A good biography can help you walk in someone else’s shoes. They offer an inside peek into the lives of the world’s most famous and fascinating people. It’s an opportunity to learn about the untold stories behind that person and the journey to how they became who we know them to be today. Writers will sometimes spend several years researching and learning virtually everything there is to know about a person before even putting pen to paper to create a biography. We as readers get to enjoy the fruit of their labor, learning about the true lives of legends. Then there are autobiographies, where the stories come directly from the subjects themselves — their opportunity to share their life story, set the record straight, and share information we would never have known otherwise. It makes for riveting reading.
We wanted to share 30 Latinx biographies and autobiographies you’ll definitely want to pick up and not put down. While there are so many important biographies that have yet to be written on iconic Latinxs (get to it, great writers!), thankfully, there are several that really share the successes and inner lives of some of our favorite people — including Selena Quintanilla, Celia Cruz, Dolores del Rio, and more. Since summer is right around the corner, we highly suggest writing down these book titles, heading over to the local bookstore, or expanding that Amazon wish list, so you can get a head start on your summer reading!
To Selena, With Love by Chris Perez
We know a lot about Selena Quintanilla-Perez’s life, but getting the perspective from one of the people who knew her best, her husband Chris Perez, is so special and important. He got to live life with Selena, and spend time with the star day after day, sharing these unique moments in his book, To Selena with Love. We also get to learn more about Chris and Selena’s timeless love story, straight from the source.
My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor is such a source of orgullo Latino. In 2009, the Nuyorican became the first Latina, and the third woman, to be appointed a Supreme Court Justice. In fact, she is the first Hispanic or Latinx ever to hold the position. We want to know more about her inspiring story; thankfully, Sonia Sotomayor wrote an autobiography which tells it all: My Beloved World.
Azucar! The New Biography of Celia Cruz, by Eduardo Marceles
Celia Cruz is an icon, and with a lot of icons, we either think we know everything about them or not enough. Azucar! The New Biography of Celia Cruz, by Eduardo Marceles is one of the few books that offers the story of the legendary Afro-Cubana. Marceles talks about her musical start in Cuba, Celia’s collaboration with La Sonora Mantacera, and her move to New York, where she worked with artists such as Tito Puente and solidified herself as La Reina de la Salsa.
Definitely Hispanic: Growing Up Latino and Celebrating What Unites Us, by LeJuan James
LeJuan James has been making us crack up for what seems like forever, which his funny skits, memes, Tweets, and more about being Latinx. Now, the Puerto Rican and Dominican has released a book with even more hilariousness called Definitely Hispanic: Growing Up Latino and Celebrating What Unites Us. It is a collection of essays from the funny man describing how it is to live that Latinx life.
Lupe Velez: The Life and Career of Hollywood’s “Mexican Spitfire,” by Michelle Vogel
Mexicana Lupe Velez was a Latinx star in Old Hollywood, a feat few actresses were able to achieve. There isn’t a ton of information about her, and even worse, there is a lot of negative gossip about Velez. Lupe Velez: The Life and Career of Hollywood’s “Mexican Spitfire,” by Michelle Vogel is one of the few books on Velez’s life and career, and aims to set the record straight on the Latina’s many alleged controversies.
Queens of Havana: The Amazing Adventures of Anacaona, Cuba’s Legendary All-Girl Dance Band, by Alicia Castro
Books, such as biographies, serve to show us stories about our culture that we might not have known about and preserve this history in perpetuity. Such is the case with Queens of Havana: The Amazing Adventures of Anacaona, Cuba’s Legendary All-Girl Dance Band. It tells the story of the Castro sisters, 11 Afro-Asian-Cuban ladies who made up Anacaona, the 1930s-era orchestra.
Ritchie Valens: The First Latino Rocker, by Beverly Mendheim
It’s hard to believe that Chicano legend Ritchie Valens’ music career lasted only eight months. Decades after his death, he is known as a rock and roll Latinx star who broke the mold with his Mexican rock song “La Bamba.” One of the few books that looks specifically at Valens’ life and career is Ritchie Valens: The First Latino Rocker, making it a must-read for any fans of the icon, of Chicano rock, or just Latinx pop culture in general.
Solitude & Company: The Life of Gabriel García Márquez Told with Help from His Friends, Family, Fans, Arguers, Fellow Pranksters, Drunks, and a Few Respectable Souls, by Silvana Paternostro
We know that Colombiano Gabriel Garcia Marquez knew how to create realities with his vivid, florid, and legendary words. But, how do others describe him? Solitude & Company: The Life of Gabriel García Márquez Told with Help from His Friends, Family, Fans, Arguers, Fellow Pranksters, Drunks, and a Few Respectable Souls answers this question, with insight from some of those who knew him best.
Rita Moreno: A Memoir, by Rita Moreno
An Oscar, Grammy, two Emmys, and Tony. A Presidential Medal of Freedom. Being the woman who opened the door in Hollywood so that many Latinxs could walk after her. This is Rita Moreno. The Puerto Rican icon is such a source of pride and inspiration, and we relish the chance to learn how she became such a trailblazer. Her book, Rita Moreno: A Memoir, gives us that glimpse into her life — in her own words.
Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, by Hayden Herrera
When someone becomes as big as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, their life and legacy can become almost mythic. Well-researched biographies can bring icons back down to earth, while also letting us know even more about our heroes. The book Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo takes a deep dive into her life, with access to the artist’s personal letters and diary entries to offer a closer glimpse at who she was.
Her Name Was Dolores: The Jenn I Knew, Pete Salgado and Gabriel Vazquez
Chicana superstar Jenni Rivera is a representative of talent, perseverance, strength, and feminism. While we can read her own story directly from her, in the book Unbreakable: My Story, My Way, it is also cool to get a perspective from two of her closest friends. Her Name Was Dolores: The Jenn I Knew is Pete Salgado and Gabriel Vazquez’s personal experience with the star, as former managers and friends.
The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez: A Border Story, by Aaron Bobrow-Strain
It’s important for us all to know some of the narratives of Latinxs living along the U.S.-Mexico border and put faces and names to their experiences. To know what really goes on so we can help change things. The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez: A Border Story, by Aaron Bobrow-Strain, tells the personal story of Aida Hernandez, who was born in Aguas Prieta, Mexico and moved with her family to Douglas, Arizona as a child. When she was deported back to Mexico after making her life in America, she has to fight to return to the country she knows.
Las Mamis, by Esmeralda Santiago
A great read for Mother’s Day or any day of the year is the book Las Mamis, by Esmeralda Santiago. The anthology features stories from Latinx authors about their moms. It is a good reminder of the influence our mamis play in our lives.
Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, by Vanessa K. Valdes
Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, by Vanessa K. Valdes, focuses on the life of the Afro-Puerto Rican historian, activist, and writer. Arturo’s work brought to light the many achievements and accomplishments of both Afro-Latinos and African-Americans; thankfully his accomplishments and achievements are available to read about in this book.
A Dolores Huerta Reader, by Mario T. Garcia
We will take any opportunity to learn more about legendary civil rights activist and labor leader Dolores Huerta. So we were excited to discover this book on the iconic Chicanx. A Dolores Huerta Reader, by Mario T. Garcia, claims to be the first book to focus on Dolores and her achievements and accomplishments towards getting justice for farm workers.
Querido Alberto: la biografía autorizada de Juan Gabriel, by Eduardo Magallanes
Following the death legendary artist Juan Gabriel, remains questions and rumors that continue to swirl left and right. Whether or not you have seen the Juan Gabriel novela, Hasta que te conoci, you should add this book, Querido Alberto: la biografía autorizada de Juan Gabriel, to your summer reading list. The authorized biography is one of the few books that we have to inform us about El Divo’s life.
Dolores del Río: Beauty in Light and Shade, by Linda B. Hall
When we look back at Latinxs in Hollywood, one of the first to rep for the culture, with her beauty and talent was Dolores del Rio. She became a star in Hollywood, as well as being part of the Golden Age of Cinema in Mexico. But yet what else do we know about her life and career? It is important to keep these histories alive and available for generations after us to read and reference. That’s why the book Dolores del Río: Beauty in Light and Shade was so necessary, and a must read.
Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero, by David Maraniss
Not only was Roberto Clemente one of the baseball players of all time, but the Afro-Puerto Rican was also a great humanitarian (he passed away taking aid to Nicaragua after an earthquake, and often spent his offseasons doing charity work). He is one of the Latinx heroes and sports superstars we should all know about; thankfully, there is the book Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero, by David Maraniss, and other publications on the icon and legend.
Maria Montez: Su Vida, by Margarita Vicens de Morales
Dominican actress Maria Montez is another Old Hollywood star whose name you may have heard of. But, of course, we need to know more about the star! That’s why we want to pick up the biography Maria Montez: Su Vida, by Margarita Vicens de Morales. One of the few publications to cover her life and career, it features beautiful color photos, making for a cool coffee table book.
The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography, by Miriam Pawel
Standing side by side with Dolores Huerta in the fight for the rights of farm workers was Chicano Cesar Chavez. He is another icon, after whom streets are named, a federal holiday is celebrated, and lessons are taught in schools. But, as adults, there are things we didn’t learn about Chavez in school that we should know. The whole story, the real man, and not the myth. The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography, by Miriam Pawel gets to the reality of who Chavez really was.
Maria Felix La Doña, by Pierre Philippe
There aren’t many books about Maria Felix that remain, yet she is probably the biggest female star of Mexican cinema. It’s scary to see how many important stories of Latinx history are disappearing and how underrepresented we are in the book world. That’s why it’s so important to create those films, shows, and books about these people and keep their legacy alive. Maria Felix La Doña, by Pierre Philippe, is one publication you can get about the icon’s life and career.
José Martí: A Revolutionary Life, Alfred J. Lopez
Writer, poet, and leader of the Cuban independence movement Jose Martí is considered a hero. In an effort to focus on the man within the myth, author Alfred J. Lopez penned the biography, José Martí: A Revolutionary Life. The book, noted as “the first major biography of Martí in over half a century and the first ever in English,” is a must-read for any Latin-American history buff.
Neruda: The Biography of a Poet, by Mark Eisner
Poetry is such a beautiful thing to come from a person, and it’s special to get to learn more about the individual behind the work. Especially when it is a Latinx as notable as Chileno Pablo Neruda. Neruda: The Biography of a Poet, by Mark Eisner, is said to be “the most definitive biography to date of the poet Pablo Neruda,” culled from over 15 years of research about the poet and politician.
Latinos in Science, Math, and Professions (A to Z of Latino Americans), by David E. Newton
We realize we can achieve greatness when we see others like us achieving greatness. That’s why it is so crucial for kids, and even adults, in the Latinx community to see themselves represented in all sorts of career fields, such as STEM. The book Latinos in Science, Math, and Professions (A to Z of Latino Americans), by David E. Newton, highlights Latinxs who made a difference in the fields of science, math, and more, ensuring their achievements and accomplishments are noted forever, as well as providing orgullo Latino and inspiration for many.
Passion and Pain: The Life of Hector Lavoe, by Marc Shapiro
The late, great Hector Lavoe is arguably the King of Salsa, a major contributor to the musical genre. The Puerto Rican’s life and career has been touched by massive success, tragedy, and scandal, and we look to reputable sources to get the full story and get it straight. Passion and Pain: The Life of Hector Lavoe, by Marc Shapiro takes a look into the life of the salsa great.
The People’s Poet: Life and Myth of Ismael Rivera, an Afro-Caribbean Icon, by Rosa Elena Carrasquillo
There are Afro-Latinx music artists who are an integral part of a genre, but whose stories are buried under the success of other musicians. Such is the tale of Afro-Puerto Rican Ismael Rivera. The composer and salsa singer doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his musical contributions, and like others on this list, we deserve to learn and know more about Ismael Rivera. The book The People’s Poet: Life and Myth of Ismael Rivera, an Afro-Caribbean Icon allows us to do just that.
American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood, by Marie Arana
Many Latinxs today are living between two cultures — that of their country and American (you could even consider the collective Latinx culture a third!). Narratives that reflect this reality is so refreshing to read and connect with because so many of us can relate. So, we definitely recommend checking out Marie Arana’s American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood, which documents her experience growing up with a Peruvian father and American mother.
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, by Diane Guerrero and Michelle Burford
When you see Latinx stars on the screen, it’s easy to assume they haven’t had to deal with any life difficulties. We often think they are so far removed from what is going on in the “real world,” that they are disconnected from important issues. Not Diane Guerrero. She knows how current immigration policies affect families because her own parents were deported to Colombia when she was only 14. In the Country We Love: My Family Divided is her story, and how it connects to what’s happening in America today.
Growing Up Latino, by Various Authors; by
Anthologies are great because they are little tidbits of knowledge and art from different writers. Different essays, different experiences, different perspectives. Growing Up Latino is an anthology that combines the stories of several different Latinx writers on their personal experiences coming of age in the U.S., allowing us a window in each person’s home, even if for a moment.
Eyewitness: A Filmmaker’s Memoir of the Chicano Movement, by Jesus Salvador Treviño
As a filmmaker, Jesus Salvador Treviño had a front-row seat to the Chicano Movement during the 1960s and ’70s. Not only did he document what he saw and experienced in a visual format, but he also wrote about it for the book, Eyewitness: A Filmmaker’s Memoir of the Chicano Movement. It is an inside look at that direct access to a huge moment in Chicano history that we often don’t get to see.