11 Books to Understand the Indigenous History of LATAM

Every November, we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, a month-long recognition of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas who are given a platform to share their cultures, traditions, literature, and more

Indigenous history books

Photos: Frances Lincoln Children's Books; Heyday; Groundwood Books

Every November, we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, a month-long recognition of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas who are given a platform to share their cultures, traditions, literature, and more. While we should be supporting Indigenous people all year round—shopping from Indigenous-owned businesses, supporting Indigenous projects, and amplifying Indigenous voices—there’s no better time than now to read books by Indigenous authors. Whether in the U.S. or LATAM, schools didn’t teach us about the Indigenous history of the stolen land we occupy every day, how we wouldn’t be the same without the struggles and joys of Indigenous changemakers, elders, and tribes. Not to mention that the publishing industry has prioritized white voices for so long (and continues to) that it’s important for us to do the work of diversifying our libraries and reading lists.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but is a good starting place to start learning about the rich history of Latin America through Indigenous perspectives, from Guatemala to Mexico to Ecuador. Read on to learn more about 11 must-read books to understand our Indigenous Latin American history and advocate for the rights of Native people everywhere.

The Girl from Chimel by Rigoberta Menchú

Indigenous history books

Photo: Groundwood Books

The Girl From Chimel by Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist Rigoberta Menchú is the story of her early childhood in Guatemala as a Mayan girl. Through sharing memories from her grandparents and parents, readers will learn about the country before the 36-year civil war began in 1960s and what it was like to live as a Mayan child in the highlands with their families and village members. Complete with colorful, original illustrations, this is an educational and engaging read for the whole family.

Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino

Indigenous history books

Photo: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino is another stunning read from Guatemala, this time taking place in the 1980s during the “scorched earth” campaign perpetuated by the Guatemalan army. This was a time of immense sorrow and pain for Indigenous peoples all over the country, who were forced from their homes and faced government representation and so many massacres that it is now considered genocide. The story is told from the perspective of the family’s daughter as they flee up north to the United States, and advocates for the power of love, loyalty, and storytelling in the face of violence, persecution, and fear.

The Story of Colors/La Historia de los Colores by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos

Indigenous history books

Photo: Cinco Puntos Press

The Story of Colors/La Historía de los Colores is an enchanting folktale written by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos. He is a member of the Zapatistas, an Indigenous guerrilla organization in Mexico dating as far back as the Mexican Revolution, that fights for the rights of Indigenous Mexicans. A military strategist, public representative, and spokesperson, he wrote this book to educate readers about and bring awareness to the Indigenous peoples of Chiapas, Mexico, and their cultures, wisdom, and struggles. In a country that seeks to discredit them and deny their right to basic representation in government or on the world stage, this is a great resource to learn more about the people and how to help.

The Queen of Water by Laura Resau & María Virginia Farinangoía

Indigenous history books

Photo: Ember

The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango is a novel based on the true story of María. This fictionalized account of her life centers on the character of Virginia, who was born in and lives with her family in an Andean village in Ecuador. All day, they work in the fields and face harassment from mestizos, or descendants of Spaniards. When she turns seven years old, she forcibly leaves her home to work as a servant in a house owned by a mestizo couple, and is set on a winding journey of struggle, joy, and hope.

A History of Indigenous Latin America: Aymara to Zapatistas by René Harder Horst

Indigenous history books

Photo: Routledge

For nonfiction readers, A History of Indigenous Latin America is the perfect introduction to the rich, complex history of the region, beginning with pre-colonization to the present day. Although it was originally designed to be a college textbook for students, any kind of reader can enjoy this comprehensive, approachable text split into chapters by time periods. You will learn about military conflicts, resistance, labor, gender relations, economies, and political changes as a result of European colonization and the African slave trade—all from Indigenous perspectives and their side of history.

An Indian among Los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir by Ursula Pike

Indigenous history books

Photo: Heyday

An Indian Among Los Indigenas by Usula Pike is a memoir about the author’s experience traveling to Bolivia to help the local population as a volunteer with the Peace Corps. As a member of the Karuk Tribe, one of the largest Indigenous tribes in California, she goes with the intention of seeking connections and learning about other groups of Indigenous people in another part of the world. But over time, she begins to question her place in the history of colonization and travel, and its effects as someone who is both a victim and potential perpetrator of it. Written with wit and honesty, this is a new, unique voice in the genre of travel writing, and a necessary one, too.

Indigenous Peoples in Latin America: The Quest for Self-Determination by Héctor Díaz Polanco

Indigenous history books

Photo: Routledge

Indigenous Peoples in Latin America by Héctor Díaz Polanco is a fantastic read for those wanting to understand the current state of Indigenous peoples across LATAM, the persecution they faced, and how to provide support. Covering anthropology, economy, politics, and history, this is a good introduction to gain a basic understanding of Indigenous issues and the struggle for power between Indigenous groups and the nationalist attitudes of the Latin American nation-states they occupy.

Defiant Again: Indigenous Peoples and Latin American Security by Donna Lee Van Cott

Indigenous history books

Photo: Donna Lee Van Cott

Defiant Again by Donna Lee Van Cott is a thorough investigation into the rebellions, protests, and resistance of Indigenous peoples throughout Latin America as a response to persecution, oppression, and genocide at the hands of settlers and colonizers. Beginning with the original years of conquest to modern times, this is a perfect read to gain profound respect and understanding of the indignities and struggles of Indigenous communities, and how they kept their hope, joy, and activism alive even in the darkest times.

Resurgent Voices in Latin America: Indigenous Peoples, Political Mobilization, and Religious Change

Indigenous history books

Photo: Rutgers University Press

Resurgent Voices in Latin America is an anthology featuring the work of social scientists and experts, who explore the importance of religion in Indigenous-led political and social movements throughout history. Featuring case studies from Bolivia to Peru, Paraguay to Mexico, readers will learn about how religion plays a part in overall Indigenous identity, the fight for civil rights, other religions including Catholicism and Christianity, and political activism. This is an important book for understanding Indigenous resistance to marginalization in the time of colonization through contemporary times.

The Arawak: The History and Legacy of the Indigenous Natives in South America and the Caribbean

Indigenous history books

Photo: Charles River

The Arawak is a gripping, comprehensive look at the culture and history of the Arawak people, a group of Indigenous tribes in South America and the Caribbean. Starting with the original arrival of Spaniards to the region in 1492, readers will learn about the early, peaceful relations between the Native people of the island (originally known as the Taínos people). The book includes eerie, chilling entries from Christopher Columbus’s journals as he reports on his first interactions with the Arawaks, which included trading, the presentation of gifts, and meals. Of course, this would later turn into exploitation, disease-spreading, and genocide, which would effect the civilizations of the Americas forever.

Indigenous Movements, Self-Representation, and the State in Latin America

Indigenous history books

Photo: University of Texas Press

Indigenous Movements, Self-Representation, and the State in Latin America is another important anthology featuring the voices of anthropologists and Indigenous activists from North and South America. Across the volume, contributors from Colombia, Guatemala, and Brazil speak on a wide range of topics including: Indigenous resistance to nation-state violence, cultural autonomy, political organizing, identity, power in community, and relations to Western politics. Readers will also learn how Indigenous communities “play the game” and use Western thought and modern tools to achieve their own goals to secure Indigenous sovereignty and a sustainable future for generations to come.

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