patiently awaits someone to come along and correct my horrid Spanish…
In the US, February is Black History Month, May is Asian-Pacific Islander-American Heritage Month, November is Native American Heritage Month and…September 15th – October 15th is Hispanic History Month, also known as Latinx History Month. If you’re wondering about the comparatively awkward timing(why straddle two months?), it’s because Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico AND Honduras all celebrate their independence on September 15th, making it a great date to start a month commemorating the heritages and cultures of Latinx people in the US.
I’m far from an expert, but I do think it bears mentioning that there is some controversy about the name. It’s legally titled Hispanic Heritage Month, but that law was signed back in 1988 and as all fellow readers know, things change. I spend a lot of time Bookstagramming and after reading quite a few very thoughtful posts about hispanidad, latinidad, and the ongoing conversation about the boggling diversity of the community the month is ostensibly for (under the hashtags #latinxhistorymonth and #latinehistorymonth) as well as asking a few friends their thoughts, I’ve settled on using Latinx History Month for now. It seems the most neutral and the most accurate–Hispanic includes people from Spain, but eliminates people with origins in Brazil, Haiti, and other non-Spanish speaking nations in Latin America. Latine has a strong argument for making more sense linguistically in Spanish, but basically–90% of the people I read or asked used Latinx and as someone who is not in a community myself, I think it makes sense for me to use the term most preferred by people in that community. Latine hasn’t reached its day in the sun yet, and Hispanic seems a bit fuddy-duddy and carries with it accusations of whitewashing, which I certainly want to avoid. I will say though, that looking into this issue made me very happy that African diasporic folks seem to have finally settled on Black. That is, unless they are also Latinx. Never mind.
Anyway, as I’ve done for all other major culturally coded commemorations this year, I made a point to read and review Latinx authors writing about Latinx people this month. After 30 days, I can honestly say I felt–overwhelmed. The Latinx world is huge, diverse and in some cases remarkably under-represented in English. (Which, in a certain sense, I get. Spanish has the second most native speakers in the world–why translate everything? On the other hand…not every Latinx person speaks Spanish. Or English, for that matter. And so it goes…). I like to read stories from people in places very unfamiliar to me and so, I searched for titles about the Latinx experience from people with origins across South and Central America as well as the Caribbean. I also wanted to read a good mix of Black, Indigenous, European and if possible even Asian Latinx authors. I had hopes of looking into works translated from indigenous languages as well, because the intersections between indigenous and Latinx communities run deep. Unfortunately, my Spanish is crap these days, I don’t speak any indigenous languages and I quickly realized that a lot of the books that looked interesting weren’t available in English translation and would not be easy or even accessible reads. I also realized that the Latinx world is HUGE–have I said that already?–and trying to curate a diverse list, even when you narrow it down to the Latinx-American experience, was like jumping in the deep end of an Olympic-sized pool–and I can’t swim. There’s just so much variety and so many diverse cultures under the banner of Latinx that I really didn’t know where to start. As a result, I quickly floundered back to the shallow end and kind of stuck to what I already know a little about–Cuban, Mexican, Dominican and Puerto Rican literature.
Despite the general feeling of being out of my depth and unfamiliar with the cultural landscapes that Latinx Heritage Month celebrates, I did find some good books that I enjoyed, and a few more that broadened my horizons even if they weren’t perfect. As always, I’m sharing the list with you with the caveat that I am a)not an expert and all mistakes or poor phrasing are the mistakes of an eager novice with too much internet time and b)I read for the joy and the love of people’s stories, not for performative wokeness or internet social justice points, so please chill on any critiques that do not include joy, people, or being very very smart, thanks. So, without further ado…
(Find a full list of my favorite Latinx books and writers HERE.)
Starting with this Pride and Prejudice retelling may have been cheating, since it’s a familiar story, and there is some debate about whether or not Haitians, like author Ibi Zoboi, are Latinx The book itself is about the Dominican Benitez family (who stand in for Austen’s Bennet clan )but also branches out to examine lot of different types of Black communities, not just the Caribbean/Latin ones. If anything, the book seems to be making a point about Black culture, whether Latinx or no. That and the strong sense of community in the story made me feel a bit homesick and happy. I didn’t like the central romance much, though–so I gave this 4 stars.
The Dirty Girls Social Club, by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
I really love Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s blog and was tickled to find out she had whole novels ready for me to dive into. This one, which is perhaps best described as a Latina Waiting To Exhale, follows a very diverse group of professional friends who united in college over their developing identities as young Latinas in Boston. The storylines don’t all complete, but the diversity is eye-opening–I learned a lot about Cuban Jews and Black Colombians from this, for example. Another 4 star read, simply for the fun factor this book has.
Half-Resurrection Blues, by Daniel José Older
I hate to say it, but this was my biggest disappointment of the month. I really wanted to love it–urban fantasy featuring an undead Puerto Rican detective, a host of ghosts and a Black femme fatale? Yes, please! But unfortunately this book meanders into no, thank you territory quite a bit–it’s just not very focused and the hero is a big boring dude, despite the great concept and worldbuilding potential. I’ll pick up the next book if I see it, to see if it resurrects the concept(ha!), but overall..3 stars to this one.
Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo
I’ve been wanting to read something by Acevedo for a long time, and I’m glad this was my first. It’s a complex work–a whole YA novel in verse, told from multiple perspectives, by two separated sisters in NYC and Santo Domingo in the aftermath of their father’s tragic death. The story it tells is compelling and common, but not often told as unjudgmentally as it is here. Still, I didn’t love the poetry, as much as I appreciated the craft that went into this book, although I did love the characters and look forward to slurping up everything else Acevedo serves to her fans. 4 stars, although in retrospect I think I was a bit too harsh on this book.
Godhead Sentiment, by Juan Ibarbol
The last Latinx Heritage Month themed read I had time to squeeze in was a bit of a surprise, as the author is a high school friend of mine and I had no idea he’d become a writer. Godhead Sentiment is on the one hand an old-fashioned sci-fi pulp novella but on the other hand has some very clever tricks and observations about some of the conventions of science-fiction AI tropes. No rating for this one, because it’s weird to rate people I know personally, but this was an interesting read and I can’t wait to see more from this author.
These are the books I wanted to read but didn’t have time for because books cost money, which forces me to leave the house occasionally for work…
- Before We Were Free, Julia Alvarez – I skipped this in favor of Elizabeth Acevedo because I didn’t want to read multiple Dominican authors this month, but I’m looking forward to reading this middle-grade book about a 12 year old girl fleeing the Trujillo dictatorship with her family eventually.
- With the Fire On High, Elizabeth Acevedo – Not only did I not want to read multiple authors of the same background, I also naturally didn’t want to read multiple works by the same author. Still, I’ve heard great things about this YA story of a Dominican single mom working hard to make her dreams of becoming a chef come true.
- Halsey Street, Naima Coster – Another Dominicana. Yo, is anyone else writing books? Honestly, this looks good and I’m sure I’ll read it soon, but it’s about parental relationships and community. I was feeling too tender on the subject to get into it this month, so it’ll have to wait until I’m a little less sensitive.
- The Price of Paradise, Susana Lopez Rubio – Finally, a non-Dominican writer! Lopez Rubio is Cuban, and this lavish looking Batista-era romance looks good, but the first few pages didn’t grab much and I wound up reading The Dirty Girls Social Club instead because I wanted something a little less fraught with tortured emotion. I have a pile of books the size of El Fosca to read at this point, but this is going in near the top.
- Loosing My Espanish, H.G. Carillo – Not gonna lie, I wanted to read this one purely for the controversy. However, in light of the news of Jessica Krug’s impersonation of a Latina for academic cred, I decided it would be in poor taste to highlight yet another race-bending Dolezal in a month meant to celebrate Latinx Heritage. So, HG’s book about a Cuban teacher in Chicago got the chop.
There were a few other titles that didn’t make the cut that don’t really need to be mentioned here, but that’s it, fellow readers! What did you read (if anything) for Latinx Heritage Month?
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