In 2015, the billion-dollar romance book industry represented 34 percent of all fiction sold in the United States. At the heart of these stories — whether they’re heartwarming, steamy or funny — is a fictional couple (or more) finding its way to a happily-ever-after. Not surprisingly, like much of the media we consume, white heterosexuals dominate this fictional landscape. But times are changing, and these four Latina romance authors, along with their contemporaries and others who preceded them, are writing stories where Latinx people get their fairytale ending, too.
Here, we share a few candid insights about Latinx representation in romance, our efforts to battle stereotypes, the importance of creating multi-dimensional characters from a variety of backgrounds and the need for progress in depicting Latinx intersectionality.
Alexis Daria, Puerto Rican, Author of Sexy Contemporary Romances
Positive representation in romance novels doesn’t just provide the joy of seeing yourself on the page; it’s an affirmation that you belong in the world of the love stories you love reading. When I read romances where only white characters show up on the page, I call BS. This is not just unrealistic, but negligent and lazy as well. As writers, we’re creating worlds we wish existed, where love triumphs over evil and where people can change and heal through the power of love before finding a happily-ever-after. If we can do all that, we can certainly include casts of characters who are diverse and richly developed, not propped up by tired — or worse, harmful — stereotypes.
Writing inclusively doesn’t require reinventing the wheel, but romance authors do have a responsibility to dig deeper into their character development tool boxes when crafting all characters in the story, not just the ones falling in love. Unless the protagonists are trapped in a remote cabin or lost in space, they will likely encounter other people over the course of the story. This is an opportunity for romance writers to stretch their skills by creating multidimensional characters from a variety of backgrounds. And while a character’s racial or cultural background does inform who they are, it should not be the only trait used to describe them.
As a Latina and native New Yorker, it’s important to me that the stories I write reflect the world I live in. My heroines are Latinas living in big cities, but they’re also surrounded by characters from diverse backgrounds who have their own lives separate from the protagonists’. It’s not enough for me to just include Latinx representation; my goal is to show these characters living, loving and interacting with people from a variety of backgrounds. Some might call that “diversity for diversity’s sake,” but I say it’s realistic and responsible storytelling.
Mia Sosa, Brazilian-Puerto Rican, Author of Steamy Romantic Comedies
PRETENDING HE'S MINE is here! Get ready for a tropetastic experience:
✨Fake dating? ✔️
✨Older brother's best friend? ✔️
✨Forced proximity? ✔️
✨Opposites attract? ✔️
— Mia Sosa (@miasosaromance) April 10, 2018
Confession: I wept along with Gina Rodriguez when she accepted the Best Actress Golden Globe Award for her groundbreaking title role in Jane the Virgin. Why? Because representation matters. When you watch a television show or see a movie, it’s uplifting and gratifying to see aspects of your culture respectfully represented on the screen. But here’s the rub: Although we’re making inroads in showing positive examples of Latinx culture in mass media, the people and groups whose identities don’t fit the mold of the prototypical Latinx remain hidden from view.
Let’s face it, Latinx people are no strangers to anti-blackness and colorism, and many of us know people, perhaps individuals in our own families, who don’t embrace the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, romance novels often suffer from the same erasure, my own first few works included.
As an Afro-Latinx romance writer who now understands the power of the metaphorical pen in my hand, I’m mindful that to be fully inclusive, the worlds I create in my books should represent the different skin colors, hair textures, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities that make up our Latinidad. So when my publisher’s art department wanted guidance on the cover for one of my recent books, “Acting on Impulse,” I thought of my own daughters, with their brown skin and curly hair, and sent the team photos that captured the essence of the woman I was trying to portray. I couldn’t have been happier with the result, and when my girls saw the cover, they adored it. Now they’re not allowed to read the book for another decade or so (#sexytimesincluded), but it touches me to think that years from now they’ll be able to pick it up and read a love story featuring a person who looks like them.
There’s much more to be done, of course, and thankfully other authors are doing the work, too, but I hope I’m headed in the right direction.
Sabrina Sol, Mexican, Author of Erotic Romance and Women’s Fiction
The lazy construction worker. The over-sexed single mom. The drug kingpin.
These are the Latinx stereotypes we can’t get away from. Turn on the TV, and it won’t be long before one of these characters shows up on your favorite prime time network.
They’re in romance books, too, unfortunately. In fact, I remember being so angry about a book written by a USA Today best-selling (white) author where the only Latinx character in it was the day laborer who worked for the hero’s construction company. He never was in a scene or had any dialogue, but he was constantly referred to as the only employee who couldn’t be relied upon to show up for a job. I wanted to e-mail that author and ask why she felt the need to name the lazy worker “Juan” instead of “John.” I never e-mailed, though, because I already knew the answer.
Others might not have noticed—or even cared. But I knew there were readers out there, like me, who did.
That’s when I started writing romance, and I made a conscious decision to only write Latina heroines. I work hard to stay away from negative stereotypes and, instead, make an effort to give my characters full and complex lives. The romance is just the cherry on top.
My heroines and their heroes are usually college-educated and excel in their white collar, professional careers. They are celebrities, own their own businesses, live in expensive homes and make tons of money. And if they’re blue-collar workers, then I purposefully depict them as being dedicated, successful honest and hard-working.
Because while there is nothing wrong with having a character be a day laborer or a maid, there is absolutely everything wrong in writing them as if that is all they are.
Priscilla Oliveras, Puerto Rican-Mexican, Heartwarming Contemporary Romance Author
While my debut novel released last fall, I’ve been writing for a long, LONG, time — let’s say I began in utero, OK? Actually, I was a 20-year-old military spouse, new mom and college co-ed when I first sat in front of an electric typewriter to peck away at what I assumed would be the next romance best-seller. Reality check!
Back then, I’d been devouring romances for years, reading and re-reading my favorites. So when I had to take a semester off due to a military move, I figured I’d try penning my own. My first two manuscripts will never see the light of day, but they were valuable learning tools, highlighting the need to hone my craft and find my personal author voice.
The problem was, I mimicked the type of stories I’d read, rather than trusting the creative meanderings in my mind. In those early days, I honestly can’t recall reading any books with Latinx characters. Not as the main ones anyway. So basically I was trying to force the stories in my head into someone else’s mold. But the narratives I wanted to tell were about diverse characters that lived and loved in a diverse world. Much like my own.
It wasn’t really until 1999, when Kensington Publishing opened their Encanto line with authors like Caridad Pineiro, Berta Platas, Lara Rios and others, that I saw stories like the ones I imagined, written by authors I identified with. And while the line folded after only two years, the possibility that my stories could find a home took root. Meeting those ladies at a Latina writers conference later gave me the confidence to cultivate my voice in a world that needs #ownvoices.
Sí, I write contemporary romance with a Latinx flavor. I write stories about Latinx familias living and loving and finding their way in a multi-cultural world that isn’t always easy to navigate. I write romances that celebrate the joy, pain, frustration and blessings that are universal, no matter where we’re from or where we live. There’s a place at the romance table for my work and me. There’s a place for all of us.