12 Books by Latinas on Mental Health for All Ages
Many of us in the Latinx community have heard our families dismissing the importance of mental health and the reality of mental health struggles. It’s common to hear our relatives refusing to go to therapy, belittling those who do or take it as a personal offense, and neglecting their mental well-being despite years of generational trauma. Our mental health concerns and illnesses have been silenced, hidden, and even considered a point of shame. Luckily, attitudes toward mental health and mental illnesses are slowly shifting, with more Latinas writing books of all genres and for all ages about the importance of taking care of our minds the same way we are told to take care of our bodies.
This list, which includes fiction, nonfiction, and memoir, is by no means exhaustive but provides a starting point for readers looking for more books speaking about mental health in the Latinx community. Especially when conversations surrounding self-care and mental health have been historically whitewashed, we’re thrilled to see Latinas writing on these subjects for our communities, ourselves, and the children in our lives. Read on to learn more about 12 books by Latinas that are empowering, validating, and educational.
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez
Before the Hulu pilot starring Aubrey Plaza is released, we highly recommend you start reading the book it’s based on: Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez! This is the story of Olga, a Puerto Rican wedding planner and her brother Prieto, a Congressman representing Brooklyn, their home district, as their ties to their family’s home country and their mother are pushed to the forefront in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Among other things, the book does an extraordinary job of rejecting the idea that we owe any emotional time or energy to our mothers, or anyone really, when they fail to treat us with the respect we deserve. In fact, Olga’s mother is shown as verbally and emotionally abusive throughout the novel. This affects her daughter’s relationships, mental health, and sense of self-worth in ways even the reader doesn’t realize until the end when Olga frees herself. It’s quite a rollercoaster to read but rewarding and validating.
The Latina Trailblazer: Inspiring Stories From Latinas Who Overcame Adversity and Forged a New Path by Janet Escobar
The Latina Trailblazer by Janet Escobar is the self-help book we’ve all been waiting for. Focusing on the world of education and higher academia, Escobar shines a light on what it means to move through the world as what she calls an “ambitious Latina,” a Latina with many goals and the will to achieve what she wants. She writes from the perspective of someone who is a first-generation American but readers from all backgrounds and experiences will learn about how to overcome imposter syndrome, celebrate our cultures, embrace our heritage, and take care of our mental health when occupying white, non-Latinx spaces. On the journey toward going after what we want she emphasizes that we must always put our feelings and mental well-being first.
12 Ways to Cope With Your Latina Mom & Her Difficulties by Jasmine Cepeda
The strong women in our family can be our biggest inspirations but sometimes their behaviors can also take a toll on our mental health, well-being, and overall happiness. In 12 Ways to Cope With Your Latina Mom & Her Difficulties, Latina psychotherapist Jasmine Cepeda offers a must-read guide to the Latinx community on how to navigate the psychological effects of common Latina mother behaviors. Through tangible exercises and practices, she teaches her readers how to set boundaries, honor our need for self-validation, self-protection, and self-compassion, and end their family’s generational trauma. Readers will be responding to guided questions and check-ins to help create a mental health plan for building stronger relationships with ourselves, our families, and of course our mothers.
The Color of My Mind: Mental Health Narratives From People of Color by Dior Vargas
The Color of My Mind by queer Latina feminist and mental health activist Dior Vargas is a robust, thorough survey spotlighting people of color experiencing and living with mental illnesses in the U.S. Written in both English and Spanish, the book is Vargas’s documentation of interviews she conducted with people of color across the country. Readers will learn about how they access mental health services, the quality of care they receive, and their everyday lives as people with mental illnesses from ethnic communities. Not only are Latinx people featured, but also Indigenous, Black, Asian-American, and mixed-race people, as well as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. There is truly no other book like this for our communities.
West Side Love Story by Priscilla Oliveras
Written by Puerto Rican-Mexican American author Priscilla Oliveras, West Side Love Story is the Romeo and Juliet retelling for fans of mariachi, sisterhood stories, and powerful Latina women. The novel follows the star-crossed love of Mariana Capuleta and Angelo Montero, who find themselves caught between their feuding families when both of their mariachi bands enter the same Battle of the Mariachi Bands competition. But over time, the two enemies turn lovers, and Angelo begins to learn about the complexity of Mariana’s life as the oldest of several sisters and aging parents. How she sacrifices her time, energy, and even her mental health for the sake of her family’s well-being, safety, and financial stability, to the point that she rarely has time for herself to relax or rest. Throughout the story, Mariana also does some learning of her own, including how to set better boundaries and balance family obligations with self-care and her relationship with Angelo. Beneath the swooning and romance of the story lie important lessons for Latinas about how to take care of ourselves and each other.
Speaking from the Body: Latinas on Health and Culture by Angie Chabram-Dernersesian
Speaking From the Body, edited by Angie Chabram-Dernersesian and Adela de la Torre, is a must-read collection of first-person accounts from Latinas speaking on their experiences with their health, both professionally and personally. From diabetes to depression, dementia to Parkinson’s, these writers show the complex, nuanced intersections between gender, class, race, ethnicity, spirituality, and Latinx culture. Not only by how they experience the illnesses themselves, but also how they are diagnosed, treated, seen by their families, and recommended alternative medicines and traditional healing practices. Readers will also learn about how to advocate for themselves to health professionals and for others through political policy changes.
Iveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Arango
Aimed at middle school readers, Iveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Aranago follows Iveliz, a young mixed-race Puerto Rican girl as she enters the second semester of seventh grade, fresh from last year’s suspension. She struggles with anxiety, depression, bullying from classmates, and grief from the loss of her father, but promises herself that she’ll try to obey her mother and keep her mental health issues under control–until it becomes too much for her to carry alone. Written as a novel-in-verse, this is the perfect book for young readers struggling to put a name to a potential mental illness in themselves or someone they know, as well as for adults trying to start conversations with their children about mental health. The poetry featured in the book is approachable and accessible, and even addresses the stigma against mental health in the Latinx community.
Crying in the Bathroom by Erika L. Sanchez
Best known for her best-selling debut novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (soon to be a feature film directed by America Ferrera), Erika L. Sanchez is enchanting readers with her new memoir Crying in the Bathroom. Told in a series of essays, Sanchez details her life growing up as the daughter of Mexican immigrants in Chicago. Among other subjects including sex, white feminism, and adulthood, Sanchez also goes into detail about mental health and her personal experiences with depression. She even recounts a particularly traumatic episode of depression during the release of her book, which brought back certain traumas as well as success. Latinas who struggle with depression or any mental illness will find themselves seen, heard, and validated in Sanchez’s work—all told with unflinching insightfulness, boldness, vulnerability, and honesty.
A Body Across Two Hemispheres by Victoria Buitron
A Body Across Two Hemispheres is Victoria Buitron’s debut memoir told in essays, telling the story of her childhood and adulthood as a life-long struggle between two nations: Ecuador and the U.S. Besides offering a gorgeous, moving portrait of an Ecuadorian girl trying to find a place to call home, Buitron also shares her experiences with depression and anxiety as a teenager. She reveals the traumas that she continues to carry throughout her life from her family, relationships, and frequent moves back and forth, up and down North and South America. But there’s also a message of self-love, acceptance, joy, and self-discovery in these pages, making it a powerful read for Latinas going through similar experiences.
Mujer de Color(es) by Alejandra Jimenez
Mujer de Color(es) by Alejandra Jimenez is a multi-genre book of photos, poems, lyric essays, manifestations, and prayers. Written in both English and Spanish, the book explores the classic themes of the Latina experience: identity, belonging, language, love, culture, colonialism, ancestors, femininity, sexuality, and the power and magic of brown beauty. In these pages, Jimenez also passes on the need for self-care to the reader, to put themselves first and free themselves from the toxic aspects of our culture that expect suffering and pain from women. To practice self-love, connecting with others, and other tools to improve our mental well-being and protect our inner child. More than anything, this is a book about healing: how to heal each other and most of all, ourselves.
Echoes of Grace by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Echoes of Grace by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is novel for young adults, telling the story of Mexican American sisters Grace and Mercy as they try to make a life for themselves and their parents in Eagle Pass, Texas. But when tragedy strikes, it becomes clear that Grace’s “echoes”—broken images of visions and memories she can’t understand—are becoming too much to bear and are pulling her family apart, even damaging her relationship with her sister. Throughout the story, Grace slowly discovers that these echoes are in fact the result of generational trauma and inherited memories passed down from the women in her family, all mixed with her own mental illnesses and pain. This is a story about the suffering of women in the Latinx community that we allow, that is perpetuated by machismo and patriarchy, but also how we can heal, move forward, and break the cycle of violence and trauma.
Mija by Kim Guerra
Mija by Kim Guerra is the poet’s latest collection for Latina readers, written as an ode to what she would tell the next generation of daughters. Paired with gorgeous artwork, the collection, written in Spanish, is full of empowering messages about self-love, acceptance, culture, ancestry, roots, mental health, and heritage. She teaches readers how to stand up for themselves, walk away from toxicity, reject patriarchal ideas of what women should be and what womanhood looks like, and hold men accountable, even when no one else will. This is a definite must-read for all Latinas.
Image: New Degree Press; Random House Books for Young Readers; Tu Books