We’re celebrating Women’s History Month by highlighting these books about inspirational Latina women throughout history! There’s poetry, academic and general interest texts.
by Carmen Boullosa
In this wide-ranging collection of 29 essays, internationally renowned Mexican novelist and essayist Carmen Boullosa explores issues that unite and separate Americans and Mexicans, from the nineteenth century to the present. Themes of greed and barbarism abound. There’s Dimaso Salazar, a Mexican captain who in 1841 strung the ears of fallen Texans on a necklace; Susana Chávez, a poet and activist brutally murdered after protesting the killings of women in Ciudad Juárez; and Edelmiro Cavazos, the mayor of the city of Santiago, who was executed during Mexico’s ruthless drug wars. Violence is still common on both sides of the border.
These thought-provoking essays delve into a variety of subjects, including Occupy Wall Street and Arizona’s political offensive against immigrants. Long a feminist, Boullosa also shares her perspective on women’s rights, musing on the repression of women artists and the lack of recognition for their work. Similarly, women who participated in wars and rebellions have been forgotten, and the author asserts that erasing them from our memory hurts us all. Containing the author’s original Spanish and Nicolás Kanellos’ English translation, these are absorbing reflections on Texas-Mexico border history, women’s issues, art and literature.
by Gwendolyn Zepeda
“I was scared of a thing that might have happened. In daytime I’m sure it / never did. At night, I don’t trust daylit memories or instincts. In nightmares, like / filmstrips, the feared thing occurs.” In her second poetry collection, monsters—real and imagined—chase Houston Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda through late nights when she can’t sleep. Ghosts routinely visit in the early morning hours, but in spite of her fears, she dares to believe that she has escaped the devils that once followed her.
This collection of 62 narrative poems contains witty observations about the rituals of contemporary life. In “Cocktail Hours,” she wonders, “What if all my nights were Christmas lights on patios with tinkling drinks /and fun conversations.” And in “Recipe for Fun,” Zepeda offers a ten-point guide to soothing away life’s frustrations, including a suggestion to get some peace by giving “everyone in your house pizza, cat food or video games.”
Musings on family, remembrances of childhood games and encounters with strangers (and ants!) fill this clever, thought-provoking collection in which Zepeda dares to express her individuality. She knows that she is different, “Maybe I am a boy in drag. / Especially here, where I don’t feel like / everybody else.” She doesn’t follow others blindly or do what society expects of her. Readers will appreciate this second poetry collection, which is deeply personal yet universal in its hopes and fears.
Feminist and Abolitionist: The Story of Emilia Casanova
by Virginia Sánchez-Korrol
When asked to deliver contraband papers to her native island home of Cuba in 1852, twenty-year-old Emilia Casanova gulped audibly in a most unladylike manner. This was her chance to be in the thick of the rebellion against Spanish authority instead of on the sidelines more befitting someone of her station. Even though she would be branded a traitor and endanger her family if she was caught, she pushed her fear aside and accepted the mission.
Raised in an elite, slave-holding Cuban family, Emilia Casanova spent most of her adult life in New York City, where she worked passionately for Cuba’s freedom from Spain and the black man’s freedom from servitude. A wife and mother, she created the first women’s political organization dedicated to supporting the rebel cause during Cuba’s Ten Years’ War. Puerto Rican and Latino Studies professor Virginia Sánchez-Korrol introduces the fascinating but little-known story of a Latin American activist to an English-speaking audience.
Silent Dancing is a personal narrative made up of Judith Ortiz Cofer’s recollections of the bilingual-bicultural childhood which forged her personality as a writer and artist. The daughter of a Navy man, Ortiz Cofer was born in Puerto Rico and spent her childhood shuttling between the small island of her birth and New Jersey. In fluid, clear, incisive prose, as well as in the poems she includes to highlight the major themes, Ortiz Cofer has added an important chapter to autobiography, Hispanic American Creativity and women’s literature.
Silent Dancing has been awarded the 1991 PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation for Nonficiton and has been selected for The New York Public Library’s 1991 Best Books for the Teen Age.
Enriqueta Vasquez and the Chicano Movement
edited by Lorena Oropreza and Dionne Espinoza
As a teenager, long before Enriqueta Vasquez became a writer and activist, she wrote her first letter to complain against the injustice she saw around her while growing up in the Southwest. Why was she, a Mexican American, not allowed to eat in local restaurants, while her brothers were fighting to preserve their country’s principles of freedom and democracy? Why were Mexican Americans good enough to fight and die for their country but not good enough to be treated as equals at home? And so began Enriqueta Vasquez’s life-long fight for justice.
Highlighting the involvement of women in the Chicano Movement, this anthology combines for the first time in one volume the columns written by Enriqueta Vasquez from 1968-1972 for the path-breaking Chicano newspaper, El Grito del Norte.
Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora
edited by Marta Moreno Vega, Marinieves Alba and Yvette Modestin
“My housewife mother turned into a raging warrior woman when the principal of my elementary school questioned whether her daughter and the children of my public school had the intelligence to pass a citywide test,” Marta Moreno Vega writes in her essay. She knew then she was loved and valued, and she learned that to be an Afro-Puerto Rican woman meant activism was her birth right.
Hers is one of eleven essays and four poems included in this volume in which Latina women of African descent share their stories. The authors included are from all over Latin America—Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Puerto Rico and Venezuela—and they write about the African diaspora and issues such as colonialism, oppression and disenfranchisement. Diva Moreira, a black Brazilian, writes that she experienced racism and humiliation at a very young age. The worst experience, she remembers, was when her mother’s bosses told her she didn’t need to go to school after the fourth grade, “because blacks don’t need to study more than that.”
We Won’t Back Down: Severita Lara’s Rise from Student Leader to Mayor
by José Angel Gutiérrez
On December 9, 1969, change was in the air. The small town of Crystal City, Texas would never be the same. After weeks of petitioning for a hearing with the Crystal City school board, students of Crystal City High and their parents descended on the superintendent’s office. The students had been threatened with suspension and even physical violence. Powerful members of the community had insisted they would fire the parents of students if they went in front of the school board, and still, they came. Finally, the school board removed the chairs in the gallery, and the parents and students stood until members of the school board fled to avoid the confrontation. As the students and their parents stood in front of the building, a cry rose from the crowd. “Walk out. Walk out.”
So began the Crystal City High student walk out. At the center of the fervor was Severita Lara. Called la cabezuda, or stubborn girl, by her mother, Lara bore the mark of a leader from an early age. She was not afraid to stand up to anyone: girls or boys, teachers or superintendents. She always followed her father’s advice, “If you know it’s right, do it.”
This is the story of la cabezuda, Severita Lara, who has made an indelible imprint on American history.
At the height of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the administration of U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt instituted a Federal Writers Project as part of the larger Works Progress Administration (WPA), massive national undertakings aimed at getting the nation back to work. Many people participated in compiling a series of state-by-state guides to the country. Other writers’ projects included the gathering of folk songs and oral narratives by still-living ex-slaves.
New Mexico was among the states participating in this effort, and the project workers there included two women interviewers, Lou Sage Batchen and Annette Hesch Thorp, who in their work placed particular emphasis upon gathering Hispanic women’s stories, or cuentos. The two interviewed many native ancianos, gathering folktales as well as capturing narratives and gleaning vivid details of a way of life now long disappeared. Professors Tey Diana Rebolledo and María Teresa Márquez have combed through long-lost archives to recover these invaluable first-hand accounts, and have prefaced the whole with an introduction delving into some of the problematic cultural issues surrounding these records.