The New Generation of Latinx Literature Will Have Room for Everyone
Young Latinx authors are creating multidimensional characters in numbers that, until recently, didn't feel possible
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I grew up with a vigorous love for reading and storytelling. There was (and still is) a sense of ethereal magic that occurs when reading about other people, real or fiction, other worlds, other perspectives. At the time, I wasn’t looking to books for people who looked like me; I was looking for something outside myself. Eventually, though, I wanted to see myself reflected in the works I read—or at least know that it was possible, that other people reading fiction for other perspectives might find a perspective that looked a little like mine. What I found was that it was possible, but very rare. The great Sandra Cisneros and Julia Alvarez were some of the very few Latina authors that had pivotal works with Latinx characters heavily represented.
Over the last few years, Latinx representation in literature has slowly but surely increased. Among these new voices is Kali Fajardo-Anstine, whose debut short story collection Sabrina & Corina was published this year. Centered around multiple Latinas with indigenous ancestry and the trials they face, while also having their lives interwoven through their shared home of Denver Colorado, Sabrina & Corina features complex Latina characters that fall outside of the stereotypes that are normally attached to this community in various media. This has been something that felt so out of reach for a long time in my eyes, but reading the stories of these women, women whose cultures and struggles are similar to mine, has given me a feeling of fullness I longed for since realizing the need for representation of the community I’m a part of in the stories I read. Latinx representation in literature has been increasing, but now it’s time for us to ask for something more than representation. It’s not enough for Latinx characters to exist, instead of not existing; we’re ready for a range of Latinx characters as varied and vital as the white characters we’ve been reading for so long. With its cast of challenging and admirable Latinas, Sabrina & Corina has the potential to be the start of a new generation of Latinx literature.
This is not to diminish the work of iconic Latina authors like Cisneros and Alvarez. In previous decades, transcendent and remarkable works, including In the Time of the Butterflies, The House on Mango Street, Esperanza Rising, and Like Water for Chocolate, gave us deep insight into Latina characters from various generations. The problem has always been one of numbers. There have always been very few Latina authors with work in mainstream literature, compared to the number of white authors who have their narratives widely and continuously available.
The women in Sabrina & Corina are complex and imperfect, three-dimensional in a way Latina characters don’t always get to be (especially when written by white authors). In a recent interview, Fajardo-Anstine stated that she “was trying to portray a community that, often times, is invisible in the greater Latinx narrative. Southern Colorado, Northern New Mexico, mixed Latinx communities here in Denver—I was trying to create characters that were very individualistic, very human, in a way that I haven’t seen rendered before.” Her characters deal with traumas and intense situations, some of which are unique to the community and indigenous ancestry they come from, but many more of which face not only the broader Latinx community but humans everywhere: racism, classism, general and intergenerational trauma, and gentrification, among others. Fajardo-Anstine goes past the surface of her characters and digs deeper, pulling all the complexities, aches, doubts, and struggles, both internal and external, to the forefront. There’s no sense of hindrance in the way that Fajardo-Anstine writes so relentlessly raw, especially through the voices of the Latinas she’s manifested. These were stories that I had to sit with after finishing each one, ruminating on each of their unique and detailed environments and narratives.
Even though I was absolutely overjoyed that Sabrina & Corina exists just as it is, I couldn’t help but wonder how the literary world could better itself if Latinx narratives like Fajardo-Anstine’s became commonplace. In glimpsing into these lives, I gained a sense of comfort, a camaraderie between myself and the women of many generations in the book, especially knowing that we share similar experiences with many of the hardships faced by our community. To feel these things, especially in a time where we are seen as less than, is phenomenal, but I don’t want to have to only expect these stories one in a while.
In literature that I’ve read prior, there weren’t many characters like me that I could relate to and identify with in regards to their described viewpoint as a Latina. The Latinas in Sabrina & Corina display the layers of experience, both good and bad, that come with being a Latina in an ever-changing society. Social pressures, machismo, colorism within our own community; there was a sense of comfort in knowing that I was reading about Latinas that I could connect with if they existed in real life, that I could share an unspoken mutual understanding with them. This is a feeling that white readers get all the time, so often that they probably don’t even notice. I, and undoubtedly many other Latinas, deserve to experience it more often. Our voices are often silenced and disregarded as unimportant in mainstream literature. When we do get narratives in literature and in U.S. media, especially, they end up warped into unrealistic, exaggerated versions of us. Having our narratives be written by us and for us allows us to reclaim and strengthen our voices, while also emphasizing to the public that we aren’t the sidekicks, the gang bangers, or the maids.
Other Latina authors have preceded Fajardo-Anstine into the mainstream, including Elizabeth Acevedo (The Poet X), Lilliam Rivera (The Education of Margot Sanchez), Erika L. Sanchez (I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter), and Ingrid Rojas Contreras (Fruit of the Drunken Tree). It’s apparent that what’s been happening in Latinx literature lately can easily be called a cultural renaissance. I can already tell, or at least truly hope, that this next generation of Latinx literature will be vast, full of a wide variety of voices within our community. There will be a multitude of voices from so many diasporas, a constant stream of thoughts, discoveries and rediscoveries of the depths of our cultures, contemplations on what it means to be Latina and what those who came before us suffered through in order to have us exist today. In the next generation of Latinx literature, Latinas won’t need to search for the stories we can, as a community, connect with.
Signs of a new era have been showing through, filled with narratives that allow Latinas to be even more proud of our cultures and roots, where we came from and what lies ahead. Fajardo-Anstine has created multidimensional Latinas who have shared paths with those who came before, who have shared griefs and devastating cycles of abuse, who haven’t had the ability to voice their stories. She and other new Latina authors are reclaiming these real narratives we’ve been used to going without during our experiences reading mainstream literature. I only hope that other Latinas who are yearning to have their writing out in the world see that there is still a demand for the stories they are holding on to, their potential contribution to this exciting moment and movement that’s happening. I hope for this influx of literature written by us to inspire more undiscovered and upcoming Latina authors to grow and join this reclamation of our narratives and true depiction of ourselves, imperfections and all. It is more than possible to have our narratives be easily and readily accessible in mainstream literature, and this renaissance we’re in the middle of is only the beginning of what’s to come. Let it continue to thrive further, for the sake of the generations currently here and the ones yet to arrive.