Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate the contributions women have made throughout history and the present day in various industries, fields, and movements. In publishing, Latina writers remain underrepresented and therefore so do our stories. But we have made a lot of progress throughout the years in seeing ourselves represented in the books and works we read, thanks to several Latina authors who have come before us and broke glass ceilings, endured microaggressions, xenophobia, and racism, and filled a need many didn’t even know was there. This is not an exhaustive list but is a round-up of a select few who have made an impact on the Latinx literary scene and who deserve to be honored and credited for their groundbreaking work. Read on to learn more about 10 inspiring Latina pioneers who helped pave the way for other Latina writers in publishing.
Chicana poet, novelist, and essayist Sandra Cisneros is best known for her best-selling and critically acclaimed novel The House On Mango Street (1983) which follows a young Mexican American girl growing up in Chicago which sold millions of copies. The National Medal of Arts recipient has also released a memoir and multiple novels and collections of poetry including her latest, Woman Without Shame. Since she debuted on the literary scene in 1983, she is now considered an icon of Chicano literature and Mango Street remains a pivotal and relevant book.
Chilean writer Isabel Allende is a writer of magical realist fiction and nonfiction best known for her first published novel The House of the Spirits,(1982) which has been adapted for film, theater, and an upcoming TV series starring Eva Longoria. Allende is considered the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author and has been credited with breaking boundaries between U.S. and Latin American literature. In the span of her decades-long career she’s written more than 25 books including The Soul of a Woman (2022) and A Long Petal of the Sea (2019).
Julia Alvarez is a Dominican American poet, novelist, and essayist famous for her novels How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), the first novel by a Dominican-American woman to be critically acclaimed in the U.S. She was born in New York and at three months old she and her family moved back to her parent’s homeland of the Dominican Republic, where she grew up until she was 10 years old. Her writing is influenced by her experiences trying to assimilate and the experience of life as an immigrant. “I consider this radical uprooting from my culture, my native language, my country, the reason I began writing,” she previously said. Her acclaimed 1994 novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, is a fictional account of the murders of the revolutionary Mirabal sisters who stood up against the Trujillo dictatorship and it was adapted to film in 2001.
Puerto Rican author Esmeralda Santiago is a memoirist who published her first book, When I Was Puerto Rican in 1993 exploring the cultural dissonance of being a Puerto Rican raised in the U.S. then returning to the island. Santiago previously shared that she writes “for women. I don’t care if men read my work… It’s women’s lives I’m interested in.” The book also covers the patriarchal pressures women face in Puerto Rico and the U.S. as well as family, food, and culture. She continued covering these themes and more with Almost a Woman (1998) diving deeper into assimilation and living in the in-between. Her work greatly impacted publishing by putting a spotlight on the coming of age story of a Latina in the U.S. learning to live within two cultures.
Born in 1942, Gloria Anzaldua was a renowned queer Chicana scholar and writer best known for her book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, based on her experiences growing up on the Texas-Mexico border. Passionate about exploring feminism, cultural theory, queer theory, language, and cultural marginalization, she remains an important figure in feminist, Chicana, and queer studies. She’s known for having used the concept of Nepantla, (Nahuatl for “in the middle”) to descibe the experience of being a Chicana.
Veronica Chambers is an Afro-Latina writer best known for her memoir Mama’s Girl (1996), exploring the relationship she had with her Panamanian immigrant mother including striving to be the “perfect” daughter. She also developed and launched the magazine Glam Latina for Condé Nast and Women’s Day Latina for the Hearst Company and she’s written children’s books including Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa (2005).
Meg Medina is a Cuban American author who recently made history when she was appointed the first Latina National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature. But even before breaking this new ground, she has been a published author renowned for her work in children’s literature including her middle-grade novel Merci Suárez Changes Gears, which won the John Newbury Medal in 2019 for her contributions to children’s literature. She uses her platform to advocate for diversity in children’s literature and was a founder member of We Need Diverse Books.
Laura Esquivel is a Mexican author and screenwriter best known for her best-selling and critically-acclaimed debut novel Like Water for Chocolate, which became renowned in the U.S. and Mexico. The book was later adapted into an award-winning film and helped increase visibility of Mexican literature. She has since written 10 novels, many of which have explored Mexico’s complex history and race relations, as well as the power and autonomy of women.
Cherríe Moraga is a Chicana writer, poet, essayist, playwright, and feminist activist known as one of the first writers of Chicana lesbian theory. After coming out as a lesbian in college, she has since done groundbreaking work in the intersectional feminist landscape, exploring the intersections of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and race in her works. She launched her career editing the feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color with Gloria Anzaldúa. Moraga released her memoir Native County of the Heart in 2019.
Raquel Cepeda is an Afro-Dominican journalist, filmmaker, and autobiographer known for her memoir Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina and the PEN/Open Book Award and Latino Book Award-winning anthology And It Don’t Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years, which she edited. On her podcast Our National Conversation About Conversations About Race, she explores culture, identity, music, politics, race, family, and language in the Latinx and African diasporas.