Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

28 May 2008

Book Review - Hijas Americanas

First off, the only negative for this book is that it is from Seal Press, so I know right off some WOC will not buy this book. I bought this book last summer. That said, I really did love this book, so if at all, go pick it up from your local library. Read it in Borders and reshelve it. I don't care, just get your hands on this book. That said, let's get into the review.

The back of Hijas Americanas [WCF, Powells, Amazon] by Rosie Molinary sets up the entire book by asking - How Latina Are You?

This of course forces you to come up with a definition of what is a Latina. Does she speak Spanish? With an accent? Have tan skin? Molinary delves into these questions and much more.

This is another entry into what I'm calling pseudo-academic books. It's not a slam, but an acknowledgment that a book chock full of research and data is wrapped up in a memoir. Unlike other pseudo-academic books, this book is about the research first. Molinary surveyed Latinas from around the country as well as some in-depth interviews. Her memoir is secondary to the story she is weaving. We still learn a lot about her including that the essential question is often asked of her, "I've also been told plenty of times that I wasn't Puerto Rican enough, or even Puerto Rican at all." - page 6.

The opening chapter, "Turning Gringa" gives us Latinas the ultimate bottom line:

Ultimately, I learned that the way people labeled me was often more about their own perconceived notions than about what I did or said. I slowly began to understand that the one thing I did have control over was how I saw myself. Page 20

It really should be that easy and leaving us with a great booklet. But it's not, it's only the beginning.

It's not all happy fiestas in the book though. Molinary spends a good chunk of time going over the hardships that Latinas face including being raised to please everyone but yourself (page 67) that may leave many unable to negotiate sexual relationships. Not to mention having to negotiate the way society and our families frame Latina sexuality (page 94).

I've previously stated that Hijas Americanas is a true self-help book and it is. Molinary goes through many of the stereotypes of being Latina - our sexuality, fashion sense, education - and proves them AND dispells them. Essentially she proves to us that being Latina is not a prescription but a spectrum.

Disclaimer: I received no payment for this review as I bought this book myself.

Technorati tags: latinas, Hijas Americanas, Rosie Molinary, book review

7 comments:

Sounds like an interesting book. I may check it out :) Thanks!

Found you through NaCoLeavMo.

what's with the cover, though? is there some reason why we are presented with this image of a person without eyes? sorry, i just think about weird things like that. publishers think about visual marketing very carefully when they package a book - i can't imagine that it's simply some random image. what do you think?

This definitely sounds like something I should pick up. From a couple of the things you pointed out like:

"I've also been told plenty of times that I wasn't Puerto Rican enough, or even Puerto Rican at all." - page 6.

Molinary spends a good chunk of time going over the hardships that Latinas face including being raised to please everyone but yourself (page 67) that may leave many unable to negotiate sexual relationships. Not to mention having to negotiate the way society and our families frame Latina sexuality (page 94).


... this is my life! I'm not Cuban enough for anyone (because I was born here and speak more english than Spanish), but then when I travel North, I'm a "spic" (hate, hate HATE that word!), so which is it? And the not being able to please everyone, um yeah! All the freaking time! Nobody's every happy with anything I do. They just want to suck the soul out of me!

Enough ranting, thanks for the heads up!

Getting an education is a paradox. It seems that once we go to college we become "not Latina" enough. It's as thought setting the lowest possible expectations for ourselves is paramount to belonging to our communities. I could have used this book 20 years ago but could enjoy it retrospectively today.

Veronica, I so appreciated reading your thoughts about the book. It's always interesting to learn what resonated with people-- and I appreciate your thoughtful commentary.

Javacat, your comment reminded me of what my grad school professor said when I told him I didn't want to publish. He looked me in the eye and said, "Would it have made you feel better at 17 if you had been able to read then what you just spent 2 years writing?"

r@d@r, you asked a great question about the cover. After it was presented to me, I learned that the designer was trying to find a way to evoke the idea that the book was about the coming of age experiences of Latinas especially with regard to ethnic identity, body image, and beauty perception without assigning one face to the notion. The photo, I believe, was from stock images that the designer/ publisher purchased to use for the cover. I wonder if the young woman has ever walked into a book store, saw the cover, and thought, "They cut my face off." That's the weird thing I think about-- that young woman, probably now a woman, discovering this cover. Actually, I sometimes play it out in my head like an Everybody Hates Chris or Seinfeld episode. Maybe I should write a blog about that!

Thanks for stopping by Rosie! And for answering our questions.

thanks rosie, you putting my question in context so eloquently. i'll see if the campus where i work has a copy in the bookstore. if they don't, they should.