Plaza Voices: Growing Up LatinX

Our regular contributor Desiree S. writes:

“I want to be
like the waves on the sea,
like the clouds in the wind,
but I'm me.
One day I'll jump
Out of my skin.
I'll shake the sky
like a hundred violins.”
    -Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street

As a young person, The House on Mango Street (required reading for students back then) just seemed to get me. Of course, Esperanza’s search for identity and meaning is one that all of us can empathize with, even those of us who are long since past adolescence. Like her, I hated how long and awkward my name was, wanted to be a writer and had went from a small apartment to a slightly less small house.

Additionally, like Esperanza, I am Latina. As I have written before in Plaza Voices, my father and grandparents came to the United States from Puerto Rico in the 60’s. For me, this meant visits with one side of my family were filled with a language I didn’t completely understand, delicious food I never saw anywhere else and constantly asking my father exactly what the boleros like Tito Rodriguez were singing about on the radio.

Fortunately for us, there are many, many more wonderful titles exploring the experience of growing up LatinX than were available when I was a young person. For myself and many others, it meant going between two different worlds, and never completely feeling like I belonged in either. These and other themes stand out strong in many books written by LatinX authors about this topic. Clearly no two individuals’ stories are ever the same — for this reason, I chose to talk about my own, as well as some books I feel resonate with it.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Aristotle (or better known in the book as Ari) is a shy, artistic loner who prefers to be alone. Although all of this changes when he meets Dante by chance at the neighborhood pool. Though Dante is radically different in some ways from Ari, they are both Mexican-American, and they both share a love of art and beauty. This book is the story of them both finding their way in the world. For anyone who has ever felt things like “The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.” - this book is for you.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. As a both a lover of urban fantasy and Brooklyn, this book captivated me. It encapsulates the essence of Brooklyn’s diverse and colorful neighborhoods better than any I’ve seen in a while (said as someone who once lived in Brooklyn). In this title we meet Sierra, who while she doesn’t realize it yet, is part of a rich tradition of Shadowshapers, individuals who can channel ancient spirits through their art, music and storytelling. Sierra’s urgency to discover the secrets of her identity, and anger at how much has been hidden for so long are aspects of Shadowshaper that spoke to me.

Want to look at more recommended titles? Check out the new Growing Up LatinX booklist, available on DPL's teen site, Evolver, and also soon as a bookmark at Denver Public Library branches. I hope these books inspire and reflect your own stories, and that perhaps you see a bit of yourself in them. Do you have a favorite book about growing up? Something to add to our list? Please share it with us below in the comments!

Plazas are an open community space where immigrants from all over the world connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice a language, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help! Please see our events calendar for more information.

Written by Amanda R. on December 23, 2016


Anonymous on December 31, 2016


You mentioned two of my favorite authors, Sandra Cisneros and Benjamin Alire Saenz - Yay! Now I'll have to look forward to reading your recommendation!

Alison Johnson on January 2, 2017


Love Sandra Cisneros! The National Association for Poetry Therapy will be holding their conference in Denver this year. Come and join!

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