What to Read and Watch During Latinx Heritage Month

Books, films, multimedia—and even a Spotify playlist—recommended by members of the Tufts community to expand your horizons
Collage of book and film covers. Books, films, multimedia—and even a Spotify playlist—recommended by members of the Tufts community to expand your horizons
Photo collage: Momo Shinzawa
September 20, 2021

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For Latinx Heritage Month, running from mid-September to mid-October, we asked Tufts faculty, staff, and alumni to recommend books, films, music, and online resources that give voice to the Latinx experience. 

If you’re on a Tufts campus, don’t forget you can check availability at Tisch Library.

BOOKS

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. This is a fascinating intergenerational story of a Dominican family. It gives refreshing insight into the political turmoil that led to Dominican migration to the United States and the newer generations that feel trapped between two continents. —Joel Perez, A08, actor, writer, comedian, singer, and musician

Intergalactic Travels: poems from a fugitive alien, by Alan Palaez Lopez. This multimedia collection of poems highlights the legacy of illegality through history and the author’s personal experience. The book expands the conversation around undocumented migration, and leaves room to imagine a future for Black and Indigenous individuals. —Jasmine A. Ramón, program administrator, Tufts Latinx Center

Latinx Art: Artists, Markets, and Politics, by Arlene Dávila, J87. A culturally and sociologically informed explication of what Latinx art is and why the frameworks and structures of the artworld ecosystem perpetuate its exclusion. Latinx Art includes a “noncomprehensive list of Latinx artists everyone should know” and another appendix of resources. —Adriana Zavala, associate professor, Department of the History of Art and Architecture and Department of Studies in Racism, Colonialism, and Diaspora

Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats & Media Constructed a New American, by Cristina G. Mora. This thought-provoking book walks us back in time to show how the contemporary ethnic labels of Hispanic and Latino are imperfect social and political constructions, intended from the start to be imperfect and “strategically ambiguous” labels that could group together heterogeneous populations for instrumental and political ends. It’s a wide-ranging book that not only connects many fields and actors (from the U.S. government to Mexican American and Puerto Rican “ethnic mobilizers” to Spanish-language media), but also temporally situates the emergence and consolidation of the U.S. category “Hispanic” between 1960 and 1990. —Helen B. Marrow, associate professor of sociology

The Map to the Door of No Return, by Dionne Brand. This poetic book explores the complexity of the formation of racial and ethnic identities in this rapidly diversifying world. Brand talks about the process of trying to claim culture and establish belonging despite the impact colonization has had on the African Diaspora by reflecting on her own experiences and origins. She reflects on the connections between ancestry and geography, and how those form who we are. —Jasmine A. Ramón, program administrator, Tufts Latinx Center

The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo. This YA novel speaks of the power of poetry and art-making as vehicles for social and political transformation. Although the book was written for tweens, there is a power to the language that will resonate for any reader. The narrative centers on a young Afro-Latina woman in Harlem who uses slam poetry to give voice to feelings and ideas that the outside world wishes to silence. It is breathtaking. —Noe Montez, chair and Associate Professor, Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies

Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago, by Tatiana Flores (curator) and Michelle Ann Stephens (editor). This is the catalog for the eponymous landmark exhibition showcasing artists of the Caribbean and its U.S. diaspora, and challenges conceptual and geographies boundaries of Latinx and Latin America by setting into relational dialogue artists of the hispanophone Caribbean with their counterparts from Anglophone, Francophone, Dutch and Danish Caribbean islands. —Adriana Zavala, associate professor, Department of the History of Art and Architecture and Department of Studies in Racism, Colonialism, and Diaspora

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring Latinx artists, curated by Alejandro Ramirez-Cisneros, a multimedia producer in the Office of University Communications and Marketing.

Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love Across Borders, by Leisy J. Abrego. Americans do not tend to give much thought to how our immigration policy shapes lives outside of the United States. But Abrego’s thoughtful book Sacrificing Families carefully traces how punitive U.S. immigration policies create “cumulative disadvantage” for many Salvadorans both here and abroad. She traces how U.S. immigration law produces “illegality” that shapes people’s livelihoods in El Salvador, their decisions to migrate, their early adaptation experiences, their transnational parenting strategies toward the children they leave behind, and even their children’s emotional and economic well-being. —Helen B. Marrow, associate professor of sociology

War Against All Puerto Ricans, by Nelson Denis. This is a fascinating and infuriating piece of nonfiction that details the complicated history of the colonization of Puerto Rico. It puts into perspective the current socio-political climate surrounding the statehood argument for Puerto Rico and how complicit the American government is in the subjugation of the inhabitants of the island and the diaspora that has spread into the mainland U.S. —Joel Perez, A08, actor, writer, comedian, singer, and musician

We the Animals, by Justin Torres. An autobiographical first novel, this is a beautiful work about a mixed-race family and one boy’s coming of age told through 19 vignettes. Torres, who is an assistant professor of English at UCLA, creates a novel that asserts that Latinx stories can have a place for joy and self-discovery, even in the turmoil of adolescence. —Noe Montez, chair and associate professor, Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies

We Are Owed, by Ariana Brown. This collection of poetry explores Black relationality in Mexican and Mexican American spaces. The author uses her own life experiences to question the anti-Blackness and erasure within Mexican nationalism, as well as illuminate the tension between Blackness and Latinidad. —Jasmine A. Ramón, program administrator, Tufts Latinx Center

IN SHORT

Four books recommended by Pedro Angel Palou, chair of the Department of Romance Studies and Fletcher Professor of Oratory:

FILMS

Coco. Pixar’s Coco is almost worth it for its incredible visual depiction of the Land of the Dead. But beyond this striking bit of visual imagery, Coco is about lineage and matriarchy, and the beauty of a porous border. And the music will bring you to tears every time. —Noe Montez, chair and associate Professor, Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies

The Guestworker. Unknown to many Americans is that the number of temporary migrant guestworkers coming into the United States to work seasonably in low-wage agriculture on H2-A visas today is larger than the number of seasonal workers who came in 1964, the year the United States famously terminated its bracero agricultural program in the wake of the California farmworkers’ movement. The documentary The Guestworker tells the story of Don Candelario Gonzalez Moreno, a 66-year-old Mexican farmer and one of the first H2-A guestworkers. —Helen B. Marrow, associate professor of sociology

Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America. Based on the groundbreaking book of the same name by journalist Juan González, the documentary Harvest of Empire makes visible how U.S. economic and military interests triggered and structured out-migration flows from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and El Salvador over the 20th to 21st centuries. Essential viewing for anyone looking to better understand the deep linkages between (neo)colonialism, empire, and migration in the Americas. —Helen B. Marrow, associate professor of sociology

Lemon Grove Incident. In 1930, local school board officials barred Mexican American students in Lemon Grove, California, from attending their local elementary school, telling them to go to a school designated for Mexican-origin youth instead. The students’ parents fought back, organizing and taking the school district to court. The documentary Lemon Grove Incident recounts their remarkable story. The court case, Roberto Alvarez v. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District, would become the United States’ first successful school desegregation case and a precedent for Brown v. Board of Education. Released by KPBS, the film can also be viewed in full for free online. —Helen B. Marrow, associate professor of sociology

Raising Victor Vargas. A funny and intimate coming-of-age portrait of a young Latino in New York’s Lower East Side, this film has some very grounded and real performances that make you feel like you’re watching a documentary. —Joel Perez, A08, actor, writer, comedian, singer, and musician

TELEVISION

Vida. In this television series by acclaimed television writer Tanya Saracho, two sisters move back to their childhood home in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles following the death of their mother. Vida addresses LGBTQIA+ identities in the Latinx community, gentrification, intergenerational legacies, and family trauma with a deft touch that alternates between melodrama and broad comedy. Saracho creates a magical universe brimming with heart, queerness, and sex-positivity. —Noe Montez, chair and associate professor, Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies

MULTIMEDIA

El Museo del Barrio’s La Trienal 20/21. I heartily recommend exploring the triennial held this year at El Museo del Barrio, curated by Rodrigo Moura, Susanna V. Temkim, and Elia Alba; the triennial showcases the creativity and vitality of Latinx artists across the U.S. and the Caribbean with significant online resources, including a playlist and the print catalog Estamos Bien. —Adriana Zavala, associate professor, Department of the History of Art and Architecture and Department of Studies in Racism, Colonialism, and Diaspora

U.S. Latinx Art Forum. An organization I co-founded, the USLAF, champions artists and arts professionals engaged in research, studio practice, pedagogy, and writing. We generate and support initiatives that advance the vitality of Latinx art through an intergenerational network that spans academia, art institutions, and collections. —Adriana Zavala, associate professor, Department of the History of Art and Architecture and Department of Studies in Racism, Colonialism, and Diaspora

The Problem with Latinidad by Miguel Salazar. An article from 2019 about a growing community of young, Black, and Indigenous people who are questioning the very identity underpinning Hispanic Heritage Month. —Pedro Angel Palou, chair of Romance Studies Department, Fletcher Professor of Oratory

U.S. Latinx Arts Futures Symposium. This is the YouTube channel of the 2016 U.S. Latinx Arts Futures Symposium, organized by artist Teresita Fernández and hosted at the Ford Foundation, NYC. —Adriana Zavala, associate professor, Department of the History of Art and Architecture and Department of Studies in Racism, Colonialism, and Diaspora

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.