The Feminist Texican [Reads] will be featuring a variety of fiction and nonfiction books by/about Latin@s throughout Latina/o Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15).
Rosie Molinary’s Hijas Americanas is a book that had been on my radar forever, and I’m so glad that I finally picked it up. The media is pretty one-note when it comes to portrayals of young Latinas; more often than not, they’re curvy, sexy, and hot-tempered. As the subtitle suggests, this is a book about Latinas’ experiences with trying to wade through these stereotypes as they come of age.
By collecting the responses of over 500 Latinas (via interview and/or a detailed questionnaire), Molinary’s book illustrates a point that is often forgotten: “Latina” isn’t a monolithic term. Women interviewed for this book come from all over South, Central, and North America as well as the Carribbean. They are transgendered and cisgendered, heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, light-skinned and dark-skinned, tall and curvy, short and stocky, Catholic, Muslim, atheist, Spanish-speaking, English-speaking…the list of diversity goes on.
But what if you’re a Latina who does not fit the media image of what a Latina is? What if you don’t fit the image that your peers have of Latinas? Hijas Americanas gives a voice to all of these women, illustrating the issues that arise when Latinidad clashes with American culture (or when American-born Latinas clash with their parents’ traditional values).
As a Chicana, I could definitely relate to a lot of this book. I laughed/cringed at some of the coming-of-age experiences of some of the women in the book (although my mom didn’t go there, I did have several aunts who announced their daughters’ first period at family gatherings). I empathized with the ways that parents ruined their daughters’ social lives (I wasn’t allowed to go to any school dances until I was a junior in high school, but worse…I wasn’t allowed to shave my legs until I was in eighth grade, people. EIGHTH GRADE. And even then, only because someone commented on it, and I threw a fit when I got home). And as the first child, I felt the pain of all the other older girls who had it way harder than their younger female siblings (do you think my little sister had to wait until eighth grade to shave her legs? …Yes, I’m bitter).
But though the discussions of beauty standards and cultural issues provided a fun (or not) trip down memory lane, it was the racial/ethnic discussions that I found most fascinating. Having been called a coconut on several occasions, it was interesting to see how Latinas were judged on how “Latina” they were by Latinos and non-Latinos alike based on various factors including fluency in English/Spanish, skin color, body type, education, etc.
As I progressed through the book, one thought kept running through my head: every teacher should read this book. I took a few education classes in undergrad, and remember one day when my teacher invited a speaker to come in and give a talk about working with “Hispanic” students in the classroom. One infuriating hour later, I (and the handful of other Latinos in the large lecture hall), had sunk down into our desks and were cringing/seething as our classmates participated in class discussion by volunteering stereotypes (“they’re respectful and defer to authority,” “they need encouragement,” etc.).
So yes: anyone who works in a classroom–or is even thinking about working in classroom–should read this book. A lot of the Latinas who were surveyed were in their twenties and thirties (some even older), but their recollections provide valuable insight provide valuable insight into a lot of the issues and conflicting messages Latinas face as they grow up.
Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina was published by Seal Press on May 10, 2007.