2020’s Best Books by Latine or Latin American Authors

Art by Alan Lopez for Remezcla

In a year filled with angst and solitude, books served as a source of both learning and unlearning. It was a time to reimagine existing worlds and creation of new ones—and books were a continued source for inspiration on both. Latine authors like Karla Cornejo Villavicencio garnered much-deserved praise for her digestible yet exuberant rendition of a tale all-too-familiar to most of us. Others like Christine Gutierrez aimed to provide guidance for healing while respected writers like Maria Hinojosa and Roberto Lovato chronicled their lives and work for the, perhaps, betterment of ours. Most of everyone did a lot of reading this year and we hope that continues in the year(s) to come. Here are our top 15 books by Latine and Latin American authors released in 2020, in no particular order:

Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Right away, Cornejo Villavicencio tells you what to expect: “This book is for everybody who wants to step away from the buzzwords in immigration… and read about the people underground. Not heroes. Randoms. People. Characters.” She’s a reporter visiting the sites of American tragedies (9/11, Flint, Hurricane Sandy) and finding the undocumented people who have been there all along, putting communities in New York on to their rights after disasters, and helping others get healthcare in Flint and Miami. As part of her journey, Cornejo Villavicencio tells her own story: prickly and angry and exuberant, full of contradictions. A character. —Alejandra Oliva

Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

After the controversy following the release of American Dirt, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s Children of the Land became one of the top recommended books for its authentic story of the true immigrant experience. This memoir by the award-winning poet shines a light on what its like to live undocumented in the U.S. as he shares what life was like after he and his family crossed the border when he was five years old. He honestly recounts how their status contributed to some painful experiences, including his father’s deportation and later his own that kept him away from his family for a decade. Amid the continuing immigration crisis, Castillo’s beautifully told story provides a window into an experience that’s diminished to a headline but carries so many layers of pain and trauma. —Virginia Isaad

Hatemonger by Jean Guerrero

Jean Guerrero’s Hatemonger is the first book-length biography to be published about Donald Trump adviser Stephen Miller. As Guerrero meticulously traces the origins and evolution of Miller’s bigotry, her investigative reporting skills shine. She also demonstrates how Miller’s bigotry, which is largely rooted in anti-Mexican sentiment, shaped and fueled Miller’s political aspirations, leading him to become a protégé of David Horowitz, a lackey for Jeff Sessions, and one of the principal architects of Trump’s racist and xenophobic immigration policies. Hatemonger straddles genres, functioning as a non-fiction chronicle as well as a political horror story. —Myriam Gurba

Larger Than Life by Maria Sherman (illustrated by Alex Fine)

Author Maria Sherman is keenly in tune with the transforming nature of music and able to put its effect into words—from the gaping hole left by live music’s exit to the impact of boy bands’ exuberance. The release of her debut—an animated book on boy bands—is both estimable while playful, and inviting while intelligent; Larger Than Life is a fun read and jaunt from the 1800s to year 3000. Clocking in at over 200 pages, the author mentions opportunities for further expansion of themes that lie within—on the timeline to now, the role of a restless fandom, politics of the boys’ positioning outside of the male gaze and more. Here’s to hoping this is the first of many. —Ecleen Luzmila Caraballo

Let’s Talk About Your Wall by Carmen Boullosa

Don’t be fooled by the catchy title. Let’s Talk About Your Wall: Mexican Writers Respond to the Immigration Crisis does not treat Trump and his supporters’ “Build the Wall” refrain as a new, un-American phenomenon. Instead, its authors deconstruct the borders that artificially define Mexico in order to rebuild definitions of community beyond the nation-state. From tracing the etymology of “bad hombre” to ‘60s western films in “Please Don’t Feed the Gringos” by Claudio Lomnitz and revisiting Cisteil X. Pérez Hernández’s mourning the wall’s erasure of biodiversity, the book offers an appropriately complex, multilingual vocabulary for discussing what is too often merely described as a “crisis.” —Julia V. Pretsfelder

Eartheater by Dolores Reyes (translated by Julia Sanches)

When Eartheater puts a handful of dirt in her mouth, she sees the things that soil is associated with—the dead, the desaparecidas, the lost. For much of the early part of the book, she acts as a kind of bloodhound, scenting down the trails of those whose families have brought the dirt of their missing to her door. Through the soil Eartheater savors, Reyes has written an elegant and strange meditation on femicides, the wave of violence against women across Latin America, family, and finding oneself. —Alejandra Oliva

Once I Was You by Maria Hinojosa

Journalist Maria Hinojosa is a pioneer in the media industry: an Emmy award-winner as well as founder, president, and CEO of Futuro Media Group. But this book is about so much more than her impressive career. Hinojosa keeps it real in Once I Was You, talking about what it was like growing up Mexican-American on the Southside of Chicago sharing insights on the immigrant experience in the U.S. In true journalist form, she infuses her personal narrative with historic context to paint a full and authentic picture. It’s a powerful story that hardly makes it into the mainstream and it’s told by one of the most prominent Latina voices in media today. —Virginia Isaad

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (translated by Sophie Hughes)

Ding dong, the witch is dead! The witch, in this case, was a woman living on the outskirts of the small Veracruzan town of Matosa, providing abortions to its women while both repulsing and attracting all its citizens, but especially the men. The novel unspools from her murder, taking up the voices of those in her periphery to weave the story of what happened to la bruja. The book is as tempestuous as its title with gusts of profanity, sentences that stretch for pages and violence sweeping across the lives of its characters. A dark, beautiful read. —Alejandra Oliva

Spirit Run by Noe Alvarez

Noe Alvarez was a first-year, first-gen college student looking for a change when he found out about Peace and Dignity Journeys, a 6,000 mile run from Alaska to Central America, linking together Indigenous communities on the road through ceremony, storytelling, and tradition. Alvarez tells about the physical exhaustion and spiritual replenishment involved in the run and talks about allyship, community, and his own family history as the trail moves across the country. —Alejandra Oliva

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez brings to life a strong female protagonist with a passion for fútbol and a desire to break barriers in the male-dominated sport in Rosario, Argentina. Teen Camila Hassan is a fully developed character who is a force on the field but feels she has to keep her passion from her family fearing they won’t support her. Weaved throughout the story is the #NiUnaMenos movement and the family dynamics that reflect the traditional roles men and women are expected to take on. It’s a compelling story about a young girl’s ambitions in a world that has never made space for her. —Virginia Isaad

Made in Saturn by Rita Indiana (translated by Sydney Hutchinson)

Rita Indiana is one of the most exciting, visible artists and writers coming out of the Dominican Republic right now. Her latest book, Made in Saturn, is the story of Argenis, the son of a prominent Dominican politician who has been sent to Cuba to detox from his heroin addiction. The novel is pitched as one about the generation after the Latin American revolutions of the ‘60s, and it is gloriously queer, messy and transgressive. —Alejandra Oliva

Unforgetting by Roberto Lovato

Unforgetting is Roberto Lovato’s loving, lyrical and always iconoclastic memoir about family, migration, gangs and revolution in the Americas. In the process of chronicling his own life, Lovato excavates the history of his parents’ homeland, El Salvador. His passionate prose gives the finger to propagandists and cowards who encourage us to forget historical injustices in the name of patriotism. Lovato also remedies state-sponsored amnesia by telling stories that evidence the breadth and complexity of highly political people, El Salvadorans and their diaspora. Unforgetting reveals how Lovato, once a nerd and evangelical, blossomed into a revolutionary, activist and prose stylist. —Myriam Gurba

The Life Assignment by Ricardo Alberto Maldonado

Fish, mamás, mud and lemons accompany us from post-Hurricane María Puerto Rico to heaven in Ricardo Alberto Maldonado’s The Life Assignment. The book’s 17 bilingual poems were first written in Spanish and at times intentionally mistranslated into English, “making no concessions to the language of (our current) Empire,” the boricua author notes. Maldonado’s observations about capitalism’s prevailing violence are particularly timely in this lonely, decades-long year—embodied in references to foreclosure, workday uniforms, and guilty fantasies of productivity and self-improvement. “I would toss Marlboros out/in the dream of discipline,” he writes from a windy Manhattan fire escape. —Julia V. Pretsfelder

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon

One look at the title and many Latines feel seen. De Leon expertly explores the nuances of being Latinx and first generation in her debut novel, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From. The main character, Liliana Cruz, is the daughter of Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants who sees the stark contrast between her working-class family and the privilege of the students at the new wealthy high school she’s transferred to in Boston. It’s a powerful and authentic coming of age story about letting your roots guide your growth by embracing and celebrating who you are. —Virginia Isaad

I Am Diosa by Christine Gutierrez

2020 has been a year of hardships and prioritizing self-care has never been more important, so Gutierrez’s I Am Diosa couldn’t have come at a better time. The Puerto Rican psychotherapist helps readers address past trauma to reclaim their worth through mantras, meditations, and journal prompts to connect with the Diosa within. As she writes in the book, “this work is about soulful reclamation” and remembering that self-love is paramount. The book is divided into three parts: the darkness, light and integration of the two, so as you read it, you’re going through the process of healing. —Virginia Isaad