The best books on the USA by Hispanic writers who everyone should know

The Books I Picked & Why

Journey to the United States Of North America

By Lorenzo de Zavala, Wallace Woolsey

Journey to the United States Of North America

Why this book?

I had never heard of Lorenzo de Zavala until I started researching El Norte, and his story deserves to be much more widely known. He was born in Mexico when it was still under Spanish rule, and later became involved in Mexican independence. He also participated in the formation of the breakaway Republic of Texas (Tejas) in 1836, and he served as its first vice-president. Before that period of his life, however, he took a tour of the United States. He started in New Orleans in 1830, working his way north and east. This book describes that trip and his observations about the United States. It is one of the earliest travel accounts of the US written by a Mexican, and it provides a fascinating perspective from someone whose life intersected with pivotal political moments in both countries.


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My Nine Years as Governor of the Territory of New Mexico, 1897-1906

By Miguel Antonio Otero

My Nine Years as Governor of the Territory of New Mexico, 1897-1906

Why this book?

I’m not usually a fan of political memoirs (I tend to be skeptical of the authors), but this one is an enlightening read in terms of understanding the sorts of structural and governmental prejudices that Hispanic people faced in the early twentieth century as exemplified by New Mexico’s long struggle to obtain statehood. Otero was from a prominent New Mexican family and was the governor of the territory from 1897 to 1906. New Mexico was acquired as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in the aftermath of the Mexican-American war in 1848, but it didn’t become a state until 1912, due in part to the anti-Hispanic attitudes in Washington DC that Otero discusses in his book.


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The Squatter and the Don

By Maria Amparo Ruiz De Burton

The Squatter and the Don

Why this book?

María Amparo Ruiz de Burton lived through one of the most tumultuous periods of history in California. She was born in Baja California to an elite family but moved to Mexican Alta California, as it was then known, during the Mexican-American War, marrying US army captain Henry Burton and becoming a US citizen. Ruiz de Burton watched California’s transformation under US rule, and this 1885 novel uses fiction to lay bare the very real problem of land dispossession of the Mexican Californians (known as Californios) and the arrival of ‘squatters’ from the eastern US who were claiming contested property. Ruiz de Burton is considered to be one of the earliest Mexican-American female authors to write in English, and this work illustrates how Alta California’s transition to statehood upended the lives of many people who had lived there under Spanish and Mexican rule.


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Jose Marti Reader: Writings on the Americas

By Jose Marti

Jose Marti Reader: Writings on the Americas

Why this book?

José Martí was a poet and writer who became the leader of Cuba’s final independence movement from Spain. He died in battle in 1895 and is the island’s best-known hero – images and statues of him can be found in almost every town in Cuba. He spent much of his life in exile, including in the United States. He was a prolific journalist, and his essay ‘Nuestra América’ (Our America, 1881) is one of his most-cited works. His observations about the US and the rest of the Americas were astute, and his work continues to offer insights that are applicable to the present day.


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Borderlands / La Frontera

By Gloria Anzaldúa

Borderlands / La Frontera

Why this book?

Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa confronts all kinds of borders – including the one between the US and Mexico – with her essays and poems. This book is considered a classic in Mexican-American studies and is also influential in other fields, such as women’s studies. Such is its power, it was placed on a list of books that the Tucson, Arizona school system controversially tried to ban in 2012. Although it was first published in 1987, it remains an essential guide to navigating cultural, psychological, and national borderlands.


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