Someday Mija, You’ll Learn the Difference Between a Whore and a Working Woman: A Memoir by Yvonne Martinez

Someday Mija, You’ll Learn the Difference Between a Whore and a Working Woman: A Memoir
by Yvonne Martinez

This is an intensely powerful memoir; Martinez’s life is a scar tissue of intergenerational wounds. Someday Mija, You’ll Learn the Difference Between a Whore and a Working Woman is a serious treatment of what the traumas of racial violence, poverty, and sexual exploitation can do to a child and a family, and how Yvonne was able to weave these histories — her own, her mother’s, her grandmother’s, her family’s and her community’s — into a lifetime of “doing better.” This is not a memoir to be undertaken lightly.

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage, September 15th to October 15th — but also, whenever and always!

Someday Mija, You’ll Learn the Difference Between a Whore and a Working Woman is divided into two halves, the first reads like a novel and documents Martinez’s experiences as a child and growing up in a dysfunctional family. The second half addresses Yvonne’s life afterward, as an adult and specifically as an activist in the service of her community, as an organizer, and educator.

The two halves are intertwined: it is Martinez’s experiences growing up in an abusive and violent home that shapes her ability to understand the traumas that envelop her community. This shared experience is one not easily addressed by public health programs or the simple piling on of more and more education. Oppressive systems stemming from cultures steeped in patriarchy, sexual violence, and colonization cannot be wiped away, even replaced that easily. These cultures exist within even larger systems of oppression.

In Martinez’s case, however, these experiences also spurred them to take on systemic racism, sexism, violence, and poverty as institutions to be dismantled. This is a case of an individual working from within, for one’s own community (and for all communities). Change must be internal as well as external for it to sustain; Martinez’s life is proof of that.

A profound and consuming memoir that is in equal parts disturbing, sad, and inspiring.

Kibogo by Scholastique Mukasonga

Kibogo by Scholastique Mukasonga

Kibogo reads like a gateway to a historical, colonial/postcolonial dreamscape. It reads like a fantastic reimagining of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, but on a mythical, quasi-spiritual platform in Rwanda. It is inspiring as a work of decolonization, heart-wrenching as a historical fiction, a lyrical maze as a work of literature.

Like Things Fall Apart, Mukasonga’s Kibogo hinges on the binary opposition between the colonizer and the colonized, the imposition of Christianity on native peoples, and the annihilation of indigenous beliefs. But while similar to this famous predecessor, it is also unique in its own right. Kibogo is a nuanced novel. The Colonizer is not necessarily European and this point is pronounced. Sometimes — perhaps more than we would have wanted — the colonizer is our native neighbor, one of our own. Fanon was an astute observer of colonial culture; too often the enemy is a more intimate partner, the one who resides within. Mukasonga also draws a perforated line between Christian and Indigenous Belief; the characters and their stories reveal a more accurate historical account of colonization by highlighting how a syncretization of beliefs and practices is likely to have taken place.

This syncretization of cultures, beliefs, practices, and ideas is the heart of Kibogo. The novel is about the gradual development of a colonial culture, not through outright conquest, but through insidious means. Magic is a key component, a driving force that propels the stories to their ends. Ritual is the means by which the magic is released, and this is not only native Rwandan magic, but also European Christian magic, the kind imbued in holy water and Christian prayer. This lends Kibogo a mystical quality. The novel unfolds as would a myth; it is a fable about the meeting of Christian and Animist in Rwandan history. The characters are heroes, heroines, archetypes, and the plot moves forward through human and divine interventions. Each of Kibogo‘s four parts focuses on a particular character, as each of their stories builds upon the last to produce at the end a full view of Rwanda’s religious, spiritual, and colonial landscape.

This is not to say the characters are hollow; no, on the contrary, they are recognizable across colonial histories. For that reason Kibogo is larger than its central focus on colonization in Rwanda. This is a story that is recognizable in other African, Asian, Caribbean, South American, Australian, Pacific Island, and colonial contexts. Kibogo is centered and set in Rwanda, but it is a work of post-colonial literature for the rest of the “formerly” colonized world as well.

In short, a very thought-provoking work wrapped in beautiful, literary prose that unwinds like a yarn told late at night to children gathered around their grandmother’s hearth.

Invisible Boy: A Memoir of Self Discovery by Harrison Mooney

Invisible Boy: A Memoir of Self Discovery
by Harrison Mooney

Holy not-so-micro-aggressions. Holy GASLIGHTING. Invisible Boy was incredibly difficult to read without weeping. Every time Harry’s mother or other family members gaslighted him I wanted to scoop him out of the pages of his past and take him far, far away to people who would love him as he is, for who he is, for what he is.

I cry for all the children, teenagers, people who are where he was right now.

For all its pain, I do not regret reading Invisible Boy… because the pain embedded in Harrison Mooney’s past is insidious, latently seething, and all too common still. Decolonization is an eternal task, its end is nowhere in sight. Memoirs and works like Invisible Boy remain relevant and necessary in our collective, societal process towards decolonization. Like Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, Mooney’s Invisible Boy is a call to action. It is a reminder that we still need a rebellion of the mind and soul.

Invisible Boy relates the path of Mooney’s awakening to his race and the ways in which racism hides behind a myth of colorlessness. It begins with his childhood and ends in his early adulthood. His memoir exposes to the reader how racism seethes in the most intimate places, in the places it should not exist — in this case, within a family. Families are supposed to be safe. They are supposed to be supportive, loving, nurturing. Invisible Boy tells a sad tale of how racism is the silent reaper within, turning the sanctuary of the family into an emotional, mental prison.

What makes Mooney’s Invisible Boy unique from other works like it (Sam Selvon’s Lonely Londoners, George Lamming’s novels, Franz Fanon’s memoirs and works, James Baldwin’s calls to action, among others) is Mooney’s attention to a community that is little attended to: adoptees of color with white adopted families. As in Mixed-Race Superman, Will Harris’ essay on the transcultural ways of being mixed race, Invisible Boy highlights a different kind of process of decolonization that confronts adoptees of color in white families and white communities that hold onto racist beliefs.

I do not know if I can re-read Invisible Boy for the sake of my own peace as a person of color who has grappled with my own decolonization; but, I am glad I read it at least once and I am privileged to have the ability to choose to only read it once. I am privileged to have been given a rare glimpse into another’s experience of racial awakening. I am privileged that my own decolonization was less traumatic. In truth, Invisible Boy is a book that demands re-reading and reading again. One day I will summon enough courage to read it again.