There are few things more empowering or fascinating than reading true stories from other people’s lives, especially from Latina writers whose stories may reflect aspects of our own. A memoir, unlike an autobiography, focuses on a specific and significant moment in time and, we’re highlighting the stories by Latinas focusing on immigration, assimilation, cultural divides, coming of age, and more. In doing so, we might just understand ourselves and the women we love just a little bit more. This is by no means an exhaustive list but is a good starting place for adding more Latina-authored nonfiction books and memoirs to your TBR list. Read on to learn more about 13 memoirs by Latinas that are worth reading.
A House of My Own: Stories From My Life by Sandra Cisneros
Chicana author Sandra Cisneros might be best known for her young adult novel The House on Mango Street but she’s written many more books of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, including her memoir A House of My Own. Organized as a collection of essays, she describes her life over the course of three decades, including her childhood, the backstories and inspirations behind some of her most famous works, and her homes in places including Chicago and Mexico. She also covers topics like the language barriers she experienced, her relationship with her parents, and her creative process. Written with honesty and insight, this is now considered one of the most famous Latina-written memoirs today.
Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA by Julia Alvarez
Throughout Once Upon a Quinceañera, Julia Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents) uses the quinceañera celebration, an expensive, lavish affair that some Latinas experience when they turn 15, as a metaphor for her own adolescence, womanhood, and what she observed about quinces as a young immigrant girl in Queens, New York. Incorporating interviews with girls who were thrown quinces, she delves into the larger history of the quince, the consequences of treating teen girls like royalty, and how it’s become a multicultural hallmark of American life. However, she ultimately argues that Latina womanhood is worth being celebrated, even in the most unexpected ways. Upon its publication, the book was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has since written two more memoirs, Something to Declare and A Wedding in Haiti: The Story of a Friendship.
Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir by Erika L. Sanchez
Best known for her best-selling debut novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (soon to be a feature film directed by America Ferrera!), Erika L. Sanchez enchanted readers with her new memoir Crying in the Bathroom. Told in a series of essays, Sanchez details her life growing up as the foul-mouthed daughter of Mexican immigrants in Chicago, not to mention a pariah, misfit, disappointment, and rabble-rouser. Throughout the book, she also covers her greatest passions and frustrations including sex, white feminism, and depression—all with unflinching insightfulness, boldness, wit, and brutal honesty.
Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma by Ana Castillo
Ana Castillo has written many books of fiction and poetry, but her 1994 memoir Massacre of the Dreamers is truly one of a kind. In this collection of essays, she centers on the voices and 500-year history of Mexican and Amerindian women and explores the invisibility, microaggressions, and violence she and their descendants have experienced simply because of their identity. Incorporating history lessons, myths, and interviews, readers will get an insight into her thoughts on Xicana activism, spirituality, sexuality, education, women on both sides of the border, and the struggles of the working class. The most recent edition features a foreword by Mexican American writer and activist Clarissa Pinkola Estés, as well as a new afterword that explores the cultural and religious importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her other memoir, Black Dove: Mamá, Mi’jo, and Me, also made significant contributions to the Latina memoir genre.
Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Silent Dancing by Judith Ortiz Cofer is a groundbreaking memoir about the author’s childhood shuttling back and forth between Puerto Rico, the island of her birth, and New Jersey as a result of her father’s Navy career. Combining prose and poetry, she touches on themes of bilingualism, biculturalism, assimilation, family, and identity, and concludes with how she became a writer. She also wrote The Latin Deli, another multi-genre memoir that combined fiction, essays, and poetry, as well as several books of poetry, fiction for young adults and children, and nonfiction books about the craft of writing. In 1991, Silent Dancing was named The New York Public Library’s 1991 Best Books for the Teens.
A Cross and a Star: Memoirs of a Jewish Girl in Chile by Marjorie Agosín
A Cross and a Star by Marjorie Agosín is a family memoir that recounts the life of her mother, Frida, who was born and raised as the daughter of European Jewish immigrants to Chile during World War II. Exploring the Nazi presence in southern Chile following the war, she also includes stories from her father’s experiences in 1920s Vienna, her paternal grandmother who survived the Holocaust camps, and her great-grandmother Odessa who learned Spanish simply for its beautiful sounds. Including photographs, an updated afterword, and a foreword by Cuban American anthropologist Ruth Behar, this is a moving story of memory, family, and immigration. Be sure to also check out the last two books in the memoir series, Always from Somewhere Else: A Memoir of My Chilean Jewish Father and The Alphabet in My Hands: A Writing Life.
Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else by Carmen Giménez
Bring Down the Little Birds by Carmen Giménez Smith is a moving ode to motherhood and its role in women’s creative process and professional artistic life. As a poet, professor, and editor, Smith paints a portrait of a contemporary woman’s life upended by a small child, another baby on the way, and a mother who is suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor and Alzheimer’s. With lyrical language and connected fragments of thoughts, daydreams, and notebook entries, she details her challenges and joys as both an artist and a mother balancing the different aspects of her life. Readers will come away with more complex ideas of the interior lives of our mothers and what motherhood ultimately means and asks of us.
A Dream Called Home: A Memoir by Reyna Grande
Reyna Grande is best known as the best-selling author of The Distance Between Us, but she’s also written a groundbreaking memoir for Latinas everywhere in her book A Dream Called Home. She recounts her childhood and adolescence as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. and the daughter of a distant mother and abusive father. Even when she’s accepted as a first-generation Latina university student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, she again finds herself lost and uncertain about the path forward. In both cases, she returns to her love of words and writing, continuing her aspirations to become a writer, build a new life for her children and family, and most of all, make a new home.
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.
American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Marie Arana
American Chica by Maria Arana is a moving portrait of a young girl in the U.S. fighting to keep both of her cultures close to her heart. She describes her divided childhood, where she was taught to be a proper lady by her father’s Peruvian family and taught how to shoot a gun and snap a chicken’s neck by her mother’s American family. But when she immigrates to the U.S. from lush Peru, she is forced to come to terms with her multicultural identity in a new way in Wyoming with its rich terrains, prairies, and family members. From her grandparents to her parents that couldn’t be more different, they teach her how to survive and ultimately celebrate herself.
A Cup Of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir by Daisy Hernández
Not only is A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernández a critically acclaimed memoir, but it’s considered one of the most powerful memoirs written by a Latina because of its scope. It’s a collection of lessons that she learned from her Cuban Colombian family — about race, womanhood, money, and love — as well as an exploration of how she disobeys those very lessons. From coming out as bisexual to questioning what race really means in the larger Latinx diaspora, Hernández weaves a complex, moving story about identity, queerness, history, and community.
Bird Of Paradise: How I Became 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. Beginning from when she was 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 her genetics, Cepeda finds a way to form her own identity, discover family secrets and history, and embrace every facet of who she is.
My Invented Country: A Memoir by Isabel Allende
If you loved The House of the Spirits, you won’t want to miss best-selling author Isabel Allende‘s groundbreaking and revealing memoir My Invented Country. With vulnerability, intimacy, and grace, she offers insight into her homeland of Chile through anecdotes of her childhood, thoughts on what led her to become a writer, portraits of the country’s landscape, history, politics, and religion, and stories of her family members told with mythic-like detail. She especially focuses on the assassination of her uncle Salvador Allende Gossens in 1973, which ignited her writing, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Spanning decades and countries, she touches on themes of history, immigration, politics, family, and what it means to make a home in more than one place. Her next book, The Wind Knows My Name, will be released later this year.