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The New Latina's Bible
The Modern Latina's Guide to Love, Spirituality, Family, and La Vida
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For nearly a decade, The Latina’s Bible has been the go-to guide for Latinas everywhere. In this updated and expanded edition, author Sandra Guzman continues to use her trademark warmth, humor, and wisdom to explore a wide range of topics, from dating and sexuality to family and career. The New Latina’s Bible charts new territory, adding chapters that cover important issues such as sexual abuse, domestic and dating violence, interracial love, and gender identity. Guzman once again provides a hip, empowering, highly readable guide for women who are facing the trials and joys of living and loving as twenty-first century Latinas.
This book is dedicated to my mother, Lydia Gonzalez Santos, who gave me milk and honey.
Mami, you taught me the most important lesson any woman ever needs:
That I am the owner of my body and future. Bendición. Te amo.
THE JOYS OF BEING A MODERN LATINA
When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail. Think of it—always.
DON'T FOR A minute let the hate you are hearing over the airwaves about Latino immigrants seep into your ears and infest your soul, my beautiful señoritas. Latinos and Latinas are an exquisite and elegant people, with a rich and dazzling culture. It's not about convincing others of this fact, rather, it's knowing it yourself.
Haters are trying to suck my joy out of being Latina. And it's left me feeling a bit like Kermit the Frog. Remember how the Sesame Street muppet lamented how it was not easy being green? I feel you, Kermit baby! It's difficult being Latina in America today. How can I find pleasure in all the beauty that I am, that we, collectively are, when we are under constant attack? Laws that stand to violate the very core of the country's foundation are being enacted. A group of U.S. senators are seeking to amend the constitution so that all those Latinas who "drop and leave" babies, to quote South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, will stop coming to this country to birth their brown children.
The voices of hate and intolerance speaking over the airwaves want us to go away. It doesn't matter if your grandparents called this land home before the Mayflower landed; if you are a Gonzalez or a Garcia, a Lopez or a Martinez, you—we—are being ethnically and racially profiled. The attacks are worse in some pockets of the nation than in others. If you are not feeling the ire of the xenophobes, perhaps because you "pass" as someone who does not "look" Mexican, count yourself lucky, because pretty much everyone else does feel it. In this beautiful nation of ours, Latinos are seen as invaders, and that is not good for the individual or collective soul.
Today, more than ever before, it's important to surround yourself with people, media, films, books, and moments that uplift you. I am elated that you picked up this book—my ode to you, to us, to our individual and collective exquisiteness. I want you to understand that your heritage, looks, culture, intellect, and our Pan-Latino nation is filled with beauty and talent, power and intelligence. This is not my opinion. It is a fact. You are not what the haters say you are; rather, you are what you believe you are.
Nine years ago, when the first version of the book you are holding in your hands was first published, America seemed like such a different place. Today, America has moved passed the color line and elected a black President, Barack Obama, the son of an immigrant. And, upon his first opportunity to fill a vacancy in the highest court of the land, he picked an intellectual rock star, Puerto Rican New Yorker Sonia Sotomayor. We have universal healthcare and there is a gender parity law in the books! So while on the one hand, the airwaves are clogged up with intolerance, the ball is being moved forward more and more toward fulfilling America's promise.
Sentiments I wrote in the original version of this book continue to ring true: I am a proud Latina. I am a proud American. I am not exotic. I am two cultures in one café-con-leche body. I own English. I dream in Spanish. On most days, I'm delighted to explain this marvelous heritage to the curious and clueless who ask questions like, "So Sandra, what are you?" Other days I just repeat to myself, "I am what I am."
I decided that this book needed to be updated, and what you are holding in your hands is a new and improved version of my original Latina's Bible. Yet the core of its message is the same: to love yourself deeply is the beginning of a healthy, joyous experience on earth.
As a Puerto Rico–born and U.S.–raised woman, I am layers of history that speak of beaches and snowflakes, rain forests and tenements, Spanish and English, spicy food and fast food, hip-hop and congas, apple pie and flan. I have two homes—an America that sometimes refuses to accept me as a legitimate daughter, and a Puerto Rico that sometimes denies me when my Spanish fails me.
For as long as I can remember, I always yearned to belong neatly to just one of them. But greater forces were at play. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory with unresolved political and identity issues that date back to the moment Columbus and his gang of henchmen landed on the beautiful Borinquen. Puerto Rico is neither a state nor a sovereign nation, but an in-between political entity called a "commonwealth"—a euphemism for "colony." The island is still trying to answer profound political questions about who it is as a nation—as a people and as a collection of individuals. We are simultaneously part of the United States and a member nation of the twenty countries that make up Spanish-speaking Latin America. When I think of Puerto Rico's political dilemma, I am reminded of an old Mexican saying: "Poor Mexico—so close to the U.S., so far from God."
Immigrant parents send their children to school (simply, they think) to acquire the skills to "survive" in America. But the child returns home as America.
I am a Latina who was born into a borderland and raised in a cultural middle. When I was a little girl, my family—my mom, two sisters, and two brothers—made its way north. My mother was a seamstress, but when the factory where she made sneakers (Pro-Keds) closed down, she packed up suitcases full of tropical clothes and we left El Tuque, the small fishing village we called home. We moved to the immigrant working-class town of Jersey City, New Jersey, where some of our other relatives had settled years earlier. Some say that the best thing Jersey City has to offer is a view of Manhattan, but it was there that I became a Jerseyrican—a combination of American and Boricua from New Jersey.
There was no such thing as bilingual education in my public school, or even English as a Second Language; it was strictly sink or swim. (Ironically, the school was named in honor of Rafael Cordero, a Puerto Rican artist and educator. Go figure!) But as the daughter of strong and clever people, I learned English quickly. Unfortunately, I also learned to forget Spanish—though I picked up a lot of Spanglish. Lunch, for example, became lonche; roof, rufo; the building's superintendent, el super.
There are a total of 140,154,000 women in the United States
• 98,584,000 are non-Hispanic white
• 25,201,000 are non-Hispanic other
• 16,369,000 are Latinas.
There are 16,369,000 Latinas
• 10,582,000 are Mexican
• 2,526,000 are Central and South American
• 1,496,000 are Puerto Rican
• 669,000 are Cuban
• 1,095,000 are other Hispanic
30% of the Latina population is under fifteen years old
70% of the Latina population is fifteen years and older
The biggest single group is thirty-five- to forty-four-year-old Latinas who comprise 15.2% (2,493,000) of the Latina population.
Though I was quickly absorbing mainstream Americana ways, everything in my Jersey home spoke fluent Latino. The food, the music, the language, the family's deep religious fervor, the fiestas, telenovelas, and traditions. Even the house decor screamed Latino—from the plastic-covered sofas and the pictures of virgins to the thousands of ceramic figurines of elephants, angels, and coquís, Puerto Rico's thumb-size singing frogs.
My barrio friends were fellow Boricuas, Dominicans, Cubans, Ecuadorians, and other South and Central Americans, but also Irish, Polish, Asians, and Italians. It wasn't so much a melting pot as a big mixed salad.
My Latino friends and I had different accents when we spoke our broken Spanish, but we shared the same basic cultural Latino customs: family is blood; have faith in God and church; all elders are respected; girls are of the home, boys not. English acted as glue for us; it held the different Latin American flags together. I remember a lot of warmth and tenderness in this very diverse Latino immigrant community.
Before long, I became the family translator. And just as quickly as I was learning to own the English language, I was embracing American behaviors—the attitude, the fashions, the music, and, ay, Dios mio, the independent and "unbecoming" gringita habit of always expressing my opinion! Growing up, I found it a challenging task to explain myself to Mom. It didn't help that she never really learned English and I was quickly losing my Spanish; she never accepted what she called this "Americana" in me. She wanted me to be her idea of a good Puerto Rican girl forever.
But I was becoming something else: a new breed, a new woman, a confluence of Pan-Latino consciousness and American influences; I became a new Latina.
Identifying as Latina was a politically conscious move on my part. I understood "Hispanic" to be a term made up by the U.S. government so that they can count people like us, so I didn't want anyone labeling me that way. On the other hand, the friendlier "puertorriqueña" and "Jerseyrican" described only parts of me, not the whole.
THE COMPADRE CONNECTION
There are 133,933,000 men in the United States
• 95,049,000 are non-Hispanic white
• 22,448,000 are non-Hispanic other
• 16,435,000 are Hispanic
There are 16,435,000 Latinos
• 11,120,000 are Mexican
• 2,216,000 are Central and South American
• 1,463,000 are Puerto Rica
• 631,000 are Cuban
• 1,005,000 are other Hispanic
31.1% (5,108,000) of Latino men are under fifteen years old
68.9% (11,327,000) of Latino men are fifteen years old and over
As a new Latina I am a combination of all of the Latinos I came of age with: Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Tejanas, Chicanas, Dominicans, and Central and South Americans, as well as the African Americans, Asian Americans, and Anglos who I call friends. As a Nueva Latina, I am three languages: English, Spanish, and Spanglish. While I embrace some fast food, more often than not I revel in home-cooked feasts. My opinion counts—within my family and outside it. I stand up to authority when I need to, with my eyes firmly planted on those I challenge. I refuse to look away in shame or fear. I never walk with my head bowed, like those peasants made so famous by the great artist Diego Rivera.
Blood is sacred. I honor it by honoring me. I own my body; it is not the church's place to tell me when and with whom I shall share it. I am neither a martyr nor a servant. I refuse to be defined solely by how well I cook a plate of arroz con pollo or how nicely I can keep house. My Latina femaleness is beyond the walls of my home and womb. Are you feeling me yet? I am—we are—indeed a new breed. We are new women. Calling myself Latina (instead of, say, "Puerto Rican" or—no lo quiera Dios—"Puerto Rican American") means validating and celebrating the fact that I feel closer kinship with a Chicana raised in Los Angeles or a Tejana raised in San Antonio than I do with a Puerto Rican woman raised in Ponce, where I was born. Everything, from our survival in America's schools to Univision and the "Real Housewives" (name the City), has made us sisters. Not long ago my son reminded me of this powerful reality experienced by so many of us.
He was watching a kids' show on television and started screaming that the Puerto Rican kid had won a pie-eating contest. I rushed to the living room and saw that a boy named Luis Jiménez, draped in a Mexican flag, had devoured fifteen pies in two minutes.
I said, "Listen, baby, this kid isn't Puerto Rican. He has the Mexican flag draped over him, so I think we can safely assume that he's Mexican American."
My son looked at me with a cocked eye, as only a little kid can, and said, "It's the same thing, Mom!" He understood the difference—he knows the colors of both the Cuban flag (his dad's side) and the Puerto Rican flag—but he saw parts of himself in that other little brown boy, and he could celebrate the boy's victory as his own. This is what has happened to us, the sons and daughters of Latin America's immigrants—a feeling of Pan-Latino consciousness and kinship. New Latinas and Latinos are an hecho en América reality.
So sure, as I said at the get-go, Latinas in the United States battle racism, discrimination, border harassment, racial profiling, police brutality, invisibility, and exploitation. We battle old-country traditions that sometimes stifle us. Yet despite—or maybe because of—all the external and internal struggles, U.S. Latinas are among the fiercest and strongest women I know. Our foremothers, or we, crossed oceans, rivers, and time zones and survived nightmares to get to America, and we continue to survive and thrive in América. We raise families in homes and neighborhoods deemed dysfunctional by society, and we look great while we're doing
it. We've made up a new language, Spanglish. We've made up a new culture with a synergy of rhythms old and new. We've made up new rules that combine Mom's and Abuela's old ways with new and more modern ones. We are true survivors. And that is because U.S. Latinas—those of us who speak Spanish and those of us who don't—are a new breed, and the diversity of our faces, values, and traditions is at the heart of the American future.
As a new Latina I pledge allegiance to both parts of my soul, the "American" and the Latin American within. But no matter how warmly I embrace my inner white or African American chick, there are some things that I can do only in my native tongue: I curse, dream, and make love in español. And it's physical, too—I can go only so many days before my body craves pasteles, arroz con habichuelas, mole chicken, and anything with chiles; or my soul yearns for a Marc Anthony salsa or Juan Gabriel ballad.
Coming to terms with my cultural identity—and feeling comfortable with the different parts of me that make me who I am—has been an emotional roller-coaster ride. During my adolescence, surrounded by my very Latino neighborhood and family, identity was a nonissue; my struggles then were around acculturation. I was not allowed to date, unlike my non-Latina friends; I was expected to stay a virgin until I married. And even if I went to college and embarked on some fabulous career, if I ever hoped to be a complete woman I'd have to marry, have kids, and cook a mean rice and beans.
PORTRAIT OF OUR LATINO NATION: ADDING FLAVOR TO THE U. S. OF A
According to early Census 2010 estimates, out of a total U.S. population of about 307 million, Hispanics comprised 16% of the population, or about 50 million people. That means one in every six U.S. residents is Hispanic.
• 200 million whites;
• 50 million Hispanics; and
• 40 million African Americans
WATCH US GROW
The number of Latinos increased by a whopping 42% from 2000 to 2010! Of course, this takes into account only those the government counted. Depending on the source, there are about 12 million undocumented people residing in the US. According the Pew Hispanic Center, 57% of the illegal immigrants are from Mexico, followed by 24% of Central and South America, 9% from Asia and 4% from the rest of the world.
It wasn't until I got to college, when I encountered a larger America, that being a Latina came to feel like a burden. I continually had to explain myself to strangers. I often felt that I had to choose sides: white or black. This country's obsession with race and nationality didn't allow me to celebrate the joy of being Latina.
Many of us go around unaware that we carry baggage that prevents us from being proud of our heritage and feeling entitled to the riches this country has to offer. Too many of us adopt a form of cultural denial—for instance, by not using an accent on our name, either because we never knew it carried one or because "it doesn't look right." We even go to lengths to Americanize our Latino surnames: Garcia becomes something that sounds more like Garsha, or Jiménez is pronounced "JIMUH-NEZ." We are quick to claim our Spaniard grandma and deny the indigenous or African one. And for those of us who grow up in the suburbs with very few Latino families around, the burden to fit in, the discomfort that sometimes we are made to feel because we are Latino, is even greater.
LATINOS IN THE U.S.A.
Top countries of origin that make up the U.S. Hispanic nation:
• 29 million Mexican
• 4.2 million Puerto Rican
• 1.6 million Cuban
• 1.5 million Salvadoran
• 1.2 million Dominican
• 986,000 Guatemalans
• 882,000 Colombians
• 608,000 Hondurans
• 591,000 Ecuadorians
• 519,000 Peruvians
From Pew Hispanic Center 2007 demographic survey
I understand why some of us have trouble being proud of our heritage. We've grown up in an America that sees us in terms of negative stereotypes or doesn't see us at all. And it doesn't matter how much our families hammer on about "ethnic pride" either. At some point or another, we start to doubt that our heritage is all that great.
I have a friend who grew up in a border town in Texas, the state we all know was once part of Mexico. When she was growing up, her parents did not want her to speak Spanish outside the home. They didn't want her to be a victim of the vicious discrimination that they had to endure, so Spanish became a secret family language that no one besides the family should know about. Ultimately, she was taught to forget her people's language, but her parents' good intentions didn't spare her anything. Gringos assumed she could speak Spanish; Latinos questioned her identity because she couldn't roll her r's. Today my friend is in Spanish-language immersion classes, trying to claim a heritage that was denied her. And what happened to her is far from unique.
THE COCONUT I WAS, THE MANGO I'VE BECOME
As a college student, I tried changing my name to Sandi Rodgers (Rodríguez is my maiden name). When I told my mom of my decision, I think she thought alien professors had abducted her daughter. My brothers and sisters, who'd stayed in Jersey City, thought I was trying to "go white." In the pain and process of finding myself, I just wanted to blend in. I thought with a different name, a less Latino name, I could erase history and everything that made me feel "less than." I hated always being "other" or "exotic." (I certainly never saw myself as exotic, even though others did, and still do!) Any of these feelings sound familiar?
So for several years I was a coconut—brown on the outside, "white" on the inside. In other words, I had a serious white girl complex. I even picked up a silly California Valley girl accent to cover up my Spanish-Jersey-urban rhythm. Can you imagine? All this because I wanted to "fit in." Later, still trying to find my way, I adopted a so-called black attitude and embraced everything urban and black. I felt closer to the cause and pain of my African American sisters. And, of course, since my father is a black Boricua, it felt truth to me. Thing is, I claimed anything but Puerto Rican heritage, anything but Latino roots.
Thank God my mother, friends, and family finally knocked some sense into me! Through them, I got history lessons; doses of my native culture through art, music, and storytelling; trips to my homeland and other Latin American destinations; and, more important than anything, love—love of myself and my people, which helped me heal the wounds of cultural battle. Today I can proudly reclaim my culture, and I do—every day.
I finally came to understand that this cultural amalgam is a gift, a marvelous and exquisite joy. I can take pleasure in this Pan-Latino joy within and all around me: the music, the families, the racial diversity—las indias, las mestizas, las negras, las rubias, las morenas, las bajitas, las flacas, las gorditas—the novelas, the food. Ay, que rico, our food! Driving in my car, I flip from salsa to rock 'n' roll to boleros to salsa, to jazz and reggaeton, to hip-hop and bachata, and it feels great that a little of me lives in of all these diverse worlds. I find joy in the laughter, the ancient spirits, the chisme, the cadence, the tenderness, and the chistes of our people.
For so many years I worried that my latinidad was a handicap, an obstacle I'd have to climb over or walk around every day in my career. Now I see that accepting myself—Latina hips, skin, accent, and everything else—has been the key to my personal and professional success. The power that self-affirmation has had in my career and personal life is nothing less than remarkable. There is extraordinary power in embracing—openly, publicly, and proudly—one's Latino heritage. An Argentinian friend recently told me straight faced: Argentinians have a reputation for being arrogant, and that is not really true. It's just that the rest of Latino America has an inferiority complex. Don't blame us for feeling great about ourselves.
I am Latina, sí—but I'm different from Latinas a generation ago. My lifestyle reflects a combination of Old World beliefs and new American ways. I light candles to my santos and virgencitas, and I have parties for my dead ancestors. I've taught my sons to leave grass and water for pretend camels and their Three Kings, who in turn leave presents under their beds. While I celebrate the individual warrior in me—as the "me generation" was taught to do—my family is still like a fortress. They lift me and ground me; they're as important to my life as racial divisiveness is to the modern-day Republican Party. Mom, sisters, brothers, and best friends go into the equation when I have to make major life decisions. Sometimes blood comes first, even at the expense of my personal priorities. So much of me is comfortable with Old World values.
SO, YOU DON'T SPEAK ESPAÑOL?
Maybe you are a Latina who does not speak Spanish. And because of this, purists have penalized you and refuse to accept you as a legitimate Latina daughter. Maybe you have been called a "fake Latina" because your last name is Rodríguez but you can't roll your r's. Too many of us have accepted the line put out by the cultural police that it's sad or even disgusting that a Latina doesn't speak Spanish. But here is the truth: You alone have the power to define yourself a genuine Latina. No one else is entitled to make that judgment. It's your right to feel included in the larger family of Latinos and to claim that heritage. It doesn't matter how many generations your family has been here, how much of an accent you have or don't have, what corner of America you were born or raised in, or how much Latino blood makes up your lineage—a quarter, half, or the whole enchilada! The bottom line is that our Latina-ness goes beyond borders and the ability to speak Spanish.
Sometimes it's our own people who seek to divide, to define who can rightly claim Latino heritage. Those arrogant traditionalists have it all wrong. Spanish is indeed a way to connect with your heritage. It unlocks family, cultural, and soulful secrets. But as special and important as speaking Spanish is, too much hurt and discomfort has been doled out on those of us who, for reasons that can fill another book, simply don't speak it. Spanish is only one among a slew of cultural connections.
To me, the question of language is a personal one. If you want to speak it, to better connect to your lineage or to discover the joy of reading Gabriel García Márquez in Spanish, go for it with gusto—I guarantee you a new world of personal joy. (There is also an economic benefit to speaking Spanish. The United States is currently the second-largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world after Mexico. Spanish is the second most natively spoken language on the planet, second only to Mandarin Chinese. Therefore, speaking, reading, writing, and understanding Spanish will open new career doors—see Chapter 12.) But if you don't want to take it up, or you have tried and "failed," or you want to but don't have the time right now, you are still as legitimately part of the familia as those who speak the mother tongue. This book is not about who doesn't belong; it's about who belongs. And if you have picked up this book and it speaks to you, you belong.
But the schizophrenia kicks in when that Old World clashes with my New World. I am an unabashed feminist. I employ a cleaning lady. I have hired a nanny. I am not defined by the house that I keep nor a man nor the children that I so deeply love. I am not my mother or abuelas, nor do I want to be, though I love and respect them dearly. I do not believe that being a sacrificada is a noble thing. I am deeply spiritual, but I don't go to church three times a week, as Mom does. I have learned to challenge those in positions of power over me (first teachers, then college professors, and finally bosses) when I'm not treated fairly. When I worked in television, if I hadn't looked my boss in the eye and told her why I should produce the next special, I would not have won an Emmy in 1995.
THE LATINO POPULATION IS THE YOUNGEST . . .
The median age for Hispanics is 27. The median age for the entire U.S. population is 36. Within our group, the oldest are the Cubans and Colombians:
- "Hip and chatty, with serious undertones, this 'bible' will be a valuable resource for young Latina women. Guzman tackles media image versus self-image up front; she rejects the bureaucratic term 'Hispanic' and celebrates the infinite variety of skin color, body shape, hair texture, regional dialect and national origin of today's Latinas as she shares personal anecdotes and advice on a wide range of modern conundrums..."—Publishers Weekly
- "Showing readers how to balance traditional values with new American ways, [Guzman] fills every page with interesting sidebars, including facts, statistics, short biographies, web sites, and bibliographies. Incorporated into the treatment of these issues are frank discussions of sexual abuse, gender inequality, and what it means to be homosexual in the Latin community. Few if any current titles embrace those concerns."—Library Journal
- On Sale
- May 3, 2011
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Seal Press