As a young teacher, I aimed to have my students read multicultural literature because I wanted to open my students’ eyes to the differences between people on this planet we share. I wanted them to see the differences as a beautiful, natural thing. However, looking back at those early years, I did little to enhance what my students were reading other than handing them a book and helping them read through it with some discussions that were not about controversial topics, only about character actions. That left my students to struggle on their own to understand the different perspectives and rich lives in which they were presented. With good intentions, I failed to get my purpose across, and I only left students with more questions. Reflecting on my teaching, and working to enhance the reading of multicultural literature, I found that I had to begin at the beginning-how I would define multicultural literature and what purpose it would serve.
What is multicultural literature? According to Mingshui Cai in his article, “Multiple Definitions of Multicultural Literature: Is the Debate Really Just “Ivory Tower” Bickering?”, the answer to this question is very complex. Cai brings to light the fact that this question is a debate with many possible answers depending on who you ask. He says, “It seems obvious that the focal point of the controversy is on how many cultures are included in multicultural literature” (pg. 1). In my own opinion, in which Cai supports, cultures that should be included are those who are not readily given a voice in society. I do not feel that multicultural literature means that all cultures are represented. I can find many, many books written from the dominant, Eurocentric society. However, there are fewer books represented from those outside of that group. When I use multicultural literature in my teachings, I will focus on groups whose voices are not represented as widely. I will be careful though, not to call this group minorities, as Harris Violet in “Continuing Dilemmas, Debates, and Delights in Multicultural Literature” states that the word minority suggests inferiority, and that is not the message I intend to send (pg. 109).
Multicultural literature is also debated as to who may write the stories. Does it need to be those who are part of the culture? Or can it be written by anyone willing to bring the story to life? For the remainder of my essay, I will focus Native American literature. In exploring the work of Native American fiction and nonfiction, this is one topic that is a hot topic. Native Americans have a rich history with many stories told from generation to generation about life and origins. They also have many stories about an unfortunate history filled with sadness inflicted upon by those with whom they were made to share the land. These are sensitive topics. These stories, as Violet says, can be written by outsiders, but it depends on their approach.
Take The Darkness Under the Water by Beth Kanell...