Natasha talks about curating the Teen display to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month
When I was first asked to write this blog post, I thought, “Why me? I’m a white-passing, mixed Latinx woman who barely speaks Spanish.” I struggled a lot with what to say and how to express how it feels to have half of myself represented, not only in YA fiction, but enough so that I could make a full display celebrating my heritage.
My experience as a Latinx woman is decidedly unique. I was raised in a house where we watched TV in Spanish and English. We ate lasagna one night, and arroz con pollo with tostones the next. However, outside of the home it was wrong to appear anything but white. My grandmother was forced to assimilate in 1950s New York. She never learned how to speak Spanish and she often claims that she’s “fully white” (she is 100% Cuban). My mother, my sisters, and I have carried that shame with us through the generations.
Creating a display that celebrates that side of my family inspires a feeling inside of me that cannot be properly described. I have spent the past few years undoing two generations of damage. I am open about my culture and the way I was raised. I am taking lessons to learn Spanish, cooking Cuban food, and sharing it with my friends and coworkers. Most recently, I’ve started writing YA book reviews of novels written by Hispanic authors for Latinitas Magazine. I have finally embraced that I am Hispanic, and it feels wonderful. The most difficult thing about growing up in a mixed household is that I am not one thing. Different parts of each culture influence who I am.
I read a lot of YA fiction, mostly fantasy and science fiction, and I have noticed this amazing, beautiful trend of books that proudly proclaim what it means to Hispanic. There’s a spectrum, and each of us has a different story to tell. That’s what I had in mind when I chose books for the Hispanic Heritage Month display. I wanted books that celebrated the experiences of Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Peruvians, Brazilians, and everyone in between. I wanted books written by Latinx from all walks of life; I wanted to celebrate that spectrum.
Here are some of my favorite books from the display:
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia seamlessly deals with the issues of immigration and female oppression as a young woman with a secret that could destroy her and her family navigates high society and finds herself irrevocably involved in a revolution. This was a sit-down and read in one sitting type of book. It was the first book I had read that I would classify as Hispanic Fantasy. It was a breath of fresh air.
Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno is a beautifully lyrical story about a Cuban girl born under the shadow of a family curse getting ready to go to college. This book is magical, lyrical, and dynamic. With each page, I became more and more a part of the small south Floridian town of Port Coral. I really connected to this book because, like me, Rosa doesn’t fully understand herself. There are parts of her she doesn’t know. I understood her desire to visit her native land, and stand where her ancestors stood. This book was more than a cute love story, more than a story of a family. It was a piece of my heritage that I could connect to.
The Poet X and With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo are both some of the best books I’ve ever read. Poet X is a book in verse about a young Afro-Latinx woman living in Harlem and writing slam poetry who wants to break free from her oppressive, religious mother and find herself. With the Fire on High is about an Afro-Latinx Puerto Rican teenage mother, who aspires to be a chef, struggling through her final year of high school.
Both of these books represent the underrepresented. I love Acevedo’s writing style and her ability to talk so openly about hardship. She doesn’t shy away from tough topics, and she isn’t afraid to call out the injustice she sees.
-Natasha F, Kids Assistant Inventory Manager