Writer Yasmín Ramírez is building community and honoring her mixed roots through a form of storytelling you likely haven’t read before. Hailing from El Paso, Texas, the Mexican American writer and now published author recently released her debut memoir ¡Andalé, Prieta!: A Love Letter to My Family to rave reviews. The story follows Yasmín as she comes of age in “La Frontera“, the borderland between her Texas hometown and the Mexican city of Juárez, celebrates the strength of the women in her family, and documents the passing of her grandmother Ita and the outpouring of grief from all sides. The grandmother-granddaughter relationship at the heart of the story is a large factor of the book’s relatability, universality, and power. But Yasmín notes that, while she’s always been a writer, she could never have predicted her career as an author would begin this way.
“I started out as a fiction writer. I never dreamed I’d write a memoir, much less one that began with one of the most challenging moments of my life,” she tells HipLatina. But it was that exact moment of losing her grandmother that gave Yasmín the push she needed to pursue nonfiction and write her story—and Ita’s—as a memoir.
Over the next few years, she would go on to earn a degree from the MFA Bilingual Creative Writing program at the University of Texas. She completed her initial manuscript of ¡Andalé, Prieta! during the program and submitted it as her master’s thesis. With her background as a fiction writer, she powerfully explored her family’s history and the trauma of grief through a collection of short nonfiction stories. Following graduation, however, her entire outlook on the project changed.
“I found that the larger story couldn’t be contained in these shorter stories,” Yasmín says. “They became chapters, and it was in this space I saw, with the help of an editor, the gaps that needed to be filled to make it a book.”
Because of that revision process, ¡Andalé, Prieta! blossomed into a stunning work of traditional Mexican storytelling. Chapters jump between non-linear points in time and second-hand accounts are shared like the person telling the story is who it happened to. Women carry the weight of the family and descriptions vividly paint a world influenced by the best of Mexican and U.S. culture. From the “black blistered skin” of tomatoes to the sounds of children and families in Yasmín’s El Paso neighborhood, we’re allowed an exclusive peek into her world, one that doesn’t ever get to be seen in the books we read or the media we consume.
Because both before and after the Trump administration, people outside of El Paso have come to see the city as a wasteland, a place where violence is more common than peace and this in-between space can’t be anyone’s true home. But for Yasmín, this could not be further from the truth.
“No place is perfect, but El Paso is my home, and we are more than what the media paints us to be,” she explains, another urgent reason she wanted to write this memoir. “I hope to break that dangerous narrative and highlight the warmth and cariño of the community. I hope to highlight the beauty in the marriage of two cultures here.”
Another myth she hoped to break down was the negative connotations of the Spanish word “prieta”, a nickname her Ita gave her in childhood that brought both joy and trauma. While it can be used to show affection, it’s been used for centuries as a derogatory term for darker-skinned people. It especially targets those of Black and Indigenous origin, reinforcing the valuable currency of Eurocentric features in the Latinx community and insinuating that people with darker features are less than. For Yasmín, having the word as part of her book’s title was a subconscious act of reclamation that she didn’t even know she needed.
“As a child, I was always called Prieta. I didn’t know it was derogatory until elementary school,” she says. “Some kids said I was ‘bien prieta’ with that harsh tone all darker skin toned people know well. That was the first and harshest lesson I learned about being morenita.”
And yet, her Ita’s passing and the subsequent absence of that nickname brought on a huge sense of loss.
“I realized no one would call me that anymore,” she notes. “Not with the same love and cariño, and I grew so sad. I mourned I would never be called Prieta again. I think that’s when I truly realized how special the name was and still is.”
While Yasmín acknowledges the complicated history of the word for both Black and Indigenous people in Latin America, having it as part of the title just clicked, in large part because of how much it appears in the book. Not only does ¡Andalé, Prieta! honor Yasmín’s grandmother and the relationship they shared throughout her life, but also other self-identified prietas who carry a strength and power far unlike anyone else.
“Other Prietas have reached out, sharing how they feel seen in the title and in the pages, [they] have shared their Prieta and Negra nicknames with me,” she says. “It’s so beautiful. I’m left speechless and with the most beautiful ache of joy in my heart.”
Yasmín wrote this memoir for the whole world to read, for everyone to hear the stories of her Ita’s life, the beauty of her hometown, and the extraordinary power names can hold. But maybe more importantly, she wrote this for our community. For people who share that sense of existing in between two cultures, who can resonate with her work at the deepest level without having to Google a phrase or reference they instinctively understand. For our women elders and their descendants who have witnessed their radical strength. Yasmín notes:
My Ita…loved so fiercely. I grew up surrounded by love because of her. I learned to be a strong independent woman and fight for what I wanted through her. She loved me unconditionally. What more could someone ask for?
¡Andalé, Prieta! is now available to purchase wherever books are sold.