Afro-Latino scribes like bestselling authors Junot Díaz and Veronica Chambers have captured the voices of their community on paper, ushering Afro-Latino literature out of a history of invisibility within a nation that continues to grapple with the inextricable identity of black Latinos.
While several works have spanned decades as others are making their way out of oblivion, the titles featured on this list speak to the necessity of an ever-growing group of Afro-Latino writers committed to pushing the narrative of their community beyond the limits of underrepresentation.
Take a look above, and tell us about your favorite reads below.
Black Cuban, Black American: A Memoir – Evelio Grillo
In Black Cuban, Black American: A Memoir, Evelio Grillo details his experience as a black Cuban in Ybor City (now known as Tampa) in the Jim Crow South. Although connected to white Cubans through language, culture, religion and history, Grillo notes that black Cubans were difficult to classify in the United States where racial politics dictated that race superseded ethnicity. He later details how his experiences in black America, including his tenure as a soldier in an all-black unit during World War II, fortified his sense of identity.
The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States
In over 60 selections ranging from poetry to scholarly essays, The Afro-Latin@ Reader explores the “large, vibrant, yet oddly invisible” presence of black Latinos in the United States. Edited by Miriam Jiménez Román and Juan Flores, the collection covers history that dates back to the earliest Africans in North America and moves forward to tackle topics like the (mis)representation of Afro-Latinos in the media and the critical role of Afro-Latinos in hip-hop.
Down These Mean Streets – Piri Thomas
In his literary classic Down These Mean Streets, Piri Thomas takes readers to Spanish Harlem, where he wrestles with his identity as a Puerto Rican in the United States. As a dark-skinned morenito within a family that rejects its African heritage, Thomas struggles to navigate a society that, conversely, ignores his Latino heritage and characterizes him as an African American. Throughout the memoir, originally published in 1967, Thomas recounts his troubled adolescence and subsequent descent to prison while detailing his journey to freedom and self-acceptance.
Mama’s Girl – Veronica Chambers
The daughter of a Panamanian immigrant, Chambers struggles to shift her mother’s focus from making ends meet to her accomplishments as an overachiever, who ultimately attains more than her mother ever imagined, in Mama’s Girl. The memoir is an honest tale of middle class dreams, broken homes and reconciliation.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Díaz
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao tells the story of a Dominican nerd from New Jersey who is obssessed with comic books and science fiction. The Junot Díaz novel, which explores Oscar Wao’s struggle to fit the expectations of his family and peers, all while referencing Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo and the curse (fukú) of European colonization, took home the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Daughters of the Stone – Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa
Daughters of the Stone follows five generations of Afro-Puerto Rican women, beginning with an enslaved African woman in colonial Puerto Rico named Fela. Preceding their journey into slavery, Fela and her husband pour the essence of their unborn child into a stone during a tribal ceremony. The stone not only connects a line of daughters, but also grounds them in their heritage as they move from the Old World to the New.
Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina – Raquel Cepeda
In her memoir Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina, Raquel Cepeda takes readers on a journey as she peels back the layers of her identity to determine the origins of her ancestors before they became Latino, a decision partially inspired by her late father who discouraged her from embracing her Dominican heritage in full as a means to blend in with white society.
Shadowshaper-Daniel José Older
It’s rare to see an Afro-Latina protagonist emerge in young adult fiction, but such is the case in Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper, which tells the story of Sierra Santiago who discovers shadowshaping, a form of magic that infuses ancestral spirits in various forms of art. In a gentrified Brooklyn, however, Sierra is left with no choice but to retaliate against a mystery killer targeting shadowshapers one by one.
Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths – Elizabeth Acevedo
Afro-Latino mythology takes center in award-winning poet Elizabeth Acevedo’s chapbook debut Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths. Ahead of its release in September, Acevedo told VIBE Viva, “It’s a reclamation of the mythology of what it means to be a black Latina in the U.S. and what it means to be black in the Dominican Republic and what it means to reclaim stories of Tainos and the different African groups that were brought to the Dominican Republic.”