Posted by: turtlebella | 21 October 2007

Latin@ novels

My bloggy friend Melissa, who blogs at Book Nut, has a post about an Expanding Horizons reading challenge. Basically, it’s about trying to read more non-white writers. Since this is more or less the way that I read already, I have lots of thoughts about why this is a good idea. That’s not the focus of this post, though.

In the comments, Melissa asked what Chicana-written novels I would recommend. I started writing this really long comment with my suggestions. Then my browser crashed. But I’d already decided that I should go ahead and write something here in this space. Because this has happened before, once upon a time, a million blog-years ago, someone on brownfemipower’s blog asked about good politicizing Chicana books… And well, I had a lot to say back then too.

My list, in no particular order, but that in which they occur to me. They are novels, unless otherwise noted. I’ve also expanded beyond Chicana literature to Latin@ lit. And hey, have a favorite that I haven’t listed here? Please add your voice, your suggestions, and recommendations in the comments. There are too too many out there for me to even remember. Also, there are a number of really great anthologies out there of essays or short stories. Another note- most of these, I realize, are from the 90s or before. That’s mostly because that’s when I was navigating my own way towards a Chicana identity, trying to work out where I fit in in the world (I already knew where I didn’t fit in!). While I have somewhat kept up with the new writings of my favorites, I know there have got to be new voices out there!

Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street. I read this at the height of my own awakening Chicana identity and so I hold it very dear to my heart. More or less a coming-of-age/coming-of-Chicana story about a young girl from Chicago. {Chicana}

Sandra Cisneros, Caramelo. Takes place in Mexico and the US, following three generations of the Reyes family, some of whom are immigrants to the US. {Chicana}

Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents; In the Time of Butterflies; Yo!; Saving the World. I really love Alvarez’ voice. Although these novels are all quite different. For example, In the Time of the Butterflies takes place (exclusively? I can’t quite remember) in the Dominican Republic and is based on, inspired by, the true story of sisters who were executed for trying to overthrow the Trujillo dictatorship. While How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents is about sisters who have immigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic with their parents, how they fit in or don’t fit in, how they have changed and adapted and rebelled. Universally, I love Alvarez’ female voices and I find myself identifying with them, even when their circumstances or personalities are quite different from mine. {Dominican-American}

Ana Castillo, So Far from God. Again, I adore Castillo’s characters. Mystical, funny, enduring women, often struggling with their identity, their religion, their husbands, their society. This book has aspects of magical realism, which I happen to like. Takes place in the southwest, I can’t even begin to summarise the story, you’ll just have to read it! {Chicana}

Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban. Multi-generational Cuban/Cuban-American family, told through a variety of (mostly female, as far as I remember) voices. Told from both within and without Cuba. I found it richly layered, with different perspectives on Cuba, the revolution, and Castro as well as a meditation on exile and the desire to belong. {Cuban-American}

Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican. A memoir of being uprooted, being poor, being an immigrant in Brooklyn, being young, coming-of-age in a hostile culture, being resilient… Good stuff and well-written with wonderful attention to detail. I clearly remember reading about a song that they used to sing in her family when there was a thunderstorm. It instantly brought tears to my eyes, because I used to sing the same song with my (Mexican) mother.

Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima and The Anaya Reader. I’ve read lots of Anaya and so should you! But if you have limited time, read these two. Anaya is considered the father of Chicano literature and Bless Me, Ultima is a standard in Chicano/Latino literature courses (at least, it used to be!) and is the coming-of-age story of a boy and his curandera (healer) aunt, Ultima. I recommend The Anaya Reader to get an overall perspective and a sample of Anaya’s shorter works. {Chicano}

Rudolfo Anaya, Farolitos: A New Mexico Christmas Story. Have kids? This is a children’s story about…well, Christmas in New Mexico, where the tradition of the posada is very richly developed, beyond anything I’ve seen in Mexico or where I grew up in southern California. This is partly because the New Mexican Hispanic culture is unique. You’ll get a sense of that from any of Anaya’s books, actually. My mom lived in Albuquerque for awhile and the posadas there are just like the one described in the story. There are also recipes in there for traditional New Mexican Christmas foods. {Chicano}

Denise Chavez, Face of an Angel. This novel follows a woman as she finds her way from the traditional mode of serving men and God to being non-traditionally independent and how she navigates duality, growing up Latina. I found it funny and true. I saw Chavez speak back when I was in college – I just adored her! The Last of the Menu Girls is also great. Loving Pedro Infante was just so hysterically funny! {Chicana}

Jaime Manrique, Latin Moon in Manhattan. The story of a young, gay Colombian immigrant (he emigrated 18 years before) who lives in Manhattan (Times Square, no less, pre-Disney-ification). But his mother lives in Jackson Heights’ “Little Colombia.” I found it quite funny and often very touching and almost always irreverent. About finding and creating a homeland, even if it’s far away from your roots (Colombia itself as well as Little Colombia). {Colombian-American}

Other writers to look for: Helena Maria Viramontes {Chicana}, Gary Soto {Chicano}, Gloria Anzaldua (Borderlands/La Frontera: the New Mestiza, amazing, powerful, life-changing stuff, somewhat beyond the scope of what I can write in a short paragraph) {Chicana}, Cherrie Moraga {Chicana}, Jimmy Santiago Baca {Chicano}, Alma Villanueva {Chicana}, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez {Latina}.

And here are some other blogs…

Ana Castillo

Esmeralda Santiago

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

La Bloga

Chicana Poetics

Latina Lista’s Bookshelf

UPDATE– Just in time! I learned today that the annual Chicano & Latino Writers Festival, put on by the Friends of St Paul Public Library, is happening next week. Woo-hoo! And guess who one of their speakers is?! Ana Castillo!!!! I’m so thrilled I could pee in my pants. I’ve got to go and get her new book, The Guardians, right away.



  1. […] Bless Me, Ultima is a standard in Chicano/Latino literature courses (at least, it… Source: [Link] Click to Share: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and […]

  2. Wow.

    I’ll have to put a bunch of these on my TBR list, since I really really want to read The Hummingbird’s Daughter for the challenge. But I will get around to these. Promise!

  3. Hey Melissa, I think you will like The Hummingbird’s Daughter, it’s got lots of mystical/magical stuff in there, dealing with curandera things, something that is a re-current theme in many Mexican/Mexican-American/Chicano novels. And so many other themes- class in Mexico, political and social turbulence, violence against peasants, Indians…so many layers, all intertwined and interdependent.

  4. Hello,
    New here. Thanks

    Mary Aloe
    Proud Mary Entertainment

  5. Jill Pangallo has generously offered to put together digital images on a CD to project during the evening. ,

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