Owning your Latina-ness

Me and my sorority sisters. We belong to a Latina sorority

I don’t write a lot about being Latina on this blog.  When it does appear, it’s in passing or it’s in conjunction with a decision I have made.  Personally, saying I’m Latina every five minutes does nothing for me.

My mantra is simple: I am one. It’s in my blood. We do we need to talk about the obvious.

I consider that owning your Latina-ness. When someone can be comfortable enough in their own skin to just exist that’s when you own what others may see as, well, a reason to be considered different. To quote a word I hate when it comes to the description of being Latina — “spicy”. (Like really? There are no other words to describe me and my fellow Latinas but spicy. How about intelligent? But I digress.)

So a fire storm erupted a couple of days ago.  A script reportedly based on Alisa Valdes Rodriguez’s NY Times bestseller “Dirty Girl Social Club” was leaked to the writer from a lower level employee at NBC who was considering it.  The author entered into an agreement with Ann Lopez from Encanto Productions for rights to produce the show but Luisa Leschin not Valdes wrote the script.

Valdes is not happy (putting it mildly) with the script and has said it’s the bastardization of her concept, most especially her characters who are Afro Latinas.

As an Afro Latina myself, sadly, I’m use to Hollywood and others in the business of images saying that I don’t exist because the American public can’t understand how a black girl can speak perfect Spanish.  And I can’t even get mad about it anymore because even media outlets that have marketed themselves as Latino publications do the same thing. Even our own Latino people don’t really understand how a person like me can exist. Usually when someone is asking me about my background, it’s the folks who are suppose to be my brown brothers and sisters.

But again, I digress.

So this is my point. Valdes’ book is her Latina-ness.  Regardless of what you think, Dirty Girls Social Club (DGSC) is the first book she wrote and sold and it’s the one she identifies with most.
And having someone take your Latina-ness from you and making it into something that goes against who you are to fit a stereotype is the horror of horror for writers and I deal with that in my writing everyday.

Cubans come in all colors. And so do Cuban writers. 

Yes, me — the Afro Latina herself — is super careful how she writes her characters who happen to be Latino.  I don’t want my readers to read a Spanish word and get an instant idea about how people behave and what they look like based on harbored stereotypes I had no hand in creating.  I want them to read the story because it is a story that’s worthy of consideration.

This is something that my grad school advisor and I work on all the time.  I hold back on all the italicized Spanish words and images and think about the story first.  How will italicizing Papa or Mama help my story? How will it aid in characterization? Will it make it a better experience for the reader?  Should I even  italicize them? These are the questions that are only answered by me, the writer.  No one can or should answer them for me.  That’s because at the core of the answers to this and other questions like them is my Latina-ness.  I own my Latina-ness. No one else does.

And that is the issue here with Valdes and the DGSC script.  In addition to all the other issues,  the big one, the one that probably stings the most is that they stole her Latina-ness.  And that is unforgivable. It’s like stealing someone’s soul and no one has that right.  What’s more unforgivable is that it was another Latina who did it.

Which reminds me about the story about a bucket of crabs…but that’s another post for another day.

Here’s the latest.

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3 thoughts on “Owning your Latina-ness

  1. The phrase "owning your Latina-ness" really hits home and perfectly captures your opinions. I also think that you make a great point when you say that you aren't shouting being a Latina every five minutes.You are so right about Valdes-Rodriguez: this is all about owning your creation and your works. And that is why she is fighting.As a fellow writer who also writes about Latino characters, I also spend a lot of time thinking of presenting real characters and not just making them one-dimensional.

  2. Julito,Thanks for commenting. Yes. And the backlash from her critics is interesting. However, everything her critics have said I've heard and read before. Some I actually agree with. But what I don't agree with is bring up some of her past to discredit her. Bottom line it's about the work. And if the adaptations of her work make the work unrecognizable, then that's something isn't it? Folks can say what they will (and they will) but the issue here is about the work.

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