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Hispanic Heritage Month: a Book List

September 29, 2009

We’re right in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month here in the States (September 15-October 15), and what better excuse to put together a reading list? As regular readers know, I’ve been extra-aware of my POC reading for awhile now (I made a resolution in August that 50% of my US reading, 50% of my int’l reading, and 25% of my nonfic reading would be by POC authors until the end of the year). But I’ve been focusing more on African Americans and Asian Americans…and especially for a Texas girl, it’s about time I turned my attention to Hispanic Americans.

In this list, I didn’t worry whether the writers were actual American citizens or not; I mainly just focused on Hispanic authors of the Northern half of the Americas. I’ve divided the books simply: nonfiction, fiction by women, and fiction by men. Feel free to suggest additions in comments!!! :)

Nonfiction

  • When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago: coming-of-age memoir by Peurto Rican immigrant to US.
  • Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario: Based on the Los Angeles Times newspaper series that won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for feature writing and another for feature photography, Enrique’s Journey is the timeless story of families torn apart, the yearning to be together again, and a boy who will risk his life to find the mother he loves.
  • Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith by Octavia Paz: Mexico’s leading poet, essayist, and cultural critic writes of a Mexican poet of another time and another world, the world of seventeenth-century New Spain. His subject is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the most striking figure in all of Spanish-American colonial literature and one of the great poets of her age.
  • Days of Obligation by Richard Rodriguez: In a series of intelligent and candid essays, Rodriguez ranges over five centuries to consider the moral and spiritual landscapes of Mexico and the US and their impact on his soul.
  • Harvest of Empire by Juan Gonzalez: Spanning 500 years-from the first New World colonies to our nation’s nineteenth-century westward expansion, from the days of gunboat diplomacy to the turn of the millennium-Harvest of Empire features family portraits of real-life immigrants along with sketches of the political events and social conditions that compelled them to leave their homeland. In addition, it gives a fascinating look at how these Latino pioneers have transformed the cultural landscape of the United States.
  • Translation Nation by Hector Tobar: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar takes us on the definitive tour of the Spanish-speaking United States — a parallel nation, 35 million strong, that is changing the very notion of what it means to be an American in unprecedented and unexpected ways.
  • Upside Down by Eduardo Galeano: Comprised of a series of illuminating vignettes, Galeano, with his trademark wit, sarcasm, and adroit phrasings, turns his unerring critique onto the vapidity and shallowness of our modern world. Whether decrying violence, consumerism, ecological degradation, imperialism, or our car-obsessed culture, Galeano’s humanity and heartbreak is evident on every page.
  • Latino USA: A Cartoon History by Ilan Stavans & Lalo Alcaraz: In this cartoon history of Latinos, Stavans seeks to combine the solemnity of so-called “serious literature” and history with the inherently theatrical and humorous nature of the comics.
  • Coyotes by Ted Conover: To discover what becomes of Mexicans who desperately slip into the United States, Ted Conover disguised himself as an illegal alien, walked across deserts, hid in orange orchards, waded through the Rio Grande, and cut life-threatening deals with tough-guy traffickers in human sweat.
  • Ask a Mexican by Gustavo Arellano: An irreverent, hilarious, and informative look at Mexican-American culture is taken by a rising star in the alternative media, as well as a new kid on the block in such mainstream venues as NPR, the “Los Angeles Times, Today,” and “The Colbert Report.”

Fiction by Women

  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez: It’s a long way from Santo Domingo to the Bronx, but if anyone can go the distance, it’s the Garcia girls. Four lively Latinas plunge from a pampered life of privilege on an island compound into the big-city chaos of New York, where they embrace all that America has to offer.
  • Let It Rain Coffee by Angie Cruz: Flashing between past and present, Let It Rain Coffee is a sweeping novel about love, loss, family, and the elusive nature of memory and desire, set amid the crosscurrents of the history and culture that shape our past and govern our future.
  • Song of the Water Saints by Nelly Rosario: A brilliant debut novel–powerfully written and vividly evocative–traces the lives of three generations of indomitable Dominican women with grace and gritty realism.
  • Across a Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande: Across a Hundred Mountains is a stunning and poignant story of migration, loss, and discovery as two women — one born in Mexico, one in the United States — find their lives joined in the most unlikely way.
  • Song of the Hummingbird by Graciela Limon: From Aztec princess to slave and concubine, Hummingbird — or Huitzitzilin in her native Nahuatl — recounts her life during the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
  • Memory Mambo by Achy Oberjas: a 24-year-old Latina lesbian is exiled, with her irresistibly crazy family, from Cuba to the United States. Here a chorus of cousins–blood cousins and “cousins in exile”–wreak havoc as Juani attempts to sift through layers of memories and family myth to find the truth about her life.
  • The Texicans by Nina Vida: from Megan’s review “The Texicans is a well-written novel populated by a wide variety of quite three dimensional characters. The main characters, especially Joseph and Aurelia, the Mexican “witch,” are believable and sympathetic.”
  • Hungry Woman in Paris by Josefina Lopez: from the Dark Phantom’s review “Hungry Woman in Paris is a compelling, engrossing read. Told in the first person from the point of view of Canela, the story sparkles with genuinity and our protagonist’s strong voice. “
  • Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa: A lyrical, powerful debut novel about a family of Afro-Puerto Rican women, spanning five generations, detailing their physical and spiritual journey from the Old World to the New.
  • So Far from God by Ana Castillo: An exeptional novel that takes magical realism and contemporary writing to new heights.
  • A Girl Like Che Guevara by Teresa de la Caridad Doval: a coming-of-age story of a young girl in Communist Cuba.
  • A Handbook to Luck by Cristina Garcia: In the late 60s, three teenagers from around the globe are making their way in the world: Enrique Florit, from Cuba, living in southern California with his flamboyant magician father; Marta Claros, getting by in the slums of San Salvador; Leila Rezvani, a well-to-do surgeon’s daughter in Tehran. We follow them through the years, surviving war, disillusionment, and love, as their lives and paths intersect.
  • Evenings at the Argentine Club by Julia Amante: Victor and Jaqueline Torres imagined moving to the U.S. would bring happiness and prosperity-instead they found a world of frustration. While Victor put long hours into his restaurant business, Jaqui devoted her life to her daughters, until they grew up and moved on. Even their eldest, Victoria, is torn trying to reconcile being the perfect Argentine daughter and an independent American woman. Antonio and Lucia Orteli face the same realities, especially when their only son Eric leaves their close-knit Argentine community in pursuit of his own dreams. When Eric unexpectedly shows up at the Argentine Club-the heart of the Argentine community in southern California-he starts a series of events that will bring these two families closer than ever.
  • The Heiress of Water by Sandra Rodriguez Barron: Atmospheric, thought-provoking, and timely. The Heiress of Water is a stunning parable of paradise lost and found.
  • Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros: Caramelo is a romantic tale of homelands, sometimes real, sometimes imagined. Vivid, funny, intimate, historical, it is a brilliant work destined to become a classic: a major new novel from one of our country’s most beloved storytellers.

Fiction by Men

  • The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier: A few years after its liberation from French colonialist rule, Haiti experienced a period of unsurpassed brutality, horror, and superstition under the reign of the black King Henri-Christophe. Through the eyes of the ancient slave Ti-Noel, The Kingdom of This World records the destruction of the black regime–built on the same corruption and contempt for human life that brought down the French–in an orgy of voodoo, race hatred, erotomania, and fantastic grandeurs of false elegance.
  • Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya: This is the involving story of Antonio, a boy facing the conflicts in his life with the help of Ultima, a curandera who cures with herbs and magic. At each turn of Tony’s life, she is there to nurture his soul.
  • Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea: Filled with unforgettable characters and prose as radiant as the Sinaloan sun, Into the Beautiful North is the story of an irresistible young woman’s quest to find herself on both sides of the fence.
  • The Tattooed Soldier by Hector Tobar: Antonio Bernal is a Guatemalan refugee haunted by memories of his wife and child murdered at the hands of a man marked with a yellow tattoo. Not far from Antonio’s apartment, Guillermo Longoria extends his arm and reveals a tattoo — yellow pelt, black spots, red mouth. It is the mark of the death squad, the Jaguar Battalion of the Guatemalan army. A chance encounter ignites a psychological showdown between these two men who discover that the war in Central America has followed them to the quemazones, the “great burning” of the Los Angeles riots.
  • La Cucaracha by Lalo Alcarez: Through La Cucaracha, creator Lalo Alcaraz makes blunt social comment both hard-hitting and hilarious. The result-La Cucaracha is not just a pleasure, but also a craving for thousands of readers in more than 60 newspapers.The strong undercurrent of modern Latino themes and issues adds a sharp layer of meaning to the humor.
  • Mr. Spic Goes to Washington by Ilan Stavans and Roberto Weil: In the face of social inequalities, sometimes strength for mobilization can be found through laughter. It is this ethos that Ilan Stavans employs in this politically minded graphic novel. Weaving humor with social commentary, Stavans tells a tale of a Latino man taking Los Angeles’ mayoral office by storm — and refusing to stop there.
  • Assumption and Other Stories by Daniel Olivas: this collection of eighteen remarkable short stories set in Southern California. In them, Olivas examines the complicated interplay between class, gender, and ethnicity in modern Latino communities.
  • The Losers’ Club by Richard Perez: Set in downtown New York City, The Losers’ Club tells the story of Martin Sierra, an unlucky writer addicted to the personals. His journey brings us into the East Village at the height of its cultural glory — and in contact with Nikki, his dream woman, who remains unattainable romantically, yet who becomes his friend and confidant during his precarious misadventures. Populated with characters and surprises few of us will ever forget, this exhilarating novel is as much about a generation (we won’t say “X”) as it is about a specific time and place.
  • Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez: The word is out in Spanish Harlem: Willie Bodega is king. Need college tuition for your daughter? Start-up funds for your fruit stand? Bodega can help. He gives everyone a leg up, in exchange for loyalty — and a steady income from the drugs he pushes.
  • The Flowers by Dagoberto Gilb: Sonny Bravo is a tender, unusually smart fifteen-year-old who is living with his vivacious mother in a large city where intense prejudice is not just white against black, but also brown. When Sonny’s mother, Silvia, suddenly marries an Okie building contractor named Cloyd Longpre, they are uprooted to a small apartment building, Los Flores. As Sonny sweeps its sidewalks, he meets his neighbors and becomes ensnared in their lives: Cindy, an eighteen-year-old druggie who is married and bored; Nica, a cloistered Mexican girl who cares for her infant brother but who is never allowed to leave their unit. The other tenants range from Pink, an albino black man who sells old cars in front of the building, to Bud, a muscled-up construction worker who hates blacks and Mexicans, even while he’s married to a Mexican-American woman.
  • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos: It’s 1949. It’s the era of the mambo, and two young Cuban musicians make their way up from Havana to the grand stage of New York. The Castillo brothers, workers by day, become by night stars of the dance halls, where their orchestra plays the lush, sensuous, pulsing music that earns them the title of the Mambo Kings. This is their moment of youth–a golden time that thirty years later will be remembered with nostalgia and deep affection.
  • Marcelo In the Real World by Francisco X. Stork: Reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in the intensity and purity of its voice, this extraordinary novel challenges the boundaries of autism. It is a love story, a legal drama, and a celebration of the music each of us hears inside.
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19 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2009 11:25 am

    This is an amazing list! I’m going to have to read some of these. I’m in the process of deciding what I’m going to write my master’s thesis on and some of these sound like good starts.

  2. September 29, 2009 11:26 am

    What an interesting list. I have only heard of one of these books, The Texicans. I shall definitely investigate some of the books on your list.

  3. September 29, 2009 11:30 am

    I love when you do these lists!
    Lezlie

  4. September 29, 2009 12:07 pm

    The Meaning of Consuelo by Judith Ortiz Cofer was an excellent book about Puerto Rico in the 1950s.

  5. September 29, 2009 12:19 pm

    Marcelo in the Real World is an awesome book – I loved it. I had no idea the author was Hispanic, though!

    And also, I haven’t heard of most of these so thanks for some great suggestions!

  6. September 29, 2009 12:52 pm

    Your lists are dangerous, dangerous things.

  7. September 29, 2009 12:59 pm

    How is you manage to make me feel so pathetic and so inspired all at the same time? ;) Another awesome list, Eva…and I’ve read not a single one.

  8. September 29, 2009 1:18 pm

    What a wonderful list you have pulled together for all of us! This is a reminder that I need to expand my reading horizons a bit more!

  9. September 29, 2009 7:34 pm

    Caramelo was such a wonderful read. I loved it. (Also The House on Mango Street, if you haven’t yet.)

    The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love is still on the tbr but so far all the Oscar Hijuelos books I read I loved. Others not so much than some but I really like his voice. (Mr Ives’ Christmas is especially poignant as it’s about forgiveness.)

    How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents I didn’t like much, it was just okay. As with Into the Beautiful North, although that was somewhat funny.

    Now I must take a loot at the rest of your list.. thank you!! :D

  10. September 29, 2009 7:39 pm

    Most of these I haven’t heard of- and sadly the two I’ve read I wasn’t really wowed by. (When I was Puerto Rican and Bless Me Ultima) But now I’ve got a lot more added to my list.

  11. September 29, 2009 7:43 pm

    Wonderful list! I haven’t done an analysis of my reading from this year, so I’m not sure where I stand on POC (but I’ve added several to my wish list, based on your masterlist!)

  12. September 29, 2009 7:52 pm

    I enjoyed When I was Puerto Rican and The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Like Claire, I loved The House on Mango Street. Am definitely adding Sor Juana to the list, as well as several others. You always find wonderful stuff!

  13. September 30, 2009 1:03 pm

    Another great reading list! I’m going to try to read something too, just not sure what. This might help me decide!

  14. September 30, 2009 8:19 pm

    I’ve heard pretty good things about Enrique’s Journey. Friends of mine had to read it in a linguistics/sociology class in grad school. I didn’t have the pleasure, but there was a lot of talk about it.

    I started How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, and I enjoyed it, but I was unable to finish (life stuff). I also liked Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros.

  15. October 1, 2009 8:33 am

    I’ve read quite a few of these but need to add some others to my list! You are dangerous for our reading lists :)

    I do highly recommend Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chavez. It’s a fun and charming story.

  16. Bea permalink
    October 1, 2009 10:58 am

    I had the hardest of times in High School trying to like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, so I *really* hope Octavio Paz manages to say interesting and entertaining things about her.

    I’m not quite familiar with any of the other books, but I’ll give a try to Eduardo Galeano’s. I haven’t read anything by him since The Book of Embraces and it’s time to change that.

  17. October 2, 2009 2:09 am

    I love these lists that you make. I have a book by Laura Esquivel on my TBR shelf – I believe she’s from Mexico.

  18. October 2, 2009 9:38 am

    Lu, thank you! You’ll have to post about your thesis once you’ve decided on a topic. :D

    Vivienne, I hope you find some you like!

    Lezlie, thanks! I love making them. :D

    Amanda, thanks for the suggestion!

    Heather, oh-I’m glad you loved it!

    Softdrink, ;) I know! Every time I do a list, I want to read all the books on it right away.

    Debi, I haven’t read any of them either! That’s why they’re on the lsit! :)

    Kathleen, thank you!

    Claire, I have read The House on Mango Street and loved it! Mambo Kings Played Songs of Love is a book I actually own (unlike most of these), so I’m glad you’re a fan of Hijuelos. I put Into the Beautiful North on the list becaues I LOVED his earlier novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter. Have you read that one?

    Jeane, really-I loved Bless Me Ultima! It’s funny how we all react differently to the same books. :)

    Dawn, thanks!

    DS, I loved House on Mango Street too. :D

    Rebecca, thank you!

    Andi, it sounded so fascinating, but I’m always fascinated by immigrant/refugee issues! I’m glad your friends liked it. :)

    Iliana, thanks for the rec!

    Bea, I’d never heard of her before I made this list!

    Michelle, thank you! I’m sure there are lots of non-USA authors on the list-as long as they were from the ‘northern’ half of the continent (which includes Mexico!), I didn’t really worry. Unlike previous waves of immigrants, the Hispanic wave retains a lot more ties to their home countries, so it’s more difficult to draw a ‘line’ as to who would be Hispanic American. That’s why I decided to not worry about it! :)

  19. October 3, 2009 9:39 pm

    Have you read Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua? If not, definitely one to add to your list. (Talks about the Texas/Mexico border). And by the way, you make the best lists…hands down!

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