My FAV Girl Power books

I love a good female centric book and lately I’ve read SO many good ones.  The books on this list focus on books that I feel like empower girls and women that not only give you the warm and fuzzies, but also have nuance and depth beyond the go-get-em spirit.  This is definitely a short list and there are SO many other amazing feminist books that this list just grazes the surface.  This is just a list of a few that I’ve read recently and are some of my favorites.

 

Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware The Kitten Holy
by Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters

I couldn’t leave Lumberjanes out of this list.  It’s a graphic novel that I think all young people should read, especially young girls.  It’s the classic story about a group of girl friends who spend their summer at camp, fighting supernatural three-eyed foxes and uncover mysteries around the camp. It’s a really bad ass group of girls who do everything in the name of friendship.  The group is diverse, the characters are fun, smart and flawed. There’s a lot of representation in this series without it being forced. It’s everything you want for your teenage girl without sacrificing the fun and story line. It’s absolutely beautiful and I think everyone should give it a go.

Bad Feminist: Essays
by Roxane Gay

I have two books on this list by Roxane Gay for a really good reason.  She’s so real, funny and insightful.  I guess Bad Feminist was my first book I bought specifically when I started searching for books on feminism.  Bad Feminist is a collection of essays Gay writes exploring her personal experiences, pop culture, intersectionality, what being a woman has meant to her, sexual violence  and a lot of other topics. She talks about what the current state of feminism is to her.  It’s very insightful for anyone just learning about feminism and why some people find that word leaving a bad taste in their mouths.  I love pop culture, so some of my favorite essays were commentary on Twilight and 50 shades of  Grey.  If you’re into that kind of thing, I would recommend this collection of essays.  One thing I constantly try to do is diversify my reading materials. That includes reading authors who have very different life experiences than I’ve had or authors I’ve read from in the past.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a black woman with Haitian decent, so I wanted to read more from her.

 

An Untamed State
by Roxane Gay

That being said, I picked up An Untamed State.  Where Bad Feminist was more of a collection of thoughts, collected together in one place, An Untamed State will definitely appeal to you if you don’t like essays or if you just like reading novels instead.  The story focuses on a woman named Mireille who was born in the US to immigrant Haitian parents.  In the first few pages of the book, she is kidnapped while she is in Haiti and tells the story of her kidnapping and flashes back to her childhood and the rest of her life.  This was absolutely gripping and it was the kind of book that I stayed up until 2 am to finish.  I definitely will warn you that it is graphic and has some really terrible violence.  I cried buckets and it definitely left me with so much heaviness in my heart.   A lot of people will sum of this story as a tale of a woman and her kidnapping but it’s so much more than that.  It’s a story about resiliency.  It tells a lot about a slice of Haiti and the United States.  It’s a story about family.  It’s about how women need each other.  It’s a hard book to read but if you can get through it, it’s definitely worth it.

 

Milk and Honey
by Rupi Kaur

You probably know Rupi Kaur from that infamous instagram photo she posted with period stains on her pants and sheets as a part of a series she was working talking about the taboo around menstruation that was taken down because it didn’t “follow Community Guidelines.”  Anyway, Milk and Honey is a collection of her poetry and it’s absolutely gorgeous.  She talks about her family, her relationships with other people and herself, abuse, love and trauma.  It’s emotional and raw.  I don’t know much about poetry to be honest, but there are some poems that broke me into a million pieces.  Her poetry will make you feel uncomfortable and then question why you do.

 

Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott

A classic.  Little Women was one of my favorite books in grade school.  Jo March was my hero and I thought she was the coolest characters ever.  If you’ve never read Little Women as a child, I read it recently as an adult and it 100% still holds up as a good bad-ass woman book.  The story focuses on the girls in the March family and their growth from little girls waiting for their father to return from the Civil War to strong women who hold each other up. It was one of the formative books that cemented for me that girls can and must pave their own way and make their own decisions.  If I have children, Little Women will definitely be on their shelves.

 

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

This book was given to me by my amazing boyfriend during a really tough time in my life where I felt uninspired, stifled and filled with so much self hatred and self doubt.  He gave this to me hoping to inspire me.  And if you need to light a fire under your butt, definitely give this a read.  Ruth Bade Ginsburg is an amazing woman who has literally helped shaped the United States as we know it in her work in gender equality and civil rights.  She’s a feminist pioneer who will make you question what you’re doing with every hour of your day.  RBG is a bad ass and this book inspired me to reevaluate how I want to spend my time and who I answer to.

 

We Should All Be Feminists
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I know this one is predictable, but I’m ok with it.  I have this as a physical copy, but if you don’t want to go out and buy it, you can watch it on her TEDx talk.  It’s an amazing talk on gender that is nuanced, beautiful and inclusive. It’s short, smart and reflects about why feminism is for all and everyone benefits from equality and how gendered expectations are dangerous.

 

What are you favorite girl power books?

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Hyphenated

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Note: I promised myself to write something every week, but I’ve struggled with this post.  Whenever I try and write something easier, this looms in my head.  I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining or looking for sympathy or anything. I just needed to write this internal struggle with myself to maybe gain some… clarity? insight? focus? direction?   

 

Filipino.  Most the time that’s the box I check off when I fill out forms when the ask for ethnicity.  Sometimes I’ll check off “Pacific Islander” if “Filipino” isn’t an option. Sometimes when I get in my head about the definition of what race is and ethnocentrism and I’ll check off “Other,” I feel like I’m stickin’ it to the man.   I assume a lot of people who were born to immigrant parents, or perhaps moved here when they were really young may pause when they have to fill out these forms because it’s not quite right. Sometimes “Filipino-American” is an option, but more times than not, the option is just “Filipino.”

I have this vivid memory from my first visit to the Philippines. I was probably about four or five when my parents took my sister and I on our first trip to visit family. Like a lot of memories are from when you’re five, a lot of it is a haze. We might have been to Aritao, in Nueva Vizcaya, where my mother grew up, we might have been to Maasin in Ilolio where my dad grew up… or was it Manila or did we go to all of them?  When I try and think back on the trip, all I get are flashes of family, dirt floors,  playing in mosquito nets, the heat and the joy of lying on the floor watching the lizards chasing each other on the ceilings.

But I do I remember waking up one morning and an uncle coming up to me and trying to speak to me in Tagalog and I couldn’t respond.  He repeated something over and over, like repeating it would make it easier for me to understand. I looked around for my mom, not understanding.  However, what I could understand was the growing frustration in his face and I remember the shame I felt when he finally switched to English and said “You are not Filipino.  You do not speak Tagalog.”

“You are not Filipino.”

I remember going to my mom, burying my face into her and crying. “I don’t speak Tagalog, I need to learn to speak Tagalog.”

My first words were in English and my parents have only ever spoken to me in English. I know a lot of first or second generation friends who have varying levels of speaking their families native language.  From being around my Lola and other aunts and uncles and listening to my parents talk to friends and family, I can understand a lot of Tagalog or at least can understand the gist of something said to me.  I can most definitely tell when my parents or someone else is talking about me.

I’ve never really prodded them about why they never taught me Tagalog or Ilocano. I suppose they’ve always wanted me to identify as an American first and foremost, which I suppose I do. Whenever I try and speak Tagalog, it’s clumsy, accented and pronunciation isn’t right.  It’s embarrassing and I’m uncomfortable and that fact makes me even more uncomfortable.  I hear that voice in my head “You’re not Filipino.”

And it’s true.  It makes me feel uncomfortable calling myself Filipino.  Although I do sometimes call going to the Philippines as “going back home” I know that it’s not really.  Sure, I eat Filipino food, I’ve read a bit about Filipino history and keep up with Filipino events and politics. I’ve been to Filipino gatherings and church functions.  I get a laugh from watching TFC, the Filipino Channel,  but I still find it a lie to call myself Filipino.

But don’t get me wrong.  I love that I come from such an interesting and diverse culture.  I love that I grew up eating with my hands, using a tabo, eating rice and longganisa for breakfast, having anyone else who was filipino treating me like family, listening to drunken karaoke during family parties. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m proud of my roots and it’s helped shape the way I see the world but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with what it means for my identity and what it means for me living as an American. Going to the Philippines is always a culture shock.  Yes, when I’m there, I’m surrounded by people who look like me.  It’s not weird to be my height or skin color but I know that I’m spotted right away as being an American.  I dress differently, I hold myself up differently and the moment I speak, I know that I’m not the same. I’m the other. I’m American.

Like I said, I’m pretty sure my parents have always wanted me to identify as an American.  We don’t talk about it much, but they’ve done so much and left so much back in the Philippines to raise a family in the US.  Although I have a lot of cousins here and my parents have always been a part of their local Filipino community, it’s not surprising that I grew up in the minority.  The area of South Philly I grew up in was mostly white.  In elementary school, I was one of three colored students in my class of thirty, which was actually a high percentage compared to the rest of the school. At that age, looking different from everyone else was enough to make me feel like an outsider.  Most of my classmates were pretty friendly and being non-white for the most part wasn’t an issue. But it was surprisingly many of their parents that made me feel like an outsider.  I remember a friend’s dad speaking to me as if I didn’t understand English almost every time they had to interact with me. And feeling like an outsider still happens everyday.

There’s nothing that makes you feel less American than someone asking you “Where are you from?” because you really know what they’re asking.  They’re not looking for “Oh I moved here from Philly” because sometimes they’ll follow up with “Oh, but I mean where were you born?” And as much as I want to tell them if they want to know the address to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, they can fucking google it, I usually  bite my tongue and respond politely, “Philadelphia, but my parents are from the Philippines.” Because your fragility is showing and I don’t want to be it’s target. 

Even though I’ve grown up only speaking English, ate my Happy Meals, held my hand to my heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, watched with my classmates when those towers fell, feared for my family members lives who joined the armed forces, paid my taxes and everything else a good goddamn American should do, I still, on the regular hear “Go back to your country.” 

“Go back to your country.” 

On one hand, there’s all of this struggle in my head about what it means to be both.  There’s this deep longing to feel truly accepted here and there’s a lot of anger behind this need to explain and justify that I belong here. There’s this shame that I don’t speak Tagalog and yearning to try and figure out how I can feel more “authentically” Filipino than this sham that I feel like I put on. But I know deep in my heart that I wouldn’t want it any other way.  It’s complicated, but I love my Filipino culture.  Despite the racism and the worrying political climate, I also love being an American. No way in hell do I want to live any where else.  I love this quote from Jose Antonio Vargas about what it means for him to be an American.

To me, what it means to be an American goes beyond your place of birth or the documents you have, back to when throngs of Irish, Italian and Eastern Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of a better life, no papers asked. What it means to be an American is less about who you are than what you are about— how you live your life, how you contribute to this country, how you pledge allegiance to a flag hoping and praying it will make room for you. What it means to be an American is in the hearts of the people who, in their struggles and heartaches, in their joys and triumphs, fight for America and fight to be American every day.

Read the whole article here (and if you’re opening links, also find out more about his organization Define American.)

There’s so much else I want to say.. But I think I’ll leave it here for now.

Filipino-American. Hyphenated. Not really either and I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be both.

HeartApril-09

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