Here are some books by Latino authors for the holiday season

If I got a dime every time I heard Latinos aren’t monoliths, I’d be rich enough to run for mayor of Los Angeles.

Yet news about Latinos still largely vacillates between the weary tent poles of exploited immigrants and success stories typically produced by reporters with no roots in their subject and uninterested in digging deeper.

That’s why I say when Latinos complain about how the media portrays us, they should do something about it. Write or record anecdotes about who you are. Interview the people who make up your specific community. Then let the rest of the world know about it.

Four books about Latinos in California out this year—perfect Christmas gifts for anyone who cares about the state—do just that, proving another time-honoured cliché: representation matters.

When it comes to Los Angeles street photographers of the past 30 years, only Ted Soqui and Gary Leonard can match the prolific mastery of Gregory Bojorquez. His snapshots of Chicano life – particularly in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Montebello – have long graced local and national publications. Now he’s collected hundreds of them in a beautiful new illustrated book, Eastsiders.

"Eastsider" by Gregory Bojorquez

Eastsiders by Gregory Bojorquez

(Gustavo Arellano/Los Angeles Times)

In the 1990s, the photographer captured the area in all its ups and downs, mostly in black and white. We see well-preserved military veteran headstones in Calvary Cemetery and subdued crowds at the East LA Classic, the annual football rivalry between Roosevelt and Garfield High Schools. Grinning gang members flashing their signs click. Lovers lacing on a lawn. A boy throwing a perfect spiral down Ditman Avenue.

An excerpt at the end of “Eastsiders” provides the location and year for each recording – another chance to marvel at just how much Bojorquez has shown us where he’s from.

Bojorquez’s sharply focused camera reveals every imperfection in his subjects, long stereotyped as little better than poor or criminals simply because of where they live. His unbiased gaze brings out their unfiltered joy and pride – they know life is hard, ¿y que?

It would be great to learn more about Bojorquez’s philosophy, but all he offers in a brief afterword is a simple yet profound artistic statement that also serves as a call to action: “I just photographed what was around me was around.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson could not have said it better.

It’s the same approach used by Richard T. Rodríguez, Professor of English at UC Riverside, in A Kiss Across the Ocean: Transatlantic Intimacies of British Post-Punk and US Latinidad. Rodríguez tackles one of the most vexing questions in music journalism: Why do Latinos like Morrissey/the Cure/British New Wave so much?

"A kiss across the ocean" by Richard T Rodriguez

“A Kiss Over the Ocean” by Richard T. Rodríguez

(Gustavo Arellano/Los Angeles Times)

Rodríguez could easily have thrown himself into a press corps that still largely believe Latinos listen only to Spanish-language music, backed by either accordions or congas. While he criticizes them, he pares the bile in favor of a heartfelt, poignant memoir analysis that he writes is “animated by in-depth investigative work fueled by Fannish investments.”

That prof takes readers back to his years as a queer brown teenager in a 1980s Orange County who didn’t care about people like him. He found redemption and deliverance through artists like Adam Ant, the Pet Shop Boys, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, whose lead singer graces the cover of his book and whom Rodríguez describes, quoting another author: “This woman was a madman… and utterly unrepentant . I knew she was the one for me.”

The book ends in the present, at places like the Pacific Ampitheater in Costa Mesa and the Totally 80s Bar and Grille in Fullerton, where a mostly Latino, generational audience sways to the Smiths or dances to Duran Duran.

Rodríguez offers theories of affinity – a short list includes common working-class backgrounds between listeners and performers, lyrical themes of love and heartbreak that hark back to Latin genres like the bolero and ranchera, and really great beats.

But he argues that this is the wrong question. Instead, the curious should focus on it What This fandom offers: an “accidental touch” of solidarity and resistance to a cruel world for true believers “that speaks of intimacy”.

Conviction also drives the protagonists of “The Dawning of Diversity: How Chicanos Helped Change Stanford University” by Frank O. Sotomayor. The former LA Times editor tells the story of Mexican-Americans at the prestigious school, with a special focus on “the 71” — the Chicano students recruited by Stanford from across the American Southwest in 1969 to diversify the student body.

"The dawn of diversity" by Frank O. Sotomayor

“The Beginning of Diversity” by Frank O. Sotomayor

(Gustavo Arellano/Los Angeles Times)

Sotomayor tells the stories of nearly all of them, contrasting Chicano grads like himself with the eugenic roots of the Stanford founders.

He shows how Chicanos have played key roles in the school’s major institutions, from the infamous marching band to faculty and administration to athletic teams. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jim Plunkett turned down an offer to turn pro in his junior year because “dropping out of school would not set a good example for young Mexican-Americans,” writes Sotomayor.

This book could easily have turned out to be a vanity project, or something more appropriate for a class reunion than for the general public. Yet Sotomayor offers a beautiful case study that anyone (even Cal grads) can enjoy about a group of people who knew they were part of something bigger and therefore did whatever they could to succeed – not just for themselves, but for future generations of Latinos.

“I hope this book will motivate students and alumni from Stanford and other universities to write the stories of their own experiences,” writes Sotomayor in the introduction. “Don’t let good stories die. let her live.”

The Latino Baseball History Project has long followed this advice. Over the past 18 years, its contributors — academics, community historians, and even former players — have created an incredible alternate timeline of the national Southern California pastime, one in which Major League Baseball is an afterthought in favor of the hundreds of barrio teams who have competed against each other from the early 1900s to the present day.

The project has highlighted players, teams and leagues through museum exhibits and lectures, but most importantly in a series of books covering most of Southern California (I wrote the foreword to the 2013 Orange County edition). They’ve just released their most ambitious tome yet: the 464-page Mexican American Baseball in the South Bay.

"Mexican American Baseball in the South Bay"

“Mexican American Baseball in the South Bay”

(Gustavo Arellano/Los Angeles Times)

Through newspaper clippings, family photos, short essays, and intelligent captions, contributors tell the stories of Latinos in the South Bay, from Redondo Beach to Dominguez Hills, Inglewood to San Pedro. The writers definitely know their history—many have published general histories of their hometowns for Arcadia Publishing’s popular Images of America series. They are also humble enough to know that their work is far from over. In “Mexican American in the South Bay” they not only invite the public to help them, but urge others to follow their example.

“There are many hidden baseball and softball treasures waiting to be unearthed,” the introduction states — not just in archives and attics, but most importantly in “the cherished memories of the elders.”

Reading through these books, I am reminded that almost none of the stories made it into the “official” California chronicles. These writers didn’t want to wait for others to do the hard work—they did it themselves.

So what are you waiting for? Read these books – and tell your own story. Here are some books by Latino authors for the holiday season

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