BIRD OF PARADISE by Raquel Cepeda


How I Became Latina
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Snappy, jazzy memoir of a Dominican upbringing by a New York journalist and documentary filmmaker.

Despite efforts since the election of the first black president to assume race no longer matters in America, Cepeda (editor: And It Don’t Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years, 2004) asserts that constructing one’s identity requires expressing and celebrating its makeup. Cepeda’s parents hailed from Paradise, a neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Their relationship was an oil-and-water whirlwind romance between a handsome singer and a 16-year-old child bride whose move to Upper Manhattan quickly soured on pecuniary exigencies and pregnancy. Cepeda lived first with her mother, who cleaned houses and held many jobs at once, through new boyfriends, relocation to San Francisco and more children, then with her father, now remarried to a white woman, back in New York. In this Dominican barrio, Cepeda spent her formative years attending Catholic school and being told she was “ass backward,” mastering street slang and class hierarchy, and enduring the grueling tennis lessons her father forced her to take. He also frequently compared her in a derogatory fashion to her mother as the worst of the Dominican lot. Love for her Dominican boyfriend and his family and shame assimilated in school created a conflicted sense of identity that often came out in fights; she identified with black culture, finding in hip-hop ideal expressions of her feelings. Later, in adulthood, with her daughter now in high school and her father recovering from heart surgery, Cepeda yearned to make peace with her conflicted selves and convinced him and other relatives to submit to DNA testing. Further revelations prompted trips to far-flung locations and compelled all of them to reconcile with deep-seated stereotypes of identity.

Despite occasional choppy patches, a spirited memoir deeply committed to personal self-worth.

Pub Date: March 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1451635867
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2013


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