Listo para un susto? Here are 5 books by Latinx authors to help celebrate the scary season
Latinx culture is rich with stories and superstition, and its literature brimming with folklore and ghost tales. As we move to the second half of Hispanic Heritage Month and closer to Halloween, University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Clinical Associate Professor of Humanities Wanalee Romero has plenty of suggestions for bewitching literature by Latinx authors that will get readers in the mood for a good scare.
Romero, who also teaches in UH-Clear Lake's First-Year Seminar and the Women’s and Gender Studies program, said Mexican and American gothic were among her specialties, is sharing what she calls her “essential Mexican American gothic reading list” with those who enjoy stories about spirits, hauntings and perhaps a bit of horror.
1. “Bless Me Ultima,” by Rudolfo Anaya. “This is considered a classic, and I wanted to include it even though it was published in 1988,” Romero said. “It’s a coming-of-age story about a boy whose family's friend, Ultima, comes to stay with the family one summer. She is a ‘curandera,’ or a healer, which is often mistranslated as ‘witch doctor.’”
The story explores the relationship between the boy and Ultima, whose healing powers are a combination of Catholicism and folk remedies, which Western cultures consider “witchy,” but Latin American culture calls “folk medicine.”
Romero said this is an engaging read for someone who hasn’t read much about Latin culture.
2. “Calligraphy of the Witch,” by Alicia Gaspar De Alba
Romero said this was a good one for those who enjoy getting lost in a good historical fiction plot. “This takes place during the Salem witch trials, and it’s juxtaposed with Latin American history,” she said. “It’s a strange story, with one character moving to Massachusetts at the same time as the trials to be a servant. She actually meets Tituba, who’s often blamed for triggering the events that resulted in the witch trials. This story reimagines what a certain historical event would have been like through a different set of eyes.”
3. “Collection: Her Body and Other Parties,” by Carmen Maria Machado
This collection of stories is not as “gothic” as the others, but Romero said they were all haunting in their own way. “In particular, the story, ‘Real Women Have Bodies’ is amazing,” she said. “It’s speculative fiction, set a bit in the future, in a time when women are losing their bodies. The less their voices are heard, the less their bodies are visible; they’re actually fading away. They’re still around, but just in spirit form.” The women’s spirits speak of the abuse of their bodies, the abuse they suffer in textile factory labor as they make garments, but aren’t considered worthy enough to even wear them. “It makes a statement about whose body counts and whose doesn’t, about womanness, using haunting to make a statement about gender, economics and voice,” she said.
4. “Mexican Gothic,” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“This is classic haunted house story, set in Mexico, and it hits all the notes with a haunted house, concerns about belonging, and ancestral claims,” Romero said. “These are all preoccupations of the gothic. A young woman marries an Englishman who lives in a manor house sends a letter to her cousin saying she doesn’t feel well, she sees strange things and she feels that she might be losing her mind.”
Her cousin goes to visit her and also begins to encounter strange things. “I’d put this on the Top 10 list of things to read if you like horror stories,” Romero said. “This is a really immersive, gothic, ghostly book.”
5. “Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories,” Sandra Cisneros
“This is a collection of stories as well, with the title story about ‘Woman Hollering Creek’ focusing on a classic bogeyman known in Mexican-American literature,” she said. “La Llorona is the weeping woman from an old legend in Mexican folklore. The story changes according to the time period or place, but the basic tale is about a woman who was wronged by her man with whom she has children. She drowns the children when he leaves her, then realizes she’s gone insane to have done that, and so her destiny is to weep at the river for all eternity, for her children's return.”
Cisneros’ rendition of the story is that a young Mexican woman marries a man in the U.S. and moves to Seguin, Texas where there is a river called Woman Hollering Creek.
“The man abuses her, and Cisneros blends her story with the tale of La Llorona,” Romero said. “There is a moment where the woman, who has a child and is pregnant, is sitting by the creek. She realizes she can escape her life without drowning her child--she is La Llorona, but with a voice. She gets a nurse to listen to her and help get her out. At the end, the woman is getting away, laughing and driving across the creek, singing in La Llorona’s voice. ”
To read these books, or to receive more recommendations about books by Hispanic authors, visit the Alfred R. Neumann Library.