“For Brown Girls With Sharp Edges And Tender Hearts” is A Love Letter To BIWOC
Eight years ago, Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez founded the digital platform Latina Rebels with the intention to democratise emancipatory knowledge that has long been locked up in college classrooms. Through essays, memes, and online discussions, the writer and activist made it her purpose to share the tools that freed her from the chains of internalised sexism, racism, and classism with Black and brown women and girls. “This information should be available to everyone. It should be available quickly, and it should be digestible,” the Nicaragua-born, Nashville-based author tells POPSUGAR Latina. In her debut book, For Brown Girls With Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts (Seal Press), Rodríguez continues to redistribute knowledge by penning an accessible guide for Black, Indigenous and Women of Color (BIWOC) to survive and thrive in a culture and society that intends on keeping them caged and controlled.
In this autoethnography, Rodríguez shares her own intimate, and at times heart-wrenching, experiences with toxic masculinity, respectability politics, colourism, decoloniality, and more to provide primers on such concepts. While the ivory tower attempts to reserve these discussions for academic elites who read and teach about ‘isms they don’t encounter, she writes about them as they are for working-class communities of color: lived experiences. Through her intimate storytelling and warm embrace of the Black and brown girls she writes for, Rodríguez also gently holds the reader as she invites them on the painful path toward freedom.
“It’s a love letter, and it’s a diary,” Rodríguez says. “I hope it motivates people to do whatever they want to do with the information that they’re given. I hope people pick it up and run with it. I hope that they hear their chains rattle, whatever that means to them, and that they can’t unhear it.”
Here, Rodríguez talks to us about being a first-time author, her urgency to democratize knowledge, and how she heals through writing. For Brown Girls With Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts is now available where books are sold.
Your book will soon be in the hands of countless readers. How are you feeling?
It feels like fake news. It doesn’t feel real. I feel like I don’t want to be on my phone this month. I just want to enjoy it, so I’m trying to remove all the things that will possibly make me not enjoy it. But I don’t know how to prepare for this. I’m trying to limit my screen time. Social media, as great as it can be and as much as it’s part of my career, can also suck so many moments away from you. You’ll be on your phone, and it’ll be like six hours later. You lose track of moments, reality, and life. So I’m not going to be on my phone. But that’s it. I mean, I’m also going shopping. I have a little shopping spree planned.
You start the book by writing frankly “this is my way of democratising knowledge.” Why is it important for you to cut past the gatekeeping and make theories and discussions that are often exclusive to university libraries and classrooms accessible and applicable?
Until I learned a lot of these terms, I felt like I was in a car that was called my life, and I was the passenger and didn’t even know I was the passenger. Then I started hearing all these terms and all these definitions, and I started putting so much into perspective that I was suddenly like, why am I not driving? And I hate that I had to go to this elite academic space to get there. I hate that this isn’t something that people have access to the minute they start school and learn to read. It should be available to everybody. I think about this quote I once read, and I don’t know who said it, but they wrote: If it’s inaccessible to the poor, then it’s neither radical nor revolutionary. That information was so life-changing for me, and I want as many people to have it as possible. People keep asking me what’s next, and I’m like, what do you mean what’s next? We’re still here. I’m going to repackage this 17 times. If it’s a children’s book, if it’s a graphic novel or if it’s an anthology, I’m going to continue to do this until it sinks. It takes a lot of approaches.
I hate that this isn’t something that people have access to the minute they start school and learn to read. It should be available to everybody.
You break down these complex theories through your own personal lived experiences. When writing this book, what came first: the theory you wanted to demystify through storytelling or the personal narrative you wanted to name?
It came at the same time. That’s the way I lived it in the classroom. When I was learning the term, it felt like I was constantly having an out-of-body experience. For instance, when I heard about respectability politics, it felt like I was getting an exorcism of sorts where my soul was leaving my body and I was just in the classroom staring blankly while my mind was reworking every interaction I ever had with respectability politics. It awakened memories for me when I was learning the terms. So when I started writing, all those memories came to me, all those things that academia doesn’t nurture. It just drops truth bombs on you, and then it walks away or gives you the next truth bomb. They’re not gentle. And I was in a theology program, but nobody cared. They were like, “keep it moving.” And that’s the fault of predominantly white institutions (PWIs). To them, these are just ideas, but to a lot of the working-class students of color, it’s our lives. It’s a lot more intimate than just these concepts, theories, and ideas.
You are very candid throughout this book, discussing complicated relationships, experiences and emotions. I’m sure this wasn’t easy. How were you able to decide which parts of yourself to lay bare to the world and which parts to hold onto?
I had to tell the story to find the instruction within it, so I had to formulate the story, and, during that process, I was like, “oooh, I don’t know. Should I say that?” So it was a conversation with myself where I asked: What will you gain and what will you lose when this is published? Specifically, with the toxic masculinity chapter, I asked: Will my brother and my dad lose money, financial opportunities, or employment? I kept wanting to protect them. At the end of the day, they’re men of color who are just trying to survive. While white men get to do whatever they want and the world adjusts to them, men of color face consequences to things that white men do cruelly and openly. I wanted to have grace for myself, because certain things needed to be said and have been said, and also grace for the people in my family who are still immigrants trying to make shit work for themselves. So I did a dance. The things that are more damaging, I wrote it in ways that, specifically if the men wanted to gaslight me and say I was lying, they can. I gave them an out that I hope they don’t use. But I gave anyone who needed it an out. I don’t want to run with scissors. It’s important for me to give grace to people impacted by oppression. It’s not about creating excuses but always having grace.
While white men get to do whatever they want and the world adjusts to them, men of color face consequences to things that white men do cruelly and openly. I wanted to have grace for myself, because certain things needed to be said and have been said, and also grace for the people in my family who are still immigrants trying to make shit work for themselves.
I totally understand and relate to that. In the book, you write, “There are aspects of my childhood, my girlhood, that were robbed from me by ‘isms.” Has writing this book, sharing your personal experiences so intimately yet so publicly, helped you heal that inner child you allude to so often throughout the book?
Yes! Latinidad is not a monolith at all, and I never experienced Latinidad to be a monolith. And I’ve been in Latinx communities my whole life. So when I started writing, it never occurred to me that other people would relate to my work. When hordes of people related to it, to the extent that I was making a living off of it for years, it was mesmerising to me. And it still is, to be honest. The fact that I can write something so particular to me, and people say, “you named my exact experience,” you no longer feel isolated in the way this country wants you to feel, as an “other.” As a white supremacist capitalist empire, there is a strategy to make us feel separate from each other-even in an abusive household with a dad who kind of isolates you from your mom for years. So it was an amazing level of connection with people that changed me into a completely better person because, for the first time in my life, I no longer felt alone.
Latinidad is not a monolith at all, and I never experienced Latinidad to be a monolith. And I’ve been in Latinx communities my whole life. So when I started writing, it never occurred to me that other people would relate to my work.
I love that! “Liberation,” as you write, “starts with knowledge. And it takes painful work.” What would you say to readers who are inspired but apprehensive to start freedom journeys, knowing it may mean creating boundaries with loved ones and confronting dark truths?
I think you just need to start. That’s why I don’t set parameters for what I need my readers to do. Take what you want from it, and discard what you don’t want from it. I hate being told what to do because I was controlled so much in my Christian pastoral home that I’m just like, “do it at your own pace.” I know I wasn’t ready to create boundaries when I started this journey. Then four years later, I was. Once you start, you won’t stop. But you need to start, and then keep going. But I don’t care where you start. If where you start is that you walk into a room and don’t say “hey guys” because that’s just centering men in a room that might not even have men, if that is the beginning, then let’s go. That’s a beginning. It just needs to start.
How do you want women and girls of colour to feel while reading this book?
I hope they feel held. I hope they feel challenged. I hope they get angry at me, honestly. I think anger is one of the most generative emotions we can have. It leads people to do things. Even if it’s like, “I’m so pissed this wasn’t written this way. I wish it was written that way, so I’ll write it that way,” I want them to have a reaction. If it’s a book you can read in one day and then set aside and start another one, then I messed up. There are those books. Danielle Steele does that for me. It disconnects me from my body. I love it, I’m in it and when I’m done, I’m over it. I hope it does more than that. I hope you feel a reaction, that you feel held, loved, angry, whatever it is. But whatever emotion you do have, I hope that you sit with it. Women are told that emotions are inferior and logic is superior; I hope the book takes you more into that dique “female energy.” Sit with it.
I hope they feel held. I hope they feel challenged. I hope they get angry at me, honestly. I think anger is one of the most generative emotions we can have. It leads people to do things.
You mentioned a graphic novel and an anthology. What can you tell us about the projects you are working on now?
I’m about to sell my tia and prima archetypes book, and I’m really excited about that. It’s supposed to be a companion to this one. It has two topics that cross over, but there are a lot of new topics that I’m talking about through tia and prima archetypes. So you might recognize a lot of it: your queer tia that no one talks about being queer but everyone knows she is, and she brings her amiga to family functions. I want to talk about that. I want to talk about the silence and the shame and the ask-don’t-tellness of that in our context. In the introduction of that book, I write that I might romanticize us too much, but screw it. It’s about time. Our women on television have been dragged through the mud and dehumanized. I want to write about your matriarch tia or your tia scandalosa. Let’s go! So that’s the next work, the one I’m closest to selling. I’m also finishing my graphic novel at the end of this month, and I’m working on an anthology about reclaiming women in the Bible, so I’m excited for that.