Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina

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).

Book cover: "Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina" by Rosie MolinaryRosie 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. 

Pages: 280
Source: Library
Format: Print
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3 comments

  1. Eva

    I’m not Latina, my parents aren’t even religious, and I STILL wasn’t allowed to shave my legs until 9th grade. WTF?! AND I wasn’t allowed to wear any kind of makeup until 11th grade AND I wasn’t allowed to dye my hair until I graduated high school. (And that’s not even looking at dating/dances/etc. rules!) Whereas my little sister was wearing makeup (as much as she wanted), shaving her legs, dying her hair, etc. as soon as she hit middle school. I’m also bitter. My mom has no idea why she and my dad even made up those rules, either. ?! (On the other hand, I left high school w/o having ever tasted alcohol or kissed a boy while my sister became quite a partier and my niece was born during my sister’s senior year of high school. So maybe it wasn’t as irrational as it seemed. Kept me too self-conscious/ugly feeling to have a ‘dangerous’ social life until I got to college! 😉 )

    I didn’t love this book as much as I expected, but I definitely found it educational, and as someone who’d love to work in a classroom one day, I *definitely* agree w your rec!

    • Melissa

      Ooooh, I forgot all about the hair dye! I wasn’t allowed to either, but my sister was allowed to dye her hair all kinds of colors. I guess I had latent rebellion because when I walked up to the podium for my MA graduation, I had streaks of blue in my hair. 🙂 I didn’t drink or date until college, either.

      It’s so weird; I also asked my mom about the rules, and part of it was cultural, but a lot of it was really arbitrary. Go figure!

      • Eva

        I’m guessing that my parents thought back to their childhoods and made up rules accordingly. But the rules should have been consistently applied! lol

        I’m happy I didn’t drink or date until college, but I had horrible self esteem in high school, and I can’t help thinking being able to play more with my hair and makeup and physicaly appearance might have helped things a tiny bit. It didn’t help that I was at least a year younger than all my classmates, so I didn’t turn 16 until almost the end of my junior year (which is why I didn’t get to start wearing makeup until then!). Oh well: I guess adolescence is always rough! 🙂 And my mom did everything she could think of to make me feel beautiful, so I’m not ragging on her. I just don’t know where she got some of her crazy ideas! hehe

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