Subscribe to SLJ
Bowllan's Blog
Inside Bowllan's Blog

Writers Against Racism: Mayra Lazara Dole

I don’t know what it’s like to be black. 

      Mayra Lazara Dole

BUT, I had a gun to my head at age fourteen simply because I was in love with another girl. Before I ever even made love with a girl, I was hated, ostracized, thought of as subhuman, sinful, and morally degraded by Catholic school girlfriends, neighbors, nuns, and boys, because of my sexuality. Part of racism and homophobia is first thinking others are inferior and inhuman based on skin color or sexuality, then verbally or physically abusing them because you feel they are less than you. Racism and homophobia are two different animals, but they’re both about ignorance and HATE.    YA novel, Down to the Bone

Some Latinos who’ve been oppressed take on the role of the oppressor as they climb the ladder of success.  Many kill their accents and change their names to American names.  Passing as blancos makes some Latinos feel privileged.  Several (not all) Latinos blancos in power of European dissent (no African heritage) look down upon folks with the slightest dark features, such as thick lips and curly hair.

After my Afro Cuban/bilingual/biracial/multicultural picture books were published, a “white” racist Latina librarian was aghast. She called to tell me, “Are you crazy? Most Cubans in Miami are white, educated and wealthy professionals with outstanding careers (NOT true, some are, though). People will think we’re just a bunch of barefooted negros raising chickens in our backyard.” This, of course, fueled the fire in me not only to have two main characters in my YA novel, Down to the Bone, be Afro Cuban, but to make sure two of Laura’s girlfriends were dark-skinned mulatas and that my beloved agent was African American! 

How do we get rid of Racism and Homophobia if it’s so ingrained within humans because it’s been passed down from generation to generation?

One way is to write books with diversity, with POC and LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, questioning, and intersexed) characters who move kids to love and respect all human beings regardless of color or sexuality. Could Lawrence King (black homosexual fifteen-year-old boy) and other kids’ lives have been spared if their killers were exposed to POC and LGBTQI literature in school depicting black and gay kids in a positive light? Could 1.6 million homeless Latino and Black kids (1/3 are homosexuals) not have been kicked out of their houses if intolerant parents had been required to read books with diversity to plant the seeds of love, acceptance, and tolerance?

As a kid, I was called “Spick” and in my twenties, living in Boston, I was referred to as, “The Ethnic Girl” and “The Minority Girl,” but that’s nothing compared to what African Americans have suffered due to racism or what I, and many LGBTQI’s, have endured as young kids coming into our sexuality. As a person who’s experienced homophobia to an extreme, and could have been a statistic due to a hate crime, I feel fired-up to use literature as an empowering tool to
seamlessly fight racism and homophobia and promote tolerance.  

Mayra Lazara Dole is an author who has also been a drummer, dancer, landscape designer, Cuban “chef,” hairdresser, and library assistant. She was born in Cuba and now lives in Miami with her partner, Damarys.  (
Bio comes via Harper Collins)

I am not a dark skinned Latina, thus I have never experienced the type of racism African American’s and dark-skinned immigrants have.          


  1. George Edward Stanley says:

    Mayra, I have to take issue with you that one hell is worse than another hell. To the individual who is the object of any kind of discrimination at the hands of individuals or groups, nothing else could be worse or more demeaning or more damaging to the psyche. It’s all a horror show – and it has to stop, now, RIGHT NOW!! Thank you for telling your story. I still cannot get out of my head Zetta’s story about the young boy, eleven years old, who hanged himself because he was taunted and taunted and taunted because he was gay. Your story and your books give readers hope.

  2. Very stirring piece Mayra! I think that you are so right. I did not experience homophobia as a child, because I did not know that I was gay and because I look feminine, nobody else knew I was gay either. But I suffered from the lack of gay/lesbian books nonetheless. It took me a long time to accept my sexuality, because I did not see it reflected anywhere around me in any kind of a positive way.

    I also did not really understand the kind of hell that people of color and that obviously gay men and women go through…I simply did not have a frame of reference until I was in college and begin taking classes on sex, gender and race. I also took classes on comparative religion, that made me realize that there were other ways of seeing life than than the Catholic way I was brought up.

    What a revelation that was! I think how sad it is that if I had not gone to college, I would have remained in the dark about these issues. And I was a voracious reader! To think that I read the entire gamut of young adult literature and never encountered a gay character, and very seldom an African-American or Latino character! How could that be?

    I am so happy Mayra that your book is out there and that you engage in activism on this issue!

  3. Elaine Marie Alphin says:

    I applaud your passion and your work exposing readers to gay, lesbian, transgender and multi-racial characters in your writing, Mayra. My father is from El Salvador and my mother from Georgia, and I grew up with little sense of racial identity. In my YA novels, I try to feature gay characters so that readers might meet them (and be surprised into liking them) before homophobia takes root in their souls. But I’m only now tackling my feelings about Latino prejudice in the novel I’m writing right now. I agree that both racism and homophobia are about ignorance and hatred and fear, and we need to do all we can to enlighten the ignorant, calm the fear, and at least try to stem the hatred by showing people how much there is to love in each other, and the younger people can be enlightened and calmed, hopefully the less open they will be to hatred as they grow.

    Great article.

  4. Thanks for posting this, Mayra. I think you are exactly right – whether it is racism or homophobia, these kinds of negative feelings are rooted in hatred. But where does that hatred come from? Fear. Fear of the “other.”

    I am Jewish, so an everpresent part of my childhood was the question, “why does everyone hate the Jews?” and, more to the point, “why do people who do not know me hate me on principle?” I have wrestled with this question my whole life, and I now attribute that hatred to the fact that for over 2000 years, Jews have always been a minority within other cultures. That means that we have been always “other,” and that through ignorance in the majority community of what that otherness actually entails, it then morphs into fear. And fear can become hate, scapegoating, all the unpleasantness described in your article.

    So what is the answer? I believe it involves taking down barriers between people. the best way, in my opinion, is to make sure we have a strong public school system, which everyone must attend. No self-segregation by wealth or ethnicity or religion. A child enrolled in a Catholic school, for example, will automatically see non-Catholics as “other”, just as kids in Jewish day schools will see non-Jews as other. Kids in private privileged prep schools automatically assume their own superiority, and subconsciously (and sometimes consciously too) denigrate those who can’t afford the beemer. And so if goes.

    the alterntive is to make sure children of all kinds sit elbow to elbow in school. How better to learn that little Johnny or little Juanita is just like you than to watch them snork milk through their nose when Ahmed does a chicken impression in the caf? Then, even when parents say hateful things about others, there’s always the possibility Junior can say, “well gee mom, Johanna is (fill in the blank), they’re aren’t all like that. She’s a regular gal just like me!”

    Here in Canada, we have institutionalized religious racism – the Catholic school boards are publicly funded in Ontario, while other religious groups are not. This has driven my nuts since I moved here more than twenty years ago. It’s clear to me that either all religious educational institutions should be funded, or none should. I come down pretty heavily on “none” – if you want your child to learn your religious beliefs, private schooling after 3pm should do the trick. It is not in our society’s interest to foment separation among citizens in any way, shape or form.

    Mayra, if we were schoolkids of the same age, we would have never met because you were in a catholic school. I suggest that perhaps in a public school, surrounded by a more varied population, some of whom had more liberal ideas, you may have not experienced such a sharp edged homophobia. My kids go to a very large city h.s. where all ethnicities mix and mingle, and no one’s behavior or orientation gets much more than a raised eyebrow. Less than a km away is the catholic hs, and another public hs that is much more cliquey upper crusty white. I don’t think you’d be able to say the same about either of those two schools.

    A growing danger to tolerance and understanding I see here in toronto is the increase in the number of Muslim women wearing chadors. The chadors serve to make their wearers into the “other” – the cloth is a barrier for us to see them as human beings just like us. Fear follows, and then you know what else is bound to follow.

    I worry about that.

  5. michael sedano says:

    Could reading books reduce, prevent, eliminate anger, fear, misunderstanding? Poco a poco, yes. Information and emotion, vividly presented in effective literature cures a host of ills. Racism and homophobia feed on xenophobia and ethnocentrism, a pair of beliefs culture reinforces so powerfully that only superb literature, and lots of it, stands a chance of making a difference. Writers need to create the books, publishers need to distribute the books. Only then will readers and teachers have books that can make a difference, one page at a time.

  6. Mayra,
    I’m getting up out of my chair to give you a standing ovation! You say it so eloquently and with such passion, and I completely agree – books ARE the levers that can move the world! When I was growing up, there were NO books with positive portrayals of Gay characters, and now today, I have over 200 books for teens listed on my “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read?” blogsite, including YOURS! But we still have many hearts and minds to open…
    so keep writing!
    I’m proud to be on this journey with you.


  7. Mayra, Thank you for your books, your words, and the doors you open to so many marginalized teens and children.
    I wish you wonders on this amazing journey of yours.

  8. Thanks for introducing intersectionality into our discussion, Mayra. We all experience race as it intersects with other aspects of our identity: sexuality, class, age, region, gender, etc., and experiencing prejudice for any reason should open us up to greater empathy for others…your daring amazes me. Don’t ever change!

  9. I appreciate all of your work of inclusion of People of Color in your work.

  10. Isis Quintero says:

    Mayra, I applaud your strong conviction that art and understanding will cure social illnesses such as hate and discrimination of any kind. It is an important endeavor that you concentrate on forging so valuable role models for gay people, specially for kids, and teens, in the various characters that you depict in your stories. There will be a day… in which humans will measure power in terms of comprehension and togetherness, and you are certainly contributing for that day to come! Bravo!

  11. Mayra Lazara Dole says:

    George, Sumari, Elaine, Helaine, Micheal, Lee, Heidi, Zetta, InfoDiva and Isis… I ennjoyed reading your comments and appreciate every word you’ve said. I don’t know most of you but looked you up and it seems we’re all on the same path. A billion gracias to Amy and Zetta for all your hard work on WRITER’S AGAINST RACISM and may I add, HOMOPHOBIA!

  12. Me fascina como expones tus ideas sobre el racismo y la homofobia en una forma tan elocuente y realista. Te felicito por un trabajo excelente y te doy las gracias por ayudar con tanto empeño a que nuestro sueño de igualdad (principio básico de los derechos humanos) se haga realidad. Escritoras como tú son las que el mundo necesita para poder un día alcanzar la paz universal.

  13. One thing I loved about Down to the Bone, many peoples stories were represented, and now I see why.
    Mas Mas Mas

    Gracias, Mayra

  14. Ileana Diaz says:

    It fascinates me how you so eloquently and realistically poured out your ideas on racism and homophobia. I congratulate you for this excellent piece and thank you for your persistence and hard work on our dream of equality and basic human rights. This world needs writers like you so one day we can reach universal peace.

  15. battitude says:

    Mayra keep writing. It is your best fighting strategy. Show people human beings are different but we all have the capacity to love. Isn’t that all we need?