Things That Matter

These Books By Peruvian Authors Spoke To Me In A Way No Others Could

When I was a kid, my father always told me that two things would expand my mind: traveling and books. I figured I could just read way to other countries and kill two birds with one stone (right?!). I’ve read most of the American classics like “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Catcher In The Rye,” and “Of Mice And Men.” But it wasn’t until I was about 18 that my father began introducing me to Peruvian classics. He told me these were our authentic stories…

1. “La Ciudad Y Los Perros” (The Time Of The Hero) by Mario Vargas Llosa

Mario Vargas Llosa is one of the most famous Peruvian authors. This story focuses around a group of teens that attend the same military school my dad went to in his teens, so this is especially close to his heart. This is a coming-of-age story for teenage boys who had to face what every teen boy deals with – on top of racism and white privilege in 1950s Peru. In the book we follow how these young boys had to cope with being outcasts and outsiders in their own country.

2. “Un Mundo Para Julius” (A World For Julius) by Alfredo Bryce Echenique

I’ll try not to be a cornball, but this story really does have the power to remind a reader about the true riches in life: family, people, time spent. “Un Mundo Para Julius” is a daring story that exposes high society’s priorities in 1960s Peru. Julius is a little boy growing up in a wealthy family. His dad is too busy working and his mom is too busy socializing so he becomes incredibly close to his nanny. This hits close to home for a lot of us, because while our parents may not have been high society, they were busy working so some of us were raised by our abuelitas.

 3. “El Mundo Es Ancho y Ajeno” (Broad and Alien Is The World) by Ciro Alegria

View this post on Instagram

#ciroalegria #elmundoesanchoyajeno

A post shared by Carlos Llosa (@el_llosita) on

Author, Ciro Alegria, was an advocate for indigenous rights and the protection of native land. The story is about the perseverance of the main character and his fight to protect his land from landowners of European descent. The book explores the exploitation of Peruvian Indians, and the racism and discrimination the poor townspeople experienced. We follow the unfortunate road of Indians who tried to repair their lives and cultures with the very little they were left with. While this story was written in 1941, the similarities we can see in America and shocking and a true eye opener.

 4. “Los Ríos Profundos” (Deep Rivers) by José María Arguedas

This story follows an Indian teenage boy who travels to the Andes (Cuzco, to be exact) with his father in hopes of finding a job for his dad. There, the boy enrolls in a Catholic school and lives through suffering, violence, discrimination and pain. The book questions Catholicism in Peru while encouraging the determination and individualism of self-awareness, power, and decision-making. It is a rebellious and unconventional story, a symbolism for growing up and sometimes having to go against society’s standards.

5. “Los Heraldos Negros” (The Black Heralds) by César Vallejo

View this post on Instagram

#cesarvallejo

A post shared by Melissa Foran (@warm.leche) on

If you’re a poet, enjoy poetry or have simply ever been in love and heartbroken, you should probably check this guy out. César Vallejo was considered one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. His work was known for making pain and suffering poetic. As a poet, he dared to explore the darkness of a human being without ever admitting to further understanding or insight on it. After every stanza and line, he questions existence, pain and evolution, only to end up with no answered questions at the end of each poem. This signified the road a human must take in life, we may search the meaning in things forever, only to be left with more questions. His poems were dark, honest, and one of the most vulnerable pieces in Peru at the time.

READ: This Boricua Is Bringing An Indie Bookstore To Her Neighborhood Of 1.4 Million

Recommend this story by clicking the share button below. 

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

Culture

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

booksellersofamerica / Instagram

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

In “Negra Yo, Pero El No!” A Woman Tears Down The Racism That Exists In Her Mother’s Latinidad

Fierce

In “Negra Yo, Pero El No!” A Woman Tears Down The Racism That Exists In Her Mother’s Latinidad

@2shotsofmely / Twitter

We all know how annoying family can be, nitpicking and offering opinions about how we choose to live our lives. Sometimes, though, our relatives’ perspectives are more than frustrating—they can be hurtful, causing us to question and doubt our place in the world. For many of us, it may be really difficult to address these issues with our loved ones, and we might often need to process these complex situations on our own before we can make any progress within our relationships. For Twitter user Hot Girl Scholar (@2shotsofmely), art was part of this process. She addressed some deep family conflict through poetry, and y’all, Twitter was shook.

According to her pinned tweet, @2shotsofmely and her family emigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic when she was seven years old. In May of this year, she graduated cum laude from Clark University with a BA in English and a minor in Education, ecstatic to dedicate her degree to immigrant and first-generation students. By embracing her role as a “hood girl, educator, and undercover poet,” @2shotsofmely is “living [her] mama’s wildest dreams”—although the poems that have electrified Twitter focus on some hard-to-swallow cultural viewpoints, reiterated by su madre y su abuela.

In poetry, the author of the poem is not always the speaker of the poem, but because of the caption in @2shotsofmely’s post (“Heard it so much I wrote poems about it”), it is clear that these poems—displayed on the walls of Elevated Thought, a Lawrence-based art and social justice organization—are written from her perspective. 

In one poem, “Negra Yo, Pero El No!,” @2shotsofmely acknowledges the hypocrisy (and the shadowy nature of racism and colorism) that defines how her mother reacts to a hypothetical boyfriend: based on the title, we know that @2shotsofmely’s mother is black, yet she proclaims that if @2shotsofmely ever dated a moreno, he must have a thin nose—la nariz fina—green eyes like @2shotsofmely’s grandfather, and “good hair.” In other words, he must not have black features. Why? “Because hay que refinar la raza.”

In the other poem, “LGBTQue?,” @2shotsofmely explores the cultural stigma attached to LGBTQ identities, affirming that her grandmother would “prefer [we] open [our] legs for all the men in the barrio before we walk around with a sister in our arms.”

The original tweet has garnered over 2.3k likes and 900 retweets—people can’t stop gassing @2shotsofmely’s badass display of honesty, the simultaneous pride in and critique of her roots. Several people expressed solidarity, citing events from their own lives that mirrored @2shotsofmely’s poetry.

This Twitter user really related to @2shotsofmely’s experience on the receiving end of her mother’s words.

This Latina responded in Spanish, explaining that her own grandmother married a white man para “mejorar la raza,” but affirmed that it wasn’t her fault—this point of view, according to @ditasea88, is a remnant of colonization.

This Twitter user applauded “LGBTQue?” for its resonance and truth.

Her poems even moved some folks to tears.

Although each of these tweets suggests a common experience which is largely negative, the response to @2shotsofmely’s poetry was rich with compassion—not only for those other Twitter users who share that experience, but for the madres y abuelas whose lives were very different than ours, and who had to make different decisions as a result. History is complex and difficult to synthesize without a broad contextual understanding, and @2shotsofmely’s work draws attention to how cultural patterns from the past can leave a dark impact on the present. However, alongside the criticism and pain at the core of these poems, there is something else: a sense of defiance and hope.

Now, in the midst of the political chaos within our country, it is especially important to celebrate the victories of individuals and groups creating supportive platforms for folks—particularly people of color—to express themselves. It is always exciting to see expressions of Latinidad—from art to poetry to a bomb Insta selfie—spark conversation and communion, even if people are relating about moments that have left them hurt or bruised. In a way, this type of conversation creates a sense of camaraderie, amistad—a feeling of familia.  

And although a lot of Latina familias struggle with antiquated viewpoints (like those presented in @2shotsofmely’s poems), times are changing, and cultural expectations are becoming more inclusive to Latinx people with a range of diverse identities. Often, the more difficult aspects of our upbringing lead us to create meaningful work and connect with others who can relate to us—@2shotsofmely’s poetry is a great example of how intergenerational trauma can produce beauty, connection, and personal growth when you honor yourself and your dreams. @2shotsofmely, you go, girl!