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Reviewed by:
  • Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education ed. by Jennifer De Leon
  • Ramón Guerra
Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education edited and with an introduction by Jennifer De Leon. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014. xiii + 223 pp. $25.00 paper.

Here is a collection of essays on Latinas portraying their stories of education. Jennifer De Leon begins with her own mother’s thoughts on the role of college and ends with an essay by Sandra Cisneros, illustrating Cisneros’s father’s convictions on the same subject. In the former, De Leon describes her mother’s trailblazing sense of empowered Latina womanhood, ultimately building toward this definition: “For me, when I hear the words wise Latina, I immediately think of my mother. She came to the United States at a young age, alone, speaking no English. Four years passed before she returned to Guatemala with platform shoes, a new hairstyle of pressed waves, and a black- and- white television as a gift for the family” (3). This sets the stage for the multitude of rebellions—some minor, some major—portrayed in the collection of essays. By the time you read Cisneros’s previously published “Only Daughter,” the frustration that her father portrays at her wasted schooling (“still no husband” [211]) has been represented in many of the essays in different forms and feels appropriately antiquated, albeit very real. The genesis of these women’s educational success stories is grounded in their reactive responses to their own parents’ experiences, either as pioneers or as cemented impediments.

All essays signify a continued dialogue with the historical-cultural portrayal of women laid out by Gloria Anzaldúa in her 1987 landmark Borderlands, where she maintained that for a woman in her culture “there used to be only three directions she could turn: to the Church as a nun, to the streets as a prostitute, or to the home as a mother” (39). In seeking to break this mold, signaled by the cultural shift that Anzaldúa and other Latinas recognized at the time, she went on to state, “Today some of us have a fourth choice: entering the world by way of education and career and becoming self- autonomous persons” (39). The testimonies in De Leon’s collection connect with this spirited battle cry— the wise Latina defines ambitious women and their negotiation of [End Page 121] obstacles based on nationality, race, ethnicity, and class in addition to gender and sexuality.

With the continued development of immigration from Latin American countries into all parts of the United States, including the Great Plains, the stratified experiences of Latinas in relationship to education and “prosperity” in the United States are constantly in flux. This fluidity also occurs within the borders of the United States as one essay’s author writes, “The academic life is nothing if not nomadic” (57). The sense is that the women comprised in these essays have, through various familial circumstances, met with this obstacle and carved out a path that understands the moments of loss that must be negotiated. The evidence is presented here through the power of testimonio (first-person stories of power) rather than data-driven research. The book is powerful and very balanced in its presentation, merging drama, humor, and a sharp sense of interpretation. At times there is a sense of having read about one father in a prior essay, or a first moment on campus in another, but ultimately this repetition proves to be a part of the collection’s effect: experiences like these are simultaneously individual and communal.

Ramón Guerra
Department of English
University of Nebraska at Omaha


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pp. 121-122
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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