Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez is an immigrant from Nicaragua and a first-gen Vanderbilt University graduate, these identities play a huge role in her journey and in her debut book, For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts. The memoir/guide/educational resource is ultimately a love letter to brown girls that’s also a testament to the power of reclaiming your identity in the face of white supremacy. The book is a critical analysis of how white culture dominates and benefits white people, including white Latinos, and how brown girls like her have to claim space for themselves. Each chapter tackles topics that intertwine her own life with that of the Latinx community at large. The book begins with her critical commentary on voluntourism and goes on to deftly breakdown complex topics including politics of respectability, toxic masculinity, intersectionality, and impostor syndrome. She combines storytelling with research and personal anecdotes to create this manual of sorts for how to address various issues brown girls face while also providing tangible ways to break unhealthy patterns and unlearn toxic beliefs. She dedicated the book to “difficult daughters” which Prisca explains to HipLatina was her way of honoring the troublemakers, black sheep, and the women “tocaditas al mal” as her mom used to say.
“I think difficult daughters is meant to be open to interpretation, like for my household, being difficult meant that I asked too many questions, I was too ‘viva’ but I never drank while underage and did not even touch weed till I was almost 30 years old. Difficult means whatever resonates with the reader.”
Prisca was a Huffington Post contributor whose bio includes the phrase “I’m the girl your mom warned you about” and whose 2016 essay “Dear Woke Brown Girl” went viral. This book is now an extension of that in 200+ pages of Brown girl empowerment that also features a letter to brown girls where she writes, “you have not forgotten where you come from, but you have learned and earned and maybe even forced your way into space not meant for you. You are poderosa like that.”
As much as the book is about empowering and uplifting fellow brown girls, it’s also a memoir detailing some of the significant moments and people who have shaped her. In “voluntourism” she discusses the concept of white saviors, specifically white Christians, visiting third world countries under the guise of helping while they’re actually the ones benefiting from the trip. It’s here that we learn about young Prisca and her personal interactions with voluntourists and what it was like growing up in Managua, Nicaragua. She writes, “ the assumption that some people do not have the wherewithal to save themselves implies their assumed inferiority.”
Of the 10 chapters in her book, she shares that this one was the easiest to write as the content flowed out easily because of the clarity she had on topics including imperialism and U.S. intervention in other countries like her homeland. “I can channel ancestral rage with that type of chapter and I hope I did it justice.”
Her own family’s poverty eventually lead her to move to the U.S. where she struggled with assimilation. This lays the groundwork for her journey from a young immigrant Brown girl growing up in Miami and eager to acclimate to white culture to the decolonized Prisca who reclaims her roots. She reveals how her own family was affected by the politics of Nicaragua during that time, repeating the phrase “Trauma is inherited” throughout the chapter to reinforce the lasting effects of what her family had gone through and the effects it’s continued to have on them.
Though the book, according to Prisca, was written so that each chapter is standalone to make the information more accessible to people who don’t have a lot of time, the idea of inherited trauma is one she revisits in the chapter on toxic masculinity. She shares that this was the hardest chapter to write because of the deeply personal anecdotes she shares about her difficult relationships with her father and brother. “It is my heart spread all over those pages,” she says, adding she rewrote it at least three times, keeping in mind it was written for WOC. She acknowledges her father’s childhood trauma while not making excuses for his behavior and also reveals her continued desire for his love despite their problems. “I struggled with instinctively trying to protect mi papi, out of loyalty and respect – and I struggled with how to advocate for that little girl who needed grace and got none,” she says.
The duality of the young Prisca and the grown Prisca is part of what makes the book so endearing as well as informative. She regularly refers to him as “mi papi” while also revealing the traumatizing behavior she’s endured (including his explosive temper when she’d “fall out of line) and the guilt she continues to feel in setting boundaries to feel safe from him. In this chapter, like in every other, she quotes thought leaders like bell hooks, Cherrie Moraga, and Cynthia Enloe, to help reinforce her point like when she quotes hooks writing, “Not only did I not understand men, I feared them.” This feels especially relevant to her story when she talks about her brother’s domineering behavior explaining how he was raised differently because he’s a boy. His volatile temper is one she’s feared and she opens up about their essentially non-existent relationship now: “I have chosen to way way. And yet my brother will never be okay with my existing outside his control.” Existing outside a man’s control, or anyone else’s for that matter, is one she also touches on in the chapter on intersectionality where she signs a letter to her now-husband with “sincerely mine and never yours.” She explains, “I am mine, and never yours, and that is exciting because you are also yours, and never mine. It is powerful, for me to constantly name that.”
Her journey toward healing was paved with the pages of the books that were like a balm for her soul, accumulated in the span of a decade. She’s been collecting a diverse array of books since 2011 though her school’s syllabi was loaded with books by white men at Vanderbilt’s Divinity School, a predominantly white institution, where she graduated with a master’s in theology. Discovering the section on suggested readings, she began to amass a collection of books she’s read and re-read through the years that influenced her own writing. “I have been waiting to write this book ever since I entered my program, even if I never thought to dream this big, the universe knew what she was preparing me for.”
Not too long after, in 2013 she founded Latina Rebels, a social platform tackling issues relevant to the Latinx community much like the book itself, through social posts. Among those issues is addressing colorism which she also dedicated an entire chapter to in the book. “I was born female and Brown, in a cultura that hates females and especially hates the darker ones.” She shares how her mami reminded her to stay out of the sun because of anti-Blackness beliefs and also breaks down why she doesn’t identify as mestiza. “To identify as mestiza is to erase all my Black ancestors,” she writes. “We gatekeep mestizaje and erase the richness of our Black ancestors.” By the end of the chapter she’s reinforcing the message of the book – love yourself and all your Brown girl beauty. She encourages readers to wear a bikini and enjoy the sunshine, reminding them it’s a process to unlearn these internalized anit-Black beliefs. Pulling back the veil on her family wasn’t easy but it’s this vulnerability that forced her, in the process, to reframe everything she knew, “it meant breaking down any delusions I had been taught were facts.”
The book ends with a call to action, asking Brown girls to find their community and support one another because it’s what’s needed. That sentiment is one she says she makes clear in the acknowledgements, thanking the many women who helped her in the process of writing the book. She writes that it was through community like the one she built through Latina Rebels that she found her worth, not through white institutions. For Brown Girls encapsulates that power of community by empowering individuals and the importance of diverse representation while critically examining our culture and how women of color are expected to behave inside and outside their homes and how they’re treated. She hopes readers feel like they can claim their power and decolonize their mind after reading her book.
“I want us to stop watering ourselves down, and I hope that by sampling from my fire, Brown girls can find their own flames. Not only do I want them to find their flame, I want them to fan that flame to push them towards advocating for themselves and then others. ‘Once you’ve heard your chains rattle, you can’t unhear them,’ I want them to hear all their chains, so loudly it wakes you up.”