Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with this list of recommended authors and books. We see you, and we read you.
Hispanic Heritage Month technically begins on September 15th, coinciding with the independence days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, but there’s nothing wrong with starting early and ending late, which is the same way my dad’s family and friends have always liked to celebrate things anyway. Because my sister and I were raised in a predominantly white community in rural Wisconsin, our dad didn't have the best resources to hold onto his culture or pass it down to us. But what we did get to experience was the fullness, the rowdiness, and the exhausting length of Mexican parties. It used to exasperate me, but now I'm thankful for those experiences. I used to feel very alien as a mixed-race kid—unable to fully claim either side—but as I see, hear, and read more from people with blended backgrounds, I'm able to celebrate myself and my various heritages with greater appreciation. —GMC
Listen, Hispanic Heritage Month is a weird time for me, just as I’m sure these themed months are a little strange for anyone who identifies with them. I’m Mexican-American every single day—what is suddenly different when the clock strikes midnight on September 15th is the expectation to deliver my culture to the masses in a neat, tidy package, compressing lifetimes into a matter of weeks.
Of course, I want to share all the wonders of my heritage with you—the music, the vibrant colors, the warmth of our kitchens, the generosity of my people, everything that I have had the privilege to be born into—but these things take time. There is no “Hispanic” (or “Latinx,” et cetera) monolith that will offer up easy answers or immediate understanding.
This is obvious, right? The idea that people are entire universes on their own? That to get to know us, you need to… get to know us? We as a people may have an excellent track record of starting revolutions, but just this once, I hope this idea is not so revolutionary. I am only stating what should be an undisputed fact.
Anyway. To understand a culture, you need to build relationships. And even then, you’re only seeing one perspective at a time—a grain of sand on an endless beach. There are no shortcuts to this work—even this list of (very good) selected readings is only a start.
If you commit yourself to reading books written by, for, and about our people, you’ll be reading about us for the rest of your life. But make sure you go beyond the books, too—there is so much more to experience beyond the written word. —JAG
PORCHLIGHT BUSINESS BOOK AWARDS WINNER | Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City by A. K. Sandoval-Strausz, Basic Books
Longlisted Big Ideas & New Perspectives, Porchlight Business Book Awards 2019
It doesn’t seem right to put Barrio America in the Big Ideas and New Perspectives category, not because it doesn’t fit, but because the idea that immigrants have been such a positive force in the development of our country should not be at all controversial, novel, or new. The perspective A.K. Sandoval-Strausz offers is not only historically accurate, but refreshingly straightforward in tackling the development, decline, and rebirth of American cities. Writing of American urban decline and how it was viewed as a racial narrative:
All these difficulties were interpreted through a racial lens, first and foremost by white people. They devised a racial narrative of neighborhood decline, portraying “white flight” as a reasonable response to the prospect of having black neighbors. They repeated the old racial myth about that black people were just “lazy” or “shiftless,” while ignoring virtually universal job discrimination and the ongoing departure of employment opportunities from cities.
REVIEW | Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers by Ruth Conniff, The New Press
I’m grateful to have read the recently published book Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers by Wisconsin Examiner Editor-in-chief Ruth Conniff. In it, Conniff highlights the stories of Wisconsin dairy farmers and their Mexican farm workers, two seemingly disparate groups often pitted against one another who, in fact, have more in common than we think. She also offers a view into the policies that have created the situation we’re in. And, most importantly, the book is a window into the motivations of people we ourselves may have misjudged or been misjudged by. Though by no means a replacement for interpersonal dialogue and conversation, the book offers a safe space from which readers from either side of the political spectrum can begin to better understand one another.
INTERVIEW | Ada Limón in Conversation with Sally Haldorson on her new book of poetry The Hurting Kind, Milkweed Editions
Ada Limón is the author of The Hurting Kind, as well as five other collections of poems, including The Carrying and Bright Dead Things. Limón is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and American Poetry Review, among others. She is the new host of American Public Media's weekday poetry podcast The Slowdown. Born and raised in California, she now lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
CHANGETHIS | "How to Thrive On the Front Lines of Change” by Denise Padín Collazo
Perhaps you have been a leader in your community for many years. Maybe you’ve joined the fight for change recently. Or, you may be trying to figure out how to plug in. Wherever you find yourself on the path toward justice, we need you in the fight through thick and thin.
EDITOR’S CHOICE | The Likeability Trap: How to Break Free and Succeed as You Are by Alicia Menendez, Harper Business
Women are perceived as either strong and cold or weak and warm. An award-winning journalist and cohost of PBS’s Amanpour and Company examines likeability and empowers readers to reject an outdated image of leadership instead of reinventing themselves.
REVIEW | Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez, Flatiron Books
One of the first newly published books of 2022, Olga Dies Dreaming is a triathlete of a novel—ambitious, nimble, and protean in its delivery and message. I’m very pleased to share a birthday with this book.
Xochitl Gonzalez’s debut novel is as much romantic comedy as it is a search for a balanced personal and political manifesto. It’s a satire on the lives of the rich-and-TV-famous and a search for identity between races, languages, and family members, near and far. And, with all this going on, it’s a well-written rollercoaster ride toward an unknowable ending.
NEW REVIEW | Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, One World
In Woman of Light, Luz Lopez comes of age in early 1930s Denver, Colorado. Luz and her snake-charming brother Diego live in a one-bedroom apartment with their tenacious aunt Maria Josie and Diego’s snakes Reina and Corporal. Diego is a womanizer who must leave town after a damning (and to young Luz, unknowable) incident gets him brutally attacked by a group of young Anglo men. His presence was essential for the financial well-being of the household, but Diego was also a guiding, older male presence for Luz, making me wonder if he hadn’t left, and Luz would have been able to ask him for advice and the household wouldn’t have struggled as much, maybe she wouldn’t have experienced such extensive emotional turmoil. But their time apart and their independent struggles help them both reach a place of greater confidence in and compassion for themselves and each other.
Also read Gabbi's review for Kali Fajardo-Anstine's first book of stories, Sabrina and Corina.
REVIEW | My Time to Speak: Reclaiming Ancestry and Confronting Race by Ilia Calderón, Atria Books
Reviewed by Gabbi Cisneros
Ilia Calderón is the first Afro-Latina to anchor a national weekday evening newscast for a major Hispanic broadcast network in the United States. That network was Telemundo, perhaps the only one I can remember my father watching in our household growing up, which I imagined was a way for him to feel less secluded in our rural Wisconsin village that severely lacked diversity in its population.
Calederón's own story echoes this feeling of otherness and search for community. While my father found sufficient solace in hearing his first language, Spanish wasn't enough for Calederón whose skin tone kept her alienated:
There’s no doubt: I, Ilia Calderón Chamat, am black. Colombian, Latina, Hispanic, Afro-Colombian, mixed, and anything else people may want to call me or I choose to call myself, but I’m always black. I may bear Castilian Jewish and Syrian Arab last names, but I’m simply black in the eyes of the world.
In My Time to Speak, she calls out the racism that has threatened her and others into staying silent for decades—whether those threats are as overt as a Ku Klux Klan member threatening to burn her or as difficult to trace as the lack of soccer coaching opportunities available to children in certain areas of a city. Calederón's skin color didn't complicate her childhood in Istmina, Colombia, but when she moved to pursue a job as a news anchor, her life began to morph into a version of "the grass isn't always greener." However, My Time to Speak is a reminder to us all that we are the reason the grass on our side of the fence is withering, so we can also be the ones to bring it back to life for all who wish to live and prosper in our communities.
In this stunning debut, poet José Olivarez explores the stories, contradictions, joys, and sorrows that embody life in the spaces between Mexico and America. He paints vivid portraits of good kids, bad kids, families clinging to hope, life after the steel mills, gentrifying barrios, and everything in between. Drawing on the rich traditions of Latinx and Chicago writers like Sandra Cisneros and Gwendolyn Brooks, Olivarez creates a home out of life in the in-between. Combining wry humor with potent emotional force, Olivarez takes on complex issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and immigration using an everyday language that invites the reader in. Olivarez has a unique voice that makes him a poet to watch.
Bon vivant, world traveler, auctioneer—the story of Highway and his teeth is like Johnny Cash meets Robert Walser in Mexico.