For the last month, 19-year-old Sabrina Rodriguez has meticulously arranged pink, yellow, and violet flowers in the shape of a crown. But her Frida Kahlo-inspired flower crown isn’t for wearing; instead, it adorns the many books she features online. The Puerto Rican/Cuban/Italian college student from Queens is on a mission to create a database of Latino and Latin American authors on her newly created Instagram account, LatinxReads. With the nearly 20 books she’s already shared, Rodriguez has shown that she’s dedicated to highlighting a wide range of authors spanning different genres. Her goal is to create as comprehensive a list as possible, so that the next time you want to read something from a Latino or Latin American author, all you have to do is turn to her Instagram.
For the Baruch College student, LatinxReads stemmed from her own desire to embrace her Latinidad. “I think after I took my very first Latino studies class that was when I kind of realized how disconnected I felt from my heritage,” she told me in a phone interview. “I was one of those kids that didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. I wasn’t ever really immersed in my Latino culture. Anyone can take a Latino studies class, anyone can take a dancing class, a salsa dancing class or learn how to speak Spanish even. In order to really understand la cultura, you have to put yourself in other people’s shoes. And I’ve always gravitated toward reading and toward books.”
So this year, she challenged herself to read more works from Latin American and Latino authors, but she felt Google didn’t help her get closer to her goal. “I kind of felt stupid Googling ‘books about Latinos,’ ‘books about Puerto Ricans,'” she said. Plus, she found that many of the articles that popped up from her searches had a limited scope – reserved mostly for classics from a small number of Latin American countries. Cien años de soledad and The House on Mango Street are clearly important works, but they may not represent every reader. She wants every Latino to feel the way she did the first time she read Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican.
“One of the very first books I read [when I started this] was When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, and that’s a memoir about her kind of growing up in Puerto Rico… There were so many moments that were verbatim stories that my father has told me, from when he was living in Puerto Rico. She ends up moving to Bushwick, and that’s where [my dad] moved too when he first came here. It was a really a personal book to me. It’s really close to my heart,” she said. “And I think that those stories are super important. But that’s kind of like not all that [there is to] being Latino. There are so many other aspects and facets of being Latino and just kind of seeing little hints of what it means to be Nicaraguan, what it means to be from different countries.”
Even with the name of the Instagram account, she strives to create a welcoming environment. The word Latinx first arose a few years ago from the desire to find a non-binary, gender inclusive word to refer to our community. Today, it’s common to see the term in media headlines (including some of our own), academic texts, and activist literature. But the word hasn’t arrived on the scene without its fair share of controversy and resistance. A quick Google search will show you articles making cases for or against the term – and in the comment section of Remezcla posts, we frequently see the term hotly debated.
But for Sabrina, there was no question about using the word Latinx. “It’s about what that X means,” she said. “It’s just having people look at the word and be like ‘Yes, that’s me. I’m included in that, too.'”
As she enters her second month of posting on LatinxReads, Sabrina has lined up a roster of female authors to celebrate Women’s History Month. Here’s a glimpse at the female authors she’s already featured: