With Black History Month in full swing, we want to recognize Afro-Latina authors who are making moves and empowering readers through their books. Latinas are vastly underrepresented in the publishing industry, especially Afro-Latinas, and it’s important to read their work to expose us to the full, rich diversity of Latin America and the Latinx community in the U.S. Not to mention to feel pride for our cultural roots and take a stand against anti-Blackness in every aspect of our lives. This is by no means an exhaustive list but is a good starting place to incorporate Afro-Latina novels, memoirs, and poetry collections into your TBR list this month and every month. Read on to learn more about 16 empowering reads by Afro-Latina authors for Black History Month.
We Are Owed. by Ariana Brown
Black Mexican American poet Ariana Brown doesn’t hold back in her debut full-length poetry collection We Are Owed. In some ways a thematic sequel to her chapbook Sana Sana, this collection explores Brown’s complex connections with both Blackness and Latinidad and how she’s combatted anti-Blackness from the very Mexican community she initially hoped would protect her. Using the language and style of anthems, demands, and advocacy, she fights back against centuries-long prejudices and paints a better future for herself and other Black Mexicans.
Queen of Urban Prophecy by Aya de León
Queen of Urban Prophecy by Aya de León, who is of Puerto Rican descent, is a novel that follows Deza, a young female rapper. Initially, it seems she’s destined to be just another hot girl emcee, at least until her album skyrockets to the top of the music charts and she gets the opportunity to headline an all-female national tour by her record label. Quickly, however, she became disillusioned when the pressures of fame mount, she’s paired with a male DJ she can’t stand, and the label gets ready to sacrifice the reputation of their line-up for money. Touching on themes of social justice, corporate jobs, and misogyny in the music industry and hip-hop, the novel sees Deza taking a stand for what she believes in and encouraging readers to do the same.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
One of the most celebrated young adult books of 2018, The Poet X by Dominican American author Elizabeth Acevedo follows Xiomara, a 15-year-old Dominican American girl growing up in Harlem who joins her school’s slam poetry club and finds her passion for — and voice in — poetry. But when her overly religious mother discovers Xiomara’s journal and her romance with a boy in her class, the two women are forced to confront their relationship and complex love for one another. While originally written for teens, the book is an empowering read for anyone struggling to find and embrace their own voice. She made history when she won the Carnegie Medal for The Poet X becoming the first woman of color to receive the prestigious British honor.
Chula by Amanda Alcántara
Plantains and Our Becoming by Melania Luisa Marte
Plantains and Our Becoming by Dominican American poet and musician Melania Luis Marte is a poetry collection that seeks to center the Black diaspora, specifically from the Dominican Republic and Haiti, within the identity of Latinidad. Throughout the book, she explores nationalism, colonialism, displacement, trauma, stereotypes, ancestors, and the beauty of Black personhood—all while celebrating her identity and where she comes from, and encouraging her readers to do the same.
My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet
My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet, who is of Jamaican and Cuban descent, is a stunning love letter to the women of the world and all they do to change the world for themselves and young girls. It’s a love letter to Monet’s childhood in East New York, her school days in Chicago’s South Side, and her travels in Palestine. While she’s not afraid to take on heavy topics like racism, genocide, and displacement, she also beautifully celebrates her experiences as a mother and a Black woman.
Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser
Wash Day Diaries by co-authors Jamila Rowser, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, and Robyn Smith is a graphic novel that follows four best friends Kim, Tanisha, Davene, and Cookie. Through five connected short stories, readers experience their daily lives in the Bronx alongside them through their hair routines that often last all day for washing, conditioning, and nourishing. From gossiping at the salon to hopping into self-care routines, Black sisterhood is centered and on full display with joy, humor, resilience, and power.
High Spirits by Camille Gomera-Tavarez
Islands Apart: Becoming Dominican American by Jasminne Mendez
Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
Daughters of the Stone by Puerto Rican author Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa is a novel that centers on the women of an Afro-Puerto Rican family over five generations. The story begins with Fela in the mid-1800s, who was kidnapped from Africa and taken to work sugar plantations in Puerto Rico and use her embroidery skills to impress her mistress. Before arriving, however, she and her husband performed a tribal ceremony that had them pour the essence of their unborn child into a special stone. On the plantation, the owner goes after Fela, sparking a chain reaction of daughters who are born and connected by intense love, ancestral stories, and the stone. From a healer and craftswoman to a student struggling to keep hold of two cultures, the stone is carried throughout time and place, giving incredible insight into mothers, daughters, and the ties between family.
Mama’s Girl by Veronica Chambers
Mama’s Girl by Panamanian American author Veronica Chambers is an inspiring memoir documenting her life growing up in 1970s Brooklyn. Chambers succeeds despite her complicated family life, lack of privilege, and a Panamanian immigrant mother who is often too overwhelmed to fully celebrate her children. Throughout her childhood, she tries to be the perfect child, from accommodating her mother’s budget for Christmas lists to helping take care of her brother. Years later, she looks back on the complexity of their mother-daughter relationship, offers beautiful and surprising truths about what they can look like, and encourages readers to find their own unique bond with their mothers and daughters.
Being La Dominicana: Race and Identity in the Visual Culture of Santo Domingo by Rachel Afi Quinn
Being La Dominicana by Ghanaian American author Rachel Afi Quinn is a nonfiction book that discusses the ties between media and entertainment, stereotypes of Dominican women, and the effects and responses of real-life Dominican women to those representations. With a close exploration of racism, colorism, misogyny, gender, class, and tourism, Quinn features interviews with young Dominican women to accompany her research findings and lived experiences to comment on how the D.R. and Caribbean are seen in the wider world compared to how they really are.
Bird of Paradise: How I Became a Latina by Raquel Cepeda
Bird of Paradise by Dominican author Raquel Cepeda is a memoir that focuses on her journey of tracing her genealogy using DNA testing and discovering who she is both as a Latina identity and beyond that. Beginning from when she’s born in Harlem, she documents her childhood in Santo Domingo and later life back in the U.S. with divorced parents who both have new partners and encourage her to stifle the Dominican part of herself. Through hip-hop, her wider community, and DNA, Cepeda finds a way to form her own identity, discover family secrets and history, and embrace every part of who she is.
Letters to My Mother by Teresa Cárdenas
Letters to My Mother by Afro-Cuban author Teresa Cárdenas is a stunning exposé of the rampant racism and bigotry in Cuban society. Centering a Afro-Cuban girl, the story sees her sent to live with her aunt and cousins after her mother dies. But instead of finding kindness and sympathy, she is forced to endure their taunts about her dark skin and curly hair, as well as charged and racist treatment from the outside world —and still she holds tight to her inner strength and capacity to love.
Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora by Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, Marinieves Alba, and Yvette Modestin
Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora by Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, Marinieves Alba, and Yvette Modestin is a collection of essays and poems by Afro-Latinas from all over Latin America including Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. They write about the African diaspora and discuss colonialism, oppression and disenfranchisement. Each writer centers their experiences with racism, humiliation, oppression, invisibility, inequality, machismo, colonialism, and LATAM’s legacy of slavery, giving light to issues often not highlighted in LATAM literature.
The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Woman and One Community Are Inspiring the World by Nadia Lopez
The Bridge to Brilliance by Nadia Lopez, born to Guatemala-Honduras parents, is a memoir showcasing her struggles and triumphs in navigating the Brooklyn public school system as a principal. She writes about how she started Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a public middle school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the U.S. during a record heat wave and climbing crime rates. Alongside her, readers experience her many challenges including violent crime, lack of supplies, discouraged teachers, and the U.S. school system at large, until a student spotlights her as the most influential person in his life. From landing a spot on TedTalk to a seat with former President Obama at the White House, Lopez explores her new life in the national spotlight, uses her platform to raise awareness of education inequities, and offers advice that rings true with every school, teacher, and community in and out of Brooklyn.