Las Niñas: A Collection of Childhood Memories By Sarah Rafael Garcia

I finished reading Las Niñas: A Collection of Childhood Memories by Sarah Rafael Garcia the night before heading out on a short trip to El Paso, Texas, where I would visit my father and tias (aunts). Out of all my unfinished books, I'm glad this is the one I chose. It was the perfect read to get me in the mood for visiting family.

In Las Niñas, Sarah recounts touching girlhood memories shared with her family of three sisters (las niñas), their proud parents, and extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles, and an unconventional abuela (grandma).  Life wasn't all roses for Sarah, especially after her father passed away when she was only 13. Nevertheless, in her memoir, Sarah focuses on what matters most, the life lessons her parents taught her while growing up, and the simple yet beautiful memories they created as a young Mexican-American family with aspiring dreams. The Garcia family's vision of the future is best summed up in a letter Sarah's father, Rafael, wrote to his daughter, "each generation is given more opportunities, and therefore should make an attempt to accomplish ten times more than the last."

We don't get to see our Mexican culture in books or in the big screen that often. And, when we do, it’s sometimes not very positive or uplifting either (America Me or Maria Full of Grace). You come away from the book feeling inspired to look for more of the good in your own childhood memories. 

Sarah’s words were with me when I embraced my tia and smiled after she grumpily remarked, “I thought you were a lot taller!” “Para que vea que somos de la misma raíz.” (So you can see we are from the same root.) I joked back to her. And Sarah’s stories were with me when I asked my tias for more details on a childhood memory I have of my mother’s brothers and sisters singing to my grandmother around the dinner table with their loud beautiful voices. I recall neither the occasion nor the songs, but I remember being awed by the way they threw their bellows and raised their chins to signal to the others to continue with the ranchera (traditional Mexican music) and as they took turns. My grandmother would smile and raise her eyebrows in delight as she sat and watched from her wheelchair.  The voice they inherited was a gift from my grandfather. Not having grown up in Texas, I wondered if all their family get togethers were like this. “That is what you remember?” my tia told me after a long pause and serious stare like the kind that is accompanied after a long exhale of a cigarette, as if I had brought up something horrific. I smiled and nodded, “Yes, tia, that is what I choose to remember.”

I would recommend this book to any and every Latina. It is a celebration of girlhood, fathers who love their children, family and culture. It is also a fine example of how we, as parents, should be raising our children to embrace other cultures. Two thumbs way up Sarah Rafael Garcia.


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