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Staff picks: Five must-read books to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

While this is a lovely thought, it’s kind of hard to get one’s mind around it. What, exactly, is “culture”? And how does one celebrate it, exactly? Enter, stage left: media. I don’t mean just news media (but we are a big part of media, cough, cough), but all the media — books, movies, jokes, TV shows, songs, TikTok dances, food, etc. 

Media has the extraordinary power of making culture concrete and letting us understand someone else’s experience without having to live through it. Because of this, the Record-Journal is running a three-part series where I (a living, breathing Hispanic) suggest to you what media you should consume to celebrate Hispanic culture. Welcome, dear reader, this is going to be fun!

Whether you’re a die-hard fan of all things Gabriel García Márquez or someone whose daily reading is the back of a cereal box, here are five well-loved books to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. These books have all been widely acclaimed and won countless awards, but I put them on this list because they are great at drawing the reader in and showing what it’s like to be Hispanic.

Short Stories: “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros

“The House on Mango Street” follows the story of Esperanza Cordero, a 12-year-old Chicana on the cusp of becoming a woman in 1960s Chicago. The book is as old as a series of flashes in Esperanza’s life, and is written in a style that is halfway between poetry and writing. Because of its many coming-of-age themes, the book has become required reading for many Middle School English classes. Nevertheless, the story’s beautiful, simple language makes it worth revisiting, even for people who don’t usually like reading books. 

Nonfiction: "Harvest of Empire" by Juan Gonzalez

"Harvest of Empire" is not for the faint of heart. The 2022 paperback edition is a 382-page op-ed on the impact of the U.S. on Latinos. The book sets out on this ambitious task by starting at the European colonization of the Americas and ending with the 2020 election. Throughout, Gonzalez offers the grisly history of banana republics and CIA-backed coups with meticulous documentation and a fresh take on the role of Latinos in the future. 

Historical Fiction: “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez 

“In the Time of the Butterflies” is a historical fiction novel by Julia Alvarez that tells the story of Minerva, Dedé, Maria Teresa and Patria Mirabal during the time of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Even though the novel is about well-known historical events, Alvarez has a thrilling way of narrating the stories of how the Mírabal sisters run an underground resistance network. Each sister feels like a real person and there’s a lot of fun in how they relate to each other. 

Novel: “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz 

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” starts when Mexican-American teenagers Aristotle Mendoza and Dante Quintana meet at a public swimming pool in El Paso, Texas, in 1987. The boys quickly become friends and manage to joke about deep issues of identity. As their friendship matures, Ari and Dante struggle through a heartwarming story about how hard it is to grow up sometimes.

Memoir: “My Broken Language” by Quiara Alegría Hudes

In “My Broken Language,” Pulitzer-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes explores the role of language in culture through stories of growing up with a Puerto Rican mom and a Jewish dad. Even as Hudes loses members of her Puerto Rican community in Philadelphia to violence or disease, Hudes grapples with her own successful career and what it means to love her family. Throughout, Hudes tells stories of music, religion, self-acceptance and home in language that is as comforting as a bowl of arroz con gandules.



Twitter: @lauguzm_n


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