The best books to understand the writing and marketing of chica lit

Tace Hedrick Author Of Chica Lit: Popular Latina Fiction and Americanization in the Twenty-First Century
By Tace Hedrick

Who am I?

As a university professor, I often teach popular women’s writing, and I realized that I needed to teach Latinx popular fiction as well. Women’s popular writing in the United States reflects but also shapes the way women see themselves in a global neoliberal world. After I had written an article on class and Chicanx and Latinx fiction, I also realized that class and race are key to thinking about how Latinas/Chicanas both create and follow market trends in an effort to “better” themselves in addition to showing how various Latinas/Chicanas see each other in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender.  

I wrote...

Chica Lit: Popular Latina Fiction and Americanization in the Twenty-First Century

By Tace Hedrick,

Book cover of Chica Lit: Popular Latina Fiction and Americanization in the Twenty-First Century

What is my book about?

In Chica Lit: Popular Latina Fiction and Americanization in the Twenty-First Century, Tace Hedrick illuminates how discourses of Americanization, ethnicity, gender, class, and commodification shape the genre of “chica lit,” popular fiction written by Latina authors with Latina characters. She argues that chica lit is produced and marketed in the same ways as contemporary romance and chick lit fiction. Its stories about young women’s ethnic class mobility and gendered romantic success tend to celebrate twenty-first-century neoliberal narratives about Americanization, hard work, and individual success. However, Hedrick emphasizes, its focus on Latina characters necessarily inflects this celebratory mode: the elusiveness of meaning in its use of the very term “Latina” empties out the differences among and between Latina/o and Chicano/a groups in the United States.

The books I picked & why

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The Dirty Girls Social Club

By Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez,

Book cover of The Dirty Girls Social Club

Why this book?

This is the book that started the Chica Lit subgenre (about thirty-something Latinas negotiating their lives, romances, and careers). I have many problems with it, but I like her humor and much of her making fun of stereotypes of Latinas is spot on. It also shows us the breadth of Latina lives, from the white, privileged Latina to the Afro-Latina struggling along. It’s the lynchpin of my book, since this is where it all started, for me and for the subgenre. It’s important to understand the messages popular Latinx literature gives us about gender and about Latinidad. 

Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban

By Lisa Wixon,

Book cover of Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban

Why this book?

I also write about this book in my work. I again have problems with it, but it gives a kind of slice-of-life snapshot of Cuban life at that moment (around 2005), and especially about jineteras, or “jockeys,” women who supplement their income by going out with wealthy foreigners. Doing research on that book gave me a look at Cuba that was invaluable. And it is sometimes funny. It serves as a kind of coda to my book in that it reproduces many of the rhetorical moves of other chica lit but in a completely different setting. 

Latinos, Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People

By Arlene Dávila,

Book cover of Latinos, Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People

Why this book?

As her title indicates, this book delves into the ways Latino/as are described, shaped, and marketed both to the United States and to themselves. Dávila, a social anthropologist, brilliantly exposes not just the workings of the neoliberal state on this process, but how marketing and demographic research by corporate interests shape the ways Latinas/os are commercialized not just with things like food but even with cities interested in “cleaning up” Latinx neighborhoods. My book looks at the way Latinx fiction does something of the same thing, including shaping the way Latinx poverty is seen as “inevitable” by these different players. 

Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature

By Janice A. Radway,

Book cover of Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature

Why this book?

Radway’s book was invaluable to me as a way to read the structure of Chica Lit, which depends on tropes and language from contemporary romance fiction. Her approach, which included a study of women who read nothing but romance in their time off, made many things clear about the pull of romance and its conventions for women. Her approach to the language and psychology of romance fiction also clarifies what makes these fictions, including Chica Lit, so appealing to women of all ages. This book came out in 1984 but is still for my money the best on romance fiction there is. My book leans on Radway to help describe the conventions of Chica Lit in order to understand its appeal to Latina readers, but also to understand the way patriarchy works in making these books both appealing but also how the “white” conventions sometimes come up against Latinx assumptions and stereotypes. 

Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican American Middle Class

By Jody Vallejo,

Book cover of Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican American Middle Class

Why this book?

Vallejo painstakingly lays out the way some Mexican Americans, usually the poorest of the minorities, struggle to make it into a specifically American middle class. She details how these Latinas/Latinos carefully shape themselves, and in turn are shaped by corporate and state interests, into an ethnicity that is for the most part deracinated and stripped of their more obvious “ethnic” attributes (as a small example, most drop the accent marks in their names). For my book, a look at the middle-class Latinx is a look at the desires and strivings of Latina writers and characters of Chica Lit. 

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