In the US, September 15–October 15 marks Hispanic Heritage Month, when we celebrate the histories, cultures, and traditions of those whose ancestors are from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Spain. And at eNotes, of course, we celebrate the literature of these regions!
Hispanic Heritage Week started in 1968 and was extended to a whole month in 1988. This time of year is special for Latin America because September 15 marks the anniversary of independence from Spain for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. And Mexico’s independence day is September 16, and Chile’s is September 18—so it’s a momentous time of year.
We want to take this time to highlight the great impact Latinx authors have had and continue to have on literature around the world. From Gabriel García Márquez’s popularization of magical realism, to Pablo Neruda’s poetic portrayal of passion and politics, to Gloria Anzaldúa’s powerful explorations of life on the border between the US and Mexico, Latinx literature has long held a place of esteem for readers in the US.
While these classic authors are always worth revisiting, we highly recommend these ten books by Latinx authors writing today.
1.) Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (2019)
Luiselli’s latest novel is considered a follow-up to her 2017 collection of essays, Tell Me How it Ends. Both are inspired by her experiences working as an interpreter with undocumented refugee children in New York City’s federal immigration court. The novel follows a family on a road trip from New York to the Mexican border in Arizona, exploring the tensions that arise within the family and the trials they face on the journey.
2.) The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)
This YA novel follows Xiomara Batista, a Dominican-American girl growing up in Harlem, as she discovers the art of slam poetry. It becomes an inspiring and necessary creative outlet, especially as she starts to date, causing conflict with her devout Catholic mother. Acevedo herself is a National Slam Champion, and the book is written in her unique slam poetry style.
3.) Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet (2015)
Crucet’s second book follows Lizet Ramirez, the daughter of a Cuban immigrant, as she struggles to navigate her family life and keep up academically in her first year at college. When a young Cuban immigrant, Ariel Hernandez, moves down the street from her mother and gains widespread attention for his treacherous journey by raft to the US, Lizet is faced with questions about her identity and conflict within her community.
4.) The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez (2014)
This is the story of the young Rivera family who has immigrated from Mexico to Delaware, attempting to start a new life and build a community. Their adjustment to life in the US is complicated and difficult: Mirabel, the daughter, has found forbidden love while recovering from a traumatic brain injury, and both her parents are struggling to learn English and find work. The book highlights the vulnerability and resilience of this immigrant family.
5.) We the Animals by Justin Torres (2011)
This collection of stories lets readers into the world of three young brothers in upstate New York, where they live with their white mother and Puerto Rican father. The boys’ adolescence is shaped by poverty and abuse, forcing them to band together for survival. As they grow older and desire independence, this reliance on one another becomes a strain.
6.) Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (2009)
Urrea’s novel tells the story of Nayeli, a woman living in the Mexican village of Tres Camarones, who travels with her two friends to the US, looking for men to bring home to repopulate their village and help protect it from bandidos. Along the journey, they have unexpected adventures and face serious adversities, and the trip becomes much more than they ever expected.
7.) The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007)
Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, this book follows the sci-fi and fantasy nerd Oscar from childhood to young adulthood, through the perspective of his best friend, Yunior, and his sister, Lola. The three are connected through their heritage as Dominican-Americans and their intertwined journeys to understand their families, histories, and identities. Díaz is also the author of the popular 1996 novel Drown.
8.) Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón (2007)
This epic tale takes place in an anonymous South American country where people are picking up the pieces from a decade of civil war and adjusting to a new totalitarian government. The protagonist, Norma, hosts a radio program, “Lost City Radio,” where she attempts to reconnect family members separated during the conflict. She herself is looking for her lost husband, and she sets out to find him with the help of a child, Victor, who is on his own search mission.
9.) In the Name of Salomé by Julia Alvarez (2000)
Also the author of In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), Alvarez tells the fictionalized stories of Salomé and Camila Henríquez. Salomé was a powerful political poet during the Dominican revolutions in the 1800s, and her daughter, Camila, lives to uphold her legacy. Though Salomé died when Camila was only three, the novel weaves their stories together, highlighting the humanity behind these revolutionary voices and their commitment to empowering women.
10.) Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende (1998)
The prolific Chilean author who also wrote The House of the Spirits (1982) tells the story of Eliza, an orphan raised between two cultures in 19th-century Chile: that of the wealthy British family who took her in and that of the household’s Native Chilean cook, Mama Fresia. As the Gold Rush sets off in California, Eliza decides to join the many Chileans migrating north. Daughter of Fortune is a multicultural story of love, loss, friendship, and migration.