Latinas, like all women, are truth tellers. Through stanzas of poetry and lines of prose, they boldly document their experiences alongside those of their families and ancestors. Through their words we are given the ability to witness and empathize with their joys and sorrows, their achievements and aspirations. Writers like Isabel Allende, Sandra Cisneros, and Elizabeth Acevedo carry the torch of their foremothers, lighting the way for future generations, inspiring them to press their pens to paper and share their truth with the world. This list highlights some of the many voices whose work keeps that flame burning, whose voices cannot be quelled.
Laura Esquivel’s gripping page-turner Swift as Desire—much like her highly-celebrated bestseller Like Water for Chocolate—examines the impact that intimacy and passion can have on a person. Set in the 1920’s, Esquivel’s historical romance follows telegraph operator Júbilo’s relationship with Luz, an affluent socialite. Júbilo, who possesses the ability to hear people’s emotions, finds himself at odds with his lover’s aspirations. Luz, accustomed to the comforts of wealth, believes that money is the key to happiness while Júbilo believes that it’s love. Despite their different world views, the two marry and find joy in each other until a life altering event threatens to tear them apart. Swift as Desire is a breathtaking portrait of the transformative power of love.
Gloria E. Anzaldúa
In her groundbreaking essay collection Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria E. Anzaldúa challenges her audience’s definition of history by confronting them with her own: “The Gringo, locked into the fiction of white superiority, seized complete political power, stripping Indians and Mexicans of their land while their feet were still rooted in it.” From the very beginning, Anzaldúa centers her experience and the experience of her people. Jumping between Spanish and English, she flips the script, placing her reader on the borderlands of language, a stylistic choice that mirrors the experience of existing in a world defined by two cultures. An essential meditation on race, gender, and sexuality, Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera will make you question whose narratives you center in your life.
Cristina Henríquez’s buzzworthy novel The Book of Unknown Americans charts the Riveras’ transition from Mexico to their new home in Delaware. Prompted by their daughter Maribel’s brain injury, the Riveras struggle to adjust to their lives in the United States. As Maribel’s father works grueling shifts at a mushroom farm and her mother frets over her safety, the teen crosses paths with Mayor Toro, a teen boy who lives in the same apartment building as her. Quickly the two grow close, an occurrence that causes conflict between the Riveras and the Toros. A tale rooted in love, family, and hope, Henríquez’s novel is unforgettable.
Lilliam Rivera’s debut The Education of Margot Sanchez is a heartfelt and engrossing story about identity, family, and belonging. In order to fit in at her exclusive prep school, Margot uses her father’s credit card (without permission) to revamp her wardrobe in hopes that it might help her win an invitation to the Hamptons with the in crowd. When her father finds out, Margot’s fate is sealed. As punishment, she spends the summer working at her family’s supermarket in the Bronx to pay off what she owes her father. Caught between the allure of prep school popularity and her family’s expectations, Margot is forced to reevaluate what matters most to her. Fast-paced and filled with empathy, Rivera’s novel will have you laughing one minute and crying the next. The Education of Margot Sanchez is the book you wish existed when you were a teenager.
Opening with memories of her Brooklyn girlhood in the 1970s, Mama’s Girl by Veronica Chambers is an immersively vibrant memoir about growing up and finding one’s voice and place in the world. From her close relationship with her overworked yet loving Panamanian mother to the pressures of trying to be the perfect daughter, Chambers’ book is a candid yet profound depiction of the timeless bond between mother and daughter.
The Magic and the Real
Edited by Celia Correas de Zapata
Celia Correas de Zapata’s curated collection Short Stories by Latin American Women: The Magic and the Real threads together tales penned by writers like Clarice Lispector, Dora Alonso, Carmen Naranjo, Elena Garro, Cristina Peri Rossi, and more. Each story possesses an element of magical realism or the supernatural at its core that allows each line of prose to leave readers with a sense of each writer’s prowess. This collection, as de Zapatas writes in her introduction, proves that “women make history and are history itself.”
Jennifer Maritza McCauley
NEA Fellow Jennifer Maritza McCauley’s Scar On/Scar Off carries on the creative legacy of writers like Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Rosario Morales, and Audre Lorde. Divided into three parts—I, We, and Us—McCauley’s poetics amplify the embodied experience of being Black and brown in a nation whose history fails to honor those who do not look like its founding fathers. Seamlessly, McCauley intertwines personal truths with the collective truth of her community. In “When Trying to Return Home,” she writes, “in this blue city, I look like everybody/and everybody looks like me, and this is the thing I’ve always wanted:/ to be in a crowd where nobody remembers my skin.” With brevity, bravery, and searing honesty, McCauley’s collection echoes the opening line of “When They Say Stop Speaking Ghetto.” Each poem whispers, “I am a rebel language,/ the wild bloodroot of/ ancestral line.” McCauley is the undeniable successor to a rich tradition of truth tellers. Her words are necessary.
Daisy Hernández’s 2014 memoir A Cup of Water Under My Bed recounts her experience of growing up in a Cuban-Colombian household. With earnesty, Hernández examines how the women and men in her family influenced her perceptions on desire, gender, and race. Throughout the book, readers discover how Hernández’s opinionated aunts, her hardworking parents, and the contradictions of the American dream ultimately forced her to embrace her true self. A Cup of Water Under My Bed is an illuminating read that celebrates how who you are and where you come from can ultimately free you.