Thursday, May 25, 2006

Chica Lit Fiesta and Alisa Valdes Rodriguez

Wow! Amazing! Nothing else like it for Latina's who love to write and read books. I'm talking about the inaugural Chica Lit Club Fiesta that I attended over the weekend of May 19-21. I felt like I was at a three day slumber party where I got to meet and share stories and books with women who are a lot like me in their tastes and passions.

Alisa Vales-Rodriquez brought together the hottest authors in the genre of chica-lit and women's fiction, along with top Hollywood producers, editors, and magazine columnists. The energy was explosive. Most importantly, it was intimate enough for readers and authors to get to know each other. This event is going on my must attend list from now on. Alisa really needs to be congratulated for putting something like this together.

It's funny because I remember the first time I met Alisa -- it was at BEA (book expo america) for the launch of DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB. I was pretty excited about her book -- mostly because the Latino line of books I had been writing for, Encanto, had recently folded and many of us believed that the idea of seeing commercial fiction for Latinas in the marketplace was going to be a faded dream. Alisa's book gave us all hope that maybe there was a market after all. So, I eagerly attended a panel where she was to speak about her book. She was asked if she was the answer to the eagerly awaited Latina Terri McMillian, and she responded with something like she wasn't the next Latina anything. That she'd written a book about a group of friends who happened to be Latina. I'm sure I'm misquoting, but I left with the impression that she wasn't embracing Latino literature at all, and I was disappointed.

But everyone has to follow their own path, and I knew I sure hadn't accept my Latino roots for many years, so I shrugged off her comments. I still loved her book, and recommended it to friends, and knew that she'd tapped into something important whether she knew it or not. Of course, she did know, and I hadn't actually understood what she meant up there on that stage that day. What she apparently resented was being compared to another minority group. Why wasn't she the next Janet Evanovich or Jennifer Cruise? Why compare her at all. None of us can really be compared, because everyone writes from their own unique experiences and life views.

Following her career the last few years, I figured out where she was coming from, and realized that my original "hope" (as silly as that sounds) for the kind of author she would be was right, and my brief BEA impression was wrong. And now with this fiesta where she brought together such a diverse group of writers (something she didn't have to do), she's made her point again about how different we all are and how our literature is not a reflection of an entire culture, only a snapshot of a small section of the huge Latin American umbrella. I enjoyed learning more about the Mexican immigrant experience from one of the authors for example, and about Puerto Rico from a documentary producer. Though I'm Latina, I'm familiar with very little of the Latin American world. So this was a special opportunity to learn more. Besides, the location couldn't have been more fabulous! Right on Miami Beach! Gorgeous!

This was a much needed event for readers and authors as well. A safe place for us all to share our experiences and our hearts with each other. I highly recommend it -- can you tell? I came home inspired, and sick (but you can't have complete perfection), but mostly grateful to have been given the opportunity to share this special time with so many awesome people.


Anonymous Maria said...

What do you mean specifically when you use the term "Latino"? While reading your blog, I get the impression you seem to be biased toward the darker skinned Latinos.

Latino is cultural term, not ethnic. Latino(a) implies you're either from, or a descendant of someone from a Latin American country. It in no way implies race. Apparently some people aren't aware there are countries in South America that consist almost entirely of whites. Argentina and Uruguay being the main ones. Most Latin American countries still have a small minority group of whites, that are just as "Latin" and have most likely been there just as long as the darker citizens(minus the amerindians). Not to mention other races which include, black, asian and biracial.

3:45 AM  
Blogger LaraRios said...

Hi Maria,

Really, I give that impression?? I'm not biased toward ANY skin color in particular, trust me. I'm actually a very fair skinned Argentine.

As a matter of fact, I got the impression as a child (from my Argentine "white" parents) that being fair skinned is good while darker skinned people were inferior. Having black friends was frowned upon (and I'm being nice here out of respect for my parents). I wasn't even allowed to date Mexicans! White Americans were okay. Argentines were the best.

Ironic, considering my father re-married into a Mexican family.

So, actually I'm very aware that Latinos come in all races and one of my points in BECOMING LATINA is exactly that -- Latinos can not be stereotyped. We cover every race and ethinic group and most religions, we don't all have large families, we can be found in every economic subgroup, we don't all have rhythm, etc.

I can't tell you how many times people have assumed I was NOT Latina because of my skin color -- mostly by other Latinos. Most Anglo Americans have no idea who Latinos, you're right.

And as far as whites being in South America as long as darker skinned people. I don't know what you mean by that. Native indigenous people (where the dark skin comes from) were there first. They were conquered by Europeans throughout the Americas. In Argentina and Uruguay, they brutally slaughered these native populations leaving practically no natives alive, and colonized the land. Something to be proud of?? I don't think so.

I'm very proud of being Latina. However, I could care less about my skin color. And I'm teaching my children to value people based on their character and spirit, not skin color.

Hopefully, I'm making that clear to readers as well . . . if not, I'll work harder on this point.



7:56 AM  
Anonymous Maria said...

No, you got me wrong! When I said they've most likely been there as long as the darker citizens, I meant besides the natives. I was mainly referring to the mestizos.

I guess maybe I've already got my defense up because I'm so used to the stereotypical view of what the requirements are to be "latina". I was born in a Latin American country, but moved to the US with my parents when I was about 3. We're some of those "white latinos". My family is mainly Spanish/Italian on my father's side and German on my mother's. I've got the blonde hair/blue eyed, fair skin thing also going on. Suffice to say I've never been treated as an equal by most other Latinos here. "Look at the guera trying to speak Spanish". I grew up speaking Spanish as my first language, grew up in a typical latino home, surrounded by all your familiar, even stereotypical Latino things, the only thing out of place in the eyes of others is my ethnicity, apparently.

I didn't mean to attack you or try to sound rude, I'm just all too familiar with having to deal with not living up the standards of being a brown Latino

4:19 PM  
Blogger LaraRios said...

No problem at all, Maria. I value everyone's opinion, and thank you for posting yours.

And I completly understand where you're coming from. I didn't feel accepted by the majority of Latinos while growing up. There were plenty that didn't like because of my skin color. LOL. And my mom says Latinos don't discriminate - ha!

I remember when I got married, my aunt congratulated me for marrying a man that was my own race. A white Americano. Never mind that our cultures are so different and that has caused a few clashes -- he was white. Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

So I try to be as color/race blind as I can, because I just can't stand being judged by those qualites myself. I have to say that I've met racist, mean white people. And racist, cruel, vindictive brown Latinos.

Now, my next book after BECOMING AMERICANA entitled THE FAT CONTEST features an Argentine family, and the heroine has green eyes. This will really confuse America.

I have to share that NY publishers who have very few Latinos working in their houses have turned down books that they don't consider "latino enough" meaning that the characters don't have the stereotypes they consider latino. And dark skin is one of those latino qualities they look for. But things are changing. Books like mine and those of my fellow Latina author friends are pointing out that the Latino community is hugely diverse.

By the way, I've got a lot of Italian in me too. Loooovvee pasta, and my dream is to visit Italy for my 20th anniversary. Five more years to go!!



8:37 AM  
Blogger Ray Rojas said...

I don't now if you have ever recieved a copy of our publication "Libros, Libros". It is a list with descriptions of the latest books being published by Latino and Chicano authors. It can be ordered for free in PDF form by emailing Also check out at

8:11 PM  

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