Sandra Guzman, Emmy Award winner and author of The New Latina Bible: The Modern Latina’s Guide to Love, Spirituality, Family and La Vida,” held a reading as part of NoMAA’s Art Stroll, an inspiring event for Latinas en el Alto and beyond.
When I was growing up, the biggest monster that I feared didn’t hide under my bed or come out of the closet at night. Instead, it was an imaginary, invisible dark cloud that terrified my mother and, by osmosis, I learned to fear as well.
That monster was called “El Que Diran [what will they say].”
I know that monster stalks many Latinas in Northern Manhattan, women who overly self-police their behavior, losing themselves in a cloud of hush-hush worry about what others will say and think about them.
On Thu., June 9 I attended NoMAA’s Uptown Arts Stroll event featuring a reading by Emmy Award-winning journalist Sandra Guzman, author of “The New Latina Bible: The Modern Latina’s Guide to Love, Spirituality, Family and La Vida.”
When Guzman began her reading she mentioned the “El Que Diran” monster. I was immediately transported to my childhood.
But Guzman told me and the mostly female audience that we had nothing to fear as long as we learned to appreciate, love, and recognize just how important each one of us is.
“Latina women have been conditioned since birth to never put themselves at the top of their to-do lists,” said Guzman. “We are taught to serve, to take care of others, and we have forgotten to take care of ourselves.”
But it’s an interesting time for an interesting generation, my generation. One that doesn’t have to choose between being Latina or being American, a choice Guzman grappled with for a long time even as she climbed to the highest ranks of journalistic excellence.
“When I came back from college, people said to me: ‘Oh, so now you think you’re white?’” she reflected, growing up in a Puerto Rican household in Jersey City. Guzman said the road to claiming her roots and feeling proud of being “JerseyRican” wasn’t always easy.
In el Alto, and in the words of Guzman, there are generations of “New Latinas” learning to make themselves the top priority, not because we are “unas egoistas,” [selfish] but because we are learning that we can only do good for others – by being better girlfriends and wives, mothers and daughters, and lovers – if we take care of ourselves before taking care of others.
Quien diria no? [Who knew?]
In the second edition of her book, Guzman adds chapters on depression and domestic violence. Washington Heights is an epicenter for these issues, which she called “the big elephants in our rooms.”
Latino culture in el Alto and across the city looks down on mental health conditions; the idea of being “depressed” is laughable in some households. Yet, it’s issues like these that the New Latina generation is standing up to.
In el Alto, I have often walked past young couples and heard things that made me blush, (and I’m brown). The way some of our young men treat our young women is appalling. Sadly, both sides are to blame.
Guzman addresses sexism in her book and reminds us that domestic violence doesn’t start with physical attacks, but rather with verbal abuse some of our young girls willingly subject themselves to. They need a loud reminder that they’re important, that self respect should be their top priority.
But even as some of us struggle to find the right path to this much needed self-love, I’m hopeful that el Alto is raising an army of New Latinas. A generation that will love themselves before giving love to others and won’t break under the pressures of needing to fit into a mold.
New Latinas in el Alto, in the words of Guzman, will be a “combination of English, Spanish, and Spanglish. Our opinion will count. We will stand up to authority when necessary and look them in the eye. We will love and cherish our bodies. We will not be martyrs or servants, because we are all one dream in one café con leche body. Because we weren’t born to a culture: culture was born in us.”