Writing in Spanish for children of the United States: Empty Shelves or the Challenge for the Literary Industry?

By Jorge Inzunza

The home of the Spanish language in the United States is inhabited by stories of uprooting, struggles and hopes. The movements against the Spanish language have been led by those who believe that English should be the only language of the country . We live this tension in the streets, shops, schools and official government agencies. This dispute even now exists at the presidential level, as the Spanish version of the White House’s webpage  was suppressed with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Language policies have been an essential part of the founding of nations throughout the world. The first to suffer them were the native and regional languages. This was done so that one identity became dominant, subjecting the rest. This has historically been expressed in the explicit prohibition of speaking in a language other than the dominant one. Thus, schools have been the privileged vehicles to eliminate linguistic diversity in a territory.

In the United States, to this day, there are initiatives from various states that continue to promote exclusive language policies. Despite this, many schools districts have opened bilingual and dual language education programs across the country. This trend speaks to a growing need for recognition of linguistic diversity, and particularly of a mobilization of the Latino community to raise the status of Spanish in the country. For years, Spanish has been despised and seen as an invasive language. This disqualification ignores that the Spanish language has been present since the founding of the United States, having been the spoken language of fifteen of the current states of the country.

Today 59 million Spanish speakers live in the United States (18% of the total population of the country), being the second country in the world with the largest number of Spanish speakers after Mexico. This population represents different backgrounds , levels of education, cultures and traditions. 3.8 million children speak Spanish as their native language. The Latino population in primary and secondary education has risen to 26% of the total population. Likewise, the number of Spanish-English dual language schools has grown from 300 programs (2001) to 3,000 (2015). In other words, in the United States people are definitely speaking in Spanish, regardless of efforts meant to suppress it. 

Another challenge that Spanish-language speakers in this country face is the lack of availability of literary texts that are written and published in the United States. When visiting the chains of large bookstores or independent ones, we find few titles in Spanish, mostly limited to self-help, translations, dictionaries, religious books, and some best sellers of adult literature. School libraries struggle to find titles in Spanish that interest students. School administrative authorities usually resort to fairs that import books, primarily from Mexico. They do not seem to have an organized and constant supply from the US industry.

For those of us who write in Spanish in the United States, this situation implies that publication possibilities are very limited. We have few agents, critical groups and editors specialized in children’s literature that explicitly seek to promote careers of Spanish language writers in the United States. The same writers assume that they must create bilingual books or texts in English with isolated Spanish words. This complication makes the inclusion of authors who write in Spanish much more challenging in literary market opportunities.

By having an awareness of this imbalance between the two languages, we can begin to contribute to the establishment of alliances between writers. The search and promotion of agents and publishing houses interested in assuming the challenge of publishing in Spanish is fundamental. In addition, authors should be sensitive to the needs of schools. Finally, we need to promote links with Latino organizations, and better connect the literary world of the United States with that of Latin America and Spain. In my view, these paths will help cultivate a field conducive to fostering a politically necessary linguistic identity in our country.

References

Diez, B. (2019). ‘English Only’: The movement to limit Spanish speaking in US. BBC News Mundo.

Lam, K. and Richards, E. (2020). Enseñan el español en las escuelas públicas, ¿pero será suficiente para ayudar a los Latinos? Los Estados Unidos tiene una historia complicada en cuanto al uso de español en las escuelas públicas. USA TODAY.

Shatzkin, M. (2018). Lots of Spanish speakers in the United States, but not so much of a book market for Spanish books. The Idea Logical Company.

Sonnad, N. (2018).The White House is ignoring 41 million US Spanish speakers. Quartz.

Photo: BBC News Mundo

Published by Jorge

Psychologist, educational researcher, dual language teacher, PhD in Education, and writer of children books.

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