Latino/a Culture and History


Dr. Ava L. McCall

Young Adult and Children’s Books and Poetry

Ada, A. F. (1997). Gathering the sun: An alphabet in Spanish and English. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.


The text is written in both Spanish and English and uses the letters of the Spanish alphabet to form 28 poems about aspects of farm workers’ lives. The poetry reflects an appreciation for bountiful harvests, the hard work necessary to bring in the harvest, pride in Mexican American farm workers’ families, and the inspirational leadership of Cesar Chavez.

Ada, A. F. (2002). I love Saturdays y domingos. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks.


Lower elementary. The text is written in both English and Spanish to illustrate a young girl’s visits with her English-speaking grandparents on Saturday and her Spanish-speaking grandparents on Sundays. The text affirms bilingual and diverse family backgrounds and close relationships between grandchildren and grandparents.

Alarcon, F. X. (1997). Laughing tomatoes and other spring poems. San Francisco: Children’s Books.


Written in both English and Spanish, the poems describe everyday life in a Mexican American family as well as different foods planted and eaten. Most notable are the poems honoring his grandmother in “My Grandma’s Songs,” Cesar Chavez in “A Tree for Cesar Chavez,” the holiday Cinco de Mayo in “Cinco de Mayo,” the importance of corn in “Ode to Corn,” and children who work in the fields in “Strawberries.”

Alarcon, F. X. (1998). From the bellybutton of the moon and other summer poems. San Francisco: Children’s Books.


The author created bilingual poems (Spanish and English) to honor his childhood memories of visiting Mexico and other summer activities. The title poem depicts Mexico-Tenochtitlan, founded by the Aztecs in 1325 on a small island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. The Aztec name for the city means “bellybutton of the moon,” and the author’s grandmother encourages him to remember his origins in Mexico. Other poems honor Uncle Vicente who farms, Grandpa Pancho who taught his grandchildren Spanish letters, and the family bilingual dog who barks in both Spanish and English.

Alarcon, F. X. (2005). Poems to dream together. New York: Lee & Low Books. 


The author’s bilingual Spanish and English poems affirm his family, their history collected in a photo album, his mother’s hard work in caring for the family and working for income, and everyone’s participation in growing the family garden. Other poems acknowledge the old adobe homes in New Mexico, farmworkers who grow the fruits many of us eat, and Cesar Chavez’s dream of a better life for farmworkers. “Dreaming up the Future” focuses on dreaming what we will become in 20 years.

Anaya, R. (2000). Elegy on the death of Cesar Chavez. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.


The text is an illustrated poem eulogizing the Mexican American labor activist Cesar Chavez and his work in organizing migrant farm workers. It depicts some of the oppressive conditions of farm workers, including working in fields sprayed with pesticides and having their children’s educational opportunities limited by “propositions.” The author encourages farm workers to rise against their oppressors “who take your sweat and labor and sell it cheap” in memory of Chavez. The author’s note elaborates on ideas portrayed in the poem and includes a timeline of significant events in Cesar Chavez’s life.

Argueta, J. (2001). A movie in my pillow = Una película en mi almohada. New York: Children’s Book Press.


A renowned Salvadoran poet recalls his childhood experiences, dreams, and memories of life in El Salvador and San Francisco.

Bertrand, P. D. G. (2007). We are cousins. Houston, TX: Pinata Books.


Lower elementary. In very simple Spanish and English, the author explains how cousins are related and activities they do together, such as share clothes, sit on Grandpa’s lap, fit in Grandma’s hugs, celebrate birthdays, sleep over at each other’s homes, and blame each other when something goes wrong. The illustrations portray a Latino/a family, but the depictions of cousins fit different cultures.

Bunting, E. (1996). Going home. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.


Lower elementary. The picture book depicts a Mexican family who moves to the U.S. to work as farm workers in order to provide better opportunities for their three children. However, they consider Mexico their home. The story portrays their visit to La Perla, Mexico, a small village, at Christmas. The family is welcomed “home” by the children’s grandfather, aunt, and the rest of the village. The visit helps the children understand how much their parents love Mexico, how difficult it is to be away from home despite their desire to provide opportunities for their children, and their plan to return to Mexico to live.

Carlson, L. M. (Ed.). (1994). Cool salsa: Bilingual poems on growing up Latino in the United States. New York: Henry Holt.


Carlson collected poems about the experiences of Latino/a teenagers whose families originally came from such countries as Cuba, Mexico, and Nicaragua. The poems are in both Spanish and English to affirm the importance of first language for Latinos or Latinas and to make them accessible to non-Spanish speaking readers. The “School Days” section of poems is especially enlightening as teens describe some of their painful school experiences.


Elya, S. M. (2002). Home at last. New York: Lee & Low Books.


Elementary. The text portrays the challenges for a new immigrant family in adjusting to their life in the United States after leaving their home in Mexico. Although the main character Ana seems to learn English and become part of her class at school, her mother struggles with missing her family and home in Mexico and communicating with store clerks and neighbors in her new country. With the help and support of her family, Ana’s mother improves her English.

Garza, C. L. (1996). In my family. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press.


Elementary. The author describes and illustrates with beautiful paintings some of her memories of growing up in Kingsville, Texas in a Mexican American family. Her Mexican American heritage and beliefs are portrayed through special rituals and religious activities; experiences with preparing food and dancing; and family celebrations of Easter, birthdays, and weddings.

Johnston, T. (1996). My Mexico ~ Mexico mio. New York: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers.


The poems, written in both English and Spanish, portray positive images of Mexico. The people, houses, plants, animals, cities, transportation, and music of Mexico are depicted in poetry. The author uses humor and warmth to inform readers about life in Mexico.

Lainez, P. R. C. (2004). Waiting for papa: Esperando a papa. Houston, TX: Pinata.


Elementary. The story is based on the author’s immigrant experiences. It reveals the difficulties for a family that is divided when the son, Beto, and his mother receive visas from the Immigration Department to allow them to emigrate from El Salvador and come to the U.S. while their father’s application for a visa is denied. Because of the war in El Salvador, Beto’s father cannot find a job and faces dangers when going out in public. Through the efforts of Beto, his mother, and an immigration lawyer, they are able to bring Beto’s father to the U.S. and rejoin the family.

Medina, J. (1999). My name is Jorge: On both sides of the river, poems in English and Spanish. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.


The author writes from the perspective of Jorge, a Mexican American boy who has recently immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. Jorge tells of his struggles in school to learn English, learn other subjects, teach others to pronounce his name correctly, and make friends. Readers are invited to develop some understanding of how children of color may be very bright in their first language, but can’t always demonstrate their abilities as they learn a second language.

Mohr, N. (1994). Growing up inside the sanctuary of my imagination. New York: Julian Messner.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The author describes her diverse experiences growing up as the youngest child and the only daughter in a poor, Puerto Rican family in New York City. Her most poignant stories of the racism she encountered were at school when teachers insisted that speaking Spanish was forbidden and a route to failure. Teachers often ignored the author, generally disrespected her and other Latino children in class, and punished her for speaking Spanish or for not looking directly at the teacher (which was disrespectful in Puerto Rican culture). School counselors discouraged her from applying for the High School of Music and Art because of her poverty and encouraged her to learn to become a seamstress. Nicholasa remembered only one teacher who encouraged her art and cared for her while a student in the New York City school system. When she and her family attempted to live for a short time in a White, ethnic neighborhood, residents let them know they were unwelcome through name-calling, isolation, destruction of mail, and a priest's suggestion they move to a different neighborhood where people might understand them. Nicholasa's mother's strong belief in her talents and her encouragement to live out her dreams helped her resist the racism and classism she encountered.


Mora, P. (Ed.). (2001). Love to mama: A tribute to mothers. New York: Lee & Low Books.


The editor collected 13 poems from Latina/o authors who celebrate their Puerto Rican, Cuban, Venezuelan, and Mexican American backgrounds and the influence of their mothers and grandmothers. “My Grandmother Had One Good Coat” honors a grandmother’s generosity in giving her only “good” coat to a homeless woman, “The Race” acknowledges a Grandmother’s encouragement to her granddaughter to enter a horse race, “My Tongue is Like a Map” recognizes the wealth in being able to speak two languages, and “Mi mama cubana” honors a mother’s cooking, singing, and dancing to create Cuba in a New York kitchen.

Morris, A. (2002). What was it like, Grandma? Grandma Francisca remembers: A Hispanic-American family story. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook.


Elementary. The text illustrates how a grandmother transmits family history and culture to her granddaughter. Grandma Francisca teaches Angelica about her life growing up, her own family, special celebrations, and toys she had. Together, Grandmother and granddaughter cook traditional foods and celebrate religious traditions together so Angelica learns about and carries on her Hispanic heritage. The author offers suggestions for readers to learn more about their own family history.

Nazario, S. (2014). Enrique’s journey. New York: Random House.


The text describes Enrique’s dangerous travels from Honduras to the United States to become reunited with his mother. Enrique’s mother leaves him and his sister in Honduras with relatives when Enrique is only five years old to find work in the United States. Her main goal is to earn enough money to allow her to give Enrique and his sister Belky a better life in the United States. Even though Enrique’s mother sends him money and gifts, Enrique believes his mother does not love him. His strong desire to see his mother again precipitates his dangerous and illegal trip through the length of Mexico. He endures beatings and robbery from bandits and gangs, harassment from police and border agents, and all the dangers of riding on top of freight trains through Mexico and crossing the Rio Grande River. Enrique begins his journey when he is 16 years old; it takes him over two months. Once reunited with his mother Enrique and his mother still have difficulties. Enrique continues to resent his mother’s absence earlier in his life, her demands for respect, and her advice. He also struggles with drugs and alcohol, racism, and all the challenges with finding steady work as an illegal immigrant. The author encourages readers to consider how to address the issue of poor economies in Mexico and Central American countries which precipitate children, youth, and parents to immigrate illegally to the United States. The author’s extensive research also places Enrique’s story in the context of current Latino/a immigration from Mexico and Central American countries and other children and youth who immigrate to the United States.

Ochoa, G. (1998). The New York Public Library amazing Hispanic American history: A book of answers for kids. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


The text is written for upper elementary and middle school students and could serve as a teacher resource. The statistics on the number of Hispanics from different countries living in the U.S. need to be updated; however, the text gives valuable information about the differences in the terms Hispanic, Latino/a, and Chicano, commonalities among Hispanics, the influence of Columbus and the Spanish on the Americas, and how Mexico lost its northern provinces to the U.S. Chapters describe the history of Hispanic settlement in the U.S. from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Spain, and from the countries from Central America and South America. Readers learn where Hispanics from different countries live in the U.S., famous Hispanics from these countries, and aspects of these different cultures. The question and answer format helps readers to find needed information.

Perez, A. (2002). My diary from here to there. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press.


Elementary. The text is autobiographical and describes the author’s childhood experiences when her family moves from Juarez, Mexico to Los Angeles, California. When the author’s father loses his job and can find no work in Mexico, he and the author’s mother decide they must move to the United States for work and better opportunities. Readers discover the challenges of leaving a country one loves, waiting for her father to find a job and obtain green cards for the family, and moving to a different country. However, the author is also committed to keeping her language and culture alive through her diary.

Soto, G. (1995). Canto familiar. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.


The 25 poems describe aspects of everyday life from the perspective of a Mexican American youth. Spanish words are integrated throughout the poems. The author comments on speaking Spanish in “Spanish,” on making different shapes of tortillas in “Tortillas Like Africa,” growing nopales or cacti to eat in “Nopales,” and washing the dishes after a traditional meal in “Doing Dishes.”

Stavans, I. (2001). Wachale! Poetry and prose about growing up Latino in America. Chicago: Cricket Books.


Wachale is Spanglish (integration of Spanish and English) for “watch out” or “listen up.” The editor collected poems, memoirs, and stories from Latinas/os. “Mexicans Begin Jogging” portrays the mistreatment of Mexican illegal workers in the United States while “Deportee” describes the deportation of Mexican illegal workers after they harvested crops. “Life, Trial, and Death of Aurelio Pompa” raises questions of fair treatment for Mexican workers within the U.S. justice system. “Mi Problema” depicts the rejection Mexican Americans face when they do not speak Spanish well. “Twas the Night” integrates Spanish with English in the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” “Child of the Americas” is a powerful poem about a Latina’s identity formed by many different cultures.

Winter, J. (2009). Sonia Sotomayor: A judge grows in the Bronx. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.


The bilingual English/Spanish text describes Sonia’s years growing up with her younger brother and her mother and surrounded by the Puerto Rican culture in a public housing project in the South Bronx. Sonia’s family and friends ate foods, played games, and listened to music from Puerto Rico. Although Sonia discovered she was diabetic when she was a young child which required insulin shots every day, she decided to become a judge. She studied hard and won academic awards when she graduated from high school and Princeton University. Sonia became a very hard-working judge who understood life for people living in poverty and experiencing racial discrimination. When Sonia became a Supreme Court justice, nominated by President Obama, she was the first Latina judge on the Supreme Court.

Adult Resources

Hoobler, D. & Hoobler T. (1994). The Mexican American family album. New York: Oxford University.


The text is an adult resource and provides a concise summary of Mexican American history from the time Mexicans became Mexican Americans after the United States acquired parts of Mexico in the mid 19th century through contemporary times. The authors described the first Mexican Americans who were already living within the current U.S. borders; those who chose to leave Mexico due to the Mexican Revolution, the poverty and lack of jobs; Mexican Americans who traveled between Mexico and the U.S. to live and work; fluctuating U.S. policies which both encouraged and discouraged Mexican American immigration to the U.S. to work; the Mexican American contributions to agriculture and hardships as migrant agricultural workers, miners, and railroad workers; the establishment of Mexican American communities or barrios; Mexican American efforts to win equal rights; and contributions to the arts, sports, politics, and culture. Each section begins with an overview of an era, then is embellished with profiles of people living during this period and quotations from Mexican American biographies and interviews to provide authentic perspectives on the era. The racism and inequalities Mexican Americans experienced at the hands of Anglos who controlled different jobs, schools, and the government is highlighted throughout the text.

Sotomayor, S. (2013). My beloved world. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


The author classifies the book as a memoir because she is openly subjective in her selection of events in her life to describe. The text is written for adults and provides some insight into her Latina culture in her concentration on her life growing up in New York City through her first experiences as a judge before she became the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. Sotomayor describes her childhood experiences with poverty necessitating her family’s apartment in the projects, her diabetes, the conflicts between her parents, her father’s alcoholism and early death, her mother’s depression and grief following her father’s death, and being raised by a single mother. However, she was part of a close, extended Latina family with Puerto Rican origins. Sotomayor and her family spoke Spanish at home and ate her father’s Puerto Rican cooking. She loved her grandmother, her Abuelita, experienced unconditional love from her, and found refuge from the conflicts between her parents at Abuelita’s apartment. Although Sotomayor’s parents did not attend Catholic church services, they spent money on tuition to send her and her brother to a Catholic school in order to be assured their children attended a well-disciplined school. Sotomayor’s parents valued education, although they were unable to help their children with their schoolwork. Sotomayor and her brother dutifully completed homework for hours each night and were academically very successful. Sotomayor credits her transformation from a confused elementary student to a successful one to reading a great deal, her mother’s efforts to speak English at home, and soliciting help on how to study from the smartest girl in the fifth grade class. At a young age, she set her goal on becoming a lawyer and encourages readers to solicit mentoring from successful professors, colleagues, and friends. Sotomayor went on to become valedictorian of her high school class, earned the highest honors at Princeton University and Yale Law School, held a position in the New York County District Attorney’s office, and was appointed as a Federal District Court judge, all before the age of 40.

Adult Resources: Videos

University of Georgia Office of Service Learning. (Producer). (2012). Latino learning modules: Latino culture and cultural values. Available from


This 10 minute video clarifies the differences among the terms Hispanic, Latino/a, and Chicana. The video explains the different countries Latinos/as come from as well as how some have lived in the United States for hundreds of years and while most speak Spanish, not all do and may speak other languages. The video also explains important Latinoa/ cultural values, including the importance of family; the cultural value of interdependence and cooperation and the importance of contributing to the family; an emphasis on warm, personal relationships; showing respect for elders and teachers; the importance of religion, especially the Catholic religion; the influence of traditional roles: machismo expectations for men and modeling qualities of the Virgin Mary for women; and the acceptance of God’s will. The video also cautions against generalizing that all Latinos/as possess these cultural values.

Adult Resources: Websites and Online Articles

Clutter, A. W. & Zubieta, A. C. (2009). Understanding the Latino culture: The Ohio State University Extension fact sheet. Retrieved from


The authors summarize the growth of the Latino population in the United States and Ohio and some of the important aspects of the Latino culture. For example, they explain the importance of family, greeting practices, changing expectations in dress, flexibility with time expectations, the importance of the Catholic religion, and important celebrations. The article also suggests how to provide the best learning experiences for Latino students. (2011-2015). Let’s explore Hispanic culture. Retrieved from


The website is designed to give readers an overview of Hispanic culture, traditions, holidays, and music. It explains the terms Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish and clarifies the differences among them. It also clarifies the meanings of different names given to babies and states the tradition of giving babies the paternal and maternal last names.

Hede, M. (2013, July 14). Hispanic and Latino traits. Retrieved from 


The author, originally from Columbia, summarizes important values of the Latino culture, including the importance of family, music and dance, speaking the Spanish language, practicing the Catholic religion, and using proper titles when addressing adults, and openly showing affection.

Knapp, J., Muller, B. & Quiros, A. (2009). Women, men, and the changing role of gender in immigration. Institute for Latino Studies University of Notre Dame Student Research Series, 3. Retrieved from


The article focuses on the gender role of Latino immigrants and how they are influenced by the migratory process and life in South Bend, Indiana, and other places in the United States. The authors summarize traditional gender roles in Mexico and how they are changing as men leave to work in the United States which allows women in Mexico to gain more autonomy and power. Mexican women’s participation in the labor force in the United States also allows them to gain greater power.

Annotated bibliography list