by Cindy Tovar
Despite having spent almost half an hour searching for parking in Washington Heights, Sandra Guzman, author of The New Latina’s Bible: The Modern Latina’s Guide to Love, Spirituality, Family, and La Vida, strode into the Rio Penthouse Gallery, composed and ready for the reading and signing session scheduled for that evening. Sitting next to me on a bench outside, with the clouds threatening to burst any second, she stared intently into my eyes, speaking to me like a long-lost friend.
She began by discussing el que dirán, which is “this constant judging that takes place, and that I feel limits our ability to grow and to live to our fullest potential. I wish I could’ve thrown out el que dirán a long time ago from my life. Throughout the years, that’s what I think Latinas most connect with.”
She went on to describe the big message of her book: self-love, self-care, and self-esteem. “This idea of self-care is still very much revolutionary among Latin women. We just don’t take care of ourselves. We take care of others. We know how to take care of our families, our boyfriends, our husbands. But when it comes to self-nurturing, we have an issue with that.”
The topics of self-love and el que dirán permeate this new book, as well as the 2002 version. However, Sandra points out that she has kept and updated the 12 original chapters of the first book, as well as added two more: one about depression and another about domestic and dating violence.
“Depression,” she says, “is a very huge problem in our communities with our women, and our men, but in particular our women.” She told the following personal story: “A family member of mine was suffering from depression, and the family member apologized to me for being depressed. My heart broke in pieces because had this person had diabetes or cholesterol, or any of the diseases that are physically tangible, they would’ve never apologized. But because depression is such a taboo subject in our families, this person was embarrassed and ashamed.” She stressed that because we can’t see it, “we just don’t think it’s real, and so in our communities, to be depressed is still very much an unknown.”
Within this chapter, she also writes about teen suicide, which she states “has shot up 20% in the past decade.” She feels that issues with acculturation contribute to this number. “Young women are saying, ‘My mother still thinks she lives in Tegucigalpa, or San Juan, or Santo Domingo. Doesn’t she know that we’re in America?’ So these cultural clashes take place, and these girls don’t find a place where they can fully express themselves, because in our families, unfortunately, girls are still very much raised to be deferential, to stay quiet: Calladita te ves mas bonita. And so they find themselves in a really horrible cultural minefield.”
During our conversation on domestic and dating violence, Sandra revealed that 80 percent of it is legal. “Only 20 percent of it is illegal. The verbal humiliation, the emotional put-downs, the extreme jealousy: you can’t call the cops if your man called you a whore, or said you’re looking fat. We’ve forgotten how to love each other. We’ve forgotten how to take care of each other in a way that’s healthy, and women are staying in relationships where they’re not being honored. I was one of them. I could probably not be as compassionate as I am about the issue of dating violence had I not experienced the physical and emotional violence of men that I loved, and that I thought loved me back.”
When I asked how the growing anti-Latino sentiment is affecting Latinas, Sandra immediately responded: “Collectively, and individually, it’s wreaking havoc on our soul. How is it that a young person in high school or college is listening to all the negativity and the xenophobia and is not going to question how exquisite her people are, or how exquisite she is? These messages of going back home – you know what? My home is Jersey City, NJ. My home is Chicago, and New York, NY. My home is here. And so it’s affecting our mental health.” She also noted that “studies have shown that recently arrived Latinos have healthier mental health than those of us who’ve been here longer.”
She attributes this to acculturation, which causes the loss of spirituality, friendship, and connectedness. “This is why it’s important for Latinos and Latinas to surround themselves with positive people, and with media like Being Latino, that lift them and remind them of all the great things that we’re doing.”
As our interview drew to a close, she mentioned that she’ll be self-publishing a Young Latina’s Bible for girls ages 8-12, an endeavor inspired by two little girls who went to a reading in California and asked if they could read her book. She felt that the material in her book wasn’t appropriate for them and decided that “someone needs to talk to our little girls.”
And so I leave you with a quote in which Sandra beautifully defines what a Nueva Latina is: “A woman who understands she’s the owner of her body, and her future. That there’s no el que dirán limiting what she can do. She’s a woman who seeks to fulfill her greatest potential – who understands that she’s the queen of her house, not a sirvienta. That a man must treat her like a queen, and he like a king. That if a guy doesn’t treat her like a queen, she can kick him out of her house, saying I love you, but I love myself more.”
Staff Writer, Cindy Tovar.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.