There is something magical about a story well told. We learn this from a young age, before we can read or even speak. Whether sitting around a table as a child hearing the family tell tales, (usually embellished with something new each time its re-told), snuggled next to a loving abuela, as she recounts stories that her abuela told her, or on the scratchy carpet of the school library as the librarian held the pages aloft to be sure everyone could see the pictures – you know the feeling of being transported by simple words, be they written in one’s memory or in the pages of a book.
Over the years, I have read literally hundreds of books, but today I will share with you a small selection of books that captured the voices of strong Latinas – in the hopes that you will experience their magic too.
Barefoot Heart: Stories of a Migrant Child by Elva Trevino Hart
The memoir of a Mexican girl growing up in the 1950’s as the daughter of migrant workers. Elva and her five siblings work the fields of Texas, Minnesota and Wisconsin until her parents are forced to comply with child labor laws by sending Elva and her 11 year old sister to a Catholic boarding school where they feel the immense loss of their family. In the end, it is a story of not mere survival but triumph as each family member overcomes the humble beginnings which they describe with eloquence.
Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz by Belinda Acosta
This is not just another “Chick-Lit” novel. The story is told from the perspective of Ana, a wife and mother trying to balance work and family but her teenage daughter makes life even more difficult by opposing her every step of the way as she plans a traditional Quinceñera for her – meanwhile Ana must struggle with the decision to fight for her husband or let him go as her marriage falls apart. Acosta writes in her unique Spanglish voice which is both empathetic and honest, to create a story modern women, Latina or otherwise, can relate to.
Bitter Grounds by Sandra Benitez
Winner of the American Book Award, Bitter Grounds tells the intertwining stories of three generations of women from two different families in war-torn El Salvador. The female characters, both wealthy and poor, face multiple hardships in 40 years time. Benitez writes in rich detail and with such compassion that you will be haunted by the story long after you’ve put the book down.
Latina Women’s Voices From the Borderlands Edited by Lillian Castillo-Speed
What better way to discover Latina writers than through a compilation like this? This book includes short stories, novel excerpts, personal essays and more from 31 Latina writers who represent American women with roots from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and more. Book description: “They write of their heritage; of their lives in an often alienating land; of the joys and sorrows of their particular communities; and of their political concerns, their hopes, and their dreams.”
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
Crossing back and forth over the U.S.- Mexico border, this family saga is shared through the eyes of a girl named Celaya as she tries to unravel truth from fiction in the stories she has been told by various relatives. Celaya or “Lala” rides in the backseat of the car with her brothers, as they make their way to Mexico to visit their sometimes ill-tempered grandmother. Her father, Inocencio, is the favorite son of the grandmother, though her mother is most definitely not the favorite daughter-in-law. The colorful characters, their interactions and dialogue will inevitably remind you of some of your own family. With equal opportunity to laugh and cry, Caramelo will have you lost for hours in vivid imagery that feels more like a familiar memory.
Others to check out:
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth by Donna M. Gershten
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Tracy López is a writer living outside the D.C. Metro area. Her blog, Latinaish.com, examines cultural differences she discovers as she navigates life in a bicultural, bilingual family. She can also be reached via Twitter @Latinaish.