In Partnership with 74

Commentary: Central American and Salvadoran American literature is invisible in public schools

Guest contributor | June 21, 2017

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.

By Randy Jurado Ertll

When I was growing up in California, I never read a book in LAUSD schools by a Latino or Latina author. And until college, I never had a Latino or Latina teacher.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law AB 2016, which was spearheaded by former state Assembly member Luis Alejo. The intention of the law is to create a statewide model curriculum on ethnic studies. According to the NBC News website, “the law requires the California Instructional Quality Commission to develop — and California’s State Board of Education to adopt — a model curriculum in ethnic studies, according to Alejo’s office. This curriculum will be developed with ethnic studies faculty from California universities and public school teachers with experience teaching ethnic studies.”

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 also moving toward a statewide ethnic studies curriculum in its public schools.

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 and Latina 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. It can be one of the most powerful tools in gang and violence prevention.

For instance, it would be amazing if Los Angeles Unified 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 U.S. 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. Parents and students need to continually ask and recommend to principals and teachers to consider including minority books in the classroom as supplemental material or a mainstream curriculum material. These students contribute revenue to public school districts through Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding.  

Parents and students need to start asking questions like where federal funds are being spent. Where are Title I – categorical 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, D.C., 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 related news. Some are even ashamed or embarrassed to admit their roots. Some are even influenced to join these gangs since this is what they hear about every day in the news media.

These students want a sense of belonging, and why not provide that belonging and sense of identity by offering quality Salvadoran American books and literature?  

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.

Now it is up to Latino, black, and Asian parents and students to continue organizing and to demand the implementation of ethnic studies – and more specifically – for Central Americans to also take responsibility in demanding their books 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 “Hope in Times of Darkness: A Salvadoran American Experience” and other nonfiction and fiction books. He is also an advocate for the Latino community.

Read Next