Central America: Wrap-up

What a weird month this has been! We’ve been in quarantine for the majority of this month, but luckily, all my library holds for Central America came in before the libraries closed. I had a pretty successful reading month and, as usual, really enjoyed the stories I read for this month. Here’s a what I read!

What I Read

  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (Mexico): I’ve had a copy of this novel on my shelf for a while, but never got around to it. For some reason, I thought that people read this book in high school, but now I’m thinking no, LOL. It was so much more savory, sultry, and magical than I imagined it would be! I loved it! Following the life of Tita, the youngest daughter of a wicked old woman, who has been forbidden to marry because she must fulfill her duty of looking after her mother in her old age. Tita loses the love of her life and settles into her painful and heartbreaking destiny using food and cooking to help her cope. The food not only has the power to help Tita process her powerful emotions, it also has the power to change Tita’s world. This novel was beautiful and exciting; literally there were times I just laughed and scratched my head when crazy things happened. I loved the form of the novel, each chapter a new month (though the novel progresses over several decades), and each chapter built around a recipe. It was so sensory and sensual and raw. I highly recommend this novel!
  • The Inhabited Woman by Gioconda Belli (Nicaragua): I originally borrowed this book from the library, but about ten chapters in, I decided I needed a copy of my own — that’s how great the hook of the novel is. The novel is centered around two women — Lavinia, the modern career woman trying to make it in Faguas, and Itza, the spirit of an indigenous American woman who inhabits first and orange tree and then Lavinia herself. The story tangles around revolution and liberation, around sexism and feminism, around poverty and wealth, around class and birth. It’s a harrowing journey of two women who, despite being centuries apart, experience a lot of the same things as they fight to liberate the people of their worlds. I learned a lot about Nicaragua and feminism in Central America, as well as a lot about the Spanish invasion of the area. It was hard to read sometimes, deeply moving, and inspiring. The pace of the novel needed a little work, sometimes it was a little slow and then the end felt rushed — everything seemed to happen in the first 120 pages and the last 30. Still, I loved this novel. A must read for the modern feminist and revolutionary!
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexico): I wanted to love this book so, so, so badly. The cover is exquisite, the premise is thrilling, the set up is interesting — unfortunately, this book really fell flat for me in execution. The dialogue was stiff and awkward, the prose sometimes felt amateur and disjointed, the characters never really developed flesh for me, and I was deeply unsatisfied with the ending. Boo! I’m so sad. The novel follows the adventures of Casiopeia Tun when she accidentally revives an imprisoned god of death, and must journey with him across Mexico to restore his power and save her own life. It’s set in 1920s Mexico, which is awesome, and utilizes Mayan mythology. I love mythology focused stories — Greek and Norse are both popular mythologies for Western novels, so it was exciting to get a glimpse into another world view and legend pool. I liked the aspects of Mayan mythology included! Traditionally, Western students are taught about the Spanish conquest, about the ball game, and about human sacrifices — basically our education about Central American cultures center on their “savagery” and their subsequent defeat (the white European wins again!). It was great to learn about different facets of Mexican culture (not centered on poverty or cartels or immigration), and about Mayan myths (not just sacrifices). I’m going to be bummed about not liking this book for weeks. I can feel it.

What I Listened To

  • Guitarra Mexicana on Spotify: A great instrumental playlist that won’t put you directly to sleep! This was great to read to.
  • Zona Indie on Spotify: This playlist featured indie music from Latinx artists. It was so peppy and fun! I like to listen to music when I read, but often songs with words distract me, but since I don’t know Spanish, this was the perfect way to get the upbeat feel of indie and not distract myself with the words.

Who I Followed

  • @lupita.reads: I love Lupita’s account! She was the account that first alerted me to the American Dirt controversy. Since then, I’ve enjoyed reading her posts for more suggestions on Latinx novels.
  • @alt_myriam_gurba666: Another account that faced the American Dirt issue head on, Myriam is a great resource for Mexican literature. An author and writer, Myriam keeps it 100% at all times!
  • @latinxreadtoo: This page is run by a community of Latinx readers! The selections are diverse, including both new releases and older works. There are so many genres of books — I could scroll all day!

Further Reading

Finally, I leave you with a round up of current issues to put on your radar. Immigration and racism remain important topics when we talk about Central America, but there is so much more to these people and their world than Americans usually know about (or care to know about!).

  • Indigenous Americans continue to face racist and imperialist attacks on their lives and land. Something that kept coming up in my fiction reading this month was mentions of racism against people who looked “Indian” — this appeared in Gods of Jade and Shadow as well as in The Inhabited Woman. There is still prejudice against the indigenous people of these lands, who seek only to live where and how their cultures and ancestors did, and capitalists, dictators, and other racist factions continue to attack them and wreck havoc on their lives. The Spanish may have stopped arriving on ships centuries ago, but their assault on the native people of the land hasn’t.
  • The Coronavirus could put more than Central American’s health at risk — it might endanger their rights. The Coronavirus is putting a lot of strain on everyone, and in America, it’s heightening discussion about the power of the government. There’s been a lot of discussion about the powers that our leaders have to protect us — and limit us. In Central America, where democracy is more fragile and decades of revolutionary conflict and debate have made the power dynamics of several countries more tenuous, the balance between protection and control is more fraught.

“It’s clear this president has been, to be charitable, tempted by autocratic tendencies,” said Geoff Thale, of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy organization. “In a country with this kind of history, that’s a real concern.” (from PRI.)

  • I want to close out with a reminder that American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is seen as an unfair and stereotypical and flat-out wrong depiction of the struggle of immigrant populations at the United States boarder and Latinx readers, writers, and public figures have asked you not to support it. Please, do not support it. There are other ways for you to learn about this crisis at the border from people who actually know what they’re talking about. It is extremely disheartening to see white folks still giving it positive reviews, still requesting it from the library, still promoting it on social media, and still hosting book clubs with it, when a large portion of the Latinx community has expressed their anger and hurt over this dangerous novel. I urge you to leave it off your TBR. For more information, please start here!

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