The Mexican and Mexican-American population in the U.S. makes up the largest percentage of the country’s 50+ million Latinos. As the largest minority ethnic group, you would think there would be more representation of Latinos in all media. But the reality is that we are criminally underrepresented in TV, movies, and books.
Over the past several decades, there have been a number of important works by Mexican-Americans that were published and gained both critical acclaim and commercial success. You may have heard of Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldua, and Rudolfo Anaya. Their work certainly should be read and discussed widely, but I encourage all readers to read these works and then continue to explore the wealth of brilliant literature penned by Mexican American authors.
Below is a list of some of my favorite works by Mexican-Americans that you may not have heard about, but should definitely read.
The Moths and other stories – by Helena Maria Viramontes
“The Moths” is a wonderful collection of short stories about the struggles and experiences of Mexican and Chicana women. The stories cover various topics, such as sexuality, isolation from family/community/religion, oppression, illegal immigration, loss, abortion and depression.
Viramontes’ writing style will challenge you, as she often changes perspectives in her narrative without explicit transition. This requires the reader to be constantly engaged in the narrative — rereading is strongly encouraged for full appreciation of each story.
Always Running – by Luis J. Rodriguez
A powerful memoir about Luis Rodriguez’s youth, growing up in Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s. His life existed in a constant state of violence and crisis, so he turns to a gang as it is the only way he knows to take control and agency of his life in a world that is hostile and oppressive.
Rodriguez’s life is rendered raw in these pages and at times reading it is brutal and heartbreaking, but ultimately the story is one of hope and redemption. Luis Rodriguez is now a well-known youth activist among Mexican Americans and his memoir is read in high school and college classrooms.
Caramba!: A Tale Told in Turns of the Card – by Nina Marie Martínez
One of the most fun and colorful books I’ve ever read.
Superficially, Caramba! is a story about love, friendship, and the ways in which people deal with the crazy game of chance that is life. But there are so many more issues and ideas to consider as a reader.
It’s a beautiful and culturally rich work of art.
The story is full of fun, fascinating, and memorable characters. You really come to like and care about them and their crazy lives.
I wish Martinez would publish another book. I’d buy it in a second.
Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club – by Benjamin Alire Saenz
The seven stories that make up the collection are all excellent in their own right. They center around Mexican-American protagonists who are flawed, are in trouble, or are trouble. The stories are about addiction, loss, dysfunctional families, abuse, coming of age and identity.
Before you consider reading this book (please do), be aware that most of the stories have tragically sad endings. However, they are individually beautiful and poignant. So much so that I admit to have cried while reading a few of them.
The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez – by John Rechy
This story follows Amalia, a middle-aged mother who struggles to support her family, but one day witnesses a miracle. Or so she thinks.
Rechy renders Amalia so vividly that she feels like a real person. No, she is a real person! This novel is wonderful — it is intimate, moving, and offers a realistic portrayal of the side of Hollywood, California we pretend doesn’t exist.
John Rechy has proven to be an important figure for both Mexican Americans and the LGBT community.
So Far From God – by Ana Castillo
Ana Castillo is a brilliant Chicana feminist who wears many hats, but my favorite is her novelist hat.
So Far From God follows the lives of a not so fortunate Mexican-American mother and her four daughters who live in a small town in New Mexico. It’s a lively and delightful book that is also surreal and explores magical realism with a North American twist.