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From September 15 to October 15, we observe National Hispanic Heritage Month, an annual celebration honoring the histories, cultures, and contributions of both Hispanic and Latin Americans in the United States. Since its founding, the United States has thrived on the experiences and creativity of immigrants from all over the world.
For generations, Hispanic and Latin American authors have brought with them a rich, literary history filled with unique and influential styles, ranging from first-person narratives and literary journalism to anti-establishment poetry and philosophical short stories to experimental prose and magical realism. Many of these writers have long embraced non-traditional structures to tell their stories, which remains the case today.
While the contributions of Hispanic and Latin Americans are far too great to fully appreciate in one blog post, here are just six of the countless copyright creators whose creativity has influenced and enhanced American literature.
After discovering her eighth-grade English students—mostly Black and Latin American—didn’t see themselves in the books they were reading, Afro-Latina Elizabeth Acevedo set out to write The Poet X. The bestselling novel, written in verse, follows fifteen-year-old Xiomara as she uses poetry to work through her cultural and familial conflicts. Born in New York City to Dominican immigrants, Acevedo started rapping on a street corner with her brother before turning to slam poetry when she was fourteen. A 2014 National Poetry Slam champion, she published her first collection of poems, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths, in 2016. Her young adult novels and poetry explore the complexities of cultural identity, feminism, coming of age, and finding your voice.
Daniel Alarcón moved with his family from Peru to Alabama at three years old, but it was his uncle’s disappearance and death nine years later amid the Peruvian civil war that would shape his career as a journalist, short-story writer, and novelist. He started his career writing short stories for various magazines and published a collection of short stories, War by Candlelight, just two years before his debut novel, Lost City Radio. The critically acclaimed novel takes place in a fictional-but-familiar Latin American country torn apart by civil war and is an observation on political turmoil and the displacement that follows—themes seen throughout Alarcón’s subsequent works.
At Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2012, Cuban American poet Richard Blanco became the first Latino, immigrant, and openly gay U.S. inaugural poet. He recited the poem, “One Today,” which celebrates the shared American experience of which he has been a part since shortly after his birth in Spain. Blanco’s Cuban parents brought their family to the United States when he was a baby and settled in Miami, where he studied engineering and began exploring his identity. A civil engineer by day, Blanco cultivated his creative side at night, publishing his first book of poetry, City of a Hundred Fires, in 1998. More poetry, memoirs, essays, and articles followed—all largely examining his cultural, gender, sexual, and artistic identities.
With her debut novel in 1984, Sandra Cisneros became one of the first Hispanic American writers to achieve worldwide success. The Chicana grew up in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, which would be the inspiration for her classic, coming-of-age story, The House on Mango Street. Employing experimental prose and drawing on personal experiences, Cisneros uses a series of vignettes to follow twelve-year-old Esperanza through a year in her life as she navigates gender and social inequalities alongside her cultural identity. Cisneros has embraced those themes through short stories, poetry, essays, and novels in the years since and has received numerous awards, including the National Medal of the Arts.
Latin American author Edwidge Danticat began writing when she was just nine years old and living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with her aunt and uncle. That early passion intensified when she immigrated to New York City to live with her parents three years later. By her mid-twenties, in 1994, she published her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory—later selected for Oprah’s Book Club. The first-person narrative mirrors Danticat’s immigration experience in some ways—the novel developed from a personal essay—and explores the intricacies of national identity, mother-daughter relationships, and diasporic politics. These themes recur throughout her many works, which include novels, children’s literature, memoirs, essays, and short stories.
Juan Felipe Herrera
Born in California to Mexican migrant farmworkers, Juan Felipe Herrera has been at the forefront of the Chicano literary movement since publishing his first collection of poetry, Rebozos of Love, in 1974. His work, often bilingual and experimental, explores social issues and the first-generation-American experience. In addition to poetry, Felipe Herrera writes short stories, young adult novels, and children’s literature. In 2015, the Library of Congress appointed Felipe Herrera the twenty-first U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry—the first Mexican American to serve in the position. As Poet Laureate, one of his major projects encouraged elementary students across the country to contribute to an illustrated narrative poem, The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon.
These are just a few of the many amazing creators from all backgrounds contributing to the American culture by sharing their stories and experiences and inspiring many to engage their own creativity. Which Hispanic and Latin American creators inspire you?