Summer is almost here, which means a change of seasons, a change of schedule (if you’re lucky) and a whole lot more time to bury your head in a good book. Back in the day a summer syllabus was more of a burden than a blessing, but these days we’re open to any excuse to flex our intellectual muscle, escape into a new literary world, and maybe even learn a thing or two about the history, the cultural importance and the empowerment of Chicana women and authors. Consider this your Chicana literature syllabus, aka your agenda for the next few months.
Chicana literature, aka literature written by Mexican-American authors emerging from the Chicana Feminist movement, has been around for decades. For many years Latina authors have sparked conversations about tough topics, have shed light on harsh realities of life as Latina women, have helped others navigate family life, cultural confusion and racism, and have empowered others to be proud of their heritage and who they truly are.
While Chicana literature first appeared several centuries ago, even dating back to the 1800s and with cultural influences from as far back as the 16th century, it gained a significant boost in the 1960s, during the Mexican American civil rights movement. During this time Chicana authors emerged and used their voice to raise awareness of social injustices, feminism, the challenges of living as a Latina during those tough times, and more. And even today, several decades later, these works are seminal, powerful, and incredibly necessary for everyone, regardless of your ethnicity, background, gender or age.
Today, more than ever, these impactful, honest and extremely gifted Chicana writers need to be heard. Considering the current debate on immigration reform, the hatred spread by our own country’s administration and the terrifying state of the world — a world filled with fear, inequality and uncertainty — it seems vital to our spiritual survival that we read what these women have to say. Their works continue to inspire and contribute to a rich and diverse literary world that explores Latina culture and history through poetry, narrative and everything in between.
In short, these Chicana authors are essential to the survival and betterment of us all, and their work will continue to influence cultures throughout Latin America, America and the rest of the world. Their words inspire feminists and their stories empower us all. And while every author has a unique voice, and every story has its own special tone, plot, message and meaning, one thing that the much of Chicana literature has in common is that the women behind the books are all strong, empowering and extremely talented artists with something important to say.
So grab your reading glasses and get ready to snuggle up with a good book, because summer is almost in session and this is your official Chicana literature syllabus.
9Chicana Falsa: And Other Stories of Death, Identity, and Oxnard by Michele Serros
Michele Serros has long been regarded as one of the most influential Chicana authors of our time. She was an American author, poet and comedic social commentator, who used humor, brutal honesty and true tales of her experiences as a Chicana growing up in California to comment on the difficulties of finding your identity in a multicultural society.
In her book, Serros talks about her upbringing as a fourth-generation Californian in Oxnard, and how her life was influenced as much by Californian pop culture as it was by her heritage and her Latina roots. She shares short stories and poems about Latina life in California, from the middle school student who criticized her “sloppy Spanish” to the person who accused her of being a Chicana false (hence the name of the book). She uses her stories to help present a different type of life and a different existence that many young women don’t see in mainstream media — a life that resembles their own complicated, confusing life as an outsider.
She also wrote How to Be a Chicana Role Model, another book that should be on your must-read list. This novel chronicles her experiences and responsibilities as a Chicana poet and writer, struggling to find success and also find her place in her community. This book is an essential work of literature for anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t belong, like they weren’t Latina enough or like they had to defend who they wanted to be and where they come from. Sadly, Serros passed away from cancer in 2015, but her work stands the test of time and will continue to inspire future generations of Chicanas as they deal with similar issues of identity crisis and self-discovery.