QUERY: Literature on immigration by Chicana/o authors

Ryan Simmons's picture

In teaching a community college course on multicultural American literature, I include texts having to do with the experiences of migrants/immigrants. Particularly given the often problematic discourse about migration from Mexico to the U.S., I'd like to incude writings by Chicana/o authors on this topic. However, I've noticed that, while writers such as Junot Diaz, Ha Jin, Julia Alvarez, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and others are prominent in publication and literary studies lately, there has been surprisingly little presence of writers of Mexican heritage when it comes to accounts of the immigration and/or border-crossing experience per se. So I'm looking for recommendations.

I'm familiar with writers such as Sandra Cisneros, Rudolfo Anaya, Rolando Hinojosa, Ana Castillo, etc., and, although I haven't read every one of their works, what I have read doesn't entirely supply what I'm looking for, which is writing that will (a) give readers who are immigrants or their direct descendants a reflection of their migration experiences and (b) give readers who do not have this experience set a sense of insight/empathy, something that will help them to understand the political debate in more human terms. There are a few lesser-known texts that seem on-point, such as Graciela Limón's The River Flows North and Yuri Herrera's Signs Preceding the End of the World (the latter of which would need to be in translation for my purposes). Still, I'd like to develop a longer list of options.

There are also, I'm aware, non-fiction options such as Luis Alberto Urrea's The Devil's Highway. And there's T. Coraghessan Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain, which topically reflects what I'm looking for, but is written by an Anglo author who--more to the point--was fairly open about not particularly researching his topic, but relying on his imagination to tell the story, which opens up questions of authenticity to me. Finally, there seems to be some YA fiction that meets my criteria, although my preference would be a novel or short-story collection that isn't targeted mainly at YA readers.

Anyway, any suggestions or discussions are welcome. Do you have recommendations in light of the above considerations? Is this even a valid thing to be looking for?

Thank you.

Hi Ryan,

Although he deals with neither short or long fiction, Pancho McFarland has addressed migration issues in his two books on Chican@ rap. More recently, however, Castillo-Garsow and Nichols and many of the contributors to La Verdad (2016) take up issues of migration in hip-hop, in particular Robert Tinajero's article on borderland hip-hop rhetoric. Regarding your question about building empathy, Shanna Lorenz has an excellent article (2013) on Black and Latino alliances in hip-hop to achieve precisely those ends. While all of this unfolds in music, the various strategies the artists deploy could be easily read as semi-fictional migrant narratives, and they might bring an interesting angle to the notion of what constitutes fiction in your class.

I hope that helps more than hinders.

Good luck!


The Devil’s Highway is great, but not only about the migrants, but about the Border Patrol agents too. Excellent writing.
Ruben Martinez’s Crossing Over (Nonfiction) is excellent too.
Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us (Nonfiction) is another beautifully written memoir.
Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Viramontes looks at the experience of a migrant family.
Tomas Rivera’s “y no se lo trago la tierra” is a classic. It has been translated into English as “And the Earth Did Not Devour Him” and by Rolando Hinosa as “This Migrant Earth.”
Two other foundational Chicano texts that cover the immigrant experience are Ernesto Galarza’s Barrio Boy and Pocho by Jose Antonio Villarreal.
If you wanted to expand to other Latina/o authors, I would recommend When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, Getting Home Alive by Aurora Levins Morales and Rosario Morales, Memory Mambo by Achy Obejas, Our House in the Last World by Oscar Hijuelos, Next Year in Cuba: A Cubano’s Coming of Age in America by Gustavo Perez Firmat, Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia, and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez.
Best of luck and I hope you share your final syllabus.

Hi Ryan,

I have two texts that might fit the bill, both of which I've used in introductory composition courses at the community college where I teach:

• Hector Tobar, The Barbarian Nurseries
• Brando Skyhorse, The Madonnas of Echo Park

Of the two, I'd strongly recommend Skyhorse (my students and I both found Tobar's novel over-written and tedious). It's a series of interconnected stories, each narrated from a different point of view, all set in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. I've taught the whole thing as well as just the fictional "Author's Note." My students loved it, and it provided lots of opportunities to talk about immigration and identity. We also were lucky to have Skyhorse come to campus and do a presentation -- if you're able, he's a tremendous speaker who really connected with our students (a Hispanic Serving Institution in California). Skyhorse's memoir is also interesting, as he was raised by his Mexican-American mother to believe he was Native American (hence his last name).

Good luck,


Yuri Herrera's Signs Preceding the End of the World is a short novel about border crossing, by a Mexican writer, with a tough, engaging protagonist. It's somewhat surreal, as seems appropriate in our times.

Cristina Henriquez's The Book of Unknown Americans follows Latinx families/individuals from different countries, all living in the same apartment building in Delaware, and is great for surfacing cultural differences, hostility and caring among immigrants arriving decades apart. My students in a course on immigration loved it.

Thank you, all--this is exceptionally helpful!