The Chingona Reading List, Part 1: Books for Rebels
There’s a lot of power in the word chingona. These are the girls who make their own rules, reject machismo, write their stories and live on their own terms. And that’s why so many of us are excited to reclaim the name.
Chingonas are rebels and scribes and creators. These books were penned by those Latina writers who bravely revealed their truths, shared things never spoken of, and wrote for those of us who dare to be a little different, too.
While la Sandra, Anel, Gloria, Cherríe, Reyna and others are all represented, there are too many important works of Latina literature to fit in one post. Today we celebrate the rebels, but in part 2, I’ll share more writings by other incredible women not listed here. In part 3, we will hear from the men who write about the strong, fearless and sometimes defiant women who shaped their lives. Part 4 will focus on children’s books with brave characters and inspiring storylines inspire that motivate our little ones to not simply be “good girls,” but to be great.
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you choose to buy the works of these strong mujeres via the links in this post, you’ll also help me fund stories like these.
Don’t Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks From The Heart: The Story of Elvia Alvarado
As Translated and Edited by Medea Benjamin
Born into poverty in Honduras, Elvia grew up without education, a healthy diet, nor indeed any type of life preparation other than knowing how to work. But this phenomenal woman found her strength, and harnessed that incredible power to fight the institutions that created and kept people in poverty. Against all odds, crushing machismo and social and legal structure stacked against the poor and rural workers, she helped usher in new understanding and organized campesinos to recover stolen lands.
I don’t think God says ‘Go to church and pray all day and everything will be fine.’ No. For me God says, ‘Go out and make the changes that need to be made, and I’ll be there to help you.’
Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza
By Gloria Anzaldúa
In her highly influential work, Gloria Anzaldúa takes readers through the history and creation of Aztlan and its place as a Chicano homeland. She tells it as both a personal history and as an origin story of her people. She provides a timeline for the American occupation and surveys how Mexicans in the U.S. were stripped of their power. She also revealing her own personal rebellion against the insistence of her culture and religion that she be subservient.
I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue—my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.
A House of My Own: Stories from My Life
By Sandra Cisneros
Truth be told, I could include every single one of Sandra Cisneros’ published works in this list. She is, after all, one of the madrinas of contemporary chingonas. Her characters are so resilient and so quietly powerful in their battles and journeys, that is was only fitting that her own story impart just as much wisdom and inspiration as any character she’s imagined into the world. In her memoir, she takes us home, wherever it lies – Chicago, San Antonio, in the pages of Thomas Wolfe or in family stories.
For her, for her mother before her, for my mother, for so many working-class women, a house is the life raft to hold you afloat when the storms sweep everything else away.
The House on Mango Street
By Sandra Cisneros
Simply stated, this is required reading. La Sandra was one of the first to give sensitive, invisible brown girls a voice. Girls like Esperanza experienced too much, too soon and saw their destinies in the tired women on Mango Street. Yet they know they do “not want to inherit their place in the world.” Instead they write their own lives and are free.
My mother says when I get older my dusty hair will settle and my blouse will learn to stay clean, but I have decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain.
Empanada: A Lesbiana Story en Probaditas
By Anel I. Flores, Forward by Mariana Romo-Carmona
There is perhaps no better way to describe Empanada than probaditas. Throughout the poetic short prose, readers are treated to tiny morsels of Flores’ life. We feel the pain of mother’s rejection, her struggle to understand and accept her real self despite her unforgiving religious upbringing, and the joy of finding her tribe on her own terms.
And within the walls of this church and within the walls of this world, I do not plan to hide my face, my short hair, my brown skin, my frown or my sexual taste. And one more thing …
The Distance Between Us: A Memoir
By Reyna Grande
Reyna Grande was just a little girl when her father and then her mother left her and her siblings behind in their native Mexico. Her parents, desperate for a chance of escaping poverty, would eventually make their way back into their children’s lives. But when the promise of life on El Otro Lado proved disappointing, they hardened and life was never the same. Grande, forever changed, but unbroken, became one of our most important writers and bravest truth tellers.
‘I won’t be done for long,’ she would promise and she pried my fingers from hers. But this time, when my mother said she wouldn’t be gone long, I knew it would be different. Yet, I never imagined that ‘not too long’ would turn out to be never, because, if truth be told, I never really got my mother back.
Mexican Enough: My Life between the Borderlines
By Stephanie Elizondo Griest
Those of us born and raised on this side have likely wrestled with the great question: Am I Latina enough? Did I hold on to the language, culture, expectations, faith … did I hold up my end of the bargain? Griest explores that frustrating burden so many of us carry of having to be both American and Mexican (or, insert your family’s country of origin here) while accepting that we may never be considered fully either. On the cusp of 30, she takes off on an impulsive, soul-searching trek to Mexico to explore her identity and sense of belonging.
For years this has been my pipe dream: If I only spoke Spanish, I would be more Mexican. But what if it isn’t possible to become a member of an ethnic or cultural group—to will yourself into it, to choose? What if you can only be born and raised into it?
This Bridge Called My Back, Fourth Edition: Writings by Radical Women of Color
Edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa
First published more than 30 years ago, the poems, prose and memories found within the covers of This Bridge Called My Back are as relevant and rallying today as they ever were. The writers lay their experiences bare, and because of their empowering transparency, readers find our own histories mirrored.
Silence is like starvation. Don’t be fooled. It’s nothing short of that, and felt most sharply when one has had a full belly most of her life. –Cherríe Moraga, La Güera
Rant. Chant. Chisme.
By Amalia Ortiz
In her incredible collection of poems, you can almost here poet Amalia Ortiz sing or scream or lean in close to tell you her truth. She writes about Texas, about the Valley or San Antonio, those hometowns that speak in English, but live in Tejano and carry the old world while the young fight to make it new. Ortiz lays bare the third-generation struggle for those of us like her who are too angry, too different, ambiciosas but who know our minds.
Been called angry ‘cause I’m vocal—
Yes, I sure can talk a riot.
Been called angry, but I’m happier
than when I was afraid and quiet.
Lavando La Dirty Laundry
Poemas By Natalia Treviño
In her collection of poems, Natalia Treviño makes her confessions. Some more intimate than others, but all honest and revealing glimpses into those things we don’t talk about – lost babies, failed marriages, cancer, unspoken rules and things we hear in the kitchen. Treviño shows us vivid pictures her life as a schoolgirl, wife, mother, divorcee and remarried lady, almost as if we were flipping through a family album.
I was not trained to cook by my mother.
She sent me far from the kitchen,
From slicings, vapors, flames.
This wasn’t a practical way to raise a Mexican girl.