This aptly named collection of essays lives up to its title, a reference to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s quote that a “wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
Don’t be put off by the subtitle, which suggests dry academic reading; these personal essays are full of learning and life. Contributors from different backgrounds and generations, including Sandra Cisneros, Ruth Behar, Joy Castro and Iris Gomez, preside over these pages with a wide range of concerns, including alienation, isolation and sexuality. In her introduction, essayist De Leon, a Boston schoolteacher, sets the tone with a tribute to her mother, a housekeeper from Guatemala who worked tirelessly to be sure her daughters went to college. Indeed, one of the common threads in the book is the idea of parental sacrifice for the betterment of children. The flip side can be a sense of loss and alienation that comes from opening up cultural gaps within families. In “Stories She Told Us,” Daisy Hernández tries to bridge the chasm between what she learns in the classroom and the hardships faced by her mother, who came to America from Colombia. She shares feminist ideas with her mother, thinking this knowledge will save her; eventually, however, she realizes, “[a]ll the things I’m trying to tell her, have been trying to teach her about, all these things that I needed words for, my mother already knows.” Julia Alvarez, whose family fled the Dominican Republic under political duress, writes of her early academic alienation in America, when what was taught and how she was supposed to learn did not include “my ways of perceiving and moving in the world.” In the wonderfully imaginative “WhiteGirlColorlessAfriPana,” Gail M. Dottin ponders identity in a funny/sad/philosophic dialogue with herself.
The abundance of high-quality material makes the book hard to put down. While it focuses on Latina experiences, the emotional truths these writers express have a broader resonance.