DiversifYA: Cindy L. Rodriguez

CindyOne of the members of the *amazing* Latin@s in Kidlit, I’m absolutely delighted to have Cindy L. Rodriguez here at DiversifYA! Hi! Cindy is the author of WHEN REASON BREAKS, a young adult novel that will be published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA (2/10/2015). She teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Follow her on Twitter.

1. How do you identify yourself?

I am Latina on both sides (Puerto Rican and Brazilian). I am also a single mom, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, friend, teacher, and writer. I am a liberal-minded, middle-class, cisgendered, heterosexual, recovering Catholic who is spiritual but not religious. I am a person who monitors, manages, and at times beats down or is beat down by asthma and severe allergies to weird things like cold, which is hard when one lives in New England, chronic back pain, and depression.

2. What did it feel like growing up being Latina?

Growing up Latina, my life has been filled with joy, love, great music, even better food, and warm generosity from people whose hearts are so big it’s hard to understand sometimes. Still, some awkward moments stand out over the years, but they have only helped to develop pride and purpose in my life.

When I first went to school, I came home and asked my mom, “What am I?” Her response was, “You’re human.” I pressed the issue. “I know, but kids are asking me where I’m from.” My mom said: “You were born in Chicago. You’re American.” I kept going: “I know, but they mean like where you and dad are from. What am I?”

I had never heard the terms Hispanic, Latina, or any cultural slurs, even though I had heard Spanish and Portuguese in the house and was surrounded by friends of all cultures. We didn’t label ourselves in my house and we didn’t talk about it much, which was good and bad. Later, I realized that, at the time, speaking anything other than English wasn’t cool or considered a benefit in the workplace. My mom didn’t know a word of English when she moved to this country, which was a source of frustration and embarrassment for her.

Flash forward to freshman year in high school. I was a new kid in a new town in New England, after my family moved from Chicago. While scanning the cafeteria tables, a Mexican girl walked up to me and said, “You’re Hispanic, right? Come on, you can sit with us.” And we went to the one table in the cafeteria filled with black and Hispanic students. Wow.

Over the years, these incidents have actually contributed to my personality in positive ways. To counteract my mother’s experience, I am never embarrassed about who I am. And to push back against the racial divides that unfortunately continue in our country, I never limit myself because of who I am. I have friends of all kinds and I pursue goals that are difficult and seem almost impossible, like publishing a book :.)

So, what am I? Latina.

You’re Hispanic, right? Absolutely!

But my mom’s first response to the kindergarten me resonates, too.

I’m human.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

Through high school, college, and afterward, I was acutely aware of the negative statistics related to Latinos and the explosive opinions about affirmative action related to college acceptance and hiring. Because of this, I pushed myself to excel in academics and later as a professional. Part of it is because I can’t help myself. I am a rabid overachiever by nature. Part of it, though, is also because I never want anyone to ever say I got into college or a particular job *because* I am Latina. I’m not naive. I know that any place I land can check off two boxes when reporting their statistics to the powers that be: I am a woman. Check. I am Latina. Check. But I have worked hard my whole life to be damn good at what I do to avoid any perception as to why I was chosen. For many Latinos, this is remains an ongoing challenge–the need to prove ourselves so we’re not seen as being handed things through life. The thing is, I like a challenge. Bring it. :.)

The perks have to do with access. With a Puerto Rican father and Brazilian mother, I have access to two Latin cultures that are deep and rich. I have access to two languages other than English, and while I’m not 100% fluent, I know enough to travel and further explore my personal heritage and these beautiful places. With the adoption of my daughter, who is from Guatemala, my family has added access to another Latin country. As a teacher, I can sometimes break through to a Hispanic student quickly because we have a cultural connection. Believe me, this is a huge perk, especially when you’re facing a young person who feels defeated.

4. What do you wish people knew about being Latina?

There are no real secrets I can reveal. Lol.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen? What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

The most common stereotypes are the gardener, the gang banger, and the maid. We also have the macho guy and the submissive woman, or conversely, the loud, flashy woman who wags her finger and screams in broken English. Here’s the thing: Do Hispanic gardeners, gang bangers, and maids exist? Yes. BUT, should these be the only ways we’re portrayed? No. While people within any culture share common ground, we are diverse. This seems obvious, but it’s worth stating. I am one Latina with a certain set of experiences. My Latina neighbor down the street can have a vastly different set of experiences. We are rich, middle class, and poor. We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We are heterosexual and we are LGBTQ. We have physical, mental, and emotional challenges. We are teachers, lawyers, doctors, scientists, inventors–you name it. Try out one of these realities in your manuscript. And if you do create a macho Latino because it’s important to the story, then, as a reader, I want him to have depth. I want to know why he’s that way and I want to see if anything happens to change him. If you do create a Latina with a temper, I want to know what sparks her anger. And I want to see other sides of her. Make your characters three dimensional. If he or she shows up just to be the cute gardener or the macho jerk or the loud chica, then I’d encourage you to really think about that and then hit the delete key and revise.

As mentioned, Cindy is involved in the wonderful Latin@s in Kidlit, whose mission it is to engage with works about, for, and/or by Latin@s; offer a broad forum on Latin@ children’s, MG, and YA books; promote literacy and the love of books within the Latin@ community; examine the historical and contemporary state of Latin@ characters; encourage interest in Latin@ children’s, MG, and YA literature among non-Latin@ readers; share perspectives and resources that can be of use to writers, authors, illustrators, librarians, parents, teachers, scholars, and other stakeholders in literacy and publishing. If you haven’t checked them out yet, do so now!

One Response to DiversifYA: Cindy L. Rodriguez

  1. It was a pleasure to get to know more about Cindy L. Rodriguez. Guatemala plays a major role in my Mexican novel, so it was nice to read about Cindy’s daughter. She might want to play to her the great song from Guatemala, “Fuiste Tu” by Ricardo Arjona featuring Gaby Moreno. Best wishes to her with her upcoming YA fiction.