Culture

A Latina Author In New Mexico Is Delivering Books To Asylum Seekers On The Border To Brighten Their Spirits

It was a normal day at her New Mexico bookstore when author Denise Chávez was approached by a customer who needed help finding Spanish-English dictionaries. As is common in life, asking questions is what generates the most change, and the customer’s answer to her question of “Why?” sparked an idea. The customer wanted to help out the migrants who were passing through and finding refuge at the Peace Lutheran Church respite center. Understanding language as the vital life source to forming social bonds, communities, and basic navigation in society, Chávez decided to go a step further. In May 2019, Chávez started bringing bilingual storybooks to the Peace Lutheran Church shelter. Soon, word got around and she began to expand the project, initiating a soul-nourishing project called “Libros Para El Viaje” or books for the journey.

Chávez’s book drive has been promoted and supported by various bookstores across the country, including national nonprofit, the American Booksellers Association (ABA). Since then, Chávez has hand-delivered thousands of books to migrants on both sides of the border, offering the gift of exploring unknown worlds from the unacceptable confines of a tent, detention center or hiding.

Meet Denise Chávez.

CREDIT: @BOOKSELLERSOFAMERICA / INSTAGRAM

Chávez grew up in the border community of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the daughter of a teacher and a lawyer. “I was just inculcated from the very beginning with books, books, books,” Chávez shared her story on social media. “Growing up as a Chicana close to the Mexican border, my stories came to me in many languages, including Spanish, Spanglish, border language… I was filled with the beauty of spoken words. And I’ve always loved books,” she shared on Booksellers of America’s featured bookseller post.
“Bookselling means more to me every day,” Chávez shared on her experience of owning Casa Camino Real Bookstore, which serves as a community center and art gallery honoring border culture. “The stories of connecting, the people who come in—booksellers attract all sorts of people. To sell a book or to give a book away is a profound experience,” she added.

Chávez sees proof every week that giving a migrant a book is “a major healing experience.”

CREDIT: @RIVERDOGBOOKCO / INSTAGRAM

Libros Para El Viaje’s success is, in large part, thanks to Chávez’s presentation at an ABA conference that garnered national attention from booksellers. ABA has promoted her project, which has spurred many other community projects to help fund Libros Para El Viaje. For example, Minneapolis booksellers Red Balloon Book and Wild Rumpus created “Books for Border Kids” to host a two-month book drive. Those two independent booksellers alone sent over 3,000 book donations to Chávez in Las Cruces, according to The Salt Lake Tribune

“Every week, I distribute books in Spanish to families and children,” Chávez shared on social media. “So my work has deepened because we’re reaching out to people who arrive with nothing. To get a book means something. It’s a major healing experience. So when I see a tiny, little woman—and I wish people in the United States could see the people that stand in front of me with those ankle bracelets; they’re small people, they wouldn’t hurt anybody—I try to remember her face. She is on a journey. She’s going on a bus. She’s going on a plane. And she’s taking a book for the journey. I mean, wow! Right?”

“Books can heal us,” Chávez believes.

CREDIT: DENISE CHÁVEZ / FACEBOOK

Whether it’s a Guatemalan teenager looking for a Stephen King novel or seeing the beauty in a mother “hugging three Isabel Allende books,” Chávez has found healing in her project. Whether “somebody is picking up a Spanish language version of H.G. Wells’ A WAR OF THE WORLDS. Or to give a dictionary to an older man who’s learning English. It’s exciting. This is truly being connected with what a book does, which is to inform, empower, enlighten,” she testified in a social media post.
“My reason to be a writer is because I have been healed by books, and I do believe that books can heal us. It is a challenge to be a bookstore, but I continue because I know the power of a book,” Chávez attests.

You can support Casa Camino Real Bookstore‘s Libros Para El Viaje by purchasing any of these recommended bilingual books and mailing them to:

Casa Camino Real Bookstore
314 South Tornillo Street
Las Cruces, New Mexico 88001

READ: Lil Libros Finally Adds Musician Ritchie Valens To The List Of Icons Highlighted In Bilingual Children’s Books

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Latinas Are Sharing Important Book Reading Clubs And Favorite Reads

Fierce

Latinas Are Sharing Important Book Reading Clubs And Favorite Reads

Keystone / Getty

There’s a reason why, in the age of television and Youtube, books continue to be read, loved, and adored by readers: when it comes to stories, books elevate the imagination in a way that can engage all of the senses. In times like these, where so many of us are in isolation and feeling alone, reading can, fortunately, do so much for the soul, and being apart of a book club (even if it is on Zoom) can help bring excitement to the monotony of our daily lives.

Fortunately, FIERCE Latinas are recommending book club suggestions as well as reads.

The list below will surely fit the bill for all of your reading desires and help you get over any type of boredom you might have.

This club reading a Hollywood drama.

Amazon

“We actually have a book club called Pasando Páginas! We are currently reading the Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.” – hijasunidas


@cafeconlibros_bk is reading Little 🔥Everywhere 12.27!” –boardroombombshell

“I started a book club last year and while it’s small, our reads are mighty.” –steezplz


“I just finished “Clap When You Land.” I was never impressed by Acevedo until this book. It blew me away. She focuses more on trauma and grief in adolescence and it’s pretty damn near perfect. HIGHLY recommend.”- abbeyliz7

This club only reading books by Latinas.

Amazon.com

“I started a book club with friends this year. We only read female authors from Latin America. So far, my favorites have been “Delirio” by Laura Restrepo and “Los recuerdos del porvenir” by Elena Garro.” –merimagdalen

“Always Running by Luis J Rodriguez was the first Chicano book I have ever read!!!!!” –valeriec01

This book club introducing readers to Chicano literature.

Amazon.com

“Always Running by Luis J Rodriguez was the first Chicano book I have ever read!!!!” valeriec01

“Visionaries a Private Reading Group for BIQTPOC hosted by @femmegoddessco.” –moniii_xoxo

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11 Books By Latinas Coming In 2021 That We Are Stoked About

Fierce

11 Books By Latinas Coming In 2021 That We Are Stoked About

The new year has arrived, and it’s stacked with a batch of new books for readers to devour. 

While good reads might not heal us from the pains and losses of 2020 or save us from the uncertainties that remain ahead in 2021, being able to take a break from reality through literary fantasy or illuminating nonfiction can be gratifying (and healthy!).

For those searching for titles to pre-order among the abundance of new works expected in 2021, we have you covered. From debuts by some of our generation’s most brilliant thinkers to anticipated novels you’ll get through in one sitting, here are some exciting books by Latinas and Latinxs you’ll want to add to your reading list.

1. One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite (January 5, 2021)

Inkyard Press

The highly anticipated novel One of the Good Ones, by Hatian-American sisters Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite, is a timely read about a teenage activist who is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally and the family that is left reeling after his death. Tackling police violence and sisterhood, the book, published by Inkyard Press on January 5, explores the impact of racism, prejudice and allyship.

2. We Are Here: Visionaries of Color Transforming the Art World by Jasmin Hernandez (February 2, 2021)

Abrams

In We Are Here: Visionaries of Color Transforming the Art World, Dominican-American Jasmin Hernandez profiles 50 artists and art entrepreneurs of color who are challenging the status quo in the art world. Hernandez, founder of Gallery Gurls, interviews queer, Black and brown visionaries influencing communities from New York to Los Angeles, talking with them about their creative process and how they are creating a radically inclusive world across the entire art ecosystem. The book, which features stunning portraits of each artist, will publish on February 2.

3. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado (February 2, 2021)

Holiday House

Puerto Rican author Crystal Maldonado’s Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is an exciting new addition to YA. The coming-of-age novel centers on a fat Latina girl living in a fatphobic white Connecticut suburb. Her mom wants her to lose weight. Society doesn’t love her brown skin. And her crush might be into her best friend. The book, which will be published by Penguin Random House on February 2, has been described as funny, charming and raw. 

4. Infinite Country by Patricia Engel (February 23, 2021)

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster

Patricia Engel’s Infinite Country is a novel about a divided Colombian family. The book, which has been called “powerful” and “breathtaking,” tells the tale of Talia, a teen being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in Colombia, and a U.S.-based family fighting to be reunited with her. The novel, which will hit bookshelves on February 23, deals with yearning, family, belonging and sacrifice. 

5. What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster (March 2, 2021)

Grand Central Publishing

Naima Coster, the Afro-Dominican author of Halsey Street, has another anticipated novel in What’s Mine and Yours. The book, dealing with issues of race, identity, family and legacy, centers on two families, one Black and one white, and how their lives become integrated and messy when a county initiative draws students from a largely Black town into predominantly white high schools. The book, set to publish by Grand Central Publishing on March 2, covers a span of 20 years, and it explores the ways families break apart and come back together.

6. The Soul of a Woman by Isabel Allende (March 2, 2021)

Random House Publishing Group

Award-winning author Isabel Allende returns in 2021 with The Soul of a Woman, a reflection on feminism, power and family rooted in the Chilean writer’s upbringing and experiences. The autobiographical work seeks to answer the question: What feeds the soul of feminists – and all women – today? For her, it’s safety, value, peace, resources, connection, autonomy and love, but these battles haven’t all yet been won. The inspirational read, which will be published by Ballantine Books on March 2, aims to ignite a fire in younger generations to continue to carry the work of feminism forward.

7. The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore (March 16, 2021)

Feiwel & Friends

In Mexican-American author Anna-Marie McLemore’s latest piece of YA magical realism, The Mirror Season, they tell the story of a young girl, Graciela, and boy, Lock, who were both assaulted at the same party. When Lock appears at Graciela’s school, she realizes he has no idea what happened to them. The pair develop a cautious friendship through her family’s possibly-magical pastelería, but Graciela, hoping to keep them both safe, hides the truth from her new friend – a secret that could tear them apart. The Mirror Season will be available at book shops on March 16.

8. Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia (March 31, 2021)

Flatiron Books

Cuban-Mexican author Gabriela Garcia’s debut Of Women and Salt, slated to release on March 31, has already got a lot of people excited. The novel takes place in present-day Miami, where Jeanette, who is battling addiction, seeks to learn more about her family history from her Cuban mother, Carmen, who is still wrestling with her own trauma of displacement. Hungry to understand, Jeanette travels to Cuba, where conversations with her grandmother force her to reckon with secrets from the past.

9. For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts: A Love Letter to Women of Color by Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez (September 2021)

Seal Press

Nashville-based Nicaraguan writer and speaker Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez is among the most brilliant Latina thinkers of our generation. In For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts: A Love Letter to Women of Color, a forthcoming book inspired by a 2016 essay, the founder of Latina Rebels explores the inequalities of race, class and gender, discussing issues of code-switching, colorism, intersectional feminism, decolonization and more. The book, which will be published by Seal Press, is expected to hit bookstores in September.

10. When We Make It by Elisabet Velasquez (Fall 2021)

Penguin Random House

Nuyorican poet and author Elisabet Velasquez’s YA debut When We Make It is a timely novel-in-verse that explores mental health, the war on drugs, gentrification, poverty and racism. Set in 1990s Bushwick, Brooklyn, the novel centers on Sarai, a first-generation Puerto Rican eighth-grader, who navigates the strain of mental illness, family trauma, toxic masculinity and housing insecurity while living with determination and love. When We Make It, published by Penguin Random House and expected to release in the fall, is a love letter to girls of color who were made to believe they would never make it.

11. Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva (Fall 2021)

Colombian-Guatemalan poet and author Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s Dreaming of You is a genre-bending verse novel about a young Latinx poet grappling with loneliness and heartache. The novel, which sees the teen bringing the Queen of Tejano Music Selena Quintanilla back to life through a seance, is an uncanny tale that interrogates Latinx identity, womanhood, obsession, disillusion and what it means to be seen. The book, coming from Astra House, is set to publish in the fall.

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