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  • Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself: Latina Girls and Sexual Identity by Lorena Garcia
  • Jenna Vinson (bio)
Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself: Latina Girls and Sexual Identity Lorena Garcia NYU Press, 2012. 219 pp. ISBN 9780814733172. $24.00

Sociologist Lorena Garcia's transdisciplinary book, Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself: Latina Girls and Sexuality, considers the ways in which Latina youth gain sexual literacy in cultural and community contexts that construct youth sexuality, particularly Latina/o youth sexuality, as risky, crisis-inducing behavior. Through intersectional analysis of interviews with self-identified sexually active Latina young women and their mothers, Garcia moves us beyond pathologizing stereotypes of Latinas and Latina/o culture to a broader understanding of Latina sexuality—one that makes young Latinas legible to readers as youth who are making meaning of their sexual practices and choices as well as their lives.

In this book, Garcia draws attention to the fact that we often want young people to "practice safe sex," but we do not often consider the challenges and constraints that they (particularly young women) must negotiate to do so. In response, Garcia presents findings from participant observations and two years of in-depth interviews with 40 second-generation Mexican and Puerto Rican young women, as well as 18 mothers, living in working-class areas of Chicago. Garcia finds that Latina girls value safe sex as a practice that leads to sexual respectability and a brighter future, but they face many challenges to practicing safe sex, such as family restrictions on time outside of the home and sex education classes that reinforce racial and gender stereotypes rather than teach safe sex practices. Applying an intersectional framework that refuses to generalize about "Latina/o culture," Garcia's analysis engenders insights not only into how young Latinas understand their sexuality, but also into what shapes that understanding: their mother's messages, cultural discourses about race, gender, class, and age, and structural constraints. She approaches mothers and daughters as cultural actors making conflicted choices that, at once, resist certain stereotypes and power relations and, at the same time, support gendered and sexualized hierarchies.

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The book is organized into six chapters, each opening with engaging vignettes that reflect Garcia's observations in the community. In chapter one, aptly titled "Studying the 'Other' Girls," Garcia outlines the purpose of the book: to challenge one-dimensional views of young Latinas as always only "at risk" for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, or as part of a "crisis" of unprotected, promiscuous youth. Garcia shifts attention from youth sexuality as a "problem" (which, she argues, also tends to focus on the actions of girls, particularly women of color) toward considerations of how young Latinas understand and practice safe sex and sexual pleasure. Drawing on feminist, race/ethnic, and queer studies, as well as scholarship from sociology and history, Garcia articulates an intersectional theoretical framework that considers "intersecting or interlocking relationships that link social formations such as race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, and age" (8). She then describes her ethnographic method, highlighting her efforts to acknowledge and value her participants' knowledges and needs. One particularly beautiful section of this chapter considers Garcia's insider/outsider role as a community researcher. Drawing on the work of Nancy Naples, Garcia considers how her position as a second-generation young Latina from the Chicago area shaped her interactions with her similarly positioned participants.

Chapters two and three consider the impact of the social institutions often charged with the responsibility of teaching young women about sexual health: family (read: mothers) and school. In chapter two, "'She's Old School Like That': Mother and Daughter Sex Talks," Garcia explores how first-generation Mexican and Puerto Rican mothers respond to the discovery of their daughters' sexual activity, and what daughters think about these responses. Garcia helps readers understand how mothers shape the sexual knowledge and experiences of Latina young women, while being careful not to homogenize Latinidad by consistently drawing attention to differences based on the daughters' sexual orientation and the family's ethnic background. Since racial and gendered scripts construct mothers as "good" or "bad" depending on their daughters' sexual behaviors and outcomes, Garcia argues...


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pp. 127-130
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