8 Amazing Banned Books by Latin@ Authors
I know last week was banned book week, and I'm a little late to the party (not surprising for anyone who has ever invited me to anything), but it will be National Hispanic History Month for another 15 days - in which case I'm super early and therefore it all evens out.
I also couldn't get this posted earlier because I couldn't decide which of the many MANY wonderful Latin@ books that have been banned over the years I should list. I do so love lists, but they are also very limiting and - by necessity - reductive. I decided on limiting the list to only 8 books because it's an even number. Also, I find it to be a very attractive number; you know, sorta curvy and sassy, like it's daring you to keep your pen constantly moving in connected circular motions for infinity . . . but maybe that's just me. Which is fine, cuz it's my list. So there.
In no particular order, here are 8 amazing banned books by Latin@ authors:
1. Borderland/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa
For those people whose parties I've shown up late for, or people with whom I am Facebook buddies, you may already know that this book is maybe the most important book to my development as a writer, scholar, proud Chicana, and human being. While reading this book for the first time (and really, every time after that), it was as if each chapter was a sledge hammer to the many walls I had internally erected around anxieties regarding my socio economic position, my belonging to Mexican and American cultures, and my feelings about gender, sexuality and identification. Parts of the wall certainly remain fairly intact, and sometimes gets in the way, but enough healing was begun through my interactions Anzaldua's passionate writing that I am able to slip through the hunks of missing concrete (I imagine the wall concrete) and visit the anxieties, talk to them, write about them. This book is so important to me, I had a quote and image from it tattooed on my arm.
2. Mexican White Boy by Miguel de la Peña
I read this book over the summer. It's kinda a YA book, but now everyone reads YA and is enriched by it (or not, if the book sucks. Luckily this one does not suck). In fact, I wish I could have read this about thirteen years ago. I don't think the wall around my anxieties about cultural identification would have gotten quite so sturdy . . .
3. The Moth and Other Stories by Helena María Viramontes
I love teaching this book. Students really seem to like it, in part because it's a bildungsroman structured to move fairly chronologically through the things American kids and teenagers grow up with. Of course these protagonists are Latina, so, you know, different from what kids/teens of other races/ethnicities deal with. But that's one of the things Viramontes does best in this collection, she is able to balance "universal" themes (new sexual awareness, wanting to be accepted, lost love, unrequited love, betrayal, etc.) with situations and experiences that are gender and ethnicity specific.
Also, I LOVE this cover! It makes me miss Fresno . .
4. Drown by Junot Díaz
Speaking of bildungsromans that balance gender/sexuality, ethnicity, and language issues with feelings and confusions relatable to a wide-reaching audience, Drown is next on the list. This is Díaz's first published book. It won all kinds of awards and got all sorts of praise. All of which I think it deserves. Also, after you read it, you can watch videos of him talking about his work in a way that is both undeniably "scholarly" and completely foul.
5. Dreaming In Cuban by Cristina García
Like much of Latin@ literature, this book is concerned with the interactions of the generations: the generation that immigrated to the U.S., the children of that generation, and their children - the kids who are third generation. What happens to language, to tradition, to cultural values, to a connection to the motherland are all explored through the stories of this family in a way that is both compelling in terms of plot, as well as character development.
6. Immigrants in Our Own Land by Jimmy Santiago Baca
Santiago's writing is often raw and powerful. As someone who learned to read and write in prison, his work often reflects the things that Chicano and Latino men wrestle with in regards to inherited ideas about violence and a man's role in the home and in society. This collection of poems asks its readers to think about the systemic issues in the U.S. that contribute to the gross imbalance of men of color in the penal system.
Probably her most well-known collection of short stories, Woman Hollering Creek explores female roles in Mexican Ameriance culture, and how Mexicans and Mexican Americans in general think about and treat each other.
8. . . . y no se lo trago la tierra/And the Earth Did Not Devour Him by Tomás Rivera
Even though I said these were in no particular order, it appears I bookended the list with two of my most favorites. Rivera's genre-challenging collection of vignettes/stories/prose poems presents issues that migrant workers must contend with such as education for their children, health, poverty, and discrimination. It also highlights the importance of community. The often times intimate portraits don't just provide examples of a community that must work together to survive, but it invites the reader to see migrant workers as an integral part of their own community, the U.S. community.
Banned book week might be over, but National Hispanic History month is not! Hope some of these make it onto your book list.