Empowering Young Girls Through Books Written by Mujeres Poderosas

“And when people see their own life experiences reflected in a book, it can be both cathartic and inspiring.”

I was in 6th grade when I read what would become one of my all-time favorite books: The House on Mango Street written by the powerful Chicana author, Sandra Cisneros. Back then, I was not much of a reader but there was something about The House on Mango Street that caught my attention. As a class, we dissected every vignette making connections to our own lives and finding similarities in our own narratives. At home, I continued my own analysis of the book. The more I read into each word, the more I connected to the main character in the book, Esperanza. I realized that I too wanted my own space. I too questioned my name. I too wanted to find esperanza (hope) in the world; even though I was only eleven years old, I too, understood, that I did not want to be the woman sitting by the window waiting for a man, or anyone for that matter, to save me nor complete me. At that age, I was too young to realize this book was helping mold my own identity. I was aloof at the impact it would have on my outlook on life. I wanted to be fearless like Esperanza, and I wanted to one day have a story of my own to write a book about.

While Sandra Cisneros was my first introduction to a novel to which I could truly relate too, it was as a young adult that I came to truly recognize the power of a book and relatability. I was a recent college graduate and while I had majored in English and taken multiple courses on Chicano literature, I had not yet found a book that truly spoke to me in the way that Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World did. I remember a friend recommending the book and bookmarking a passage that she felt would speak to me:

When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become–whether lawyer, scientist, artist, or leader in any realm–her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, ‘Yes, someone like me can do this.’”

Sotomayor’s memoir shared a little of everything that I needed at that time: inspiration, hope, self-help, motivation, and a reminder that I was not alone. As I read about her own failures, her heartbreaks and her journey, I found myself believing a little more in me and started  to create a path to be a role model. Her words made me realize how much other young girls needed me.

As a teacher, I shared my love for Sotomayor’s testament with every girl I mentored because I felt that perhaps they too could benefit from her experiences and realize their own potential to be all that they dreamt of being.

Fast forward to a few months ago, I decided to find a new book to read and ended up coming across a Handbook for an Unpredictable Life: How I Survived Sister Renata and My Crazy Mother and Still Came Out Smiling (with Great Hair) by Rosie Perez. While this was a tearjerker (I blame reading it while on a flight during a difficult time for me), I found a whole other source of empowerment in her words. An autobiography detailing a life of hardships and many challenges, Perez taught me what I had long been struggling to cope with: letting go of the past. She opened herself and allowed herself to be vulnerable as a means of helping us understand the importance of letting go of the past as a means of not allowing it to define our future. I consider myself a stronger woman today because of her narrative.

The truth is, I can share a snippet of every book that has empowered and inspired me to be a better woman and the one thing most of these books have in common is this: they were all written by Latina authors. While I have read one too many articles with recommendations of books every woman should read, one thing is always left out: young girls. Why aren’t we recommending these for our younger girls searching for someone to look up too as they struggle through identity crises? There is so much to learn from hardships, loss, trauma, and triumph and yet we often wait to expose our young girls. Imagine how much more our girls could aspire to if we empowered them early on?

I challenge you to start your own book club with the girls in your family, your class, your community or your own home. By empowering girls early on, we will actually be building stronger women for the future. Our young girls need to see themselves reflected in books; help me help them see their own power.

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Alma Renteria

Alma Renteria

Alma-Delia Renteria is a proud product of Lynwood schools. After graduating UC Riverside, with a B.A. in English and a year earlier than anticipated, she decided to commit her “gap year” to City Year. After City Year Los Angeles, Alma went on to purse a teaching career with Teach For America Los Angeles. Upon joining TFA, Alma began her education career as a middle school teacher. It was while teaching that she realized the need to do her part to help serve the community she grew up in and decided to run for office, getting elected to the Lynwood School Board at only 23 years old. Alma completed her first Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University and a 2nd Masters in Educational Leadership along with her Admin Credential at Concordia University. She was appointed by the Speaker to the Instructional Quality Commission and re-elected to the Lynwood School Board in 2018. She currently serves as the Principal at a local elementary school in Pico Rivera, where she hopes to demonstrate that magic is possible when thee right people are given opportunities to lead.

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