From the Library: Kel Karpinski on Books Written by and for Latina and Latin American Women

Late last month, we were lucky enough to have Kel Karpinski, a Library Science student located in Chicago, come to Portland to work at our Community Lending Library for the week. She helped us catalog a whole bunch of books (thanks to all of you who have been sending book donations lately!) and created a list of books that we need to bring into our library in order to provide a more comprehensive selection of books written by and for Latina and Latin American women. Before she left us, we asked her if she'd like to share her passion for librarianship as well as some of her favorite books with our readers. Fortunately, she said yes.

Image: Kel, taking a break from cataloging in the Bitch Community Lending Library.

I am currently studying Library and Information Sciences at the University of Illinois. My interests lie in programming and other aspects like outreach that connect the community with the space of the library. These already-existing structures in the public library can be better utilized to connect to a broader community, focusing on otherwise-marginalized groups. I wish to become a public librarian to not only facilitate the dissemination of information, but also to engage patrons with available technologies so that community members can be proactive in their own education. I am also interested in how the library can be used to connect with already-existing community programs in addition to its own programming and events.

These are a few of my favorite books written by and about Latina and Latin American women. This is a sampling of a larger list that I created for the Bitch Community Lending Library as a part of my Alternative Spring Break Project. These books deal with Latina identity, race, queerness, and feminism. These books are important to include in all libraries. Because library collections are so often dominated by works by white male authors, it is crucial to include in our collections materials with positive representations of, and strong works by, Latina and Latin American women (as well as other marginalized groups), especially those that critically engage with systems of power in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. While by no means an exhaustive list, these books are a great place to start reading!

The House on Mango StreetThe House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
A beautifully told story about a young Mexican woman growing up in a Chicago neighborhood. She tells her story through the people she encounters in her neighborhood with detailed descriptions and vivid imagery, making her story and the characters come to life. One of the things that makes her stories so wonderful is their accessibility. In the introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of The House on Mango Street, Cisneros writes this about herself: "It's true, she wants the writers she admires to respect her work, but she also wants people who don't usually read books to enjoy these stories, too. She doesn't want to write a book that a reader won't understand and would feel ashamed for not understanding".

Loving in the War YearsLoving in the War Years: lo que nunca pasó por sus labios by Cherríe Moraga
A mix of poetry and short stories as well as autobiographical pieces, Loving in the War Years explores the meaning and intersections of the author's Chicana and queer identities. Moraga also speaks to the importance of including race and class in feminist politics: "In failing to approach feminism from any kind of materialist base, failing to take race, ethnicity, class into account in determining where women are at sexually, many feminists have created an analysis of sexual oppression (often confused with sexuality itself) which is a political dead end." This is an important piece in Chicana and Latina Literature as well as in Queer and Feminist Literature.

Borderlands/La Frontera: the New MestizaBorderlands/La Frontera: the New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa
This book is Anzaldúa's seminal work on gender, sexuality, Chicana identity, and the borders that they straddle. In her writing, Anzaldúa seamlessly transitions between Spanish and English, thus language is one of the many ways the border runs through her life. "The actual physical borderland that I'm dealing with in this book is the Texas-U.S., Southwest/Mexican border. The psychological borderlands, the sexual borderlands, and spiritual borderlands are not particular to the Southwest. In fact the Borderlands are physically present whenever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle, and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy."

Devouring FridaDevouring Frida: The Art History and Popular Celebrity of Frida Kahlo by Margaret A. Lindauer
This book is a feminist reading of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and how she has been discussed in art history as well as popular culture. Lindauer writes, "I embark on this project not simply to show how ideologies are written into interpretation but to interrogate the celebratory aura surrounding Kahlo's mythic persona. It is important to recognize that, as the feminist dictum declares, the personal is political." She offers a feminist take on her life and her art as well as a feminist critique of other previous works written about Kahlo.

Hispanas de QueensHispanas de Queens: Latino Panethnicity in a NYC Neighborhood by Milagros Ricourt and Ruby Danta
Dealing with Latin American women living in a neighborhood in Queens, this work looks at what the authors call "informal alliances" and how they occur between these women in their everyday lives whether through work, church, or other daily interactions in the neighborhood. It also discusses the collective identity and sense of community that is established between the Latin American women despite having emigrated from different places in Latin America including Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Uruguay. The authors explain in their introduction, "Latino ethnic groups may foster cultural exchange and create an additional identity, one that can be mobilized by Latino panethnic leaders and organizations. This book analyzes the social forces that structure this process in both the everyday interactions and the organizational and institutional life of immigrants of diverse Latin American nationalities residing in Corona and elsewhere in Queens. Four factors are critical, and we devote attention to each: language, geographic concentration, class, and gender."

by Ashley McAllister
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