Author and Latina Rebels’ founder Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez’s debut, For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts: A Love Letter to Women of Color is the book I’ve been waiting for my whole life. What began as her love letter, almost a prayer, addressed to brown girls has become a 270-page book. It’s to, for, and about Latinas who have to navigate racism, sexism, and classism in all spaces, but particularly white-dominant ones.
From colorism to imposter syndrome, respectability politics to toxic masculinity, Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez shares her personal stories and experiences with la cultura. And she pulls from radical feminist texts largely authored by BIPOC activists. It’s all to honor the Black and Indigenous women who have come before her and in service of today’s brown girls.
Sofía Aguilar and Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez hopped on Zoom to discuss her forthcoming book, her experiences as a brown woman in academia and publishing, and how we can live every day as Latina rebels with intention and fearlessness.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: We’re very excited about your debut, For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts! How do you feel?
PRISCA DORCAS MOJICA RODRÍGUEZ: It’s exciting! It’s also nauseating. It feels like I’m about to stand up in front of the whole world raw, and that’s very scary. I submitted my final manuscript last September, so I’ve had a year to process what that looks like and still, I don’t feel prepared. So we’ll see how it goes.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How would you describe the book to a potential reader?
PRISCA DORCAS MOJICA RODRÍGUEZ: It’s just really good chisme that hopefully explains a lot of really heavy concepts.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: I want to delve a little into the book’s title. Where did the inspiration come from and what does it mean to you?
PRISCA DORCAS MOJICA RODRÍGUEZ: So I read this book in 2012 or 2013, The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor. This is a Black woman who writes about Black women’s experiences. I was radicalized in a lot of ways through Black women, Black scholars, Black thinkers. And it’s a novel but she has a line, and when I read this line, I was like, “This is it!” She says, “They were hard-edged, soft-centered, brutally demanding, and easily pleased.” And I was just like, “I know those women! That’s it, I’m there!” So that was one of the [title] suggestions I sent because, going forward, after I read this book, I moved through the world as somebody who understood that this is who I was. And I wrote it like that and I’ve existed through the world like that, so it was an homage to Gloria Naylor and the ways I’ve been shaped by Black women.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: You mentioned in the acknowledgments that you purposefully sought out an editor who understood how to edit an author who learned English as a second language. Can you talk a little more about how you found and chose your editor?
PRISCA DORCAS MOJICA RODRÍGUEZ: So when your book goes out, your agent sends it out to all his contacts that he has coffee with casually all the time. When they read it and if they like it, they reply to your agent and say, “I wanna set up a meeting with this person.” I had about seven meetings on the phone but there is no roadmap. So in the beginning, I froze. I didn’t know what to ask and every time I asked for guidance, my agent was just like, “Be yourself.”
But after two meetings, I started asking really intense questions. I know I’ve been told I can’t write. I have a syntax problem (even though I’ve written in English since first grade) because Spanish is my first language and we order our words differently. So I was like, “I don’t wanna feel shamed in this writing process that is supposed to be beautiful and enjoyable and good for me. What do you do with a writer like me? Have you ever worked with a writer whose English is a second language?”
A lot of people bypassed the question. One editor gave me a response that I hated. He was the only man that reached out and he said, “We can work with that. We can send you some resources and some books.” But the editor I picked, Emi Ikkanda, is a Japanese-American, her grandma’s an immigrant. And she was like, “Oh, I understand, my grandma had to learn English. I get the struggle, I sympathize with it, and I will pick up the slack. And I work with a lot of comedians whose performances are verbal, they’re just saying their bits and I have to translate what they do into writing.” Which is what I do. I write like I speak. I’m very intentional that how I write is like a sermon. There’s a lot of cadence to it, a lot of storytelling. With those two things, I was like, “This is my person. AND she’s not white. I think I want you forever.”
SOFÍA AGUILAR: A recurrent theme in your book is the idea of your war paint and armor to take ownership of yourself and your body. For you, it’s your winged eyeliner, outlined lips, mini skirt, and crop top. What advice would you give to brown girls who want to build their own war paint and armor?
PRISCA DORCAS MOJICA RODRÍGUEZ: A lot of us have it. Hoops, Black hairstyles, cornrows—not only culturally relevant but also war paint and armor. There are ways that you adorn yourself to be representative of your community that might make you lose social capital in white spaces but then, fuck those spaces. Latinas, we’ve got our hoops, the red lip. I got my first pair of golden hoops little. It’s a rite of passage. We’re already doing it so just turn the volume up a little more. Everything you need is already within us.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Overall, what do you hope brown girls would take away from the book?
PRISCA DORCAS MOJICA RODRÍGUEZ: Whatever they need. I don’t think everyone’s on the same place so everyone won’t be like, “Fuck the patriarchy! I’m gonna leave my husband!” I’ve lived through a lot of extreme experiences. I’ve gotten divorced, I’ve abandoned my Christian background, I’ve had two abortions. I’ve made very real decisions to become the person I am today but I’ve risked a lot and lost a lot along the way. So that’s why I say in my intro, do whatever you feel like you can do. Nobody should be pressuring you to be anything but what you want to be. And if you read this book in ten years and you’re like, “Shit, I need to do something else!” then do that when you’re ready. But also do things that do make you uncomfortable, often, to push yourself.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Outside of writing, you also founded Latina Rebels in 2013, a community-centered IG account that seeks to unveil the complexities of Latinidad with memes, activism, and calls to action, as well as uplift Latinas in every industry. What was your original goal when creating the platform and how has it changed since, if at all?
PRISCA DORCAS MOJICA RODRÍGUEZ: The goal has always been a mixture of things. I’m a Gemini moon so at my core, I have a lot of personality. There’s never just one reason for me to do something, there’s a million. When I started LR, I saw Latino Rebels and I was just like, “I could do better.” And Julio, the founder of Latino Rebels, has been a mentor, sometimes even an online dad to me. There was also the idea that Spanish is such a gendered language that I hated that “Latino” meant all of us. I also wanted to find my people.
I was so lonely and I just wanted to find community. Instagram pages weren’t a thing so it was one of the first big Latina-centric pages. I was learning a lot in my graduate program and I knew that there had to be a way to transmit that information to people. People like mi mami or my sisters were never gonna get into a Vanderbilt Divinity school and read everything that I read. So how do I make all this stuff that I’m learning digestible to people living normal lives who might not have access to this level of education?
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What does being a Latina rebel mean to you?
PRISCA DORCAS MOJICA RODRÍGUEZ: It means being who the book is for, the difficult daughters. You know if you’re a Latina rebel. You’re the one your family’s always rolling their eyes at when you start speaking up. You’re the friend in the group chat who people call the annoying one. You’re willing to say what nobody wants to say because everyone else is just so worried about being nice and liked because that’s what women are supposed to be. The people who say “Fuck that,” I’m like, “That’s a Latina Rebel.” It’s my favorite pastime to go to events with or be in a classroom with. I just spot the rebels because they’re just a little louder, they laugh a little too long, they show up in bigger ways.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Moving forward, do you have plans or hopes to write and publish more projects in the future? Are there other genres you’re looking to explore?
PRISCA DORCAS MOJICA RODRÍGUEZ: I’m working on my next three books. I’m about to sell my next one, and it’s kind of a continuation of this. I have the next 30 days to finish a graphic novel. I’m selling it completed, so when it’s sold, it’s published that year instead of in two years. And I’m working on an anthology with some friends but won’t be starting that until December. It’s been a year since I turned in my manuscript so I have all these things inside of me ready to just burst. I’m so determined with this mission of mine to make this stuff accessible that I will write, I’ll do a graphic novel, a children’s book. I will venture into Christian literature if I have to, just to say the same thing and repackage it so that as many people can have access to this information.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Coming from the background of not being encouraged to learn and being dismissed in white spaces, what is the most rewarding part of having writing and research be part of your career now?
PRISCA DORCAS MOJICA RODRÍGUEZ: Everything! I’m living the unimaginable dream. The dream I never dared to dream. My ancestors couldn’t have dreamt this for me. My parents couldn’t have dreamt this for me. So now, I’m a yes-person. Everybody reaches out and asks for something and I’m like, “Yes!” It’s made me re-evaluate my relationship to acceptance and support and affirmation. I’ve done a lot of therapy talk around resistance to it and how to heal because I want to enjoy it.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What is a question you wished more people asked you about yourself?
PRISCA DORCAS MOJICA RODRÍGUEZ: “Why now?” There’s ways in Latinxs’ success stories where a lot of white or white-passing Latinxs have gone the distance. Like Rory Gilmore, her actress is Argentinian. Or Kat Von D. There’s a bunch of white Latinas that no one thinks are Latina and I would like to think of them as trailblazers but they weren’t. They may have created more obstacles for us instead of opened more doors. I think we need to talk about that more. That question would lead to that kind of conversation.
Pre-order For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts: A Love Letter to Women of Color and follow Prisca on Instagram and Twitter.