The immigration crisis happening at our border is hard to hear about but even harder to ignore. It can be difficult to process the stories of families being torn apart, children being held at detention centers, unsafe living conditions and dangerous journeys of those looking for safety and a better life. It’s heartbreaking but it’s important that we pay attention. The fact remains that the U.S.-Mexico border is nearly 2,000 miles stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the southern tip of Texas, encompassing borders throughout four states (California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas) that are patrolled to varying degrees, ranging from fencing to pedestrian patrol to Border Protection check points and everything in between.
You’ve been hearing a lot about what exactly happens along this border (the good, but most often the bad). And while the news reports are important and the media coverage matters, it’s time to listen to a different type of voice that comes from the border and beyond. Some of the most valuable, insightful, honest and amazingly talented voices come from the Latina authors/writers who are living at the US-Mexico border, and who have talent and experiences that can no longer be neglected.
For so long we primarily associated the border with negativity, violence, tragedy and turmoil. We’ve thought of the border as a war zone, so much so that we’ve failed to consider and celebrate the immense Latina talent that also exists in this border zone. And there is so, so much talent.
Truth be told, most of the literature you read from the border is often focused on reporting from the battle lines. Reports flood your newsfeed, and media outlets dedicate a lot of airtime to covering the immigration crisis. Some of the reports are more accurate than others. Some overdramatize the reality and some paint a dangerously inaccurate picture of what is happening at the border. In some cases, people have taken a more visual approach, such as photographer John Moore whose book Undocumented: Immigration and the Militarization of the United States-Mexico Border features more than 180 pictures covering the immigration issue from both sides of the border over the past 10 years.
And while it’s clearly imperative that reporters, photographers and activists share their views on what is happening at the US-Mexico border, there are also other voices to listen to and other stories that need to be shared.
These gifted writers are not only reshaping the landscape of Latinx literature, but they are also changing the way we see the world and the way we think about our place in this complicated reality. They are sparking conversations about tough topics and they are opening our eyes to issues that impact immigrants and Latinx people in this country and around the world. In some cases their words are challenging us to think about the collateral damage of this humanitarian crisis and all of the political temper tantrums and power struggles that come along with it. In others, their words simply transport you to a different world, to the point where the characters’ struggles become your struggles, and you can empathize deeply with what they are going through. From cultural issues to topics of sexuality, family loyalty, and the complicated reality of being a Latina living along the Mexican-American border, these authors and books cover it all.
Like many great writers and life-changing works, these authors have created content that helps you consider the questions and topics you’ve been too nervous, embarrassed or ashamed to talk about out loud. But these writers are so much more than just Latinas reporting from the border.
They represent a culture of talented, creative and empowered people who were raised along the border and who want to shed light on the reality of what is happening on both sides of the border so that we can all understand the complex reality that so many immigrants are faced with. These inspiring Latina authors are the must-hear voices coming from the border, and their masterpieces are must-read books that will forever change the way you think about the world.
Profound and Perfect Things by Maribel Garcia
Born and raised in Rio Grande Valley, Texas — a border region at the tip of Texas — Maribel Garcia didn’t begin her career as a writer. She was formerly a professor of Women’s Studies at California State University San Marcos and holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from UT Austin. But based on her debut novel alone, it seems that Garcia has a voice unlike anyone else, and stories that need to be shared. Her novel Profound and Perfect Things tells the story of two first-generation Mexican American sisters living in South Texas and struggling to build meaningful lives despite their parents’ traditional way of life. One sister struggles to come to terms with her sexuality while the other struggles to build a family of her own. And when their worlds become even more deeply intertwined they are bound together by a secret that could tear their entire family apart. The novel deals with the complexities of being a first-generation Mexican American, deceit, loyalty, sexuality, loss and the bonds of sisterhood.
The Gringo Champion by Aura Xilonen
This book by young Mexican author Aura Xilonen tells the story of an illegal immigrant who is forced to leave his home and cross the border into the United States undocumented. Through his journey to the “promised land” the main character, Liborio, navigates the gringo border city where he settles and tries to make a life for himself in America, ultimately becoming a boxer. Xilonen grew up in Mexico, but the story is largely based on her grandfather’s experiences after crossing the Rio Grande in pursuit of the American Dream. In addition, Xilonen spent time as an undocumented immigrant in Germany, and she taps into her own experiences and infuses those emotions into her story. She wrote the book first and foremost in an effort to preserve her grandfather’s memory and to share the story of what it was like for him (and what it still like today for so many immigrants) to cross the border into the US in hopes of a better life. In an interview for Electric Literature she explains that in part her book was inspired by those who have crossed the border in the past, as well as the current immigration crisis. “I thought about the tragedy and suffering of my character and then extrapolated it to the millions of sufferings that must exist out there; about their forgotten screams. I thought about the thousands of anonymous graves that must store the bones of disappeared migrants,” she said. Her debut novel (which she began writing at just 16 years old, by the way) is an honest look at what life is like for illegal immigrants, and while it was first published a couple of years ago, it is more topical than ever.
Borderlands La Frontera by Gloria E. Anzaldua
This book is not new on the scene; in fact, this most recent release is the 25th anniversary edition of this groundbreaking book that is a collection of poems and essays by Gloria Anzaldúa, a celebrated Chicana-tejana-lesbian-feminist poet, theorist, and fiction writer from south Texas. The book has always challenged the way we think about our identity and what makes us who we are and who we are meant to be. It challenges you to consider the borders in your life — physical borders as well as social, cultural and emotional borders. Anzaldúa wrote this semi-autobiographical book as a way to share her experiences and explore her own identity as a queer Chicana growing up on the Mexico-Texas border. She explores the ways that she was marginalized growing up and how her lifelong experiences of being caught between worlds (quite literally on a physical border and also culturally, emotionally and sexually between borders) shaped who she was.
Rant. Chant. Chisme. by Amalia Ortiz
This book of poetry is a collection of work from writer and poet Amalia Ortiz, a south Texas native who documents her life as a woman of color living on the US-Mexico border. It should come as no surprise that her poetry is powerful and feels like it was meant to be shouted in front of a crowd — Ortiz’s creative background is actually in slam poetry. She was featured in three seasons of HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and she is the first Latina poet to ever reach the final round at the National Poetry Slam. And in this book she shares stories, she talks about social injustices witnessed at the border and she uses her poetry as activism. She discusses what it was like to grow up a woman of color in La Feria, a small town in deep south Texas, and uses her unique poetry style to celebrate her culture while also giving readers a glimpse of what it is like to try and establish your existence in a complicated place like the border.