National Hispanic American Heritage Month takes place each year from September 15-October 15. Initially started in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson as Hispanic Heritage Week, it was expanded to its current form by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. This celebration serves to recognize and celebrate Americans of Spanish, Caribbean, Central American, South American, and Mexican descent.
Banned Books Week, held the last week of September, falls during Hispanic Heritage Month each year. This presents a timely opportunity to recognize Latinx authors who have faced challenges and bans of their creations.
Gabriel García Márquez
Perhaps one of the best known authors who fits this criteria is 1982 Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez. A native Colombian, García Márquez spent some time in the U.S. throughout his life, despite often being denied visas due to his socialist views and relationship with Fidel Castro. One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in 1967 and was challenged frequently throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s due to coarse language and sexual content. In 1986, it was even removed from required reading lists at Wasco Union (CA) High School, an act that triggered a lawsuit from English teacher Lee McCarthy. School officials called the novel “garbage being passed off as literature”, despite its award winning status. It is widely considered by scholars to be a groundbreaking example of magic realism.
Matt de la Peña
A more recent example involves beloved children’s and YA author Matt de la Peña. De la Peña, the son of a Mexican American father, is a winner of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Intellectual Freedom Award. After his YA book Mexican WhiteBoy – a 2009 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults Top Ten pick – was banned in Tucson, Arizona during the elimination of the school system’s Mexican American Studies Program, he became a known advocate for intellectual freedom. The 2012 Tucson incident received widespread attention, even garnering coverage in the New York Times. It remains relevant today as it dovetails with the current fight about critical race theory in schools, although the Mexican American Studies Program has since been reinstated.
Even Sandra Cisneros’ novel The House on Mango Street – a perennial inclusion on many required reading lists – has faced challenges over the years. The collection of vignettes, which tells the story of a young Mexican American girl and her Chicago neighborhood, appears on ALA’s list of Frequently Challenged Books With Diverse Content. Cisneros’ work was a part of the same dismantled Mexican American Studies Program that Matt de la Peña faced in Tucson. Additionally, an Oregon school board removed the book from its middle school curriculum in 2012 due to “concerns for the social images presented”. Fortunately, this decision was overturned following a student activism campaign.
These are just a few of the many examples of book challenges that are relevant during Hispanic Heritage Month. To learn more about banned and challenged authors of all backgrounds, ALA members are eligible to view Robert P. Doyle’s definitive resource guide Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom to Read at no cost.
Gretchen Kaser Corsillo (she/her) is the Director of Rutherford (NJ) Public Library and has worked in public libraries in a variety of capacities since 2003. In 2013, she received her Master’s of Library & Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. She also holds a B.A. in Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Political Science from Ramapo College. Prior to working as a professional librarian, Gretchen worked in the marketing and legal fields; the latter, combined with her interest in writing, has made her a strong advocate for intellectual freedom.