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A Spark: Books that Empower Latinas

So, the sad truth is there are many Latina authors, but they are not supported and very rarely get the same backing as other authors. That’s why it feels rare to read a book by Latinas. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve edited my social media followings to include mostly & primarily women of color. When I think about it, I realize it stems from my reading habits.

Like most of you, I love reading and when I was little, the library was our refuge. My mom would take me to the local library and it would provide solace and peace away from homes that were, at times, tumultuous. I was lucky that my city had many neighborhood libraries with a wide variety of books. I felt so rich every time we visited–there were no limits on checking out books so I would leave with piles and piles of books to read. As I grew older, I wanted to read characters that looked like me and didn’t find many. But the ones I did find, I treated like precious treasures, checking them out again and again so I could re-live the story (yes, obvi I’m a modern day Belle from Beauty and the Beast lol).

Now that Latinx Heritage Month has commenced, I want to share some books that sparked my passion in social justice and identity politics. These four books are really different in their focus, but ultimately they all made me pause and think about what it meant to be Latina in the U.S. and, more importantly, taught (or reminded) me how I (we) have the ability to carve out a life that is made for us.

One. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. When I tell you that I sobbed reading this book, I would not be lying. And for those that have read it, you know there isn’t anything particular in the book that triggers sobs, but as I read the book (when it was first released) learning of a story of a woman who had a life like mine–poor and marginalized, a “broken” home, intelligent and determine–who made it to the top of this profession, I mean, how could I not be overcome by emotion? My Beloved World is a must-read for any Latina interested in the law. Not just because it shows so many of the common barriers we have to overcome as Latinas, but because Justice Sotomayor really practiced law both as a public interest and private attorney. When you read her dissent in Utah v. Strieff,  you can sense how it is based not just on her in-depth knowledge of the law, but because she knows first-hand the issues our communities endure. I mean, I can go on and on, but this book confirmed how vital she will be to SCOTUS and an incredible master class on pushing past your circumstances to reach your goals.

Two. The Latina’s Bible: The Nueva Latina’s Guide to Love, Spirituality, Family and La Vida by Sandra Guzman. I stumbled on this book right before my Freshman year in college. It was an eye-opening discovery. I had never read a book like this, one that delved into what it meant to be a Latina in the U.S. A Latina who is focused on building a career while balancing cultural expectations. Up until that point, I had only seen a White woman’s experience in the professional world–an experience that I wasn’t sure I could ever relate to. The author does a great job of deconstructing the barriers we face as we build mainstream careers that feel detached from our families and culture. Guzman shows that there is a balance and possibility to be true to our roots while forging new paths for ourselves. It made me excited to go to college knowing I could maintain my identity while still finding success in my career.

Three. This Bridge Called My Back. Ok, so nerd alert–I have a B.A. in Sociology so of course I’m going to love a book like this. I’ve reviewed it here, and while I could do less with poems (I’m just nooooot an artsy person, sorry) the essays and critiques about how woman of color are treated and the burdens placed on us are amazing. It really requires one to read and reflect–at least it did for me. It made me really think about certain issues and broke down theories and experiences we share as WOC. I also think it’s incredibly bad ass for women, in that time, to get together and decide to publish their work. It’s empowering as hell to know these women were so sure of their voice and of the need to share their stories–if you ever feel like you need to make yourself smaller this book is a great reminder that you do not.

Four. When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago. I think this may be the book that started it all for me. I was in middle-school when I read it. The similarities to the main character’s life with mine were unbelievable. This book details the author’s life in Puerto Rico and her adjustment to life in the U.S. It’s a fantastic story. It ends with her starting high school and you can see the difference education will make in her life. The perfect moral for me to read at at time where it’s so easy for a young girl to go off track. When I was Puerto Rican showed me a glimpse of what life could be like with a solid education, regardless of where I came from or the struggles I was experiencing at that moment. It taught me the importance of focus, adjusting to change, and it was so refreshing and reassuring to know there were other women out there who were like me–not just in skin tone, but with similar experiences and ambitions. It is just a great book.

What are your fave books by Latina authors? Any on this list or ones that I should read?