These characters have a special spot in my honorary Latinx bookshelf who inspire me and make me feel less alone in this world. My Latinx book squad has taught me to break out of my identity crisis of figuring out what it means to be Cuban-American and live and embrace my own story. These characters will teach you that the Latinx identity is not a monolith, and we all have our own beautiful and unique stories to tell.
Charlie Vega from Fat, Chance Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado
Charlie Vega wants a healthy relationship with her body. She discovers the fat acceptance movement and learns to accept her body, but it becomes problematic when her mom shoves her one weight-loss shake after the other. All Charlie wants is to be more like the beautiful, brown, and fat characters she writes in her stories, but she must learn to believe it in herself.
The one character that I deeply related to on a cellular level would be Charlie Vega. The confidence she lacked throughout the story to truly see the beauty within herself was what I lacked. My high school experience was in the moment of pop culture when body shaming was the norm, and the weight gain of Britney Spears made headline news. I could relate and still struggle with Charlie’s intense need to receive validation from others instead of validating herself. Charlie has a crippling tendency to compare herself to other people. I love how Charlie finds the inner feminist voice inside herself and realizes that being the fat, beautiful, ambitious, and talented Charlie Vega is everything! If Charlie and I were to spend one day together, we would stock up on all the Latinx YA books and co-write some steamy fan-fic together.
Rosa Santos from Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno
Rosa Santos has detailed college plans notated in her bullet journal. She yearns to study abroad in Cuba and discover a part of herself missing in her life. The big obstacle in her life is the family curse involving the sea, and it doesn’t help that she meets a dreamy pastelito-making boy with a boat.
Words cannot possibly articulate the love I have for Rosa Santos. Rosa Santos is the girl inside me, lost in a perpetual identity crisis and picking up the pieces to reclaim my identity daily. Growing up as a white-passing Cuban-American, I always searched for what it means to be Cuban and understand my family and culture. The way that Rosa describes the diaspora experience warmed my Latinx heart and reminded me that I am enough. All I want to do is frolic around the seaside town of Port Coral with Rosa Santos and eat Alex Aquino’s pastelitos while laughing at those nosy viejitos pretending to play dominos.
Victoria Cruz from The Victoria in my Head by Janelle Milanes
Victoria Cruz lives out two worlds. In her real world, she is an introverted teenager with strict Cuban parents who want her to succeed in the prestigious Evanston Academy. The fantastical world in her head involves belting out a rock song, Gwen Stefani style, with purple-streaked hair. When Victoria finds out about rock band auditions, she must decide whether she wants to live the rock star life in her head or reality.
This book always reminds me that we must have the courage to live out our dreams in real life instead of in our heads. In many instances, there is so much pressure to succeed in Latinx families when you learn about the sacrifices they made to leave their home country. Victoria reminds me to push myself out of my comfort zone, stop living in self-doubt, and break the barriers I made for myself. I could totally see myself going to a hipster-style independent record store with Victoria and introducing her to the classic angry girl rock of the nineties and early aughts.
Jasmin Lin from You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria
Jasmin Lin Rodriguez is recovering from a messy breakup that ended up in the tabloids and desired a fresh start. When she returns to New York City, she is offered a starring role in a bilingual romantic comedy. Jasmin is thrilled because this is part of her “leading lady plan” until she meets her sexy co-star Ashton Suarez. One of the rules laid out in her “leading lady plan” is that you don’t need a man to be happy. When they begin shooting, the sexual chemistry between them is growing, and Jasmin must decide whether she will stick to her plans or throw them out the window.
I could deeply relate to Jasmine’s propensity to trust others too quickly and struggle with not being completely fluent in Spanish even though she has to speak the language in the television show. There are many times I second-guess myself when I speak Spanish, and many times I fail when it comes to conjugations. I love the growth that the character experiences and the inner-confidence she has inside herself. Jasmin would be the perfect friend to give me a pep talk and inspire me to make “jefa moves” despite the obstacles that come my way.