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5 Patriots and Citizens of the Planet Friendship and Geopolitics in Julia Alvarez’s Young Adult Fiction Susana S. Martínez Real patriots are not afraid of the truth, and they are not afraid to love the stranger. How can we understand the problem if we don’t listen? How can we fix it if we don’t understand? —Luis Alberto Urrea, Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives The one thing we cannot do is turn away. For our humanity does not have the eraser option. When we have seen a thing, we have an obligation. To see and to allow ourselves to be transformed by what we have seen. —Julia Alvarez, A Wedding in Haiti Historically, adolescence has always been a transitional period of questioning self-identity and searching for connections to the larger world outside the home. Pam B. Cole characterizes adolescence as “a time of firsts: a period of rapid psychological, physical, and social change, a time of uncertainty, roller-coaster emotions, and conflict. It’s a stage in which young people are separating from their parents and trying out the identities they will carry into their adulthoods” 109 110 Susana S. Martínez (1). Given their wide-ranging interests, Marc Aronson emphasizes that young adult literature is “as varied as the multimedia mix of teenagers’ lives, as complex as their stormy emotional landscapes, as profound as their soul-shaping searches for identity, as vital as their nation-forming future” (qtd. in Buchner and Hinton-Johnson 8). The young adult fiction by award-winning Dominican American author Julia Alvarez devotes particular attention to the inward and outward search for meaning along the adolescent journey. Her young characters venture out from the sheltered space of home to create friendships based on cross-cultural dialogue and empathy. Together they transcend ethnic, class, gender, geographic, linguistic, and cultural borders while reflecting on the violence they witness in the adult world. As the inquisitive young Latina/o characters face the distressing social realities of dictatorship , civil war, and immigration politics, the encounter between self and other enables them to build bridges across boundaries and provide a global perspective to young adult literature that extends far beyond the secondary education curriculum. Moving beyond set boundaries, Alvarez’s “books for young readers of all ages,” a term she prefers rather than the “segregation of books into age-group neighborhoods,” deserve a wide readership because of the important contributions they make to several areas of study. In addition to devoting insightful attention to teen friendships as a vehicle for self- and global awareness, her works present multifaceted Latina/o characters that are rarely seen in young adult literature. Arlene L. Barry and Jaime C. Naidoo note that when compared to their strong presence in the United States, Latinos are significantly underrepresented in children’s literature; unfortunately, there is also a paucity of Latina/o representation in contemporary young adult fiction. Latina/o invisibility in this genre is particularly striking given the fact that the 2010 Census counted 50.5 million Hispanics in the United States, making up 16.3% of the total population. Regrettably, the absence of Latin American realities and Latino cultural experiences is out of sync with the rich tapestry of perspectives from Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. As U.S. classrooms become increasingly more diverse, students of all backgrounds benefit from engaging with Latina/o characters and their distinctive sociopolitical realities in a multicultural context. To shed light on the cultural wealth that Alvarez’s characters bring to young adult literature, I situate my reading of her corpus 111 Patriots and Citizens of the Planet within the fields of critical pedagogy and the Latin American/Latina testimonio. While the recommended audience for Before We Were Free (2002), Finding Miracles (2004), Return to Sender (2009), and the Tía Lola series (2001–2011) is children and adolescents between eleven and eighteen years of age, ranging between sixth and twelfth grades, I believe these seemingly straightforward books challenge readers of all ages to rethink the interconnections among geopolitics, global citizenship , and social justice. Although young adult literature remains primarily Eurocentric (Landt 690), I see Alvarez’s writing specifically enriching discussions of multiculturalism in the secondary and higher education curriculum. Susie Jars-Thomas’ article “Beyond Tamales, Tacos, and Our Southern Neighbors: Exploring Latino Culture in Child and Young Adult Literature” is one of the few studies that directly addresses Latino themes. Although articles such as John Kornfield and Laurie Prothero’s...


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