Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education by Jennifer de León
Michele C. Dávila, WLC
On Thursday, November 6 writer Jennifer de León, whose parents are from Guatemala, came to Salem State to participate in two activities sponsored by the Creative Writing section of the English department and the Diversity and Multicultural Office through myself as the Faculty Fellow. At 4:00 pm, in a room full of students de Leon talked about how her anthology Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education (2014) had to wait ten years before she could find a publisher due to the seemingly “strange” concept of this book about Latinos (moreover, Latinas!) narrating their experiences while studying in the United States. Some publishers just told her “But Latinos don’t read!”, as an excuse to pass up the opportunity to publish it. The University of Nebraska Press was the courageous one that accepted the project that right now is in its third edition.
This text is a testimony about the realities of 22 women writers and scholars and what they went through to achieve the goal of an education in this country. Among the writers represented are Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Ruth Behar, Lorraine M. López, Jennine Capó Crucet, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, and Joy Castro. The stories are honest, inspiring, funny, sad, moving, courageous, defiant, triumphal, and uplifting. They showcase the perseverance of a variety of Latina women who just wanted to be educated and consequently advocate through their example and their writing. Many of them had the good fortune of having mothers who pushed them incessantly; others didn’t have that familial support, instead receiving questions such as “You went to college and couldn’t find a husband?!”.
After her talk I felt extremely proud of our department’s students –many of whom are Latinos- because they asked her great questions. De Leon felt the solidarity and warm feelings of an audience that knew what she was talking about because it had experienced (or is experiencing) what she and others went through to try to advance in a society through hard work and persistence.
“Wise Latinas,” a term that comes from Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s discourses that was heavily criticized during her nomination for the Supreme Court, is a growing inspiration for many Latin@s in the United States to strive to improve themselves. Jennifer de Leon is helping disseminate this notion among minority students giving them role models to look up to and make us feel proud of what we can accomplish. It is an enlightening read that I truly recommend.