The Invisibility of Central American/Salvadoran American Books

When I was growing up in California, I never read a book, within LAUSD schools, by a Latino or Latina author. Also, I just realized that in my k-12 public school education – I never had a Latino/a teacher.

Gov. Jerry Brown had an opportunity to sign a bill into law that according to the California Legislative Information website “would require the Superintendent to oversee the development of, and the state board to adopt, a model curriculum to ensure quality courses in ethnic studies.” However, he chose not to sign it into law.

Governor Brown could have once again been our champion, in the politics of inclusion, of ethnic studies. We thought that things are different in California when compared to other states, such as Arizona.

Ironically, attempts over the last few years to ban ethnic studies in Arizona actually invigorated the ethnic studies movement in other states. Texas, for instance, is moving toward a statewide ethnic studies curriculum in its public schools. Why not California?

Just a handful of major book publishers have cornered the textbook market in the nation’s schools. Minority writers are most often left out and left to fend for themselves. The usual response from public school districts is to reject books written by Latino/a authors. They usually say “we do not have the funding.”

More than 50 million Latinos now live in the United States. Latino students need to encounter writing that speaks to them. Books that include diverse characters and that reflect the lives of these kids can get them reading and give them a sense of belonging, in school and in society at large.

For instance, it would be amazing if Los Angeles Unified School District – LAUSD would adopt and actually include books that talk about the experiences of Salvadoran Americans, the community I belong to.

Central Americans are the second-largest US Latino population after Mexican Americans, but books related to the Central American experience are virtually impossible to find in the majority of public schools.

Hundreds of thousands of Central Americans live throughout the City of Los Angeles and beyond. Asking principals and teachers to consider including minority books in the classroom as supplemental material is simply not enough, since they will most likely not care enough to secure books that minority students can identify with.

Many principals will say that they do not have the funding and that teachers are overwhelmed in trying to meet federal and state mandates. Parents and students need to start asking questions like where federal funds are being spent. Where are Title I funds being allocated and do School Site Councils have a say in what books get adopted?

Latino parents and students in particular need to also start demanding that ethnic studies classes be implemented, since many promises have been made and not much has been delivered when it comes to ethnic studies programs. Adoption, is very different, from real implementation.  

In some public schools in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC, Salvadoran American students are the majority. On the West Coast, specifically in some California public schools, Salvadoran American students are represented in great numbers, but many have never read a book about their community. They mainly read, see, or hear about gang violence associated with Central American news. Some are even ashamed or embarrassed to admit their roots.

We need to push for ethnic studies to be adopted nationwide, and especially at the local level. Parents and students need to start pushing for ethnic studies to not only be symbolically adopted but to actually be implemented.  

Our students deserve to read books that speak to their diverse experiences and viewpoints, something I never got to do in school until I attended Occidental College.

If Governor Brown would have taken the  lead, he could have set an example for the rest of the United States. Just as he did in the 1970s – when he valiantly supported the United Farm Works (UFW) efforts.

Now, it is up to Latino, Black, and Asian parents/students to continue organizing and to demand for the implementation of ethnic studies – and more specifically – for Central Americans to also take responsibility in demanding for their books to be included. Otherwise, we will continue to remain invisible.

That is why I decided to start writing books – for my community to have access, and to feel proud. I am particularly proud of my novel The Lives and Times of El Cipitio. Why not have our own Harry Potter? El Cipitio!

Randy Jurado Ertll is the author of The Lives and Times of El Cipitio, which will be adapted into a play by   Culture Clash. To obtain more information, pleaseWWW.RANDYJURADOERTLL.COM

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Randy Jurado Ertll

Randy Jurado Ertll

Randy Jurado Ertll, attended some of the toughest public schools within Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). He and his family moved dozens of times throughout Los Angeles. He attended Menlo Avenue Elementary School – which he loved dearly as a child – even though violence was an everyday occurrence in the surrounding community. He survived James A. Foshay Junior High School in the mid 1980’s. As a child, he escaped a rural Civil War in El Salvador, and while in Los Angeles, he escaped an urban Civil War (taking place in South Central Los Angeles) by being accepted into the A Better Chance-ABC scholarship program by going far way to study at John Marshall High School in Rochester, Minnesota. Hella cold. He returned to his community by applying and being accepted into Occidental College where he was indoctrinated to become a social justice activist, reader, writer, free thinker, and free, rebel, spirit.

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