I decided to read more classic books by Latinx authors to strengthen my connection with my community.

The first time I actively remember reading a book by a Latinx author was the summer of sixth grade. I had been placed in an advanced summer program thanks to my good grades in English. My class has been assigned The house on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and I spent the summer falling in love with the story of Esperanza Cordero, asking my mother to translate the Spanish words so I could jot them down in the notebook we were asked to keep of their meaning. I don’t think it really struck me that this was the first novel about a Latina that I read.

I grew up with my mom’s Puerto Rican family, in a neighborhood full of other Latinx families. My abuela had died a few years before that summer of The house on Mango Street, but the memories of its food, its music, the coqui bandstand I danced to on Christmas Day were still then, and now, fresh in my mind. Reading Esmeralda’s story didn’t feel monumental or spectacular to me at the time; it was natural, like reading about my friends or any girl in my neighborhood.

Later, I was lucky enough to attend an all-girls high school, where these stories were also a normal part of the curriculum. We read Esmeralda Santiago when i was puerto rican, by Sandra Cisneros Toffee, and that of Julia Alvarez In the time of butterflies. Only now can I recognize how special it was to have teachers who made sure we read from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and times. Of course, we read Shakespeare and Austen, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. But we also read Malcolm X and Danzy Senna, Zadie Smith and Chang-rae Lee. So many people don’t have the opportunity to read as diversely and broadly as I did then, and I’m more grateful for that now than I ever thought I would be back then.

But as much as I would like to say that my high school reading assignments set me on the path to picking up more of these books after school, I would be lying. While I continued to read works by writers like Ralph Ellison and Jhumpa Lahiri in college, I have yet to pick up some of the most famous works of Latinx fiction. Of course, I’ve read tons of new books with various main, adult, and YA characters that share Latinx stories.

Corn Like water for chocolate, Love in the Time of Cholera, The house of spirits, The short wonderful life of Oscar Wao, how the Garcia girls lost their accents… all the classic books by and about Latinx men and women that have been on my TBR for years but never picked up. And more than ever, recently, I thought it was time to change that.

You don’t need me to tell you that being Latinx in America is… complicated right now. From our President’s vocal disdain for Hispanics and the cruel immigration laws being enacted, there’s so much to contend with for the Latinx community. Now add to that my own personal relationship with my identity – I identify as Latina but am actually what some would call a “mutt”, made up of many different cultural backgrounds; I am also white and not fluent in Spanish which may make identifying as a Latina even more interesting due to questions about my own privilege as a non-black Latina and also acceptance of others Latinx – and you have a hodgepodge of confused feelings.

But as I got older, I felt more and more connected to my Puerto Rican heritage. And cultural figures like Selena Quintanilla-Perez and Gina Rodriguez, and projects like LatinxReads, made me think less and less about what makes me different from other Latinx people, and more about what makes me the same. We all have different foods, different traditions, different skin colors, we may not all have grown up speaking Spanish… but what we all undeniably share is our pride in being Latinx . The definition of Latinx is broad and there is room for all of us around the table.

So I’m going to take that pride and grow it by reading those books that I’ve kept on the shelf for so long. Immersing myself in these beloved and widely read stories from people within the community can only strengthen my connection with it – as well as help me learn more about the experiences I will never have. After all, the best way to show pride in your heritage is to share stories within it, amplify its voices, and become part of the culture by keeping its traditions and tales alive. And I promise to do it, one book at a time.

About Marcia G. Hussain

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