“Being the daughter of immigrants is a very American story.”
Diane Guerrero, whose parents got deported to Colombia when she was 14 years old, opens up about immigration, identity, and diversity for MTV’s campaign #BeyondTheWall. “‘Beyond the Wall’ is love, empathy, inclusion. If we start having conversations of how we work together and stop having conversations about walls, then we can get somewhere,” says “The Orange is the New Black” star. “And then we’ll be what this great nation represents,” she added. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Listen above. Everything she says is so powerful.
Cristela Alonzo, Arturo Castro, and others have also joined the movement. Find out more about #BeyondTheWall, 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.
Another tragic story has unfolded at the U.S. – Mexico border, this time involving the deaths of at least 13 people who were allegedly being smuggled into the United States. Although investigators are still working to piece together the tragic chain of events, one thing has become clear: we need serious immigration reform now.
13 people died in a tragic SUV accident near the U.S.-Mexico border.
The tragedy unfolded when a Ford Expedition carrying 27 people smashed into a gravel truck near the town of El Centro, about 30 miles from the border. Officials say that the Ford SUV and a Chevrolet Suburban, which was carrying 19 people, were earlier caught on video entering the U.S. as part of a smuggling operation.
The Suburban immediately caught fire after entering the U.S., but all the occupants managed to escape and were taken into custody by Border Patrol officers. It’s still unknown why the first vehicle caught fire.
The Ford SUV continued along its route when it collided with a gravel truck. Ten of the 13 people who died in the accident have now been identified as Mexican nationals, Gregory Bovino, the Border Patrol’s El Centro sector chief told the Associated Press.
“Human smugglers have proven time and again they have little regard for human life,” said Mr. Bovino.
An SUV designed for 7 or 8 people was carrying 27 people.
California Highway Patrol said that the Ford Expedition was designed to hold seven to eight passengers safely. But in this case all of the seats had been removed apart form the driver and front passenger seats in order to pack people in.
“When I pulled up on scene, there were bodies everywhere,” Alex Silva, the Holtville fire chief, told the LA Times. “I’ve been doing this for 29 years and that’s the worst scene I’ve ever seen. I’ve been to calls where we’ve had four or five people dead. I’ve gone to calls where we had a bus accident that had 24 people. But it wasn’t the fatalities that we had in this one.”
“I’ve never seen an SUV with 25 people in it. I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like being cooped up in there.”
Officials are confident the tragedy is connected to a human smuggling operation.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said they suspected the deadly crash was tied to human smuggling after the Ford Expedition and a red Suburban were caught on surveillance footage coming through a breach in the border fence. Border Patrol agents insist they did not stop or pursue either vehicle, although community activists express skepticism. Either way, the outcome illustrated the high stakes involved in human smuggling.
While it’s unclear what caused the crash, Jacqueline Arellano, 38, who works with the nonprofit Border Angels, said crashes involving vehicles packed with people aren’t unusual in the region. Arellano, who grew up in El Centro, recalled a crash in 2003 in which she witnessed a Border Patrol vehicle chase an SUV packed with people on Highway 8 heading west toward San Diego.
Migrant advocates agree that major changes need to take place in our country’s immigration laws so that deadly tragedies such as this one never happen again.