Understanding Other Cultures Through Books
In Weep Not, Child, students see Njoroge's desire for an education thwarted by the needs of his family, much like their own experiences as they struggle with the demands of their family relationships. Many comment in their journals that Njoroge's devotion to school is so different from how they feel about school. Education in the U.S. is a given; my students don't respect it in the same way as Njoroge, who must struggle to learn. They cite this lack of respect for education as a weakness in our culture and in themselves.
Building a Curriculum for Diversity
I realized long ago that revitalizing the curriculum had to begin with me, and so I began to gather an extensive repertoire of materials and experiences with different voices. Now my library spans the seven continents, my address book overflows with foreign addresses, and my wardrobe contains an array of ethnic clothes. As I encounter writers from all over the world, filling gaps in my own education, I know I am continuing my own growth.
Have I read all the books I've bought? No, not yet, but students often borrow books for their required outside reading and share their impressions with me. One of these students is Sara, a particularly spirited freshman, who asked me early in the school year for a book about India. Her mother had suggested Markandaya's Nectar in the Sieve, and I was able to lend her my copy. Sara quietly explained to me that she had been adopted from India as an infant and knew nothing of her birth culture, so her mother thought this book be a good start.
Multicultural Resources for Students
Mathabane, M. (1989). Kaffir Boy. New York: Signet. An autobiography. "The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa"; works well with Richard Wright's Native Son or Black Boy and Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Ngugi Wa Thiong'o. (1986). Weep Not, Child. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann. Families suffer, caught in the political struggles for freedom in the 1950s during the Mau Mau Rebellion.
From the Americas
Cisneros, S. (1989). The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books. A teenage girl's brief vignettes tell of Hispanic ghetto life in California.
Johnson, C. (1990). Middle Passage. New York: Macmillan. An African-American protagonist in New Orleans running away from creditors and marriage finds himself employed on a slave ship. Could be used with Melville's Billy Budd.
Momaday, N. S. (1969). The Way to Rainy Mountain. Albuquerque, N.M.: University of New Mexico Press. Three accounts -- ancient myth, the traditional Native-American practice, and the effects on life today -- are poetic, sensitive, and powerful.
Markandaya, K. (1982). Nectar in a Sieve. New York: Signet. A village woman of India tells of her struggle to survive with dignity.
Mishima, Y. (1980). The Sound of Waves. New York: Perigee Books. This Japanese story of star-crossed lovers is excellent when taught with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, especially because their solution is other than suicide.
Wartski, M. C. (1980). A Boat to Nowhere. New York: Signet. A story of a family's escape from Vietnam and their journey from village, to boat, to camp, to freedom.