¡Entérate! 8 Books to Know this Latinx Heritage Month
by Sughey Ramirez, The Opportunity Agenda
Happy Latinx Heritage Month! A new report from the PEW Center reveals that the Latinx population in the United States has nearly doubled since the year 2000. We’re out here, y’all! And since here at The Opportunity Agenda we’re in the business of narrative change, we’re especially sensitive to language, storytelling, and the invaluable role artists and writers play in this work. As our resident boricua/translator/poet/bibliophile, it was only fitting that I share a list of books by Latinx authors to celebrate the diverse contributions (and talent!) of our expansive community. I hope you enjoy the selection and have a chance to dig in before Latinx Heritage Month comes to an end!
Sabrina & Corina: Stories
by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Genre: Short Story
“In [Sabrina & Corina] we find a different narrative of the West. These are women who inhabit a space between the Indigenous and the Latinx; they are fierce [and] powerful in their own way.”— Brooklyn Rail
This Denver native’s debut short story collection is comprised of 11 beautiful and heartbreaking tales about Latinx women with indigenous roots reflecting on friendship, kinship, and home. Just named a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction, the book is published by Penguin Random House’s groundbreaking imprint, One World, which aims to “provide a home for authors — novelists, essayists, memoirists, poets, journalists, thinkers, activists, and creative artists unconstrained by genre — who seek to challenge the status quo, subvert dominant narratives, and give us new language to understand our past, present, and future.” You can read an excerpt here.
I am Alfonso Jones
by Tony Medina
Genre: Graphic Novel
“It is tragic that we need a book like I Am Alfonso Jones today, but we do need it. For many, this is required reading. Like the gifted creators of this amazing book, we need to tell the truth about our history.” — Bryan Stevenson
Centering urgent issues such as police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, I Am Alfonso Jones even features a foreword by Equal Justice Initiative Founder and Executive Director Bryan Stevenson. The graphic novel follows a young boy named Alfonso as he navigates a Hamlet inspired afterlife with other victims of police brutality. Medina says that after his first children’s book, he heard from teachers and librarians who said that children would ask, “How does he know about my life?” Representation matters, folx! Read the complete foreword and author note here.
Juliet Takes a Breath
by Gabby Rivera
Genre: Young Adult
“This book was a lot of fun to read, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that means it is fluff. Rivera does a great job of illustrating the ways in which contemporary feminism fails to be intersectional, while offering her own perspective on how to begin the arduous task of fixing it.” – Lambda Literary
While this is Rivera’s first novel, she’s no novice. You might be familiar with her other game-changing projects. She is the first Latina to write for Marvel and is responsible for creating their “first queer Latina superhero.” She’s also written for the Lumberjanes series and contributed to the A People’s Future of the United States anthology. The award-winning Juliet Takes A Breath, which Roxane Gay hails as “f***ing outstanding,” centers around a “Puerto Rican baby dike” who comes out to her family and thinks she has it all figured out. But of course, things never work out as planned — and her white feminist mentor definitely doesn’t have all the answers! Check out a snippet here.
Tears of the Truffle Pig
by Fernando A. Flores
Genre: Science Fiction
“It’s a metaphysical detective story about genocide, corruption, and families…The language is propulsive the way a jet engine is propulsive, a land-speeder screaming across the desert of today’s headlines…” – Los Angeles Review of Books
Dystopian novels have seen a resurgence in popularity over the last few years and Tears of the Truffle Pig is a refreshing addition to the canon. Sci-Fi meets horror (if you ask me) in a United States with close to THREE border walls (#%!*&) and an especially stomach-churning new type of black market. This gorgeous Los Angeles Review of Books piece says it’s “Roberto Bolaño and Gloria Anzaldúa dropping acid and staring into the desert sun.” Read an excerpt here, if you dare.
Alma and How She Got Her Name
by Juana Martinez-Neal
Genre: Children’s Books
“[Alma] loves to draw like her paternal grandfather, José, and she’s so inspired by her activist maternal grandmother, Candela, that she strikes the classic Norma Rae pose and
declares ‘I am Candela!’ surrounded by her stuffed animals.” – Publisher’s Weekly
Author and illustrator Martínez-Neal tells the story of a little girl named Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela who is, understandably, concerned about the length of her name. Many Latinx people know what it’s like to live with names the rest of the world won’t pronounce and being subjected to cringey pronunciation or unwanted nicknames. For a primer on this experience, read this Buzzfeed piece. Martínez-Neal’s 2019 Caldecott Honor Book, with its soft pencil drawings and celebration of ancestors and heritage, is a necessary balm for hearts of all ages in this searing political climate.
by Aracelis Girmay
“[Girmay] goes beyond her own Eritrean, Puerto Rican, and African-American origins to explore deep issues on a human level. Her poems are set in Palestine, Chad, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Belarus, Ghana, and the U.S. addressing war, politics, working conditions, culture, atrocities, and her own family.” – Gently Read Literature
To date, I have never come across a Whiting Award-winning poet I don’t love! While Girmay has gifted us many poems since this debut, Teeth is a great place to start if you’re unfamiliar with her work. There’s a tender playfulness in poems like “Ode to the Little b” and the joyous “For Estefani Lora, Third Grade, Who Made Me A Card”— where you could even say some of us learn a new language. But the collection is also a firm call to consciousness, with poems like “Arroz Poetica,” where she clarifies, “my enemies aren’t hungry” and goes on to say “they wear ball gowns & suits & rings / to talk of war in neat & folded languages.” Of her love of the ampersand she shares, “I love the muscle of the “&”— a muscular shape, a moustache, too. Kind of infinity. But not. A highway.” I could talk about her forever, but I’ll leave it there!
“Recommended to fans of the documentary series or those looking for a powerful overview of Latino Americans’ substantial contribution to American history.” — Library Journal
This one comes recommended by the good folks over at the Mid-Manhattan Library at 42nd St. here in NYC. Written as a companion to the PBS documentary Latino Americans, Latino Americans: the 500-Year Legacy that Shaped a Nation should serve as a good introduction to one part of our history the high school textbooks didn’t cover. Currently a Visiting Professor of American Studies at Amherst College, Suarez has also worked for Al Jazeera, PBS Newshour, and is as former host of NPR’S Talk of the Nation (so, all the credentials). While there is no shortage of reviews for the book, the one that sold me comes from, ironically, a disgruntled Goodreads reviewer who calls it “the Hispanic version of Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States.’” I’ll take 10 copies!
The Book of Lost Saints
by Daniel José Older
“The Book of Lost Saints by Daniel José Older is a haunting meditation on family, forgiveness, and the violent struggle to be free.” – Macmillan Publishers
The International Latino Book Award winner and New York Times Bestselling sci-fi and fantasy author returns with a new novel featuring the spirit of an aunt who disappeared during the Cuban revolution and returns to haunt her nephew to compel him to seek answers for them both. In this interview with Entertainment Weekly, Older says he was inspired by Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, and the stories he heard from Cubans as a kid. With glowing reviews from legends like Jesmyn Ward and Nalo Hopkinson, you really can’t go wrong with this one. Check out an excerpt here.