What We're Reading Now, Con't: Testimonios

Is it February already? This week, we finished Telling to Live, the collection by the Latina Feminist Group that we began earlier in January.*

The stories in Telling to Live are moving, living testimonies, and show diverse Latina experiences that are often underrepresented, both within literature in particular, and American society in general. The book’s introduction talks about how that lack of representation—stories by, for, and about Latina women—in some ways served as a catalyst for gathering the collection.

Part of the power of Telling to Live, the strength in the words, comes from the exploration, the elevation of these stories as a collective; the sheer volume of stories, so long silenced, carries weight and heft.

These testimonios range in form, and some remain close to the speaker, giving the reader insight into the unique experiences, for example, of Latina academics, several of whom share experiences of being deeply undervalued by the institutions to which they give years of scholarly dedication and teaching energy.

In other testimonios, like “Everyday Grace: Excerpt from a Diary” by Mirtha N. Quintanales, details about the speaker are unclear, but give vivid meditations on moments and excavate charged emotions. This is a collection asserting emphatically that the personal is political, whether that personal story is one from an academic or a working mother, whether it’s an essay about a systemic injustice, or just about how a person experienced an emotionally-charged moment.

In “Speaking Among Friends: Whose Empowerment, Whose Resistance?”, an essay about the author’s experience teaching at a Puerto Rican university, Luz del Alba Acevedo writes this:

“I hope that in politicizing my personal experience with institutional feminism, this testimonio (“the word that I want to proclaim”) become[s] the source (“the seed”) of empowerment for others enduring prejudice or isolation. . . .My goal is not to dilute my experience in a discussion of the merely personal but to bring the personal experience to the level of the political and ideological debate where the meaning and significance of the “other” get constructed.”

Del Alba Acevedo’s goal is the goal of the collection at large, and hones in on a compelling premise: marginalized groups, like Latinx women, are “Othered” (ie. made different, designated as ‘them’ in an “Us VS Them" way that privileges the ‘us’, and marginalizes, restricts, or otherwise pushes to the edges of society the ‘them’), and that a useful, inclusive way to erode that false dichotomy is to bring “Othered” personal experiences into discourses where those experiences have previously been silenced or underrepresented. In publishing these testimonios, these “words [they] want to proclaim” , the collective pushes these stories and experience into the public discourse, saying adamantly: these real experiences, by real people who have been marginalized, are the kinds of experiences that should inform how we—’we’ being literature, yes, but also society in general—can dismantle the Othering, the systemic injustice, and the silencing to create a more inclusive world.

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*After several weeks, we finally had to admit that we loved a few poems from Origami Bridges, but that overall it wasn’t calling to us, so we set it down to focus on the book we were more excited to pick up—we’re in the “no shame to stop reading if you aren’t feeling a book” camp! Are you a finish-reading-it-or-die kind of reader, or are you impulsive like us in your reading choices?