feature: writing while latina

September 26, 2014

A few months ago, I sat on the cold marbled floor of the Brooklyn Public Library as Junot Diaz read excerpts from This Is How You Lose Her. This by no means was the first time I had travelled to hear him speak, and as a young Dominicana trying to write herself into the world, fuck, I had to. Certainly, there are brilliant Latino writers out there doing some truly dope things, constructing altars out of words and summoning us into the greyest, more abstract realms of existence, all while saying, mija, esta bien. But Diaz mouths off, honestly and so viscerally you can’t help but settle yourself into the rapture. I remember thinking, well this must be some manifest destiny shit, so I brazenly raised my hand and asked, “so when did you know you had to be a writer?” He totally got in professor mode, and went on to explain that it wasn’t about knowing or finding a particular moment. He’s always been a reader, and that’s what had him writing. He’d give up writing in a heartbeat if he could. So I started reading. I consumed Pearl Cleage, devoured Dorothy Parker, relished more Junot Diaz, and totally fan-girled over Roxane Gay.

By Jess Torres, AFROPUNK Contributor 


As a Latina, I’ve come to realize that there’s a sexiness in our truth, unhinged and perilous for those who aren’t ready to trudge through the mess of Spanglish stories tucked away in kitchens, on long flights to the States from Santo Domingo, and on New England college campuses where we make up languages to say the things we need to.


A few days, my piece about leaving an emotionally abusive relationship hit the homepage of Elite Daily ( It was so fucking cool to see my words, my story, on a page where strangers would engage with the narrative, nodding along as they shared it with their friends. My Facebook timeline exploded, I got so many heartwarming messages from friends and acquaintances alike who echoed my sentiments, agreeing that they, too, had unfortunately been in similar relationships.


The reason I wrote the piece was because I knew the story had to be out there. When given the option of doing so anonymously, I didn’t even think twice. This was a chance for me to speak publicly as a woman, as a Latina, and as a millennial. If you believe in what you’re saying, you better be the one saying it.


So I got to thinking. I started thinking about how vulnerable, how intimate this piece was. Here I was referencing my past substance abuse, the awkward shame of being made to feel like a lesser human than I was. What would my ex say once he saw it?


Then I realized it didn’t matter. By sharing these stories, the ones that swim in the grey areas of our most self-conscious selves, we provide the opportunity to engage and empower one another. Pues, what is more Latina than that?


For me, the challenge is to share these stories while being inviting instead of voyeuristic.  Claro, the gift of storytelling lives deep between our child-bearing hips. We sing songs of heartbreak and promise, but more often than not, we are an optimistic people, clutching the brightness of tomorrow and all of the solutions to things we will never stop praying on.


As women constructed by the borders which define us, we must acknowledge the shit out of these tensions—exploring and eventually commanding whatever we decide they should mean. I find that a great piece of writing is like that unmistakable first night you spend with someone you’re bound to fall in love with. You’re kind of tentative and wobbly at first, but you feel safer once you decide to just let each other in. Sometimes its clumsy, but the honesty you bring into the bedroom will help you speak and share with more confidence and intention.


Corazons, it’s not easy being powerful. And nor is it supposed to be. Don’t be afraid to command the air, the sounds, and all the places in between around you, making these places as personal as they are political. Write about your pesadillas and the red-eyed monsters who haunt your dreams. Rattle some folks. It’s okay to be and love who you are.


So, to all my fellow Latinas out there, writing their truths, sharing the dark scary bits of who they are: right on. Sigue pa’lante—and of course, keep reading.

(Image: Yesenia Cortiñas)