My teenage years were spent developing a slightly unhealthy obsession for anything by Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and practically any material Masterpiece Theater would adapt for the small screen. There is also a small corner in my heart strictly dedicated to “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley ever since Mr. Klimwoski assigned it to my 7th-grade reading class. I think that the farmhouse chapters where the monster learns to speak and love is top-notch character development.
HOWEVER, being born a Latina and having been an avid reader all my life, it has not gone unnoticed that the most highly praised classic literature has been centered on the white American and white European experience. Although I could often picture myself wandering the Scottish moors or falling in love with a Mr. Darcy, oftentimes I always felt just a twinge of disconnect. From my educational experience, the same style of passion and adventure that burns in the bosom of these white protagonists and their writers does not equally reside in that of Hispanic or Latino characters. At least, not what they teach us in school.
By doing a simple Google search, the first five books listed that are continuously read in high schools are: “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by George Orwell, “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, “Animal Farm” by George Orwell and “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. I have read three out of five of these books. While they are good reads, they all lean into a specific perspective.
“Esperanza Rising” by Pam Muñoz Ryan, do you remember that book? That was as diverse as my schools seemed to get when it came to Hispanic/Latino-centered literature. Nearly all the books I have read which received praise for representing the Hispanic and/or Latino experience throughout the years utilized the characters’ ethnicity more as a plot point rather than an aspect of their complexity. Their stories focused on immigration, gangs, poverty, or had the protagonist envying the white characters. They always ended up being stories of sorrow and pity. While they were beautiful, they lacked the same respect bestowed on and woven into classic literature. Them being Hispanic/Latino was the story, and I couldn’t help but feel underrepresented.
It seems if one wanted to broaden their world view they would have to wait until college for special literature courses or actively explore a variety of books independently.
Enter Silvia Moreno-Garcia!
While I could simply say that Silvia Moreno-Garcia has taken the gothic extravagance and sophistication of Mary Shelley or Jane Austen and just made it more accessible to Hispanic and Latino readers, that would be a disservice to Moreno-Garcia’s writing. In actuality, Silvia Moreno-Garcia takes a literary structure typically reserved for white Americans and/or white Europeans and reframes it the rich, extensive Latin American culture. She does not work to mimic their style but rather harnesses it to prove the Latin American experience can be just as sophisticated and extravagant.
Rather than burdening the female protagonist with her heritage, “Gods of Jade and Shadow” celebrates Mayan mythology similar to that of the Greek or Roman variety. “The Beautiful Ones” is a gentle romance that integrates science fiction in a manner that would make Austen and Shelley alike proud. But it is “Mexican Gothic” that fully embodies the powerful impact Silvia Moreno-Garcia has made on literature.
At the very heart of this gothic tale is a beautiful, intelligent, and cultured female lead who also happens to be Mexican. Her ethnicity is not what solely defines her, despite the surrounding characters trying to do just that. The white Europeans in the story work as the antagonists trying to reduce her to nothing more than her ethnicity and hold her captive. Aside from the social commentary on feminism and social traditions/expectations, Moreno-Garcia oh-so-subtly weaves in commentary on the long legacy of celebrated literature and the gatekeeping culture that surrounds it. And I for one, could not be more proud!
Moreno-Garcia’s work has seamlessly provided what I feel has been lacking. With her books currently being displayed front and center in chain bookstores, she is helping broaden mainstream readers’ perspectives on Hispanic/Latino characters, themes, and experiences. All the while, she is demonstrating that classic literature structures can be expanded beyond the white American and white European experience.
Teen Mari may never have fully experienced the glory of what Silvia Moreno-Garcia brings to the table (Lord knows she could’ve desperately used that form of representation), but I’m extremely happy to experience her work now. Furthermore, I am all too pleased to know that there will be another Latina or Hispanic teen girl out there who perhaps just finished reading “Frankenstein” and gets to follow it up with “Mexican Gothic”. Hopefully, that young girl will finally get to feel equally part of a powerful literature legacy.