MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Introduction by the Author
I’ll try to spare you guys all the usual clichés in writing this nifty new introduction to this novel—a novel my dear editor, Elizabeth Beier, incredibly referred to as “classic” when she sent me an email last year letting me know St. Martin’s Griffin planned to reissue it.
On the one hand, that word—classic—shocked me, because like so many single moms who’ve been desperately busy for seventeen years raising a child, it felt like no time had passed at all since that wonderful day in 2003 when Elizabeth bought the manuscript from me, and I swung my then toddler around with glee and he laughed with me, not knowing why I was so happy but happy with me nonetheless.
On the other hand, that word, classic, felt good and right on my tongue. As I write this introduction from the study of the house my first novel enabled me to buy for us, that toddler is a grown man, nearly six foot three. I am glad the book has endured, that it continues to be popular enough to warrant a little nip-tuck. I wouldn’t mind a little refresh myself.
More than anything, I am grateful to the readers, old and new, who’ve embraced The Dirty Girls Social Club. I’ve been able, during these seventeen years, to watch the book go out into the world and make friends. I’ve been lucky to meet many of its readers, all over the nation, who were passionate about and devoted to the book’s underlying message: “The word Latina can only be used accurately if it is used to mean universal human being, in the absence of any stereotype.”
In Dirty Girls, I’d written a book I always wanted to read but couldn’t find, one that discussed the diversity, complexity, and nuance of the Latino universe. It found hundreds of thousands of readers who’d also been waiting to see themselves realistically portrayed in pop culture. I hadn’t intended this to be revolutionary, merely logical. The women in the book led lives like mine. Like those of my friends. I did not realize just how many other people thirsted for the same stories. I had not realized, either, just how important story is in validating our existence, in telling us who we are and can be and, just as importantly, in letting others know what to make of us.
I now hear from adult women young enough to be my daughters, who received this book as a gift from the older women in their lives, and from others who read it in college or high school courses. It has become, to my joy and surprise, something of an heirloom, and a phenomenon, as women share the book and name their book clubs or groups of friends sucias, after the characters you’re about to meet. I still get photos of groups of Latinas in their sucias shirts, some marching to raise money for cancer research, others running marathons, and still others simply being there for each other.
Much has changed in our nation for Latinas over these years. Some things have gotten better, though not many. We are living through a horrific moment in which an openly racist president separates Latin American refugee children from their parents and throws them into private prisons whose nefarious workings are kept secret from the public. We should be marching in the streets, demanding an end to it, but we’re not. Maybe we’re too busy being exhausted and broke. Latinas are still being paid far less than any other workers in the nation, for the same work; while white women make seventy-nine cents to every dollar earned by a white man, Latinas get only fifty-four cents. One in seven Latinas living in the United States will attempt suicide after struggling with things like access to health care, poverty, language barriers, and family dynamics. I despair for us, for the collective stereotypical, hateful story that still gets told about us by far too many “news” outlets, pundits, TV shows, movies, and, yes, books.
As a writer, I know the importance of story in the collective consciousness to effect change, and while this novel began to chip away at the great wall of anti-Latino prejudice and stereotyping in American pop culture, it alone has of course not been enough to dismantle a system that so clearly still does not see or value us, a system that continues to dehumanize and to terrorize our communities without conscience.
There is still more to be done.
There are still stories that need telling.
I’m glad my publisher and editor believe this is one that deserves to keep being told, and I hope that they will begin to invest in new Latina stories that go beyond tired cliché and stereotype.
I’m most grateful to you, the readers, who bought this book, for listening.
Alisa ValdesWinter 2020
Copyright © 2003 by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez