Book Review: Once I Was You by Maria Hinojosa

Now, this ain’t yo average book review, if you want the synopsis, click here to take a look and even purchase from the Las Doctoras Bookshop

Saint Lunita Libreria gets real and in-depth with the stories we read. We explore the nuance in the stories and what it means for us as individuals, the world, and how we show up in dismantling oppressive systems. We aim to connect with and understand the story and the person behind the story. We approach a book with curiosity and 

What would the world be like if we saw ourselves in others? How would the narrative told in our history books change? How would the narratives we tell ourselves change? Is this a part of decolonizing? How am I looking at others? How am I looking at myself?

Las Doctoras Book Club spent the final season of 2020 reading Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America by Maria Hinojosa

  • Things we loved: 
    • Maria’s vulnerable and authentic exploration of her identity as a woman, Latina, madre, and as a journalist was raw and real. 
    • The power of community as shown by the powerful friendships and sisterhoods she built that were a part of her growth.
    • Breaking down of cultural gender roles and norms in a relationship dynamic.
    • Ownership of the duality- one can be strong and sensual, driven and loving; committed and free.
    • The book reads as a memoir and history lesson all at once. Maria tells her story while sharing how she pioneered the journalism industry as a Latina and sharing real history from the perspective they forgot to teach us. Move over, Howard Zinn!
    • Calling it like it is- Maria doesn’t shy away from the real. She tells it like it is and brings on the emotion as needed.
    • Maria owning her sexuality and directly talking about it, unafraid of professional peers reading about her history of reclamation.
  • Excerpts that struck a chord: 
    • “I had to stop fighting against everyone and every institution. I had to change the way I was fighting. Needing constant validation from the men and institutions around me in order to feel enough was tiring. I never felt good enough, always like an imposter. I got to go through hell to get to the other side…But I claimed my power and took it back.” (pg. 287)
    • “This story wasn’t going away. The story of immigration, I was horrified and convinced, was going to be the story of my career, of my lifetime. The situation wasn’t getting better with every year that passed. It was getting sickengly worse…I was seeing the beginnings of concentration camps in the US. My obsession, my nightmare was coming true.” (pg. 269)
  • Major Reflections: 
    • We all want to be seen. 
    • We need change. 
  • One thing we wish we would have seen: 
    • Maria recognizing and calling out her privilege- The title and much of the story was about the immigrant experience. However, Maria’s immigrant experience wasn’t like many of the individuals and groups she wrote about. She entered the U.S. with a Visa through her father, a highly respected academic. We do recognize the experience had it’s negative impacts and traumas- she may have been separated from her mother had her mother not been steadfast and confident. Yet, it was still drastically different from those who entered and lived undocumented and the fear that came with it. Acknowledgement of this in the story would state clearly, “I see you, I resonate and I see how much different your experience was than mine.” This recognition is important in the work of dismantling how we may even oppress our own people. 

This leads to the reminder that this ultimately is a memoir and tells an individual story. Her story needs to be told, yet it’s not the only one. It doesn’t represent all immigrant stories. Maria’s story was like a gulp of water after being thirsty, we drank it, savored it and it’s still not enough. We need more of it.

  • Trigger Warnings:
    • Sexual Abuse
    • Deportation
  • Overall, should you read it?
    • Hell yeah!

We need the publishing industry to tell more of these stories (shout out to Chingona Norma of Fabian Flores Publishing for doing this work). And not just be performative with a few authors, but to give true voice and space to those who belong here…to those whose stories we need to hear in order to understand, dismantle, decolonize and heal. 

¡Deseando que leas para llenar el alma!

Your Bookish Homegirl,

Selisa Loeza

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