In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’ve created a list of memoirs and novels that explore colorism, identity and immigration, among other topics viewed through an Afro-Latinx lens. Here are 7 books by Afro-Latinas that women of the Diaspora should read.
Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina — Raquel Cepeda
Raquel Cepeda’s memoir, Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina, is a courageous, honest unpacking of her identity. Born in Harlem, growing up in Washington Heights and the Dominican Republic, Cepeda walks us through defining moments in her upbringing, which include abuse and abandonment, and how those experiences ultimately led to reconciliation and forgiveness. “I’ve been too busy running away from the violence and abandonment that marked a big chunk of my life to revisit it,” she writes. “As resolved as I was to forget the past, I found myself determined to excavate it.”
Cepeda’s story also tackles how Latinidad is perceived within the black-white racial binary, and how an ancestry test and personal discovery revealed a connection that spans several continents.
Letters to My Mother — Teresa Cárdenas
Told in the voice of an Afro-Cuban girl, this coming of age tale tackles internalized racism and colorism within the Latino family unit. The narrator loses her mother and sent to live with her grandmother, aunt and cousins, where she is mocked for her appearance. She finds beauty and empowerment in the letters she writes to her mother, addressing her as Mami.
Mama’s Girl — Veronica Chambers
In this honest memoir, Veronica Chambers vividly walks us through her upbringing, navigating life with a dark-skinned Panamanian immigrant mom and less than present Costa Rican-Jamaican father. While living with her father, Chambers was abused by her stepmother. As an immigrant growing up in Brooklyn, as well as the child of immigrants, she was an overachiever but never received the acknowledgement she sought from her parents, specifically from her mother. Admission to a private college in New England becomes Chambers’ deliverance, and once on her own, she finds a way to reconcile with her mother.
Negras: Stories of Puerto Rican Slave Women — Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro
It’s rare to find a slave narrative told from the perspective of black women, especially from the lens of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Negras captures this vantage point, sharing the story of three strong black women — Wanwe, Ndizi and Tshanwe. The stories are short, and just as captivating and thought provoking as they are graphic and dark.
“I decided that the visibility of slave women needs to be reclaimed by means of fiction. I took in hand the memory of all black women to make them visible and to bring out their contributions to humankind,” Arroyo Pizarro shared during a UN Symposium.
The Poet X — Elizabeth Acevedo
Inspired by her students, award-winning slam poet and educator Elizabeth Acevedo wanted to create a coming-of-age story that dealt with various themes, including identity, gender norms, gentrification and decolonization. Enter The Poet X . It tells the story of 15-year-old Xiomara Batista, an Afro-Dominican teen growing up in Harlem in a strict, religious household. She questions her faith, but finds peace in writing. Acevedo, who is also Afro-Dominican, drew from her own personal experiences when creating Batista.
“Xiomara also realizes her power in a very public way, but she’s a bit stronger than I am in how she rebels and stands up for herself,” said Acevedo to Remezcla. “It took me a long time to learn that I could speak up and demand to be treated how I deserved.”
The Poet X is out in March.
Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora — Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, Marinieves Alba and Yvette Modestin
Comprised of eleven essays (in English) and four poems (in Spanish), Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora was written by Latinas of African descent from across Latin America: the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Brazil and Panama, to name a few. The pieces are penned by Afro-Latinas from a range of professions, artists, activists, elected officials and scholars, to name a few. This collection of personal stories provides insight into the conditions that have led Afro-Latinas to challenge systems of inequality.
The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community Is Inspiring the World — Nadia Lopez (with Rebecca Paley)
Mott Hall Bridges Academy is in one of America’s poorest communities: Brownsville, Brooklyn. But founding principal Nadia Lopez won’t allow the statistics to define her scholars. Lopez, who is part-Guatemalan, part-Honduran, is changing the narrative of what it’s like to be an educator in an inner city neighborhood. She chronicles how a feature on one of her eighth graders, Vidal, on the popular blog Humans of New York not only propelled her and MHBA into the public eye, but how its timing renewed her vision. Lopez’s story is a testament to what is possible when you pour into your students, holding them at their highest, and combating the school-to prison pipeline.