Bring on the Brown Lit!: The Importance of Latinx Literature

Posted: September 17, 2019 9:00:00 AM CDT

Have you ever had the pleasure of reading a novel and instantly relating to the main character? As you progress through the story, questions like, “How would I handle that situation” feel natural to navigate, and moments intended to elicit an empathetic response are that much more impactful.

There is much to be said about the connection a reader can make when they identify themselves in a novel. While this can be achieved based on common human behaviors – if a dog or a child dies for example, most people naturally feel sorrow, the emotional impact can have even greater significance when a deeper connection is present.

Perhaps you are a female undergrad and you’re reading about an 18-year-old young woman trying to navigate adulthood. Maybe it’s a 20-year-old with hopes and aspirations of getting into the NBA or WNBA. Or, maybe it’s Elizabeth trying to figure out her relationship with Mr. Darcy that has you saying, “Same, girl, same.”

Whatever it may be, the impact of a story becomes even more meaningful when you see a reflection of yourself making their way through the pages.

Which brings me to the statement: bring on the brown lit!

By this, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m speaking about Latinx literature. Books that present Latin American culture through their worlds and characters.

If I read a scene of a character in a kitchen with a family member making homemade tortillas, or words like “chancla” or “sonsito” mixed in with the dialogue, I can instantly relate. I see a reflection of my family, mí familia. I feel a connection to this world and the one I was raised in. This story now becomes something that is much more relatable to me.

Finding stories we can connect to is a big part of what creates lifelong readers. That connection, that leads you to become immersed in this created world, is what makes reading so enjoyable.

Further, according to an article by the National Council of Teachers of English, author Ernesto Cisneros “emphasized that as Latinos in the U.S., we often don’t know our histories because Latinx history and literature is often not part of our schooling experiences.” He, and other Latinx authors, discussed the role Latinx literature plays in recovering those lost histories, traditions, and cultural influences while keeping them in view of young and old audiences alike (Jimenez Garcia, 2016).

Arizona Ethnic StudiesNot all individuals have felt this way, however. In 2010, Arizona passed House Bill 2281, which banned ethnic studies in schools. As a result of this, school officials in Tucson suspended the Mexican-American studies program and confiscated/banned related book titles. Since then, this bill has faced many challenges (rightly so) and in 2017, a federal judge ruled that the banning of ethnic studies violated the constitutional rights of students. Judge A. Wallace Tashima stated that, “’Both enactment and enforcement were motivated by racial animus’” (Depenbrock, 2017).

Ever a glass half-full person, there was a positive outcome to all of this. In response to this effort, educators throughout the country have risen and supported exposing students to ethnic studies. More specifically, “students [are learning] about critical consciousness: how to read the word, but also the world. It’s a concept popularized by a Brazilian educational theorist named Paulo Freire in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (Depenbrock, 2017).

This nation-wide effort to expose U.S. students to marginalized societies has really grown and continues to do so. Which brings us back to Latinx literature. I encourage you to explore literature about Latin culture or by Latin authors. Whether it’s because it will help you relate to what you’re reading, expose you to a different language, or because you yourself wish to become better informed about diverse cultures, there are many benefits to supporting Latinx literature.

Below, I’ve included a list of titles located in our popular reading collection that have been written by Latinx authors. Read, learn, and most importantly enjoy!

Happy Reading!

Trisha

 

Latinx Popular Reading Titles

Image cover With the Fire on HighWith the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions—doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.

Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.

Book cover for Poet XThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

Book cover for The House of Broken AngelsThe House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

"All we do, mija, is love. Love is the answer. Nothing stops it. Not borders. Not death."

In his final days, beloved and ailing patriarch Miguel Angel de La Cruz, affectionately called Big Angel, has summoned his entire clan for one last legendary birthday party. But as the party approaches, his mother, nearly one hundred, dies, transforming the weekend into a farewell doubleheader. Among the guests is Big Angel's half brother, known as Little Angel, who must reckon with the truth that although he shares a father with his siblings, he has not, as a half gringo, shared a life.

Across two bittersweet days in their San Diego neighborhood, the revelers mingle among the palm trees and cacti, celebrating the lives of Big Angel and his mother, and recounting the many inspiring tales that have passed into family lore, the acts both ordinary and heroic that brought these citizens to a fraught and sublime country and allowed them to flourish in the land they have come to call home.

Book cover for We Set the Dark on FireWe Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.

And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.

Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

Book cover for Out of DarknessOut of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

"This is East Texas, and there's lines. Lines you cross, lines you don't cross. That clear?" New London, TX. 1937. Naomi Vargas is Mexican American. Wash Fuller is Black. These teens know the town's divisive racism better than anyone. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

Naomi and Wash dare to defy the rules, and the New London school explosion serves as a ticking time bomb in the background. Can their love survive both prejudice and tragedy?

Race, romance, and family converge in this riveting novel that transplants Romeo and Juliet to a bitterly segregated Texas town. Includes a fascinating author's note detailing the process of research and writing about voices that have largely been excluded from historical accounts.

Book cover for ManuelitoManuelito by Elisa Amado and Abraham Urias

Thirteen-year-old Manuelito is a gentle boy who lives with his family in a tiny village in the Guatemalan countryside. But life is far from idyllic: PACs―armed civil patrol―are a constant presence in the streets, and terrifying memories of the country’s war linger in the villagers’ collective conscience. Things deteriorate further when government-backed drug gangs arrive and take control of the village. Fearing their son will be forced to join a gang, Manuelito’s parents make the desperate decision to send him to live with his aunt in America.

With just a bus ticket and a small amount of cash in hand, Manuelito begins his hazardous journey to Mexico, then the U.S., in search of asylum. But in the end, dangers such as the crooked “coyote”―or human smuggler―his parents have entrusted their son’s life to may be nothing compared to the risks Manuelito faces when he finally reaches America.

Manuelito’s titular character is just one of the staggering one hundred thousand children from the Northern Triangle of Central America―Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras―who have made this perilous journey to escape their war-torn countries. Many are now detained in Mexico, separated from their parents and without access to lawyers, facing the unthinkable prospect of being sent back to the homes and danger they risked so much to escape.

Drawing on years of experience working with child refugees like Manuelito, Elisa Amado’s powerful story, illustrated with striking poignancy by Abraham Urias, brings to light the dire circumstances of so many children, so close to home.

Book cover for The Shadow of the WindThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Lucia Graves

Barcelona, 1945—just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.

As with all astounding novels, The Shadow of the Wind sends the mind groping for comparisons —The Crimson Petal and the White? The novels of Arturo Pérez-Reverte? Of Victor Hugo? Love in the Time of Cholera?—but in the end, as with all astounding novels, no comparison can suffice. As one leading Spanish reviewer wrote, “The originality of Ruiz Zafón’s voice is bombproof and displays a diabolical talent. The Shadow of the Wind announces a phenomenon in Spanish literature.” An uncannily absorbing historical mystery, a heart-piercing romance, and a moving homage to the mystical power of books, The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller’s art.

Book cover for Fruit of the Druken TreeFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Seven-year-old Chula lives a carefree life in her gated community in Bogotá, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside her walls, where the godlike drug lord Pablo Escobar reigns, capturing the attention of the nation.

When her mother hires Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city’s guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona’s mysterious ways. Petrona is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the rip tide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction. As both girls’ families scramble to maintain stability amidst the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy.

Inspired by the author's own life, Fruit of the Drunken Tree is a powerful testament to the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence and the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation.


Citations

Depenbrock, J. (2017). Federal judge finds racism behind Arizona law banning ethnic studies. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/08/22/545402866/federal-judge-finds-racism-behind-arizona-law-banning-ethnic-studies

Jimenez Garcia, M. (2016). The importance of Latinx literature for youth. Retrieved from https://www2.ncte.org/blog/2016/09/importance-latino-literature-youth/

 

 

By: Trisha Hernandez

Category: Books & More