Ten Books All Young Chicanxs and Latinxs Should Read
Updated: Apr 7, 2018
1.) Half + Half– Various Authors
For our very loved mixed kids, who often are alienated from both or multiple sides.
“As we approach the twenty-first century, biracialism and biculturalism are becoming increasingly common. Skin color and place of birth are no longer reliable signifiers of one’s identity or origin. Simple questions like What are you? and Where are you from? aren’t answered—they are discussed. These eighteen essays, joined by a shared sense of duality, address the difficulties of not fitting into and the benefits of being part of two worlds. Through the lens of personal experience, they offer a broader spectrum of meaning for race and culture. And in the process, they map a new ethnic terrain that transcends racial and cultural division.”
– Barnes & Noble
2.) The Rain God– Arturo Islas
“Arturo Islas’s ten-year search for a publisher for this novel reveals the sad tragedy of commercialism and racism in the literary world. White editors told him that his book was not ‘authentic’ enough: where were the gangs, the poverty, the struggle of barrio life? Islas, an authentic Mexican-American, stood firm for a decade until The Rain God was at last published, to the great joy of all its readers. In just over 200 pages, it chronicles three generations of a family living in a border town in Texas, and probes at the borders and divisions in all of our lives: parents vs. children, modern vs. traditional, gay vs. straight, human vs. supernatural, and body vs. soul. Surprisingly, all of this is done with great subtlety and flow; you must be an active reader to pick up on Islas’s themes. It is the type of book you can reread half a dozen times (as I have) and see something new each time. It is profound, haunting, and filled with music. The Rain God is the greatest American novel since The Great Gatsby.”
3.) The House on Mango Street– Sandra Cisneros
“Mango Street, poetic in its prose, describes Esperanza, the oldest child in a Hispanic family who moves from apartment to apartment each year with her family. Mango Street is her family’s first house and the neighborhood becomes a part of her existence. In two to three page vignettes, Cisneros poignantly describes Esperanza’s adolescent angst. Navigating life as one of few Hispanics in her school, Esperanza faces pressure at school, at home, and with her friends. Partially autobiographical and part fiction, Cisneros employs luscious words to reveal how Esperanza desires to become a writer and leave Mango Street. As in her own life, her neighborhood will always be part of her, no matter how far she goes.
Only 110 pages in length, A House on Mango Street is widely studied in schools as both an example of Hispanic culture and coming of age. Cisneros with Mango Street paved the way for generations of Hispanic women writers. Her story of Esperanza is poignant, poetic, and a joy to read.”
4.) …Y No Se Lo Tragó La Tierra/ …And The Earth Did Not Devour Him– Tomás Rivera
“Reading Tomás Rivera’s groundbreaking book, . . . Y No Se Lo Tragó La Tierra (And the Earth Did Not Devour Him), was the first time I had a full, powerful, visceral sense of what it must be like to be a migrant worker. Don’t get me wrong: I know that a book can’t substitute for real, lived experience – but for me, good books are portals into other lives. They allow me to expand my awareness, my knowledge, my consciousness – and when they’re done really well, they tell a great story, too.
Such is the case with Rivera’s 1971 book. Comprised of short stories and vignettes, the 70-page book could be seen as more a collage or story cycle than a novel – but I think it adapts the novel form to the rhythms and patterns of the lives lived by Chicano migrant workers in the United States. Just as Sarah Orne Jewett’s 1896 book, The Country of the Pointed Firs, can be seen as an unconventionally structured novel, so, too, can Rivera’s book be seen as challenging the classic definition of a novel. It’s as if Rivera – the son of migrant workers – is saying, “Chicano migrant workers don’t have the luxury of lives lived in one place. They don’t have the luxury of living a novel. Their lives are fragmented and fractured, as they move from place to place.”
This fragmentation is felt tangibly in the book’s unusual structure. The semi-autobiographical book opens with an unnamed narrator, the 12-year-old son of South Texas Mexican American migrant workers, crawling under a house, where he begins to recall stories from the previous year. The rest of the book unfolds in a collage of story fragments – the bits and pieces the boy remembers from his family’s constant travel around the United States.”
5.) The Chicano Movement: For Beginners– Maceo Montoya
“As the heyday of the Chicano Movement of the late 1960s to early 70s fades further into history and as more and more of its important figures pass on, so too does knowledge of its significance. Thus, Chicano Movement For Beginners is an important attempt to stave off historical amnesia. It seeks to shed light on the multifaceted civil rights struggle known as “El Movimiento” that galvanized the Mexican American community, from laborers to student activists, giving them not only a political voice to combat prejudice and inequality, but also a new sense of cultural awareness and ethnic pride.
Beyond commemorating the past, Chicano Movement For Beginners seeks to reaffirm the goals and spirit of the Chicano Movement for the simple reason that many of the critical issues Mexican American activists first brought to the nation’s attention then―educational disadvantage, endemic poverty, political exclusion, and social bias―remain as pervasive as ever almost half a century later.”
6.) Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America– Juan Gonzalez
“I must say that as a Latino, I was very upset when I was given a Latino history course. Why should I? I know this stuff inside and out. Right? WRONG!!! Harvest of Empire digs very deep into US history and opens up a new chapter that was not presented to us in high school text books. Harvest of Empire will provide you the kind of information that will make you go ‘Oh, I didn’t know that’. Anyone from any culture wants to be able to look back into history and read about the great things that their ‘people’ has accomplished. Living in America and being surrounded by so many stereotypes has given Latinos a bad perception of themselves. This book has allowed me to see past all of this and realize that the Latino people truly have rich historical roots and have contributed a lot towards the foundation of this great country.”
– Barnes & Noble
*Harvest of Empire has also been adapted into a critically-acclaimed film as well
7.) The Fire & The Word: A History of the Zapatista Movement– Gloria Muñoz Ramírez
“The Fire and the Word tells the story of the Zapatista movement, from its clandestine birth in the jungle of Chiapas, to its impact on Mexico and its ongoing influence around the world. Gloria Muñoz lived for years in remote Mayan villages and interviewed some of the group’s organizers. Their first-person accounts are woven throughout the text, along with reportage and contextual history. The result is a story composed of “the little pieces of mirrors and crystals that make up the various moments” (Subcomandante Marcos) of the Zapatistas’ years of open struggle, the reflections of a history that is still being made, one which continues to inform and inspire activists and intellectuals around the globe.
Beautifully illustrated with a collection of the most emblematic photographs from Zapatista history, The Fire and the Word is an inspiring testimony of resistance and hope.”
8.) Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race– Reni Eddo-Lodge
“Eddo-Lodge accurately takes the temperature of racial discussions in the UK. In seven crisp essays, she takes white British people to task for failing to accept that “racism is a white problem”. “White privilege,” she writes, “is a manipulative, suffocating blanket of power that envelops everything we know, like a snowy day.”
She’s strong on the pervasive racial marginalization of black people, for example in the depiction of the working class that still so often comes with the prefix “white”. Instead of framing the working class as “a white man in a flat cap” she suggests “a black woman pushing a pram”. She has a clear eye for the assumptions that underpin racism: it’s striking that the discourse on race today is stronger in tone than in the 70s suburban world in which I grew up, where British people were (usually) polite to the point of rudeness; the stakes are higher now.
– The Guardian
9.) Finally Got the News!: The Printed Legacy of the U.S. Radical Left, 1970-1979 – Brad Duncan
“Finally Got the News uncovers the hidden legacy of the radical Left of the 1970s, a decade when vibrant social movements challenged racism, imperialism, patriarchy and capitalism itself. It combines written contributions from movement participants with original printed materials—from pamphlets to posters, flyers to newspapers—to tell this politically rich and little-known story.
The dawn of the 1970s saw an absolute explosion of interest in revolutionary ideas and activism. Young people radicalized by the antiwar movement became anti-imperialists, veterans of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements increasingly identified with communism and Pan-Africanism, and women were organizing for autonomy and liberation. While these movements may have different roots, there was also an incredible overlapping and intermingling of activists and ideologies.
These diverse movements used printed materials as organizing tools in every political activity, creating a sprawling and remarkable array of printing styles, techniques, and formats. Through the lens of printed materials we can see the real nuts and bolts of revolutionary organizing in an era when thousands of young revolutionaries were attempting to put their beliefs into practice in workplaces and neighborhoods across the U.S.”
10.) In the Time of the Butterflies- Julia Alvarez
11.) CHICANA– Amanda Gómez
Let us take a moment to plug our own Amanda Gómez's first book.
Gómez’s first and currently only book offers a raw and real glimpse into the life of Chicanx teenagers unparalleled by anything else currently available. The series of poems and vivid photographs place each and every reader into the life of the girl, only 16 at the time the book was written. It doesn’t surround a tired audience with gossip and school drama- quite the contrary. Gomez effortlessly takes the reader through topics such as mental illness, euro-centric beauty and success standards, police brutality, family, and cultural appropriation, to name a few.
A mixed kid herself, Gómez deals with the conflict of mixing white and Mexican, and living as a Mexican-American in an upper-middle class suburb. Additionally, Gómez tackles the issue of gender roles and sexuality within the Latino community, and the value and impact of love. The book is funny, thought-provoking, and at times heartbreaking. It is a must-read for any young Chicanx.
*CHICANA varies in front cover artwork and styling