Tell your story. Or they will tell it for you, and it will not be the right one.

*Warning: This blog post contains strong language

After reading Emily Tsoi’s blog post “The Necessity for Diversity in Children’s Literature,”  I was reminded of a conversation I had with my AP Literature teacher during Spring break.

Before I get into what the conversation consisted of, I will give you some background information about my myself. My dad an I left the Dominican Republic when I was three years old. I grew up in Washington Heights, NYC until I was about fifteen years old. After living in Washington Heights for twelve years my family decided to move to Westchester. The commute to my high school was pretty tough; I had to walk 15 minutes to the bus stop, take the bus (8 stops), and then take the train (12 stops). And while it was tough, I knew it would be worth it (it was).  Throughout elementary school and middle school, I often felt like I was not challenged. I would just do work to do it, not really having any motivation to do any of it. I often felt like schools in my neighborhood made students do the bare minimum to get us to the next grade, but because my high school was used to this sort of behavior, they knew they had to do it differently for the own good of the community. I was pushed so I could see my potential, and after all the pushing I realized that I have way too much potential, so the only right thing to do was to take it to the right place, Geneseo. 

Due to the admiration I hold for the school and its teachers, I try to visit it when college is not in session. During my last visit, I stopped by my AP Literature teacher’s room. He tends to ask me the same question every year.

“What should I have them read?”

*My memory may be somewhat distorted so I will do my best to remember my response, but it went along these lines:

 “You know what! That’s something I wanted to bring up to you. If it were not because of college I probably would have no idea that there is literature out there that is written by people like me and for me. I definitely think you need to have them read literature that has characters like them. How can a Dominican girl with curly hair and brown skin relate to Kurtz from “Heart of Darkness,” also please never teach that novel, it is horrible. My point is I really think a lot of the students would benefit and have more of a reason to read something that they can see themselves in. Like out of all of the plays and novels we read I think “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” was my favorite one because the character and I share the same culture. It only took twelve years for me to read a novel about someone like me.”

Going back to Tsoi’s blog post, I do agree that “other people’s stories must be told” and while her focus is mainly on children’s literature, I believe children, young adults, adults, and the elderly should also be able to see literature that they can relate to in terms of their age and culture. It is quite disturbing to know that, as Tsoi mentions, she “was reading about animals or white children and their families” when she was younger. This line struck me in so many ways. It makes me feel like a white child’s story, and wait, an animal’s story is more important than mine. I can see where writing a story about every single culture may seem excessive but I am exhausted from reading the same story. I am not interested in writing an essay about how *I took this excessively long thesis statement from an essay I wrote in high school.

“ Both Jack and Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde and Marlow and Kurtz in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad deceive others to show the meanings of the books as a whole. Showing that selfish desires cause people to deceive others just so they could get what they want.”

Why do I have to care about white fictional male character? Both rich and powerful. Where is the connection? Nowhere. Let my people write the story that they have to tell. Because you have made a single story of the millions that exist within my culture. Have you not seen the danger of a single story? I recommend you to watch Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk where she discusses “the danger of the single story.” As Adichie mentions, reading the same story has a tremendous consequence: “[we do] not know that people like [us] could exist in literature” because we are so accustomed to reading what is so readily available to us, which results in us reading the same story about you and the single one you wrote about my people.

Not only do I urge teachers and professor to have more diverse literature in their courses, but I also urge them to encourage students to write their untold stories. I will end my blog post with a quote with one of my favorite authors.

Motherfuckers will read a book that’s one third Elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they [white people] think we’re taking over.” ― Junot Díaz

 

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