Dear Readers: As usual, I turn over a December edición of my column each year to new Chicano-Mexican books you should stuff into a tamale leaf and give to folks so they have something to unwrap. While 2016 was a horrible year politically, the Santo Niño de Atocha saved it with a lot of amazing titles. Here we go!
“Mozlandia: Morrissey Fans in the Borderlands,” Melissa Mora Hidalgo: I wrote the forward to this academic-yet-street take on the eternal question: why do Mexicans like Morrissey so much? But rather than offer tired ivory tower takes, Profe Melissa interviews fans, goes to Manchester, and talks about her own worship of Steven Patrick. Fun, instructive, SAVAGE.
“Food, Health, and Culture in Latino Los Angeles,” Sarah Portnoy. Another academic who isn’t afraid of leaving their laptop to do actual research, the University of Southern California professor does everything from talk to celebrity chefs to eaters, farmers to tianguis folks to give insight into the breathtaking scene that is Latino LA food.
“Give Me Life: Iconography and Identity in East LA Murals,” Holly Barnet-Sanchez and Tim Drescher. The University of New Mexico Press consistently puts out chingón titles about the Mexican experience in the American Southwest, but this late release was 2016’s best: a hefty coffee table book documenting the beauty (see the pictures) and tragedy (many of the highlighted murals no longer exist) of public art in East Los Angeles.
“The Mexican Flyboy,” Alfredo Vea. I usually don’t care for fiction, but couldn’t put down this fantastical University of Oklahama Press release: think Garcia Márquez meets Octavia Butler meets Oscar Zeta Acosta.
“Uprooting Community: Japanese Mexicans, World War II and the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” Selfa A. Chew. I always love books that offer a chinga tu madre to gabacho perceptions of what a “Mexican” is, and this smart University of Arizona Press study does just that, examining the rich culture that emerged between Japanese and Mexicans in Southern California. True story: the man behind canned menudo was a Japanese-Mexican from Wilmington, California! Wilmas, presente!
“The Tacos of Texas:” The homie Mando Rayo and his writing partner Jarod Neece devote over 400 pages and 300 photos to Texan taco culture, and I’m giving it the highest compliment one can give food writing: after reading just two pages, I was p*nch* hungry.
“Corridors of Migration: The Odyssey of Mexican Laborers, 1600-1933,” Rodolfo F. Acuña. For my oldie-but-goodie pick, try this 2007 masterpiece by the godfather of Chicano studies. If you want to know why Mexicans ended up where they did in los Estados Unidos, Profe Acuña goes from the era of the conquistadors up to the times of “The Grapes of Wrath” to unspool a sobering, yet inspiring tale.
“California Mission Landscapes: Race, Memory, and the Politics of Heritage,” Elizabeth Kryder-Reid. Out here in California, we’re taught in elementary school that missions set up by Catholic missionaries during the Spanish era were necessary to save the Indians; in college, we’re rightfully taught they were basically concentration camps. This University of Minnesota Press libro is of the latter school, but takes on the fascinating prism of gardens to tell its enrapturing narrative.
“Barrio Writers,” Sarah Rafel Garcia, editor. This annual anthology of pieces by high schoolers enrolled in a nonprofit writing workshop that spans from SanTana to Nacogdoches, Texas is never a dull read, as authors contribute everything from poetry to first-person testimonials to essays on subjects ranging from undocumented to la vida loca to nerd sh*t. Buy for the palabras, contribute to el movimiento.
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