Hi friends! I’ve fallen behind again, but today I’m here! With another guest celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with us! Whee! Everyone – I hope you chime in. I’m grateful for all of you <3 (and for copy + paste)! Please give Ana a very warm welcome!
Reading while Latina by Ana Canino-Fluit
I am Latina romance reader and reviewer. Born and raised in Puerto Rico I have now lived nearly half of my life in the US Mainland and Canada. I have inter-married like so many Hispanics do, and I am raising my daughters to appreciate their multi-cultural (Dutch-Canadian & Puerto Rican) heritage. I am school librarian and I read and review romance as hobby. I read nearly all the romance sub-genres, everything from historical to science-fiction, although I tend to steer clear of inspirational and westerns. Romance like the rest of mainstream literature can be overwhelmingly white and while I am always thrilled to discover Hispanic authors and characters when selecting books to read I don’t limit myself to reading books written from a Hispanic point of view. But I do find myself looking for certain tropes, and story elements that in some way resonate with my experience of being a Latina. The particular tropes and story elements that appeal to me won’t necessarily appeal to another Latino or Latina whose experiences and background is different from mine but these are the tropes and story elements that I find reflect a bit of my reality.
I love stories of newcomers or new people finding a place to belong in a small town or community. I left Puerto Rico to attend college and I have lived in many places across Canada and the US for work since then, so reading stories about the importance and process of finding supportive friends, and becoming part of a new community appeals to me. Two of my favorite series that return time and time again to the challenges and rewards of finding love, making friends and building relationships with peoples and places are Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski Family and Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor books.
A distinct but related category of these types stories are romances about immigrants & ex-pats. People who not only leave their hometowns or states but are building lives in other countries. I love reading about the adjustments required to live in a different culture, the ideas and traditions we sometimes unconsciously carry from our home cultures and how they complicate our relationships. As someone who has negotiated the sometimes fraught waters of inter-cultural romance I love reading about it. Kat Latham has written a couple of stories with Ex-pats and bi-national couples which I really enjoyed (Knowing the Score & Mine Under the Mistletoe). I loved Mary Ann Rivers’ Live with its homesick Welsh hero, set on going home while slowly falling in love with a girl that has never left home. I also love Laura Florand’s novels, both the Amour et Chocolat and La Vie en Roses series, where the lovers often have to discover all that is lost in translation, the little cultural nuances, mores and cues that can lead to misunderstandings beyond simply not sharing the same first language.
I love stories of misfits and outsiders, people who don’t quite fit in or and are not fully accepted by the culture at large. When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, I knew that I didn’t quite fit the idealized Puerto Rican image of beauty, and when I left home as light-skinned Latina, I got and still get lot of comments like “you don’t look Puerto Rican” and those comments are exhausting and wearying as they make you feel not quite right. Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series while first and foremost action packed stories of adventure and love that I fell in love with for their intricate world-building and steam-punky goodness, are also populated with people of color whose lives are complicated by how they look, what their heritage is or they ways their bodies have been modified. Delphine Dryden’s geeky and kinky characters in the Theory of Attraction series are misfits and outsiders of a different sort. I connect with these smart men and women whose differences from those around them might not be readily visible but still set them apart, and make them feel slightly out of sync with the rest of society.
I love strong and complicated family relationships. It is cliché to point out that Hispanics and Latin@s deeply value family, but what is less well understood is how complicated and difficult those extended family relationships can be. Divorce, substance abuse, distance, family expectations and aspirations complicate our families. In Lauren Dane’s books from her Brown Family series and its related novels to her Urban Fantasy and Science Fiction I find depictions of complicated families that are both honest and raw. Her family relationships are rarely straightforward; instead they are often sources of both strength and conflict. I love that she can acknowledge the role of our families of origin play in the families we build and their power to affect our relationships for good or ill. I recently read her novella Sway from the Delicious series, where we see both Daisy Huerta’s loving, healthy yet not idealized Mexican-American family and Levi’s complicated but close-knit WASPY family and how concern and conflict from both sides nearly derailed Daisy and Levi’s love affair.
I love to read stories that assume and portray a multicultural world, which is rarer than you might think. I love books where the communities and groups of friends depicted are not all white and include more than a token person of color. I wish I saw more authors that realized that you can find people of color in all sorts of communities, big, small, urban and rural. I loved how vibrantly diverse Jenn Bennett’s 1920’s San Francisco is in her Bitter Spirits series, and the fact that we see people of color in all sorts roles going about their lives. In contemporary romance I really enjoy Audra North’s books for its everyday inclusion of people of color as main and supporting characters. I know when I read a person of color in her romances, their race isn’t “the issue”, but instead just a part of who they are.
When I was growing up in Puerto Rico it sometimes felt like machismo was the default male philosophy, and culturally we were raised to accept that you could tell the good ones from the bad ones because they listened to their Abuela, watched out for their nieces and sisters and that all the novias & chulitas would be set aside for the right one. Although I never let myself date a Machista or ever wanted a real live rake I still have a soft spot for stories of reformed rakes, of big strong men who know they are beat when they face a fierce grand-aunt like Lady Osbaldestone and are drawn to strong bossy women who don’t simply sit waiting to be rescued. I found my fix for this trope in the dozens of Stephanie Laurens Cynster series and Nalini Singh Psy-changeling novels which I binged on when I first found romance novels.
One of the most enduring telenovela tropes is that off a cross-class/Cinderella romance. In the telenovelas I watched as a child some rich guy was always falling for some girl from the wrong side of the tracks (who often conveniently was some of other rich guy’s secret baby…but that is another story). As a result of prolonged and sustained exposure to this trope, I have become very picky about the kind of cross-class romances I can enjoy. Unlike the telenovelas I watched as kid I want authors to address the real obstacles and sacrifices involved in those kinds of relationships. Two of my favorites are Jeannie Lin’s Lotus Palace, whose portrayal of deep family bonds, loyalty and sacrifice lend weight to Bai Huang and Yue-ying love and Cecilia Grant’s A Gentleman Undone, where Will and Lydia’s love is truly costly to them, costing them financially, in social esteem and even family contact.
The un-employment rate in Puerto Rico has been very high for a very long time, so my whole life my parents have the stressed the importance of education and work-ethic to the point that I didn’t realize that till I was in college that many people did not in fact go on to get a college education, but in my life it simply wasn’t optional. I was taught to value and respect those who humbly worked hard jobs to provide for their families and to provide opportunities for paid for work for others whenever possible. I look at my family, at my grandmothers who both worked and managed business. My great-grandparents who farmed and ran a bakery and as result I rarely feel a romance is complete if it doesn’t address the significance and value of work or the impact of struggling to make ends meet. I find myself deeply drawn both to stories where characters have to negotiate work-life balance because the characters love their work, are so good at it that it can easily consume them, like Julie James’ FBI series novels and Emma Barry’s Easy Part series and to novels where characters work hard in less than glamorous settings (Cara McKenna’s After Hours and Hard Time), where work is not identity but necessity.
This is just a small part of the tropes and story elements I enjoy, as I haven’t mentioned some of my favorite writers and books, but their appeal to me is not something I can easily tie back to my Latina experience but are instead things I like simply because of all the other things that form who I am beyond my race, like my love-hate relationship with librarian romances and my aversion to billionaires. What are the tropes and story elements that connect the most deeply with you? I would love to hear your recommendations of books that fit some of these tropes and elements and I haven’t discovered yet. You can find me on twitter as @anacoqui and find my reviews on my blog.
So – what are your thoughts?! Chime in! (And have you read any of these books?)