DEAR READERS: As usual, I turn over a December edición of my column each year to new Chicano-Mexican books you should stuff into a tamale leaf and give to folks so they have something to unwrap. While 2016 was a horrible year politically, the Santo Niño de Atocha saved it with a lot of amazing titles. Here we go!
Mozlandia: Morrissey Fans in the Borderlands by Melissa Mora Hidalgo. I wrote the forward to this academic yet street take on the eternal question of why Mexicans like Morrissey so much. But rather than offer tired ivory tower takes, profe Melissa interviews fans, goes to Manchester and talks about her own worship of Steven Patrick. Fun, instructive, SAVAGE.
Food, Health, and Culture in Latino Los Angeles by Sarah Portnoy. Another academic who isn't afraid of leaving their laptop to do actual research, the USC professor does everything from talk to celebrity chefs to eaters, farmers to tianguis folks to give insight into the breathtaking scene that is Latino LA food.
Give Me Life: Iconography and Identity in East LA Murals by Holly Barnet-Sanchez and Tim Drescher. The University of New Mexico Press consistently puts out chingón titles about the Mexican experience in the American Southwest, but this late release was 2016's best: a hefty coffee-table book documenting the beauty (see the pictures) and tragedy (many of the highlighted murals no longer exist) of public art in East Los Angeles.
The Mexican Flyboy by Alfredo Véa. I usually don't care for fiction, but I couldn't put down this fantastical University of Oklahoma Press release—think Gabriel García Márquez meets Octavia Butler meets Oscar Zeta Acosta.
Uprooting Community: Japanese Mexicans, World War II, and the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands by Selfa A. Chew. I always love books that offer a chinga tu madre to gabacho perceptions of what a “Mexican” is, and this smart University of Arizona Press study does just that, examining the rich culture that emerged between Japanese and Mexicans in Southern California. True story: The man behind canned menudo was a Japanese-Mexican from Wilmington, California! Wilmas, presente!
The Tacos of Texas. The homie Mando Rayo and his writing partner Jarod Neece devote more than 400 pages and 300 photos to Texan taco culture, and I'm giving it the highest compliment one can give food writing: After reading just two pages, I was pinche hungry.
Corridors of Migration: The Odyssey of Mexican Laborers, 1600-1933 by Rodolfo F. Acuña. For my oldie-but-goodie pick, try this 2007 masterpiece by the godfather of Chicano studies. If you want to know why Mexicans ended up where they did in los Estados Unidos, profe Acuña goes from the era of the conquistadors up to the times of The Grapes of Wrath to unspool a sobering yet inspiring tale.
California Mission Landscapes: Race, Memory, and the Politics of Heritage by Elizabeth Kryder-Reid. Out here in California, we're taught in elementary school that missions set up by Catholic missionaries during the Spanish era were necessary to save the Indians; in college, we're rightfully taught they were basically concentration camps. This University of Minnesota Press libro is of the latter school, but it takes on the fascinating prism of gardens to tell its enrapturing narrative.
Barrio Writers, edited by Sarah Rafael García. This annual anthology of pieces by high schoolers enrolled in a nonprofit writing workshop that spans from SanTana to Nacogdoches, Texas, is never a dull read, as authors contribute everything from poetry to first-person testimonials to essays on subjects ranging from being undocumented to la vida loca to nerd shit. Buy for the palabras; contribute to el movimiento.