What Books on Mexicans Should I Buy this Christmas?
Dear Readers: Behold your favorite Mexican's annual Christmas gift guide, where I give shout-outs to some of my favorite books that deserve your money this holiday season! And for once, I won't recommend my books — ¡Ask a Mexican!, Orange County: A Personal History and Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America — as gifts ... oh wait, I just did!
The Perennials: I've plugged the following books in the past, and I'll never stop plugging them because they're magnificent: North from Mexico by Cary McWilliams (the first serious history of Mexicans in the United States), Tex(t)-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the Mexican in America by William Nericcio (to quote myself last year, a "scabrous take on Mexicans in the American imagination"), Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican-American Middle Class by USC professor Jody Agius Vallejo (a beautifully written analysis of how Mexis move up in societal circles) and anything by Lalo Alcaraz (legendary cartoonista) and Sam Quinones (who's currently working on a book about America's drug epidemic).
The Oldies-but-Goodies: The Mexican never stops reading, so here are some classics worth revisiting, all great starting points for those of ustedes who want to know your Chicano history: The Decline of the Californios: A Social History of the Spanish-speaking Californians, 1846-1890 by Leonard Pitts (a late-1960s tome that explains in depressing detail how California's Mexican-hating roots began), "With His Pistol in his Hand": A Border Ballad and its Hero by Américo Paredes (a pioneering folklore study on the corridos surrounding Tejano hero Gregorio Cortez) and Occupied America, the ultimate textbook on Chicano studies.
The Newbies: Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland by Northwestern professor Geraldo L. Cadava is a much-needed, wonderfully researched, well-written overview of an often-forgotten part of Aztlán: Arizona. (I mean, Arizona is always part of the conversation due to Arpayaso and all of its Know Nothing politicians, but we rarely talk about the good of the state). Hotel Mariachi: Urban Space and Cultural Heritage in Los Angeles by Catherine L. Kurland is an awesome ethnography of the mariachis of Boyle Heights, with stunning photos giving readers a sense of place. Finally, but definitely not least, a massive shout-out to Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, a collection of short stories by El Paso writer Benjamin Alire Sáenz that won this year's prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction — a huge victory not just for Chicano literature but also small presses, as the cabrones who published it were my pals at Cinco Puntos Press.
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