Literature is a major content carrier and multicultural literature is a way of increasing cultural awareness. Through multicultural books many young readers are able to make a connection with their own culture or better yet, further explore another culture. Authors use different themes such as culture, politics, and even personal barriers to show different cultures. Nothing is held back in this type of reading, everything is told- there are no secrets. The writing is a source of information that helps readers to better understand the world around them. Feminism is also a form of multicultural writing. This form of writing shows and stands up for women’s rights and how gender equality is important in our society today and even in the past. Julia Alvarez’ essays in, Something to Declare, is an excellent example of multicultural writing. Alvarez uses struggles such as personal barriers, experiences of immigration, and culture shock to expose multiculturalism and feminism.
Multiculturalism literature promotes culture awareness
Multiculturalism reading increases cultural awareness and enables the readers’ sensitivity to cultures other than their own (Wiesendanger and Tarpley, p. 110). Therefore, it is important to integrate multicultural reading in the schools’ curricula. Literature is a major content carrier, and a powerful medium through which the world can be understood. Younger children are able to assimilate novel information when this is presented within a story structure as is the case with literature works. According to Wiesendanger and Tarpley (p. 110) multicultural reading should focus on the appreciation of all the world’s cultures and ethnic differences, and this can be done through the incorporation of multicultural literature that is of high quality. By stating that the literature needs to be of high quality, the teacher needs to incorporate literature material that portrays accurate customs, history, language, and values of each particular cultural group (Harper and Brand, p. 224). Students can then share the selected literatures, learn to understand, and appreciate the literary heritage that results from diverse backgrounds. Literatures that relay multiculturalism increase the readers’ awareness of various themes in different ethnicities, for example, gender roles, politics, religions, and other aspects of culture. For example, writers like Salman Rushdie, Seamus Heaney, and Maxine Hong Kingston apply different multicultural aspects to write their literature. As a result, there works are interesting to read because the reader gets to know further information outside the traditional reading canon. Definitely, it is interesting to read new information or about issues that the reader never knew existed. The readers are therefore able to compare their cultural back grounds to that of other people and identify similarities, differences or entire novel aspects (Harper and Brand, p. 224).
Cultural awareness is important especially at this age of globalization when schools, workplaces and social gatherings are composed of people from various cultural backgrounds in the world (Harper and Brand, p. 226). People need to know how to interact with people from cultural backgrounds different from their own and this can be known through reading literatures that incorporate such aspects. For instance, an American reading Japanese literature gets to know that smiling at a stranger is a rude gesture in the Japan culture, while in the American culture; it is a show of friendliness and approachability. Therefore, in practice, an America familiar with this will not get offended when the Japanese does not smile back, or the Japanese does not take offence when smiled at by a strange American. This can only be achieved when there is cultural awareness, and sensitivity or tolerability to people from other cultures. Multicultural literatures should be encouraged be cause they assist the readers to develop a deeper understanding of a society that is culturally diverse.
Multicultural reading and self-concept
Cultural literatures that reflect the cultural and ethnic background of the young students enable them to know about their own backgrounds (Wiesendanger and Tarpley, p. 113). The young students are therefore able to develop a self-concept that is healthy, and based on knowledge, and a sense of pride and belonging in the family background. For instance, writers like Julia Avrez and Carlos Williams dwell into the Hispanic culture that they have been labeled as Hispanic American writers. The writers’ literatures are appreciated in that they bring the aspect of identity with the Hispanic readers. Moreover, people strange to the Hispanic culture can use the literature to learn about the various themes in the Hispanic culture, for instance the gender roles and marriage customs which may be different from the Caucasians’ culture. For example through Julia Alvarez’ essay, Something to Declare, the writer portrays culture using various themes such as personal barriers, immigration experiences, and culture shock to expose multiculturalism and feminism faced by immigrant Hispanics. A young reader can be motivated not only to learn about his or her culture, but to look for solutions in the future, for instance, the problems of immigrations experienced by the some of the Hispanics. Improving self-concept promotes self-realization, pride, and a feeling of being able to defend one’s culture Wiesendanger and Tarpley, p. 111).
Multicultural reading and culture tolerance
Incidences of ethnocentrism can develop in cases where people are not exposed to cultural variability early enough in their lives, and therefore, the concept of multicultural reading should be encourages when the readers are still young Wiesendanger and Tarpley, p. 114). Multicultural reading helps the readers to stop believing that their culture is superior or to term the culture of others as strange or bizarre. There is no social judgment of a superior or inferior culture and this is why it is important to know about different cultures in order to promote tolerability. Cultural tolerability also eliminates stereotyping which can pass as insensitive to the person being stereotyped (Harper and Brand, p. 226). Stereotypes exist but through multicultural reading and interacting with people from diverse cultures, it is realized that the stereotypes may not be true at all. This is why it is insisted that the literature sources that the teachers use to teach cultural aspects to the students must be of accurate data.
Multicultural reading should be encouraged and especially for young readers as they need to grow up while understanding the cultural diversity around them. Teachers should use accurate literature sources that reflect the real themes of various cultural backgrounds. These can be books from writers who write about different themes of a particular culture or those that incorporate stories from different cultures. Multicultural reading is important in that it promotes cultural awareness, cultural self-concept, and cultural tolerance.
Harper, Laurie and Brand Susan. More alike than different: promoting respect through multicultural books and literacy strategies. Childhood Education, 2010, vol. 86(4): 224-234
Wiesendanger, Katherine and Tarpley Peggy. Developing cultural awareness through implementing literature circles in the classroom, Race, Gender, & Class, 2010, vol. 17(1-2): 110-114
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