When Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor set out to write her book “My Beloved World,” she was inspired by a question a journalist asked and that she later asked herself: “Do I really think I had a happy childhood?”
Before Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina to join the Supreme Court, before going to Yale for law school and Princeton for undergrad, she was a young Puerto Rican girl living in South Bronx struggling to get by.
While growing up in South Bronx, Sotomayor lived with an alcoholic dad and a mom who was emotionally distant. They fought about money, the housework, the drinking and even Sotomayor’s insulin shots when she was diagnosed with diabetes.
It wasn’t as happy a childhood as others had perceived, but what was true about her younger self, was that she worked hard even when she was afraid. Even with all the success in her life, she fought fear all her life. And that, ultimately, is the message of her book.
“If I’ve accomplished anything in my book… [it’s] that people will understand the greatest obstacle they will face in life is not discrimination, it’s their own fear,” she told NPR. “Fear often paralyzes us because what kills you and what stops you is not experiencing new things.”
She encourages young Latinos to experience life even with fear. “I can’t tell you how many Latino kids I still talk to who tell me, ‘I don’t want to go away to go college because I don’t want to leave my family,’” she said. “You don’t leave your family by going away to college for god’s sakes! You enrich your life and theirs by doing something they couldn’t do and bringing back the joy home.”
So for any young Latino out there deciding whether to go away to college or not, take the advice of one of the most powerful Latinas in the United States: You’ll be fine.
Sotomayor has a lot more to say. Get inspired with her interview here
While we should be reading narratives by and about women year-round, March, which has been designated Women’s History Month in the United States since 1987, is an ideal time to start or double down. Through literary biographies, written by or about female change-makers and barrier-breakers, we can educate ourselves on the historic women who fought to bring about progress or the personal battles they overcame to live inspiring and purposeful lives.
Considering the contributions of powerful Latinas have been minimized or erased from public consciousness, it’s no surprise that their narratives are also often missing from curated books lists. That’s why one of the best ways to celebrate women this month is by picking up and reading the tales of our trailblazing foremothers or the badasses who are shaking things up today.
Here, peruse through a list of autobiographies and biographies about Latina powerhouses in politics, social justice and entertainment, and choose one (or more) to read this month. If you really want to be inspired, try to get through the entire list by the end of the year.
My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
Published in 2014, nine years after Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor became the first-ever Latina to sit on the highest court of the land, My Beloved World is a memoir that recounts Sotomayor’s life from the housing projects in the Bronx, New York, to the federal bench. The bestseller reveals the groundbreaking Puerto Rican’s challenging upbringing, including an alcoholic father and her personal struggle with juvenile diabetes, and how she envisioned a different life for herself through entertainment role models that allowed her dream up a career in law.
Lupe Velez: The Life and Career of Hollywood’s “Mexican Spitfire” by Michelle Vogel
Old Hollywood actress Lupe Velez lived a life that the press loved to gossip about. Not only was the Mexican talent cast for sexy and fierce-tempered roles, spawning the nickname “The Mexican Spitfire,” but the myths about her life beyond the cameras also spurred rumors and scandal. Ugly fables about her death in 1944 left the trailblazing Latina actress with a notorious legacy. But in Michelle Vogel’s 2012 biography of Vélez, she finally puts damaging untruths to rest and tells the honest tale of the life and career of one of the most important Latinx figures in entertainment.
Becoming Julia de Burgos: The Making of a Puerto Rican Icon by Vanessa Perez Rosario
Few poets have captured a nation, symbolized an era and bloomed into a cultural icon like Julia de Burgos. The Afro-Puerto Rican writer, who spoke in poetry and prose about her homeland’s colonial status, her relationship with land, her experience of migration and her plight as a woman of color, impacted culture and politics both in Puerto Rico and in the U.S. In this first full-length English-language biography of de Burgos, Perez examines the late writer’s life as a poet and a political activist and bridges her contribution to nationalist literature as well as Nuyorican art and culture.
Azucar! The New Biography of Celia Cruz by Eduardo Marceles
If you’ve already watched Celia, the 80-part novela about the Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz, and are looking to dive deeper into the life of the late Cuban icon, you’ll want to devour Eduardo Marceles’ Azucar! the Celia Cruz Biography. Like the series, the book delves into Cruz’s life as a political exile and a successful singer but includes unpublished personal interviews and conversations between the talent and the author, including bits about her popular relationship with Pedro Knight, her sometimes overlooked humanitarian work and her fatal illness.
To Selena, With Love by Chris Perez
The gifts, story and beauty of Selena Quintanilla has captivated audiences young and old for three decades. But even those who have watched the 1997 classic film hundreds of times, know her songs by heart and have participated in online fandom communities will learn a lot about the late Queen of Tejano by reading To Selena, with Love, a memoir written by her widower Chris Perez. In the book, published in 2013, Perez shares intimate details about the superstar and their relationship, including how it grew from friendship to forbidden romance to a lovely marriage that ended too soon.
Maria Montez: Su Vida by Margarita Vicens de Morales
If you’re looking for an illuminating Spanish-language read about a Latina icon who doesn’t get the respect she deserves, you need – like have to! – pick up Margarita Vicens de Morales’ Maria Montez: Su Vida. The book, published in 2004, reveals the story of Maria Montez, the Dominican Old Hollywood actress who was hailed “The Queen of Technicolor,” detailing the superstar’s rise to fame, the times her life mirrored the roles she played, her relationships and motherhood as well as her early and sudden death.
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero and Michelle Burford
While most of the biographies and memoirs on this list so far have centered on rise-to-fame stories, Diane Guerrero’s In the Country We Love: My Family Dividedfocuses primarily on how our country’s broken immigration system tore her family apart in her youth. In the book, published in 2016, the Colombian-American actress shares how her parents were detained and deported when she was just 14 years and how she was forced to live with family friends in order to continue her education in the United States and build her career. In sharing her nightmare-turned-to-life story, Guerrero highlights a fear and struggle of millions of undocumented people living in the country.
The Meaning of Mariah Carey
A global icon and one of the most talented artists of all time, Mariah Carey’s personal life, much like her reserve of chart-topping songs and albums, has been dissected in the press for decades. But with 2020’s The Meaning of Mariah Carey, a memoir the Venezuelan-American megastar co-authored with Michaela Angela Davis, she is speaking her truth in her own words. The book shares the “triumphs and traumas” as well as the “dreams and debacles” that helped form Mariah Carey, the person and the artist in the spotlight, touching on childhood trauma, racism, songs, relationships, motherhood and more.
Rita Moreno: A Memoir by Rita Moreno
Before Rita Moreno became everyone’s favorite actress, the Hollywood legend was a simple Puerto Rican girl who, like many in the 1930s, was making her way from the archipelago to the Bronx, New York, with her family for greater opportunity. In Rita Moreno: A Memoir, the now 89-year-old shares how music and performance helped her cope with her tumultuous childhood and how her talent brought her to Broadway, then Hollywood and, of course, to becoming the only Latinx talent to win an Oscar, Grammy, Tony and two Emmys. Throughout it all, Moreno is frank about the racialized sexism she experienced in the entertainment industry, the passionate romances that injured and supported her, and creating an equally dazzling life and career.
Netflix has been making the content we have all been waiting for and the latest hit is “Vampires Vs. The Bronx.” The movie is a new way to tell the narrative of gentrification through the lens of family-friendly horror. Netflix viewers are clearly loving the movie and some want to see it make history.
It’s hard to tell who is the biggest danger in “Vampires Vs. The Bronx.”
The comedy-horror was directed by Osmany Rodriguez who is the mastermind behind some of the funniest moments of “Saturday Night Live.” Basically, all of the 2016 election sketches with Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon are thanks to Rodriguez and his directing prowess.
Rodriguez brings his same comedic look on the darker issues to this movie where vampires, gentrifiers, and gangsters are overwhelming the Bronx. Yet, despite all of the obvious dangers out there, it is hard to figure out who the real threat to safety is.
First off, people were here for the way to real cultural moments.
Like, okay. We all know that Timbs are a thing in the Bronx. They are a cultural icon of the neighborhood and to see them used as a weapon in “Vampires Vs. The Bronx” was just *chef’s kiss*. Tbh, it was the kind of reaction you could feel in your soul as our communities are still actively fighting against rampant gentrification in our neighborhoods.
The trailer shows a group of boys trying to exist in their neighborhood as the ultimate turf war begins between the three factions. White people with canvas bags, insanely evil vampires, and the stereotypical gangsters are out in full force in this relevant and quickly beloved movie.
Rodriguez did what most filmmakers should: he talked to people in the Bronx.
Rodriguez didn’t shy away from learning what the people had to say about what was happening to their neighborhood. The most common complaint and observation he heard from people in Washington Heights and the Bronx was that gentrification was really taking a negative toll on the communities.
According to an interview with The Daily Beast, Rodriguez learned from Bronx and Washington Heights residents that gentrification was killing the souls of the two Latino neighborhoods. The same can be seen in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, a Mexican and immigrant neighborhood.
People on social media cannot hype up the movie enough.
Fans of the movie appreciate the balance the movie has been able to strike when telling the story of gentrification. Also, the addition of vampires that seem to be just as horrible is a comical relief that communities impacted by gentrification seem to welcome. Rodriguez wanted to intentionally flip the narrative of gentrification making neighborhoods better and instead show that the neighborhoods are strong and vibrant with their own communities.
The movie has been compared to classics, like “Dracula.”
“Vampires Vs. The Bronx” is a clear commentary on the current class struggles happening in communities of color across the country. Much like the 1931 film “Dracula,” the narrative painted by the Netflix movie is poignant look at what is happening in the world.
“Dracula” was seen as a capitalist’s nightmare with the vampire representing the dead labor. That dead labor, which is the relentless work under capitalism, can only survive by draining the life out of the living to keep itself thriving.
It is clear that Netflix and Rodriguez gave their fans exactly what they wanted out of “Vampires Vs. The Bronx.”
People are more than fans. The movie has become a cultural entertainment moment for the communities represented in the film. This kind of representation is amazing. Afro-Latino talent is front and center in the film as the heroes and that is something we can all celebrate. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Black actors delivered a performance that is resonating far beyond the Netflix-universe.
“Vampires Vs. The Bronx” is currently streaming on Netflix so you can watch it now.