When you write a book, there are lots of things that people are interested in knowing. One of the first questions I get is how I came up with the idea to write about Latina body image, beauty perception, and ethnic identity in
America. Like most things in my life, it happened serendiptiously, life just leading me down the road to the next logical place. I intially saw these themes emerge in my writing while I was in graduate school for an MFA in Creative Wrting. I had a focus on nonfiction and poetic forms and was absolutely confounded by what I would write for my final manuscript– a book length creative work. Everything is all over the place, I told my advisor,
Kim Addonizio (great writer, check her out). She looked at me with real surprise, “It’s not all over the place. It’s all about how considering the concepts of beauty, body, and ethnicity came together for you in forming your identity.” I went back to my room, read through all of my stuff, and, sure enough, there it was, the quest to find my voice by giving up the stranglehold that beauty and other people’s perceptions of me had on my identitiy. Giving Up Beauty, my MFA manuscript, was a collection of non-fiction essays and poems that all dealt with these themes.
In conceptualizing Hijas Americanas, I wanted to look at how Latinas who grew up in a culture that had one idea of beauty, femininity, and gender roles reconciled those expectations with both what they heard from mainstream America and with what they wanted for themselves. The stories shared show the significance of each individual’s unique coming-of-age experience, but they also examine the universal truths that are part of all our experiences. These aren’t questions that are only Latino or female in nature. We all must face our personal challenges—and sometimes our impenetrable insecurities—with an individual honor and dignity that allows us to define who we are in the context of so many things: family, community, ethnicity, race, religion, culture, and more.