A Latina's manifesto 'For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts'

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Latina author Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez is familiar with low expectations, the judgment of strangers and colorism — even among her own community.

A Latina's manifesto 'For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts'
© Provided by NBC News

In fifth grade, fellow Latino classmates mocked her dark skin, calling her “India” in a reference to Indigenous people. She recalls her high school counselor discouraging her from taking advanced classes.

As a graduate student, she was rejected from the campus writing center because of poor English skills — and then turned away from the English as a Second Language (ESL) center because her English skills were too advanced. A cashier at a store once casually asked if she had ever shot anyone.

Now Mojica Rodríguez is out with a book, “For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts,” that breaks down the experiences that have shaped her life. Subtitled, “A Love Letter To Women of Color,” the book examines how powerful forces can affect women like her — and explains what readers can do about it.

“My goal was to democratize knowledge,” said Mojica Rodríguez, 36, the founder of Latina Rebels, an online platform with more than 350,000 followers. “I wanted to share what I learned at college and graduate school with everyone; this information shouldn’t be so inaccessible, so women of color can see what we are up against in our daily lives.”

A Latina's manifesto 'For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts'
© Seal Press Seal Press

“For Brown Girls” is part memoir, part manifesto. Publishers Weekly called it “an inspiring and well-informed call to action.”

Mojica Rodríguez hopes that her book will help Latinas thrive in spaces that were not designed for them.

Born in Nicaragua and raised in Miami in an Evangelical Christian household, she holds a master’s degree in divinity from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. “Access to information changed my life,” she said. “For years, I was so angry, and I didn’t know where it was coming from. Once I figured it out, I moved through the world with a lot more grace.”

Challenging “meritocracy,” calling out colorism

In her book, Mojica Rodríguez writes that meritocracy is a myth (“Some of the hardest-working people I know were born poor and will die poor”), as is objectivity (a term “used by people in power, people who are usually white, to give them authority over topics they have only ever read about.”)

Mojica Rodríguez does not shy away from calling out the Latino community for what she sees as rampant colorism, the preference for lighter skin over darker tones. Her own mother often told her to stay out of the sun as a child, once warning her, “te estás poniendo negra” (you are turning black).

“We somehow have allowed ourselves not only to internalize racism,” she writes, “but to become Brown white supremacists.”

“Love the uncomfortable conversations”

Reclaiming her identity has led Mojica Rodríguez to make difficult choices. She was invited to the Obama White House in 2016, but declined to go because she felt it would make her complicit in the administration’s record number of deportations. She is unbothered by how she is perceived by others and is not concerned if she comes across as angry.

“I actually love the uncomfortable conversations. I am ready for those comments,” she said. “I am okay with being labeled with negative criticism, because I am prepared.” Anger, she said, has often been a creative catalyst for her work.

Several of the themes that Mojica Rodríguez explores — such as institutional racism and decolonization — can be viewed as part of critical race theory. This area of study, which has become a flashpoint among conservative lawmakers, explores how racism is embedded in American laws and institutions.

“I need to do this kind of work, democratizing knowledge as widely as I can,” Mojica Rodríguez said. She plans to continue her writing and activism, and is already working on a children’s book, a cookbook, and an anthology.

“I’ve hit the ground running,” Mojica Rodríguez said. “Someone let me in these doors of inaccessibility, and I hope I’m going the change the game.”

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