Why Is Multicultural Literature Important to Young Americans?

Why Is Multicultural Literature Important to Young Americans?

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This lesson was made possible by the support of the Center for South Asia, Stanford Global Studies, Stanford University. The author of the lesson is Stanford graduate, Karunya Bhramasandra. SPICE would like to express its gratitude to Dr. Lalita du Perron, Associate Director, for the initiative that she took with this lesson and for her support.



Why is multicultural literature important to young Americans? Why does it matter that we introduce this literature to children early in their education? What changes can it make?

To provide perspective—not an answer—to these important questions, I seek to broaden our inquiry. Instead, what possibilities for heretofore unprecedented critical reading does multicultural literature offer to students? There are a few assumptions behind this question that are worth making explicit: (1) that the inclusion of multicultural literature in a curriculum does not suggest that canonical literature is not worth teaching nor that it must be removed; (2) that multicultural literature can be read with the same seriousness as canonical literature; and (3) that all students might find previously unexplored critical possibilities by reading multicultural literature. This removes us from the traditional constrictive framework that multicultural literature is only useful for multicultural individuals and therefore has no place in a holistic classroom setting. It removes us, indeed, from the label “multicultural literature” altogether. After all, every American partakes in multiple cultures (and here, I use “culture” as a term not just to denote ethnic affiliation).

The purpose of this project is to put forth a collection of questions and literature that might diversify high school English classroom discussions in more ways than one. The Bay Area is 27 percent Asian; Asians are the highest population group in two of its nine counties and the second highest in two others. I present two conclusions stemming from this: (1) there is more Asian art in the Bay Area today than ever before, and (2) there are more Asian students in the Bay Area today than ever before. To encounter art that represents you—or, unsettlingly, does not—is a transformative process, and the classroom setting has space to enable such transformation. This project focuses on South Asian American young adult literature—fiction written by Americans who are ethnically South Asian and often focuses on the lives of young South Asian Americans—which is by no means the only genre that can expand the classroom canon for us. It is but one intervention in the high school literary canon that allows students who identify with certain minority groups to expose themselves to literature in which they can personally invest.

This personal investment is key to our project and is the reason we are focusing on young adult literature. Often spurned by academia and the canon alike, YA literature has gained the reputation of being unserious and unable to sustain serious analysis. While this may be true of a lot of literature in general, the YA I recommend below does sustain critical analysis while welcoming the possibility of a reader’s affective response to and kinship with a book.

I hope that teachers can use this project to consider incorporating this and related literature into “lit circles,” allowing small groups of students to choose their own book and conduct discussions on it together. Alternatively, they could use these recommendations as a list of suggested books for a reading challenge. They could also ensure that some of these books are available at the high school library for interested students.