Books for National Hispanic Heritage Month

When I first started teaching in the early 1990s, there wasn’t much literature wise that dealt with my Mexican-American heritage. Sure, there were books by Alma Flor Ada and Gary Soto but I wanted more, especially ones set in Mesoamerican fantasy worlds. Most of the fantasy books I read were set in worlds based on Celtic and English backgrounds. I wanted more.

During my graduate studies I learned much more about my culture. Professor Ortega in his Chicano Studies class at CSU Fullerton told us that it’s the victors who write the history books. He opened my eyes to a whole different world that my ancestors lived in.

Let’s just say I learned so much about who I was and what my family went through. I wanted to share some of that in my own writing, hence the idea of a Latina teen who struggles with her own heritage in Earrings of Ixtumea came to be.

In recognition of National Hispanic Heritage Month, I looked for some of my favorite reads that show Latinos in a positive image. I hate the gangbanger stereotype and feel it’s important, especially now with some of the anti-sentiment out there, to share books that reflect what it’s like to be Latino. Some of these books show loving families with fathers who support them, a book where a Latina struggles with not only her culture but sexuality, and one that addresses multiracial individuals. Enjoy!

1. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (1972) — This book is a classic. I loved this coming of age story of a young boy and his curandera (healer) grandmother who teaches him much of who he is. There are some great images and details of myths, legends, ghost tales told from a Chicano or Mexican American point of view.

2. The Afterlife by Gary Soto (2005) — I love all of Gary Soto’s work. Soto is a Fresno, California, native and his portrayal of Latino families is right on the mark. In The Afterlife, we meet Chuy, a senior in high school who’s knifed at a club and dies. As a ghost he lingers around, watching his family and those he loved.

3. The Secret Life of Sonia Rodriquez by Alan Lawrence Sitomer (2008) — I loved the voice of this story which shows a first generation Latina struggling to become the first in her family to graduate high school. What I really love is the description of her father, who isn’t the usual stereotypical Mexican immigrant. It’s her father’s faith and ethics that motivate Sonia to be better.

4. Libertad by Alma Fullerton (2008) — Fullerton paints an accurate portrayal of the harsh lives of those who struggle to come to American. The rhythm of this story pulls the reader along as Libertad and his brother encounter others who either try to take advantage of them or show acts of kindness. We see the street children of Mexico City, the allure of sniffing glue to forget, and the fear of la migra–immigration police.

5. Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (2011) — I totally fell in love with this story. Beautifully written this tale has a Sandra Cisnernos feel to it with its realistic and touching portrayal of Lupita and her family. This is also a coming of age story told in free verse. Each chapter flows and shows the rich details of Lupe’s home and family life. I especially loved how her father is portrayed as a loving and handworking person who will do anything for his family.

6. Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole (2008) — I enjoyed this tale of a Latina who struggles with her sexuality while battling prejudice from those in her family to those around her. The author paints a very vivid world that isn’t layered in the usual gay stereotypes. I also like how she shows Laura’s cultural background. Laura is funny, down to earth, and also someone I’m sure many teens will relate with. Plus, Laura learns that sometimes a family isn’t just the one you’re born into, but those that accept and love you unconditionally.

7. Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson (2011) — It all starts with a racist slur. Asha decides to do something about this by making T-shirts that reflect her and other teens multiracial heritage. I really loved this story! I’m Italian, Irish, and Mexican. I feel this story will touch a chord with multiracial teens out there who don’t feel they fit a certain box.

Some other shout-outs include:

  • Neighborhood Odes by Gary Soto (2005) — A collection of poetry that shows Mexican American life
  • House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1991) — Coming of age story of Latina teen in Chicago
  • Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles (2008) — I love the romance and also the positive portrayal of a Latino teen
  • Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (2009) — A haunting tale of a teen who’s father returns from a political prisoner of war camp
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan (2002) — The Depression forces Esperanza’s family to leave their fancy ranch in Mexico to become migrants. A must read
  • Red Glass by Laura Resau (2009) — A family returns to Mexico with the only survivor of a bad border crossing to be reunited with his family

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]As a former bilingual teacher in Los Angeles county, Kim Baccellia didn’t find many books that dealt with both their and her Latino heritage.  The idea of Earrings of Ixtumea came from her being dissatisfied with reading yet another fantasy set in a British world. Kim’s YA multicultural fantasy Earrings of Ixtumea will be re-released March 2012 with Muse It Up publishing. She’s also currently working on a multicultural dystopia with a futuristic Latino world. Her YA paranormal Crossed Out is available now at Amazon, B&, and Fictionwise. A member of SCBWI and YALITCHAT, Kim lives in Southern California with her husband and son.[/author_info] [/author]

9 thoughts on “Books for National Hispanic Heritage Month

  1. Kim, I could have used this list when I was teaching school. I had a lot of hispanic kids who were turned off from reading. Giving them books where they can identify with the characters would have help considerably. I have always loved Gary Soto and used to read his stories with my challenged readers. They loved him too. Thank you for such a thorough list and I’m going to send my WritingTeachers group here for the resource.

  2. Wonderful lists. I worked with Bronzeword in the past and JoAnn Hernandez was a wonderful supporter of Latino and Latina authors.

    Thanks for sharing, Kim.

  3. Yes! Check out Gary Soto’s TOO MANY TAMALES and my first graders loved CHATO’S KITCHEN.

    Any of Alma Flor Ada’s books. She has a delightful anthology called DIAS Y DIAS DE POESIA that I used all the time in my bilingual classroom. It’s filled with poetry and other fun things in a seasonal theme.

    And ESPERANZA RISING is a total must read for upper elementary school age children.

  4. I enjoy reading your experiences and your love for the multicultural life.
    I was born in Peru, S.A. and live in USA since 1980. I would love to send you my recent book,
    Kusikiy A Child from Taquile, Peru.

    Thank you for all you do to enhance our global relationships.
    Best wishes,

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