Change rarely happens in a flood. It's more a series of waves. And in the world of books for kids, waves are pushing back the shore.
Ten years ago, Patty Rodriquez and her friend, Ariana Stein, were both pregnant, looking for bilingual books. When they couldn't find them, they proposed ideas to publishers and found a series of closed doors.
Rodriguez says one publisher even "said that 'Latino parents don't really buy books for their kids.' That's exactly what she said. Then you start questioning yourself and your role and your place in your very own country."
Every year, the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin catalogs thousands of new books a year for various measures of diversity. In 1994, just 2% of children's books were either by or about the Latino community — a community that comprises nearly 20% of America.
"There have definitely been shifts and changes," said Tessa Michaelson Schmidt, who oversees the center.
In recent years, the waves of effort by communities of color are paying off. This past year, 7% of children's books received were about the Latino community. Eleven percent had at least one Latino creator. And nearly half had at least one creator of color.
"More stories are not about a singular experience, but about the fact that nobody is just one thing," Michaelson Schmidt added. "There are really high-quality, wonderful books that are exploring this amazing world we live in."
So how did this happen? The biggest wave began a decade ago.
That's when a grassroots campaign called We Need Diverse Books became both a trending topic on Twitter and a nonprofit with a mission. Right around that time, Rodriguez and Stein began their own endeavor: Lil Libros, a publishing house of books by and for their community. To date, Lil Libros has published 70 books.
"It is recorded history where our children have been taught to be stripped of their identity, and that holds you back academically, and as a human being," Rodriguez said. "What we're seeing is there's this collective rejection toward assimilation that we've never seen in generations past."
To be clear, the representation in books still falls far short of the actual representation of their communities. But all involved have reached a point where progress is undeniable. Waves are crashing and expanding the ocean.
"It has been a collective work of activism through generations to get here to where we are," said Rodriguez. "And it really makes the journey worthwhile."
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