"I am layers of history that speak of beaches and snowflakes, rain forests and tenements, Spanish and English, spicy food and fast food, hip-hop and congas, apple pie and flan."--Sandra Guzman, "The Latina's Bible" (Three Rivers Press)
As a Jerseyrican--Puerto Rican-born, New Jersey-raised--Sandra Guzman grew up straddling two cultures, always feeling like an oddball who didn't quite fit into either world. At home, her family spoke Spanish, ate Puerto Rican food, watched telenovelas, and were first devout Catholics, then devout Pentecostals. At school, Guzman felt divided, as if another girl's soul took over her body, a girl who embraced American attitudes and fashions, enjoyed rock music and had the "unbecoming gringita habit" of expressing her opinion.
Like most Latinas growing up in two cultures, Guzman found herself in a constant tug-of-war between her heart and mind; her heart beating for her family, her mind yearning for independence and enrichment. Leaving home for college, for example, fired up Guzman's spirit but meant nothing but angustia (anguish) for her protective mother, who fretted over her daughter sleeping among strangers in a dorm.
"Born into a borderland and raised in a cultural middle," Guzman said she grew up feeling frustrated and conflicted, wondering which side of herself she would eventually have to give up: The devoted daughter brought up to marry and have children? Or the woman who dreamed of a career in journalism and living in her own apartment?
What she didn't realize then was that, rather than conforming to one of those molds, she was becoming a new breed of woman, a "nueva Latina" who "owns English," dreams in Spanish and is "not exotic" but rather "a confluence of Pan-Latino consciousness and American influences," as the Emmy award-winning journalist and former editor in chief of Latina magazine writes in her first book, "The Latina's Bible: The Nueva Latina's Guide to Love, Sex, Spirituality, and La Vida" (Three Rivers Press).
"We are really a different generation of women," says Guzman, 37, who is soon to be married for a second time, has a 14-year-old son and is expecting her second baby. "This isn't something that just hit me one day. It came organically. I wasn't like my mother or my grandmother or my tias [aunts]. I was a new being that took the best they offered me but let go of the taboos that also held me back. I am definitely an American-made woman with all of the richness of the Latino culture. I think it's kind of hot."
"The Latina's Bible" is an inspirational self-help book that celebrates U.S. Latino culture and offers Latinas compassionate and humorous advice for taking better care of themselves, nurturing relationships with family and friends and pursuing their dreams. It's a book that screams "Latina girl power" but also gives away some cultural secrets to non-Latinos interested in Guzman's lively insights. Non-Latino men, for example, can glean valuable tips on courting Latinas and understanding the importance and complexity of Latino families. Guzman illuminates her regular visits to her mother's house, where there is always music, plenty of food, children running all around and adults talking over each other.
"Someone foreign to that world might confuse my mother's home with a madhouse, because to non-Latino ears, it may seem a bit loud," she writes. "A man who dates me will have to find a way to fit in, to feel comfortable in all the noise, and to understand the sense of comfort it gives me to be there."
The book also is filled with sidebars and statistics that give context to Guzman's personal anecdotes as well as the stories of Latinas across the nation whom she interviewed.
While nueva Latinas are moving out of their parents' homes to pursue careers or live with boyfriends--instead of getting married and buying a house nearby, as is often expected--they also stretch the umbilical cord rather than severing it, calling and visiting home often and helping out their parents economically.
As a nueva Latina, Guzman explains she feels a closer kinship to a Mexican American who grew up in San Antonio than to a Puerto Rican raised on her native island. Like Guzman, these Latinas grew up in American schools, watching American television and struggling internally with stifling old-country traditions. Along the way, these kinds of bicultural children created a new language--Spanglish--and a new culture with old and new rhythms while battling racism, discrimination, invisibility and exploitation.