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Hispanista: Immigration in Literature

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One of the benefits of literature is that it can immerse you into another life, one that you would never experience but that thanks to words on a page you can vividly imagine and better understand. This week the topic of immigration has been on a lot of people’s minds after the governor of Arizona signed the controversial SB 1070 bill into law. Many of us will never have to live the difficult life of an immigrant, but through literature we can learn about common struggles they face; we can put a face and a name on the issue, even if it’s a fictional character’s face and name.

Hispanics are not the only immigrants, of course; but, because of the subject of this column, we will concentrate on the Hispanic immigrant experience. Here are three novels and one play that take the reader inside the many worlds of an immigrant.

Across a Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande

This novel tells the story of Juana, a teenager whose life in Mexico falls apart: her sister dies in a flood, her brother is taken and her mother becomes an alcoholic. Her father leaves for the US to find work, and after her life crumbles in Mexico, Juana goes searching for him. She meets Adelina in Tijuana and the book starts switching between Juana’s and Adelina’s experience as they both try to reunite with their families. This book deals with the separation families face when part of it immigrates and the other stays behind, a far too common phenomenon.

Let it Rain Coffee by Angie Cruz

In this story the first one to immigrate is the woman of the home, Esperanza Colón. In The Dominican Republic, Esperanza saves money to escape to New York in search of the American Dream. Her two children and her husband later join her. Esperanza hoped to find in the United States the life that she saw on TV, but years go by and their situation does not change to become what she expected; her husband is a cab driver and she works as a home aide. Unexpectedly their life takes a turn when her husband’s mother dies in The Dominican Republic and her father-in-law goes to New York and moves in with them; her children also become teenagers, bringing another set of issues into play. This book shows the day-to-day struggles of an immigrant family who is chasing the American Dream but is inevitably tied to their homeland and to a harsh reality.

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

This novel is set in New Mexico in the 1940s. It tells the story of a young boy, Antonio, as he comes of age. Antonio is torn between the two sides of his family: his father’s side is strong with vaquero heritage, bravery and machismo; his mother’s side is quiet and profoundly Catholic. He also deals with his older brothers who come back from war and try to find their own way. In the middle of this, Antonio builds a relationship with Ultima, a curandera (a sort of Hispanic shaman), who introduces him to yet another way of life understanding the world through nature and its powers. This novel is rich with questions of justice, spirituality, religion and tolerance. It introduces the reader into the issues children of immigrants face as they grow up influenced by different cultures.

Real Women Have Curves by Josefina Lopez

This play features five voluptuous Mexican women. They work at a small factory, hiding from immigration services and engaging in funny and heartfelt conversations. The reader becomes a fly on the wall listening to what these women discuss; their family, their lovers, their bodies and their dreams for a better future outside the factory. The reader also witnesses how Ana, the youngest from the group, finds her way and fulfills her dream. This play makes its readers laugh, and i also makes them think about the important issues it presents. The feminist twist might scare male readers, but it is a play that women and men can enjoy and learn from. There is a movie inspired by the play under the same name, featuring America Ferrera.

These are only four examples of a rich sub-genre in Hispanic and Latino literature. There are many other books dealing with immigration to pick from. What are your favorite books on this topic?

–Silvia Viñas


Written by whitney teal

April 30, 2010 at 9:01 am

Posted in Hispanista

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  1. […] Originally published in Uptown Literati […]

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