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10 Books That Highlight The Latinx Immigrant Experience

With their skill at using the written word, these authors create just as poignant and graphic an image of the immigration experience as these filmmakers do. Here are ten stories of Latinx immigration that might convince you to turn off Netflix and dig up that Kindle or even library card, instead.

When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

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As if needing to be the role model as the oldest of ten siblings on its own wasn’t enough, Esmeralda Santiago’s coming-of-age memoir deals with both the personal and the political. Esmeralda moves with her mother and siblings from La Isla Bonita to the Big Apple, and at times must be as strong of a matriarch for the family as her mother herself. 

Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina by Raquel Cepeda

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Although born in Harlem, Cepeda relocated to Santo Domingo to live with her maternal grandparents as just an infant. When she moves back to the US, she is as much of an immigrant as anyone, readjusting to totally unfamiliar relationships and a shifting family dynamic. As she later becomes a journalist and documentary filmmaker, Cepeda takes the quest to determine her true identity one step further—looking at ancestral DNA to examine what it really means to define herself as a Latina.

The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands by Margaret Regan

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In this book, Regan exposes just how harsh and tragic the journey across the border can be—and what the risks are of an unsuccessful crossing. Set in Arizona, these sorrowful tales of immigration come from the state with both one of the highest numbers of undocumented immigrants as well as some of the strictest anti-immigration laws.

Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League by Dan-el Padilla Peralta

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Entering the United States on a visa that ultimately expires, Peralta shares his unlikely story of how he dominates both the streets of East Harlem as well as the hallways of the Ivy League. And he isn’t afraid to share his story—he comes out as undocumented and proud during his commencement address as salutatorian of Princeton University. 

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

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Focusing on the importance of music as a tool for cultural fusion and identity, this novel tells the story of the Castillo brothers who make it all the way from the streets of Havana to the grand performance halls of New York City as the Mambo Kings. This tale of triumph on the American music scene won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1990, making Hijuelos the first Hispanic recipient of the award. 

Coyotes by Ted Conover

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Telling the immigration story from a bit of a different perspective, Conover’s style of experiential journalism is one worth exploring. As an outsider and white American, he follows a group of migrant workers across the US/Mexico border and then works alongside them during the fruit and vegetable harvest season. In doing so, he exposes the true horrors of the border crossing experience from this unsuspecting lens.

Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America by Helen Thorpe

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This story of four Latina friends as they prepare to graduate high school in Denver shows how immigration status can lead toward conflict. Not only does the girls’ friendship change, but political strife also unfolds as a murder is committed by an undocumented immigrant in town. Suddenly the very foundations of the town come into question. 

The Mortifications by Derek Palacio

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In this story of immigration, a family is divided as a mother escapes with her two children during the Mariel Boatlift of the 1980s. Stuck between two nations and two parents, the two children must come to terms with growing up in Connecticut, split from their father in distant Cuba.

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

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Set between Chicago and Mexico City, Caramelo is a coming of age tale where the protagonist Lala searches for her place and identity on both the US and Mexican sides of the border. In doing so, she uncovers her family history and gains appreciation for just how her present day family members have evolved.

The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea

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A Pulitzer prize finalist, Urrea tells the story of a group of 26 men crossing the US/Mexican border at the most deadliest point in southern Arizona—the “Devil’s Highway.” In the perilous journey, Urrea exposes the many hardships immigrants must cope with and adds fire to the immigration debate.