It may come as no surprise but one of my wheelhouse subject areas is Chicanx/Latinx literature and history books. I am a Chicanx feminist who prides herself on staying current with the recent publications in Latinx-Chicanx subject areas, but though I’ve been a life-long reader I came to Chicanx titles slightly later while an undergraduate at a sizable California public university that had a very small percentage of Latinx students. It was the one course I took in Chicanx literature that turned me on to the subject area and in part, the reason why I decided to pursue a PhD in the Chicanx history. I’ve compiled a short list of titles that I either read or re-read in 2019 that I consider as classics in the field with a couple of new titles sprinkled which may just become part of the Chicanx canon.
Y No Se Trago La Tierra/ And the Earth Did Not Devour Him
by Tomas Rivera (1971)
Published in 1971, Tomas Rivera’s Y No Se Trago La Tierra/And the Earth Did Not Devour Him is a Chicanx novella comprised of short semi-autobiographical chapters that recount the challenges faced by the young male protagonist in the 1940s who works as a migrant laborer. The book is written in spare but powerful prose and depicts the young boy’s challenges as he endures many hardships but does not give up hope. Rivera writes eloquently,
“All he told her was that the earth did not devour anyone, nor did the sun. . . ‘Not yet, you can’t swallow me up yet.’”
The line tells us much about Rivera’s determination as a product of migrant labor, as he became a university professor and eventual chancellor of UC Riverside, the first Chicanx to do so. The book connected me to my dad who also worked in his youth as a part of migrant laboring family but likewise became an educator, the first in his family to graduate from college. It is a classic work and exponentially meaningful to me.
Buy it here.
Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
by Gloria Anzaldúa (1987)
Borderlands/La Frontera withstands the test of time as a classic in Chicanx literature and feminist literature because it articulates an early form of intersectional feminism. The subtitle “The New Mestiza” emphasizes a new paradigm for identity—a place where multiple identities coexist. Given the fact that this was written more than 30 years ago, the core concepts seem visionary as it would be decades later that intersectional feminism became in vogue. In the book, which is part prose and part poetry, the author examines the struggles to defy a patriarchal Chicano culture. Anzaldúa was a pioneering queer Chicanx feminist who writes about the borderland as more than a physical space but rather as a nexus of shared experiences. Or as she puts it, “the Borderlands are physically present wherever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrink with intimacy.” It remains a classic work and has meaning for those working toward intersectional feminism and antiracism.
Buy it here.
by Arturo Islas (1990)
This book is magical and comprises the duology written by the late Stanford Chicanx professor, Arturo Islas. He wrote The Rain God (1984) which introduced the Salazar family who roots itself to the Juarez-El Paso border region. Migrant Souls is a multigenerational story told through sisters, Josie and Serena’s experiences. I identify with this book because like the Angel-Salazar clan, part of my family also came to the U.S. during the tumult of the Mexican Revolution. Subsequent generations of the Salazars are followed in the book with complex characters including devout Catholics and free thinkers, authentically written female characters, and a semi-autobiographical Chicanx professor battling with late stages of AIDS. Simply put, the book offers a counter narrative of the history of the Southwest where Islas pivots on the theme of migration. Or as he eloquently puts it,
“. . . families like Mama Chona’s. They were migrant souls not immigrant souls. They simply and naturally went from one bloody side of the river to the other and into a land just a few decades earlier had been Mexico.”
In our current political climate with respect to immigration, the book is timeless.
Buy it here.
Everyone Knows You Go Home
by Natalia Sylvester (2018)
This book hit me like a ton of bricks. The book, which is the second novel by Sylvester, packs a powerful emotional punch. The story depicts the struggles of a multigenerational Mexican family in McAllen, Texas, eventual marriages, and the consequences of a family secret shrouded in mystery. The story may just be a new Chicanx classic work because it vividly and accurately depicts Día de los Muertos. Told in alternating narrative chapters, the story follows newlyweds Isabel and Martin and the story of Martin’s parents Elda and Omar. On the wedding day of Isabel and Martin, the spirit of Omar (Martin’s deceased father) reveals himself to the couple, as they are wed on Día de los Muertos. The story gets more complex as Omar begins revealing himself only to Isabel each subsequent wedding anniversary, and it also gets deeper with the introduction of a cousin from Mexico who shows up unannounced on the couple’s doorstep. The metaphor of going home is deftly conveyed through three characters as the title is aptly chosen. This story filled me with sadness as I read it around Dia de los Muertos and felt a constant longing for my loved ones. But it is truly the strength in Sylvester’s storytelling which allows readers to go on this emotional journey. I think it may be destined to be a new classic.
Buy it here.
Sabrina & Corina
by Kali Fajardo-Anstine (2019)
I cannot say enough good things about Sabrina & Corina. Anstine-Fajardo writes unforgettable women-centered stories that illuminate the myriad ways that life creates ruptures and transitions for Colorado Latinx women. There are difficult topics covered in the poignantly crafted stories such as domestic violence, substance abuse, gentrification, displacement, and familial estrangement. But don’t let the tough subject matter keep you away from picking up this book. I have many favorites in the book but consider the title story “Sabrina & Corina,” which details the relationship between cousins and best friends, Sabrina and Corina and the aftermath of Sabrina’s violent death at the hands of an abusive man. Despite the fact that it moved me to tears and that I had to read it slowly to both enjoy the stunning prose and emotional depth, the book is a new favorite. It has taken the book world by storm and is destined to be a Chicanx classic that sits alongside the likes of Cisneros, Castillo, Islas, and Rivera.
Buy it here.
North From Mexico by Carey McWilliams, Matt Meier, and Alma Garcia (3rd Edition, 2016)
I wanted to throw in one classic Chicanx history book for good measure. This one essentially put Chicanx history on the map way back in 1948.
North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States is landmark work written by California journalist-cum-historian Carey McWilliams in 1948. The book written by McWilliams who many consider the godfather of Chicanx history covers the history of Mexican Americans from Spanish colonization of the Southwest to the postwar era. Two decades after its publication, Chicanx historian Matt Meier updated the work up through to the Chicano Movement. In 2016, the book was updated by noteworthy Chicanx scholar, Alma Garcia in 2016. Her timely update includes chapters on immigration reform, including IRCA, the Immigrant Spring protests, DACA and so much more. Though the early portions by McWilliams and Meier are a product of their times, the book remains a touchstone in Chicanx history. It tells the story of Mexican Americans and laid the groundwork for later Chicanx scholars like Rudy Acuna, George Sanchez, and Vicki Ruiz.
Buy it here.