This post is by Maria Peña of the Library’s Office of Communications.
The 2021 National Book Festival was, for a second consecutive year, seasoned with a bit of sabor latino, bringing virtual festivalgoers a total of seven Latino authors across different genres. True to this year’s theme of “Open a Book, Open the World,” the authors shared intimate stories about their upbringing that informed their writing process and used the festival as a platform to celebrate their Latino identity. A common thread among many of their works is the ongoing stories of migration and the challenges of a new life in a new land.
“I think my storytelling here has come to me through the stories that my aunts, my grandmother and mother used to talk about their lives in Cuba, full of drama,” said Meg Medina while discussing her middle grade book, “Merci Suárez Can’t Dance.” A sequel to her Newbery Medal-winning novel, Medina’s new book raises multi-generational issues with sensitivity, warmth and humor because, as she noted, she wanted to show an “authentic and honest window” into Latino families.
Noé Álvarez and María Hinojosa decried the “invisibility” of Hispanics despite their long presence in the U.S. Alvarez’s debut book, “Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land,” chronicles his 2004 journey with indigenous runners from Canada to Guatemala, his reconnection to the land and his upbringing as the son of Mexican immigrant fruit packers in Yakima, Washington.
He wrote the book to give voice to people living on the margins, trying to find their place on the land that didn’t always welcome them, but also to find healing and to piece together the “fragments that get lost in migration.”
Mexican-born Hinojosa, a journalist and author of “Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America,” challenged readers to think about the struggles of inclusion in a country “that should be for all of us.” At a time when Latinos are the second largest group in America, “why are we still talking about invisibility?” Hinojosa said.
Patricia Engel, author of “Infinite Country,” drew from real-world experiences to tell the heartbreaking story of a Colombian mixed-status family split across two countries. It is a typical story of families defined by different immigration status, from visa overstayers to U.S.-born children to those deported to their home countries. Born to Colombian immigrants in New Jersey, Engel grew up in an immigrant community and wanted her book to reflect families who, upon migrating, often face doubts, regrets, a profound homesickness and loss and “a sort of death.”
Award-winning authors Isabel Allende and Eric Garcia were featured on two separate NPR podcasts. Allende, author of “Soul of a Woman,” describes a life of constant displacement as “a foreigner, a refuge, an immigrant” from the time she left Chile, where she grew up. Her novels, sometimes inspired by real life, lean on familiar themes of love and death, restorative justice, loyalty, courage, strong women and absent fathers.
In his debut book, “We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation,” Garcia tackles the myths about autism — there is no evidence that it’s caused by vaccines — and the consequences of bad policies for people affected by it. A journalist by training, Garcia argues that autistic people like himself don’t want or need a cure; instead of “trying to fix them,” the priority should be to make their lives better.
New York Times bestseller Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of “Mexican Gothic,” drilled down on the layers of ambiance and subtleties woven into the Gothic genre, especially the interior world of characters. In her festival conversation, Moreno-Garcia reveals how, growing up in Mexico, “sometimes things were not very nice,” so she escaped into books to see places and people she was unlikely to meet on her own. Her great grandmother, an illiterate woman growing up during the Mexican Revolution, is one reason she became a writer.
You can check out the author content mentioned — and explore our other events — through our National Book Festival website. And the Library is doing far more to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month! We hope you take the time to learn more about our collections highlights and programs up through Oct. 15.