Read Latina: 7 Cubana Writers Conveniently Left Off Your High School Required Reading Lists

The first books I remember truly falling in love with were ones written by Afro-Latinas like myself, ones like Veronica Chambers and Nancy Osa. As much as I cherished my copies of “Catcher In The Rye” and books by Jane Austen, I often found myself being assigned to read stories of worlds, cultures and characters with dilemmas I could not entirely relate to. Mostly because they were so overwhelmingly white. Of course, the reason isn’t because the writers of color aren’t there. In fact, even in eras where women were banned from learning how to read and write, some managed to create beautiful works of their own that easily rival the likes of George Orwell and John Steinbeck.

For the Latina who loves to get lost in Austen or has a hankering for the gothic tales of Mary Shelley, here’s a list of 7 Cuban writers to put at the top of your to-read list.

1. Cristina Garcia

CREDIT: Amazon.com

Cuban-born American journalist Cristina Garcia has written for New York Times, The Boston Globe and Time Magazine. In 1992, she published her first novel, “Dreaming in Cuba,” which tells the story of three generations of Cuban women divided both in politics and location by the revolution. The book is beautifully and intimately written with language that will touch any reader who has been personally affected by the diaspora and loves magic realism writers like Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez.

Check out her books here.

2. Ruth Behar

CREDIT: Amazon.com

Born into a Jewish-Cuban family in Havana in 1956, Behar was four when she and her family immigrated to the U.S. after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. At the time, 94 percent of Cuban Jews fled the country after witnessing thousands of Jews be forced into labor camps in the 1960s because of their middle-class status. In 1988, after earning her master’s degree from Princeton University, Behar was awarded a MacArthur fellowship and became the first Latina to receive one. These days, Behar is an anthropologist and writer who works as a professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Michigan. Her most recent literary book, “Lucky Broken Girl,” which published in 2017, tells the multicultural coming-of-age story of a young Jewish girl who emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York. The book follows Ruthie Mizrahi, who struggles with her identity as she goes from knowing herself as smart girl among her peers in Cuba to a student who is considered unintelligent because of her struggle to master English.

Check out her books here.

3. Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda

Ten years before Harriet Beecher Stowe penned one of the most raved about novels in American literature, Avellaneda wrote and published a book called “Sab.” The novel, published in Madrid in 1841, tells the story of the book’s titular character who is an enslaved African that falls for the white daughter of his master. While Avellande’s novel gained both praise and disapproval for its message on antislavery and critique of the institutions of marriage, it did not receive publication in Cuba until 1914.

Check out her books here.

4. Achy Obejas

CREDIT: Amazon.com

Cuban-American writer Achy Obejas has used her work to explore notions of personal and national identity. Her works typically focus on sexuality and nationality. The writer once spoke about the duality of both her U.S. and Cuban identities, explaining that “I was born in Havana and that single event has pretty much defined the rest of my life. In the U.S., I’m Cuban, Cuban-American, Latina by virtue of being Cuban, a Cuban journalist, a Cuban writer, somebody’s Cuban lover, a Cuban dyke, a Cuban girl on a bus, a Cuban exploring Sephardic roots, always and endlessly Cuban. I’m more Cuban here than I am in Cuba, by sheer contrast and repetition.”

Her book “We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?” was published in 1994 and is a collection of stories about people who have not traditionally been accepted in the U.S., including people with AIDS, immigrants, the mentally ill and those living with addiction. Her other works include “The Tower Of The Antilles” and “Havana Noir.”

Check out her books here.

5. Maria Cristina Fragas

Fragas was the daughter of an enslaved Creole and an unknown father who wrote under the name Cristina Ayala. She was born free in Güines and eventually published her works in various newspapers and journals, including El Pueblo Libre and El Sufragista, as well as Minerva, a magazine she founded and dedicated to Black women. She is largely considered to be the first Afro-Latina writer to discuss race in poetry. For English-only readers, Fragas’ books will be a little harder to get a hold of because of publication rights.

Check out more information on her books here.

 6. Lydia Cabrera

CREDIT: Goodreads.com

Carbrera wrote and published more than 100 books throughout her career as a literary activist. The Havana-born writer grew up in a family of financial privilege during the early 1900s and gained her first interests in Afro-Latinidad through the Afro-Cuban servants that would take care of her and her siblings. Through them, she learned a bit about African folklore, traditions and religions. While never formally educated in anthropology, her works typically took an anthropological approach and often focused on the marginalized Afro-Cuban populations on her island. In “Afro-Cuban Tales = Cuentos Negros De Cuba,” she writes, “They dance when they’re born, they dance when they die, they dance for killings. They celebrate everything!”

Check out some of her books here.

7. Mayra Montero

CREDIT: Amazon.com

Montero is the well-known Cuban-Puerto Rican writer behind “The Braid of the Beautiful Moon,” a finalist for the Herralde award, one of Europe’s most prestigious literary awards. Born in Havana in 1952, the author moved with her family to Puerto Rico in the mid-1960s. These days, Montero is an acclaimed journalist based out of the island who writes the weekly column “Antes Que Llegue El Lunes” (Before Monday Arrives) for El Nuevo Día.

Check out some of her books here.


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