On Latino Representation and Book Lists: An Open Letter to the New York Times and the Washington Post
To whom this may concern,
I address this letter to the editors of this year’s book lists from the New York Times and the Washington Post. I want to start by congratulating all of you and your staffs for all the hard work put into coming up with your year-end book lists. Each of your lists showed me new and interesting books and for that I am very thankful.
However, my purpose of writing this letter is to inquire about and bring to your attention an apparent flaw in both book lists: Where are the Latinos?
In the roughly 200 books split between your lists, even accounting for significant overlap, I can only count a handful of books written by Latinos or Latinas.
Here is what I see:
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio (Times)
Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Times)
Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue (Post)
Such a small number of books by Latinos is unacceptable. I am hopeful that these were unintentional, rather than purposeful, omissions. However, I am confident that there were more notable books written by Latinos this year than just these three.This is a particularly frustrating issue because I’m confident that this could have been addressed sooner, and I submit your own book lists as evidence. For example, this year, both the Times and the Post recognized a wide variety of works written by Black authors in both your top 10 lists and notable book lists. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead was in both top 10 lists while Swing Time by Zadie Smith was in the Post’s top 10 list and in the Times’ notable list. Both of your papers have shown the ability to recognize Black talent, but the same cannot be said this year regarding people of Latin America descent. And this was even more worrisome along gender lines — I did not find a single Latina author on any of your lists.
I ask you all to reflect on these omissions in the New Year. The New York Times is the so-called “Paper of Record.” The Washington Post is the preeminent media outlet in our nation’s capital. Both New York City and Washington, D.C. have sizable Latino populations and your two venerable newspapers aspire to represent the whole country. Latinos living in the United States are Americans, and the voices of Latinos living across Latin America are just as important. But between your publications, the message you are both sending is that Latinos cannot write good, interesting books.
I also encourage you to consider taking some lessons from your colleagues in the media on how to be more inclusive. For example, this year’s book list from National Public Radio has, by my count, nine books written by Latinos, either as authors or illustrators:
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
The Other Slavery by Andrés Reséndez
The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales
Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Chaos Monkeys by Antonio García Martínez
While there is always room for improvement, I believe that both the New York Times and the Washington Post could learn from NPR’s example.
In conclusion, I want to address two issues. First, I am sure someone will ask what standing I have to advocate on such an issue. As a second-generation Haitian-American who grew up originally in Northern California, for some my identity alone is fluid enough to grant me standing, while for others it will come nowhere close. I will allow others to consider that matter.
My second issue is as follows. My motivations for writing this letter are simple. I am an avid book reader and I occasionally do want to see myself and others I can better identify with in the media I consume. In book lists this year, one of the things I wanted was to see books written by Latinos from their perspective. Each year, I await such book lists hoping for better representation. I write this letter because, this year, both the New York Times and the Washington Post have left me with too few options.
In the hopes of attention (i.e., that you will respond to my letter) and transparency, I have sent this as an open letter and have published it on Medium. Thank you for reading and I eagerly await your replies.