I decided to conduct an experiment at my recent trip to Barnes and Noble and see what Latin@ authors are prominently displayed. By prominently displayed, I mean that the books were placed face up on a table of featured books or had their cover displayed on a bookcase where the other books are primarily displayed with the spines facing out. My analysis: More than I expected for a bookstore in Alabama. The authors are the major ones, but I’ve heard that in order for your book to be featured in a big-box bookstore, it basically has to be a bestseller and your publisher has to make arrangements. There was one pitiful shelf on the “Cultural Studies” bookcase, which carried about 11 books by or about Latin@s, pretty outdated, alongside an equally dismal selection for LGBTQ, social studies, Native American, and African American books. Anyway, this is going to be a photo post – see below for the results:
I just finished reading Seven for the Revolution by Rudy Ruiz. Ruiz’s inaugural fictional work recently won several categories for the 2014 Latino Book Awards: First Place in Best Popular Fiction, the Mariposa Award for Best First Book – Fiction, and Second Place for Most Inspirational Fiction Book and Honorable Mention for Best Cover.
Seven is a collection of short stories about U.S. Latinos. Read all the way through, and you’ll see the connections between the stories. A motif of bridges resonates through the book and serves as a symbol of the back-and-forth lifestyle of immigrants.
The book begins with the story of Enrique, a Mexican colonel in the Porfiriato era. His story introduces us to the intertwining Mexican-American border story and the stories progress chronologically from there.
I identified and enjoyed most of all the story “Bending the Laws of Motion,” a coming of age story in which a entrepreneurial young boy sells “chile” candy (what I grew up calling by the brand name “Lucas’ or just “picolin”) in an attempt to get an Evel Knievel-inspired bike. I don’t know if it’s the story of the hardworking family, the plucky young boy, or maybe just how they go back and forth across the border, but this story struck a chord with me. I saw myself as a child, a native El Pasoan growing up on the border, probably for the first time in a book.
But really, it’s probably the candy. This Buzzfeed video about Mexican candy makes me laugh until I cry as I remember my childhood:
The book ends with two stories set in the future, in a dystopian United States. The main characters of those stories are barely Latino, by which I mean they really don’t identify with any Latino culture and you don’t see the hallmarks of Mexican-American or other Latino culture in the setting. This really mystified me. After much thought, it finally occurred to me that as the story progresses through time, like a real multi-generational Mexican-American or Latino family, after so many generations the family will branch off and some will no longer identify with the culture. The dystopian stories weren’t my favorite (where did they get cake from? exactly what happened?) but I think they provided the most thought fodder.
Overall impression: there are parts where the language is somewhat clunky and a there is a very unusual use of many, many ellipses, but overall the book is an enjoyable read. I would feel comfortable sharing this book with a YA reader, as well. The book’s areas of excellence are the storytelling, the ability to convey our culture so well, and originality.
Happy Independence Day! I jazzed up our barbecue with some homemade pico de gallo. Make your long weekend interesting with these reads:
Author Duncan Tonatiuh’s books featuring Latino children :: via NBC News – I’ve definitely got this on a to-buy list for my daughter. He seems to tackle tough topics that Latinos face everyday. The artwork is fantastic.
Univision’s “Sexy” Women :: I’ve always rolled my eyes at the women prancing around in bikinis. It always seems pointless to me. But as I read this article, I realized that though I’m a feminist, I let this go because that’s the way Sábado Gigante has always been. But you know what? It doesn’t have to be. Maybe it’s time for a change.
2014 International Latino Book Awards Winners :: via Latino Literacy Now – get the full list here.
Deported Veterans of America :: via VICE News – VICE interviews a group of U.S. military veterans who were deported in Tijuana.
So, as I’ve said, I had Christina’s Henríquez’s collection of short stories, Come Together, Fall Apart laying around waiting for me to read it. I bought it at a used book shop, and yeah, when it comes to purchasing books – let’s just say I have a problem. I picked it up and read the first story. Henríquez’s writing was so lucid and compelling I felt I was walking around in the character’s life. Now that is what I’m looking for in a book. Now that I have a family, and I can’t read three novels a week, I need a book to be worth it. This is the other part of the reason I have lots of unread books laying around (besides, you know, the problem).
I was soooo stoked when I saw The Book of Unknown Americans suggested on Amazon that I bought it right away and put the other book down.
The Book of Unknown Americans is a novel composed of distinct chapters featuring different characters, all Latinos living in the U.S. The book story centers una familia michoacana: Maribel, a young girl who has been in an accident that caused traumatic brain injury, and her parents, Alma and Arturo. They come to the United States from Mexico for special education to improve her condition. Her neighbor, Mayor, falls in love with her. Most of the chapters tell the story from Alma and Mayor’s perspective.
Interspersed at even intervals between Alma and Mayor’s perspective, however, marginal characters pop up, delving into their story of coming to the U.S. and how they ended up where they are. The characters are diverse, hailing from Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela, Paraguay, and Puerto Rico.
“Maybe it’s the instinct of every immigrant, born of necessity or of longing: Someplace else will be better than here. And the condition: if only I can get to that place.”
One of the best things about this book are these perspectives. They tell the story of immigrants from place that is not stereotyped, not of pity. Perhaps best of all, these are not stories of the poor and downtrodden but noble immigrant. These are regular people who had dreams and whose lives sometimes took different courses. Our collective American narrative regarding immigrants is thrown out the window.
“‘Mi casa es tu casa,’ Celia joked as I looked around. ‘Isn’t that what the Americans say?'”
Henríquez explores relationships and emotions that are universal: mother-child, wife-husband, teenage love, guilt, grief, that feeling you get when you remember what your young self set out to do, but never achieved (is there a word for that?). This is where the book is triumphant. I like the format, I like that I feel there’s a sense of restraint (show-don’t-tell writing), I like the book’s possible positive impact on the image of Latinos in the U.S. But what I first saw in Henríquez’s writing was her ability to take a character’s feelings and implant them in you, so that you feel them. She doesn’t have to explain it, and sometimes I couldn’t put into words the feelings, either — I just knew.
Henríquez has a tumblr page dedicated to collecting stories of unknown Americans, which is also trending on Twitter via #unknownamericans.