November is Native American Heritage Month, first established in 1990, this is a time of year that we celebrate to honor Indigenous peoples all over the world, recognize their culture, history, and traditions, and acknowledge their undeniable contributions to history. One of the areas where they’re making their mark is in publishing. Indigenous stories in the industry continue to be underrepresented (only 0.49 percent of all authors in 2020 in the U.S.) and that’s not accounting for Indigenous Latin American authors as well. Still, there are many Indigenous authors in LATAM and the U.S. who are still fighting to make their voices heard. Meanwhile, it’s essential for readers do their part to support their work by reading, purchasing, and sharing their books online and in stores, especially if they’re Native-owned. This is by no means an exhaustive list but a starting place as you curate your reading list for Native American Heritage Month. We’ve rounded up selections from across poetry, children’s and young adult (YA) fiction, adult fiction, memoir, nonfiction, so there should be something for everyone. Read on to learn more about 13 books by Indigenous Latin American authors you should read in honor of Native American Heritage Month.
Saints of the Household by Ari Tison
Saints of the Household is the debut YA novel of Indigenous Costa Rican-American writer Ari Tison told from multiple points of view through vignettes and poems. It follows Max and Jay, two Bribri American brothers forced to rely on each other for survival and protection from their physically abusive father. When they break up a fight in the woods, even beating up their high school’s most popular student and star soccer player in the process, their world as they know it, including their dreams for the future, are shattered. The only thing that will save him and help them move forward? Their Bribri roots.
The Honey Jar by Rigoberta Menchú with Dante Liano
The Honey Jar by K’iche’ Guatemalan activist and writer Rigoberta Menchú with Dante Liano is a collection of Mayan tales and stories that Menchú’s grandparents told to her when she was a young girl. Spanning time and place, she places us by the fire and weaves stories about the underworld, sky, sun, moon, plants, animals, gods, and demigods to explain natural phenomena in the world and the animal kingdom. Accompanied by illustrations by Mazateca artist Domi, this is a beautiful reflection of Mayan lore and storytelling.
The Queen of Water by Laura Resau & María Virginia Farinangoía
The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Quechua Ecuadorian writer María Virginia Farinango is a novel inspired by María’s childhood. 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.
The Moonlit Vine by Elizabeth Santiago
The Moonlit Vine by Taíno and Puerto Rican author Elizabeth Santiago follows Taína Perez, a 14-year-old girl who struggles to make sense of her circumstances: a mother who doesn’t understand her, an older brother in and out of trouble, a little brother and grandmother who need constant care. One day, her grandmother tells her she is a direct descendant of Anacaona, a beloved Taíno warrior, leader, and poet who was murdered by Spanish conquistadors in 1503. She also passes on a series of ancient gifts passed down through the female line of their family to protect her and preserve their indigenous Taíno heritage. Going back and forth between Taína’s perspective and her ancestors’, she’s encouraged to change her circumstances, reclaim her power, solve the problems in her home and community, and bring liberation to her Puerto Rican and Taíno peoples.
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Indigenous, Chicana, and Filipina author Kali Fajardo-Anstine, whose debut story collection Sabrina & Corina was critically acclaimed, released Woman of Light, her debut novel set in the 1930s in Colorado. The novel follows Luz, a tea leaf reader and keeper of her ancestors’ stories who lives with several generations of her Indigenous Chicano family in Denver. When her brother, Diego, is run out of town by a white mob, Luz is left to fend for herself and begins experiencing visions of her Indigenous homeland and family history—their origins, their peaks, their demise. Reimagining the American West in the 1930s, the story helps Luz reconcile with her history, the history of the land, political division, and what it means to survive in the face of white violence.
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
Postcolonial Love Poem is the second collection of poetry from Natalie Diaz that explores land, language, family, lovers, tenderness, and bodies. Using her identities as a Mojave and Latina woman, she centers the bodies of Indigenous, Latinx, Black, and brown women, not only by documenting the violence the face but also their joy and pleasure. She also explores the bodies of the natural world―bodies of water, bodies of land, bodies of language―in order to show that everybody deserves kindness and that, despite violence, she will always choose love.
Lizards Hold the Sun by Dani Trujillo
Lizards Hold the Sun by Indigenous Mexican author Dani Trujillo follows Indigenous Mexican Xiomara Chavez, an archeologist dedicated to preserving her Mexican homeland. When she’s chosen to coordinate the creation of the Bunchberry Tribal Museum in Bunchberry, Canada, she meets Calehan, a fellow Indigenous Mexican who is a museum architect and as aloof as he is captivating. Sparks fly between them everywhere, in the archives, on the museum site, but it will be ultimately up to them if they will belong to each other or if their responsibilities to their tribes and families are too great to keep them together.
The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems by Natalia Toledo
The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems by Zapotec poet Natalia Toledo and translated by Clare Sullivan explores her life in Zapotec, Mexico, a lush world of fish, crickets, naked women, and fantastical moments in an even more extraordinary life. Also touching on themes of love, loss, and grief, this is a stunning portrait of a home, which has won many awards and honors including the Nezhualcóyotl Prize, Mexico’s highest honor for indigenous-language literature.
Hai Kur Mamashu Shis: I Want to Tell You a Story by Úrsula and Cristina Calderón
Hai Kur Mamashu Shis by Úrsula and Cristina Calderón is a collection of traditional Yaghan stories, myths, and legends that the sisters heard as children in Chile. From the sky to the water, canoes to firesides to mountains, these are stories that tell of cultures, customs, characters, and beliefs. Readers will be taken back to a time when birds were humans, before there was even consciousness. This is an especially miraculous collection because Calderón was the last native speaker of the Yaghan language and last pure-blooded member of the Yaghan people. Because this book exists, her culture and people will never be forgotten.
Coyhaiqueer by Ivonne Coñuecar
Coyhaiqueer by Mapuche writer Ivonne Coñuecar is her debut novel that follows Elena in Patagonia, Chile during the ’80s and ’90s. Exploring suicide, queerness, HIV, classicism, family, and success, the story takes place over 14 chapters and centers Elena. She witnesses the militarization of her country, tries to make a home with queer people in the Coyhaique commune, and ultimately, seeks to find herself. In 2019, the book received the Santiago Municipal Literature Award.
Sculpted Stones/Piedras Labradas by Victor Montejo
Sculpted Stones by Victor Montejo and translated by Victor Perera is a poetry collection that documents his struggles living in a foreign culture. As a Mayan man, he’s no stranger to how the Guatemalan government has attempted to destroy Maya communities and identity. Throughout his book, he uses tenderness, humor, and irony to untangle the knots of the Indigenous Guatemalan history, nature, and politics, so that we might reach the truth about ourselves and create a better future.
The Story of Colors/La Historia de los Colores by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
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. 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.
Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes through Indigenous Science by Jessica Hernandez Ph.D.
Fresh Banana Leaves by Maya Ch’orti’ and Zapotec environmental scientist Jessica Hernandez Ph.D. is a profound exploration into why western conservationism isn’t working and how Indigenous models of conservation that center Latin American women and land protectors are the key to survival of humans and the earth. Referencing case studies, stories, and family history, Hernandez shows how Indigenous communities are the first and most affected by the climate crisis. And yet Indigenous science, propelled by holistic land, water, and forest management practices, is not given a voice or platform in the mainstream. Instead, thanks to racism, colonialism, and capitalism, it’s largely been ignored. Still, she offers us a way forward with Indigenous environmental knowledge and healing land stewardship, which are already been implemented across the U.S. and Latin America. Ultimately, she proves that if we are to save our planet, eco-colonialism must end, Indigenous lands must be returned, and our relationship with the earth must return to one of harmony and respect.