In her recently released ¡Ándale, Prieta!, Mexican-American author Yasmín Ramírez shares a moving ode to her childhood in El Paso, Texas, growing up a “prieta.” This debut memoir is a love letter to Yasmín’s family, her grandmother, and to women everywhere who have felt silenced, pained, or alone. Sofía Aguilar and Yasmín Ramírez hopped on Zoom to discuss ¡Ándale, Prieta!, Yasmín’s unique writing process, and her advice for other Latina writers.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: How did you discover that writing was your calling?
YASMÍN RAMÍREZ: I’ve always written. I always had a journal and a dog-eared notebook that I would carry around. I liked writing. It made me happy. But I was initially shy to share any of my work with anyone. I never thought, “I’m going to be a writer.” It wasn’t until after my grandma Ita’s death that I had an existential crisis and just decided to bite the bullet and try it. And now I’m here and it’s the most incredible feeling.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Before writing ¡Ándale, Prieta!, you wrote and published shorter pieces in literary journals. How did you approach writing a longer project like this?
YASMÍN RAMÍREZ: The first part of the book was easier for me to [because I could] pick these threads of really strong memories. The second part was a little bit more difficult because it required a lot of self-reflection, which wasn’t always fun. I had to think of the important moments and highlights going back, see what about that memory is so important to me, and pick it out, ensuring that there’s a little subtext in each one. It’s like a movie. They don’t ever show people brushing their teeth unless it’s important. I wanted to make sure that the memories I picked out [all had an] undercurrent that I could link altogether.
At the time, I didn’t know how seeing her mastectomy scar every day, seeing other women at different levels of healing, was going to come to play later in my life.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: One of my favorite chapters in the memoir is where you describe all the scars on your Ita’s body. Given that conversations about women’s bodies are incredibly charged in Latinx culture, what were you hoping to say about how we see them?
YASMÍN RAMÍREZ: I grew up in an all-women household. When you have one bathroom, it was very common for me to go pee while my grandma was taking a bath. Or I would be bathing and then she’d be like, “I’ll have to go to the bathroom,” and just go. As I was writing the memoir, I thought of that intimacy. I would often see my grandma nude, my mom, that’s the way it was. When I was thinking about my grandma’s life, I was thinking about her body and how so much of her life was literally marked on her body with all of the scars she had. At first, I just started documenting how many scars she had. And then I was like, “Wait, there’s a lot. She had a lot of scars.” So I interviewed my mom and my sister, trying to chronicle the story of her life through the scars. Then I started thinking just about women’s bodies in general, because at the time, I didn’t know how seeing her mastectomy scar every day, seeing other women at different levels of healing, was going to come to play later in my life. I was trying to show how we underestimate women’s strength [as it] is carried in their bodies and how much they have to deal with.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: Would you say this book is a love letter to women?
YASMÍN RAMÍREZ: In a way it is, I’m noticing more and more. I don’t write with a theme, I was just trying to share my life and honor my family and my Ita, and then it became larger than that. I wanted to honor the story but I had to put all of my heart into it or else it was going to ring false and untrue. Now I’m getting these texts from women on social media telling me things like, “Oh my God, I felt like this.” I’ve gotten things about being prieta and negra or feeling like an afterthought. This weekend, I got a message that said, “I felt like this book is about me.” It’s really hitting me hard. It makes me sad that there are so many women out there that feel like I felt. It’s hard. I don’t even know how to respond. I’m speechless because it’s so beautiful.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What has been something that you’ve learned throughout this process that you didn’t know before?
YASMÍN RAMÍREZ: How vital having an editor is! There were several times that I thought the book was done and then it wasn’t. When I worked with an editor, they were like, “What happened here? And why is this here? And you have this big gap of time that’s missing.” They also pushed me to dig a little bit deeper into my father, things I was hesitant to look at. I didn’t want to give him the space in my life and my book but then I realized I had to write about it. The editor being able to point out gaps was what I found the most helpful. So editing for sure.
It makes me sad that there are so many women out there that feel like I felt. It’s hard. I don’t even know how to respond. I’m speechless because it’s so beautiful.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What project are you working on right now?
YASMÍN RAMÍREZ: It’s about a girl growing up in El Paso. She wants to be a rock star and her name is Lola Coca-Cola. I don’t know whether it’s going to be YA or adult fiction. There’s plenty of adult fiction that goes into childhood but I’m playing a lot with music even though I have no musical talent. I’m playing with this idea that each chapter I’m creating is the soundtrack to her life. Each chapter is a song that influenced her in some way, shape, or form. I’m having a lot of fun with that. I do a lot of research whenever I write so I interviewed some women who are leads in a band. I watched a lot of documentaries on female-driven music. Now I’m about halfway through the manuscript and hoping to finish it this summer.
SOFÍA AGUILAR: What advice would you give to other Latina writers?
YASMÍN RAMÍREZ: There are two things I would say. One, there’s a myth in writing that someone inspires us or that we need a muse so everything flows. I wish that myth would disappear because it makes a lot of writers think if they sit down and start to struggle, it’s not for them. Writing is struggling, it’s probably one of the hardest things to do because it’s very solitary. It requires you to sit at a laptop or write by hand. You’re living in your head for extended periods of time. There is no muse. It’s work.
But the most important thing that any Latina writer can do is make sure they value their own story. A lot of the time we look out at what we’ve [already] read – [this leads us to] undervalue our stories because we don’t see them represented. Instead of trying to emulate the whiter voices you’ve read, sometimes you have to look in, and that’s where you see a lot of beauty in our life, our culture, our stories, and our upbringing. So I would say focus there.