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  • Side-by-Side:At the Intersections of Latinx Studies and ChYALit
  • Marilisa Jiménez García (bio)

The phrase "side-by-side" normally connotes a sense of camaraderie and companionship. This is implied in illustrator Joe Cepeda's rendering of César Chavez and Dolores Huerta on the cover of the picture book Side-by-Side/ Lado a Lado (2010) by Monica Brown, the picture suggesting you can't have one without the other. As much as "side-by-side" connotes friendship, I have found this phrase helpful in my research on Latinx literature for youth: a literary and cultural tradition rich in unlikely pairings created not so much by choice, but by necessity. The picture celebrates the coming together of Chavez and Huerta, yet we see that English and Spanish are also placed side-by-side: two languages with a violent history facing each other, but separated by a division on the page. Chavez and Huerta's hands bridge the divide, yet that division between cultures and languages running side-by-side remains. U.S. children's literature evidences these splits, switches, breaks, and unlikely pairings—these parallel stories and traditions greet us with a history of delight, violence, and contradiction. My research has demanded that I negotiate divisions both in the field of Latinx studies and children's literature in order to exist in academia, and to dwell on the parallels, the intersections and the contradictions. Here, I emphasize a history of children's literature in the academy, and the place of Latinx literature for youth in the larger conversation on what it means to study American childhood and youth. Particularly, I underline how children's literature in the humanities and Latinx Studies converge in ways that render Latinx authors for youth visible in multiple fields.

In June 2016, at the annual Children's Literature Association Conference, President Annette Wannamaker spoke on the "ghosts" of children's literature, in the process quoting Jacques Derrida. "There is no inheritance without a call to responsibility," she said (Wannamaker). Wannamaker focused on uncovering gaps and divisions, both disciplinary and cultural, [End Page 113] in the formation of children's literature as a field of literary study. Among those "ghosts" were the values and decisions of such influential figures in ChLA history as Alethea Helbig and Francelia Butler. Helbig, for example, in "Curriculum Planning in Literature for Children: Ways to Go," wrote that in organizing the children's literature curriculum at Eastern Michigan University it would be best to "concentrate on what would be of basic cultural value, and on important and classic books which [scholars] might use as touchstones or judging other books for children." From this early moment in the development of the field, it is clear that qualities associated with terms such as "classics" and "touchstones" were understood as opposed to, or separate from, ethnic literature, as Helbig also writes that she wanted to avoid topics and themes deemed "ephemeral or faddish" during the 1970s when ChLA was formed, including "ethnic literature." The use of children's literature in the classroom was also seen as separate from the work done by those in the humanities, as Wannamaker emphasized vis-a-vis a 1972 quote from Butler: "Children's literature is almost entirely in the hands of those in education or library science, who emphasize the uses of literature in the classroom, methodology, biographies of current writers, graded reading lists, book reports—good things but not the concern of those in the Humanities." Interestingly, the lack of intersectional work between the founders of children's literature in the humanities and ethnic studies movements has created considerable disparities, which perhaps accounts for the lack of a more diverse group of scholars and scholarship, and perhaps even limiting research engaging the public (Schwebel). The demand by communities of color for ethnic studies, including late 1960s and early 1970s movements for indigenous, African American, Chicanx, and Puerto Rican Studies and their continuing histories and struggles, depends on arguments tied directly to educational equity and classroom outcomes. In particular, the urgency of these arguments derives from the exclusionary practices of the U.S. canon and the shifting demographics of the U.S. classroom into...