June is National Immigrant Heritage Month, an annual month-long celebration of immigrants and what they’ve contributed to this country. Part of uplifting their experiences is reading books by Latinx immigrant writers, whether through nonfiction memoirs or fictionalized accounts based on real-life journeys. By learning about immigrants in this way, we can all better appreciate and understand their strength, determination, and perseverance. When publishing doesn’t always center on Latinx writers, especially immigrant and undocumented voices, buying, reading, and sharing their work can be a powerful way to support them and their families. This is not an exhaustive list but it does feature critically-acclaimed and best-sellers to help you start to familiarize yourself with these stories and writers. Read on to learn more about 15 books about the Latinx immigrant experience.
Solito by Javier Zamora
Celebrated by authors like Sandra Cisneros, Solito by Salvadoran poet Javier Zamora is a stunning memoir chronicling his 3,000-mile journey from El Salvador to the United States. He left his aunt and grandparents in his homeland to reunite with a mother who left him and a father he can’t remember. At just nine years old, he embarks on the treacherous two-month journey alone through boat trips, desert treks, and arrests, sometimes even while held at gunpoint. This is a story of the danger and fear of immigration, but also of joy, kindness, and love in the most unexpected and often darkest of moments.
Somewhere We Are Human by Reyna Grande and Sonia Guiñansaca
Somewhere We Are Human is a groundbreaking collection edited by Reyna Grande and Sonia Guiñansaca that features essays, poems, and artwork by writers, artists, and activists that shed light on the undocumented experience as currently or formerly undocumented migrants. This anthology is a way to bring nuance back into the conversation in the face of ignorance and stereotyping when it comes to immigration. Readers will learn about the very people this country attempts to discredit and demonize through portraits of their humanity. Touching on themes of homeland, race, class, sexuality, nationality, and parenthood, the book offers stories that show the reality of leaving behind everything you know to start from scratch in a new country.
Crux by Jean Guerrero
Crux by journalist Jean Guerrero is a memoir about her investigative journey to track down her family’s history and strengthen her relationship with her father, Marco Antonio. Skilled at building both things and lore about himself, he immigrated to California from Mexico and married her mother, a Puerto Rican med school graduate, before going on the run when Jean grows up. In following after her father, she is forced to face the divides between her cultures and languages, reality and myth, and what she’s been told and what is actually true about the mystery man she’s always loved.
Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
Children of the Land by poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo describes his experiences growing up undocumented in the U.S. It begins when he’s five years old with his family getting ready to cross the border and he’s so afraid that he experiences temporary blindness. For years after, he lives each day with caution and anxiety: coming face to face with ICE officers, making a fake social security card to get a job, seeing his father getting deported and refused re-entry, and supporting his mother’s decision to return to Mexico to be with her husband. Castillo attempts to hold on to his humanity and build a future for himself, even in a country that refuses to see him.
The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande
The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande is one of the most well-known books about immigration today. In this memoir, Grande documents her childhood influenced by the traumas and terrors of immigration and life between two countries. When her parents decide to cross the border into the U.S., they’re thrust into the care of their grandmother, who is overburdened, stern, and unprepared to watch over her and her siblings. Some time later when her mother finally returns, she prepares to cross the border herself, at long last seeing her dream of freedom finally come true, only to face more of an unknown future than she’s ever known.
The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea is already considered a modern classic today. The book follows a group of men who tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border through Arizona’s desert, only to face unforeseen levels of brutality. Known as the “Devil’s Highway,” the region offers little safety to the men but exists as a reminder of the inhumanity of current immigration policies in the U.S. and what people are forced to face in order to start over.
Homelands by Alfredo Corchado
Homelands by Mexican journalist and immigration expert Alfredo Corchado tells the story of the great Mexican migration from the 1980s to today, all through his own personal experiences. The book begins with Corchado moving to Philadelphia in 1987, where he makes friends with three men in a tequila bar: two Mexican and one Mexican American, all of whom feel like fish out of water. Over 30 years, the men transform, chase their dreams, and become the people they always wanted to be: an activist, a restaurant entrepreneur, a lawyer and politician, and a Wall Street Journal reporter, even as racism and xenophobia are on the rise. Because of the great migration, we have more than 35 million Mexicans living in the U.S. today from 700,000 in the ’70s. Using this knowledge, Corchado explores the story behind this groundbreaking statistic, the economics and politics involved, how Mexicans shaped the history of the U.S., and what the future for their descendants could be.
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s memoir The Undocumented Americans, covers her experience as an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador while also sharing the stories of other undocumented immigrants. . She explains that it was the election of 2016 that pushed her to write this book under her own name while on DACA, looking to share the everyday lives of people who live undocumented. We meet workers who were on Ground Zero after 9/11, herbalists who offer natural healing to those without healthcare, residents of Flint, Michigan who can’t access clean water without a state ID, and Cornejo Villavicencio herself who takes care of two teenage girls whose father is in sanctuary. With the reporting of a journalist and the powerful prose of a storyteller, she takes on a journey of love, family, survival, and resilience.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Dominicana by Angie Cruz follows 15-year-old Ana Cancion who moves to New York City from DR after getting engaged to Juan Ruiz, a family friend who is decades older and established in the city. Despite Juan being twice her age, her mother pressures Ana to marry him for money, security, shelter, and most of all, for her family. It’s only when she arrives at a cold apartment in Washington Heights that she realizes how frightened and lonely she has become as a young wife away from everyone and everything she knows. She eventually gets pregnant and begins to come to terms with her impending motherhood and what that means for her/their future. Then she befriends Cesar, Juan’s younger brother, and Juan returns to the D.R. to help his family, and she finds herself free for the first time in years: taking English lessons, exploring the city, and inadvertently falling for her brother-in-law. This coming-of-age story shows Ana’s growth as she begins to make decisions for the life she now as an immigrant soon-to-be mom living in the U.S.
Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli
Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli is a memoir based on her experiences working as a translator for child migrants from Central America who travel alone and are caught by the U.S. or willingly hand themselves over. In order to stay in the country, she explains that each child is interviewed by the Citizenship and Immigration Services, who ask 40 official questions to children as young as six to teenagers. In communicating their answers, she’s asked to put aside her empathy in order to serve the interest of the government. Instead, she holds on to her humanity even tighter, especially with her own story of migration, attempts to get a green card, and wish to belong and make a home somewhere with her family. Told with sensitivity and care, this is a brutally honest look at their experiences, one that’s hardly talked about with this level of detail and authenticity.
Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera follows Makina, a young Mexican woman who is fearless but only because she has to be in a world dictated by violence and machismo. When she’s forced to leave Mexico to search for her missing brother, she finds herself smuggled into the U.S. with one mission to carry two secret messages, one from her mother and one from Mexico’s underworld. More than a book about the U.S.-Mexico border, this is a book about the journey about assimilation, cultural and language barriers, and what it means to transform.
Barrio America by A. K. Sandoval-Strausz
Barrio America by A.K. Sandoval-Strausz is essential reading to understand how Latinxs saved and revolutionized American cities. While many credit gentrification as the reason many urban cities in the U.S. were revitalized and reinvested in, Strausz’s research reveals that it was actually the Latinx community that was at the forefront of buying homes, starting businesses, and turning cities around, starting as far back as the ’70s. Were it not for Latinx immigrants, neighborhoods like Chicago’s Little Village and Dallas’s Oak Cliff would look completely different, proving the benefits and opportunities that our community can bring, if only given the chance.
We Carry Our Homes With Us by Marisella Veiga
We Carry Our Homes With Us by Marisella Veiga is a memoir following the author’s immigration story from Cuba. At the start of the book, she flees with her mother and brothers from Havana to Miami in 1960, with her father following them a few months later. Despite Florida’s subtropical climate and community of Spanish-speakers and fellow exiles, they are sponsored by a host family and resettle in Minnesota. There, Veiga embarks on a journey of joys in this cold midwestern landscape—learning to ice-skate, learning to speak English, being obsessed with Davy Jones—but also one of pain and constant questions about her bicultural identity where she is of two worlds but a foreigner to both. Rich and full of heart, this is an extraordinary book about belonging and embracing both parts of who you are.
When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago is considered one of the most influential memoirs by a Latina, documenting her childhood on the island. But when she turns seven, her mother whisks her and her six other children to Brooklyn, New York to begin a new life. As the eldest, Esmeralda is expected to learn new rules, a new language, and a new identity as a girl of two cultures that feel like they couldn’t be more different or further apart. She then finds herself fighting her way to attend and graduate from Harvard University with honors. The book was named one of “The Best Memoirs of a Generation” by Oprah’s Book Club and is the first of a memoir trilogy that also includes Almost a Woman and The Turkish Lover. Santiago is credited as one of the first Latina writers to combine larger societal issues with personal experiences in a memoir format and paved the way for more Latina memoirists to follow in her footsteps.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan follows the titular character in 1930s Mexico, where she lives a privileged life with her family on their huge ranch. But when her father is killed by a group of bandits in the desert and their house goes up in flames, Esperanza and her mother are forced to flee to California and hide out in a farm labor camp where they package produce. As the seasons change, so do the fruits and vegetables they grow, and she is slow to learn all the chores she must master if she’s going to live in the community, like sweeping, cooking, washing clothes, and changing diapers. But as the Great Depression looms, her mother becomes sick, and it’ll be up to Esperanza alone to rise above the hardships and struggle, and finally make her own way in the world.