused it into the prevailing whiter society. I’m a waiter at an Italian restaurant, and many Latino patrons request red peppers or cayenne pepper or tabasco or *something* to spice up their food. Point is, they are in this country what they are in their previous country, and it is entirely possible that they brought with them a lesser desire to a.) read books b.) write books and c.) care about books at all.
Parapundit Randall Parker has one of the few posts on this topic that I’ve seen. I’ve cribbed the whole thing below. It reminds me of the time that Laredo, Texas, a town of 250,000 right on the border of Mexico, closed its only bookstore.
Despite having three times the population of Argentina, Mexico produces about 2,000 fewer titles each year. There are roughly 500 bookstores in Mexico, which translates into one for every 200,000 Mexicans, compared to a ratio of one to 35,000 in the US and one to 12,000 in Spain, according to the Mexican Booksellers Association. A recent UNESCO study revealed that Mexicans read on average just over two books per year, while Swedes finish that many every month.
The Mexican government has made great strides, reducing illiteracy to less than 8 percent, compared with around 20 percent two decades ago, placing it leagues ahead of Central American countries and even beyond Latin America’s other economic powerhouse, Brazil. Yet it has had little success encouraging active reading.
Bookstores are a lot like America to most Mexicans: a foreign alien land.
But, some argue, the European countries already had a public predisposed to reading. “For the majority of Mexicans, bookstores are a completely alien place,” says Jesus Anaya, editorial director at publishing house Grupo Planeta. Although more titles and lower prices would certainly appeal to current readers, he doubts they’ll create new ones. “I’m not sure that waving a magic wand of fixed prices can bring this cadaver to life.”
Of course this is consistent with average Mexican immigrant academic performance in the United States. Over 4 generations there is no trend of improvement in academic performance though the first generation native born descendants are an improvement over the average 8th grade educational level of the initial arrivals. America is a first world country with a highly productive and developed economy. That economy has a declining demand for low skilled manual laborers as demonstrated by a continually widening gap between the most and least skilled and as a result wages at the bottom end are not keeping up with average wage increases. The most developed economy in the world does not need immigrants who do not like books.