You CAN go home again… but you might not find what (you think) you’re looking for

This is the face of a child who told off the clown at her birthday party.

In 1979, my grandmother took me to Guatemala for a short visit, which ended up stretching to a full year, and would have continued indefinitely had my fed-up mother not boarded a plane and personally retrieved me. According to her, I had insisted on wearing full native costume for the trip home: corte, huipil, faja, trenzas piled on my head interwoven with ribbons and festooned with pom-poms. She says I sang the Guatemalan national anthem as I deplaned. I have a vague memory of this; I remember my huipil was from Cobán. I was five years old.

I remember many things about my life in Guatemala: living in the Zona 1, walking with my cousins to school at San Vicente de Paul, all of us in our green-and-white uniforms. I remember going with Abuelita or Tía Sheny to buy tortillas down the street, and the strange dark room in our house that was curtained off, that nobody ever went into.

I remember the student store at school, the kindly pàrroco who never smiled –“Padre Shuco” to my cousins, because he apparently never bathed—and Maria Luisa Rey, my kindergarten/1st grade teacher, whom Tìa Sheny had dubbed “Señorita Tamalita” because she was round and compact. I remember marching in the Independence Day parade as the abanderada, but as I was too small to carry the flag—I walked in front of it, wearing white knee socks on my arms because I had deemed the wrist-length gloves I’d been offered not formal enough for the occasion.

I remember my fifth birthday party, with all my cousins and the neighborhood kids, and my Penèlope Burro piñata, and the stupid clown whom I instantly hated when he informed me I had incorrectly answered a Guatemala trivia question (I promptly and tearfully informed him that there would be no more need for his services at my party, while my uncles wept with laughter).

I remember buying green mango with chile, sal y limón from the street vendors –eating so much of it one day that I got a sour stomach as Abuelita clucked, “te dije!”– and drinking purple Fanta from a baggie with a straw. I remember the procesiones in the streets and making my primera comunión in a white dress and veil with what seemed like hundreds of other, identically-dressed little girls. Learning to write in cursive. Going to misa with Abuelita and feeding the pigeons in the plaza, sitting on the fountain. Fireworks and sparklers para la Noche Buena. The entirety of my other childhood memories is virtually eclipsed by this one year, this singular window into the world of my mother’s upbringing.

This one year in my young life became the cornerstone of my very identity (particularly when I returned to the U.S. with no recollection of how to speak English, and was promptly treated as Other). When I went away to Guatemala, I became –in my mind and heart—Guatemalteca, and lived much of my life thinking of myself that way, despite the fact that I would not return again for many, many years; too many to admit.

Stephanie in Guatemala, November 2012

Most of these memories make appearances in my current short story collection, and they are easy to work into the narratives—they are mine, and mine only, and their idyllic nature makes them a relative joy to fictionalize. But they’re not the only memories serving as a basis for my book: my mom’s stories of her life in Guate, her political activism, her emigration to the US, her life in New Orleans in the ‘60s and her service in the US Marine Corps during Vietnam all figure prominently as well, as do secondhand tales of various other family members.

These stories are not mine… and when I went to Guatemala last fall to try and supplement my Mom’s versions of them (and maybe pick up a few new ones!), I was presented instead with a tangled snarl of resentments, estrangements, conflicting accounts and never-to-be-solved mysteries. Most of all, I was confronted with a painful truth, one that brought my work on the stories to a screeching halt for months: I am not Guatemalan anymore. And, worse– maybe I never really was.

This story is PART ONE of writer Stephanie Diaz Reppen’s journey going to Guatemala to do research for her writing. Stay tuned for part two of her story.

La Neta: A Latina Guide to Losing it All — He Doesn’t Love You and Self-Acceptance Is Not an Option

Art credit: Sallie Ann Glassman, The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot : “Erzulie Freda Dahomey”

This La Neta post is my personal Valentine card to all the loveless, and you know who you are.  You check your email and Facebook and inspect your cell phone until you put holes in those things.  You could write the Encyclopedia Britannica of social network stalking, including all the pages and posts of everyone in his retinue, knowing that his best friend or his brother always has that camera ready, and you religiously discover new ways to eat out your own heart as he smiles for the camera, his arm squeezing the waist of his new flame, her eyes shining as she poses in the protective cleft of his embrace where you once stood, or never stood, and her nails are done in his favorite color, and her hip touches his, and you know when they take the photo that she is standing in the halo of the way he smells.

You have the playlist, a sonic altar to the way he made you feel, the beautiful memories that seduce you with their kung fu sorcery, wishing that you could hate him so that you could finally just let it go, and I hope that you never get drunk enough to send it to him, but if you do, there it is, the whisky sob of Ana Gabriel’s, ¿cómo es posible que te quiero, y no me quieras? Or, if you reach back into your grandmother’s record collection, you get Cuco Sánchez’ fat head singing in his unlikely falsetto, y tú que te creías, el rey de todo el mundo…  We pour heartbreak straight from the tap in our neighborhoods.

So, okay, you’re down.  Flattened on the mat of the ring.  And this obsession of yours that’s got you down there, I am on board two hundred percent.  There you are, burning, striking the classic self-immolation sunbather’s pose, smiling big for your close-up.  This is no time to douse the flames.  Listen to me.  You need to turn the heat UP.

You can’t have him in your life, but the madness that your life has become since he left you, now THAT is something to appreciate.

What was it?  What was is about him?  Surely there was something exceptional and amazing if you are reading this from the floor of the ring, bleeding out in such a manner.  And you can, you will, and you must populate your life with the essence of what he put in your path that was remarkable and unique.  Don’t accept yourself the way you are, but rather parlay the energies of defeat into a new incarnation.  Did he compose sonnets?  Did he play the accordion?  Did he climb mountains?  Jump out of planes?  Make award-winning omelettes?  The things that you were convinced were only in your life because he placed them there: if you are capable of admiring these aspects in another, you are capable of creating them in yourself.

Heartbreak tastes like iron pyrite, like the metal and salt of your own blood.  He is not here for you now, and perhaps he never was.  You deserve to be loved by someone who loves you back just as fiercely, and to move past your infatuation with your thankless shadow prince.  But if that is not possible, then you still have more to learn from what he is trying to show you about your life.  May the hours, minutes, and seconds of your existence be devoted to the awakening of your next you.  It is one the gods’ most terrible gifts that our bodies are the containers of immense passion.

Please, sisters.

Please don’t waste a single drop.


Chicago Writers On Language & Identity

One of our favorite writers is coming to town next week! Ana Castillo joins a panel of Chicago writers to discuss the role of language and identity in their own writing and literature.

Language and Identity: A Chicago Writers Panel

January 24, 2013 @7:00 P.M

Northwestern McCormick Tribune Forum

1870 Campus Drive

Evanston, IL

Panelists include award winning authors:

Ana Castillo, Aleksandar Hemon and Bich Minh Nguyen and moderated by Reginald Gibbons, Frances Hooper Professor of Arts and Humanities. Read more…

How does language and identity impact your own writing?


Reflections & Revelations of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

One of my favorite places in Chicago is the Harold Washington Library filled with books as far as the eye can see. What can make this library even more awesome? They are organizing a reading with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. SQUEAL! She will be in town for the release of her new book My Beloved World.  I remember biting my nails when she was going through the hearings to secure her seat in on the Supreme Court. Happy she is now the 111th Justice and is the first Latina and third female Justice in this position. She is a wonderful example of everything Latinas can do despite their circumstances.

My Beloved World Reading & Signing with Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Wed. January 30, 2013 @6:00 pm

Harold Washington Library Center

400 S. State Street – Winter Garden, Chicago, IL 60605

Learn more about this reading…

Ten Writing Tips In Celebration of The Flower Sun

This week I was recalling the recent discovery of a Mayan Warrior Queen in Guatemala named Lady Ka’bel.  I am fascinated that thousands of years later she has emerged to tell her story through Mayan hieroglyphics and sculpture.

During her time, she was the supreme ruler of the region with more power than even her hubby. I wanted to share that nugget of Pre-Columbian history to encourage you to reign supreme over your own creativity. On Friday, December 21 we close out the Mayan era of 13 Bak’tun. I’m excited for us collectively and individually to shift into a new era of creativity and transformation because we are mujeres de tinta y papel amate; urban scribes tapping into our higher selves and telling stories in primera voz.

According to poet Francisco X. Alarcon the “Nahuatl calendar corresponds to the date “Four Flower” (Nahui Xochitl). In the Nahuatl tradition this new era is identified as the “Flower Sun” (Xochitonatiuh).” We all have stories to tell and it’s just a matter of digging deep and listening to our inner writing warrior queen to get our stories on the page. As we enter this new cycle, I’m looking forward to reading and hearing your stories in whatever medium they appear. Lastly, below are some quick tips to kick start your writing endeavors. Feliz Flower Sun!

Ten tips in celebration of the Flower Sun:

  • Prioritize your writing or risk becoming your own creative apocalypse
  • Writer’s block? Shake it off and keep writing.
  • Get out of your own way and own your story
  • Take responsibility for your writing life
  • Participate in writing meet ups or create your own
  • Take creative risk and get out of your comfort zone
  • Read things that nurture your creative spirit
  • Support a reading series or start your own reading series
  • Encourage other writers to write
  • Ask yourself, “How am I walking in this world as a writer?”

Stay tuned for Proyecto Latina writing meet ups in the New Year.






“My Car Is Lame” – La Neta: A Latina Guide to Losing It All

Paloma Martinez-Cruz y su Perla Negra – Photo by Mike Travis


It was Christmas during my son Emiliano’s second year.  I was trying to settle him down and put him to bed after the frenzy of new toys and festivities were finally over.   This was when my son had a great revelation about truth, happiness, life, and everything, which he summed up with the following declaration, pronounced with tremendous gravitas: Quiero todos, todos, todos los regalos.  (I want all, all, all of the presents).  He knew what it took to be happy. Happiness meant todos todos todos los regalos.  Unhappiness meant NOT having todos todos todos los regalos.

Mijo, yo también quiero todos todos todos los regalos.  I don’t have to tell you that the Perla has seen better days.  I bought the Perla Negra, a 2001 Chevrolet Prizm when we left California for Illinois. She has been a real trooper, keeping us rolling through Chicago winters and parking year round on Pilsen’s mean streets.  Her wheel covers never stayed on, thanks to a Prizm design flaw.  Her paint is faded and her hood doesn’t close properly. I often catch people looking at her with that expression on their faces.  You know the expression.  There are cars that say, “You’ve made it,” but my Perla is the car that makes people say, “What happened?”

Vehicle wise, I covet the creamy lines of the Maserati Gran Turismo Sport, or the flirtatious yet artisanal air of the new Fiat 500.  My cravings are not limited to svelt Italian lines.  The inner chola wants to customize a ‘67 Impala Super Sport, or perhaps update my relationship to the GM family in a silver topaz Chevrolet Volt.

Quiero todos todos todos los regalos, but I can’t think about buying a car right now, and to tell you the truth, I am not sure that even if I could, I should.  As a single woman, I love the freedom that owning a car gives me to explore places around town on my own terms.  But in this economy, and with environmental threats being what they are, I need to take the alternatives seriously.  The capitalist overlords are banking on all of us having the same attitude of a two-year-old on Christmas: there are never enough regalos.  Our happiness depends on purchasing more and more, but this “consume, expand, produce” message about what will straighten out the economy is the antithesis to the “reduce, reuse, recycle” message that will straighten out our planet, particularly in the days when war ravaged peoples from fossil fuel production lands plainly tell us that our gasoline cravings are far from bloodless.

There are some exciting options out there that I am looking into with the understanding that Perla can’t keep on rolling forever.  Since I am thinking that the planet, and the people who die in droves when the capitalist overlords want to control their resources, need my loyalty and affection more than the automobile and fuel industry moguls, I am heartened to know that there are businesses and organizations that are adapting to the humanitarian, budgetary, and ecological urgencies of our times, and developing ways to emphasize access to – rather than ownership of – the things that we need.  In Chicago, ride share programs like Pace RideShare Pace helps people carpool together.  Relay Rides helps you rent cars from people in your community. I-Go is a non-profit with cars adjacent to CTA routes and rail stations.

So, my carnalísimas, I think we should have some fun pissing off the capitalist overlords by taking pride in our lame ranflas, and/or our non-ranfla having lifestyles.  Send me a lowrider picture of yourself posing with your ride, or a CTA photo wearing your best chola eyeliner (and lip liner, por supuesto) and send it this way so that we can do our part in creating a media stream in/of/about our own images, using our super powers of Latina glamorousness to rep the reduce, reuse, recycle lifestyle on our own terms, con safos!

Will You Be Our Madrina de Tinta y Papel?

Image Courtesy of Link Mesh Hadas –

Proyecto Latina is completing its 7th year and to-date our initiatives include a reading series and writer meet-ups that allows us to create a culture of self-empowerment by spotlighting Latinas in the arts and beyond. We also provide a virtual platform to chronicle stories, share resources and start conversations.

To celebrate our coming of age, we are creating an anthology of the voices, artwork, and chisme that have made Proyecto Latina thrive as a safe and vibrant space for Latina creativity in Chicago.

We hope this volume will serve as a way to preserve, honor, and promote the contributions of Proyecto Latina’s members and serve as a catalyst for Latina creativity by taking the best possible portrait of our past, and pose relevant questions about where we are heading.

Like any Chica Súper Poderosa from the neighborhood, our coming of age ceremony is an enterprise that relies on the support from the padrinos.  We hope you will consider being our madrina or padrino de tinta y papel.  Your name will appear in our anthology as our benefactor, and you will receive a free copy of the work.

Your donations in any amount our greatly appreciated! Our goal is to raise $2,700.00 to cover the cost of printing. Thank you for supporting this creative endeavor to continue to amplify the voices of Latina women in the arts.






La Neta: Is Marriage Normal?

Shi-Li-Bo Nouvavou, a voudoun spirit. “She is the zenith of solar force, assured and possessed of confidence that is tempered by time and knowledge.” The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot. Destiny Books: Rochester, VT, 1992

In A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness (Duke University Press, 2011), Cherríe Moraga writes that the issue of legalizing gay marriage has the potential to detract from a more pressing issue:  why is marriage normalized in our society, while other kinds of unions are denied legitimacy?  Along with Moraga, I maintain that marriage is the right of heterosexual and homosexual unions alike, but I also join her in wondering if it should be idealized as the ultimate expression of love’s maturity.

Divorce is a process in which a legal authority dissolves the bonds of matrimony.  According to Paul R. Amato’s research brief “Interpreting Divorce Rates, Marriage Rates, and Data on the Percentage of Children with Single Parents,” the commonly cited statistic that about 50% of American marriages eventually end in divorce is accurate.  In a Latino cultural environment, the celebration of marriage is the major rite of passage that defines our entry into adulthood and, as women, one of the most crucial measures of our adequacy. According to Catholic belief, marriage is a sacrament.  Once it is consummated, it cannot be dissolved, and if a divorced person remarries, they are living in perpetual adultery – a state of mortal sin.  As a writer, I can appreciate the poetry in this.  It is true that although it has ended, a relationship never remains safely in the past, and it continues to be a part of who we are forever.

However, as a feminist, I need to question this doctrinal attitude. First, it is clear that sexual control of women (“once it is consummated…”) is the objective here, and this control is used to prevent women from making their own choices about who they partner with.  Secondly, divorce is just as valid an expression of love’s maturity as marriage, and it takes a great amount of faith and spiritual resilience (whatever your system of beliefs happens to be) in order to leave a marriage and travel into the unknown.

I really couldn’t point to a body of films or television shows that portray divorce as the successful outcome of a love relationship. In the media, Latinas are only happy when they are wives and mothers, or perhaps celebrating their quinceañera in a stretch Hummer. To go outside of what our culture promotes as normal is a frightening thing.   People want to know what went wrong, and there is something deeply humiliating about breaking the news to friends, family, co-workers, and in-laws. If children are involved, you are shifting their universe irrevocably.  You are in a world of judgment.

Recently, I overheard a conversation that made me think about how we look at divorce.  The conversation was between two long-time students of capoeira, a Brazilian martial art.  A current capoeira player talked with a woman who had trained for many years, but had stopped playing.  The woman who left capoeira said she felt that the martial art could have been better to women. The more aggressive player invariably “won,” while a player exhibiting just as much mastery in their evasive moves was perceived as the lesser player in the bout. I think of our society on whole, and our cultural traditions in particular, like the capoeira player who promotes offensive tactics as intrinsically more valuable than the defensive moves to avert the deathblow.  A divorce takes great love and skill.  It is described as a loss, but it takes enormous courage and emotional mastery to move away from the attacker into a position of greater safety.

As women, we are trained from childhood to cooperate with sexually controlled, officially legitimized unions.  A recent news article about two girls in Iran who assaulted a cleric in a small town says volumes about the pervasiveness of this control.  The older, male authority figure told one of the girls to cover herself more completely. “She responded by telling me to cover my eyes, which was very insulting to me,” explained the cleric. On many parts of this planet, “normal” still means to be controlled by a husband, father, or priest.
Divorce is about believing that love can be better. So plan your anti-bridal shower with your best girlfriends, make that appointment to get that new tattoo – or get that tired “forever yours Enrique” on your neck covered over.  And if a cleric tells you he doesn’t like what he sees, you may cordially invite him to cover his eyes.

(Feel free to share your own thoughts or experiences in the comment section)