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Chingona: Owning Your Inner Badass for Healing and Justice

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

My son and I were at the library getting him a book on human anatomy when I passed this book on the shelf called, Chingona. My son has recently decided he’d like to be Dr. House M.D from the long-running series instead of Ryan Reynolds so naturally we had to get started learning the body. Anyhow, I already had a stack of books begging to be read at home so was not in the immediate market for another one but the title and cover jumped out at me. “What did you say? Chingona?? Who me Chingona? You Chingona?” I thought. Either way, I was intrigued as I could only assume there was an element of dissecting the word, which was a personal pastime. See, in Latine Chingona has traditionally been a derogatory term for a woman who was a troublemaker. One that speaks up and doesn’t necessarily know her place. She is a beat off from the status quo and generally makes waves and/or makes people uncomfortable. On the flip side Chingon, the Latine male counterpart is considered a badass dude who’s tough and takes care of business. For a man, it’s an accolade, while for a woman it’s mostly a reprimand, traditionally that is. Interesting right?? Well, here’s a little breakdown of the book, what I thought, and I think one should read it.

In her book Chingona, Alma Zaragoza-Petty, PhD vulnerably tells her story of her upbringing in Mexico, to Huntington Park, to attending school in Watts and East Los Angeles while dabbling in gangs and figuring out her inner and outer chola. The term Chola is traditionally used for a Latine gang-affiliated girl; a rebel, or someone that pushes boundaries that shouldn’t be messed with. Again, can have both negative and positive connotations depending on how it’s used. She tells her story with emphasis not just on what her trauma looked like, but also on how it shaped her youth, her way of thinking, her decisions, and the inner conflict that has stayed with her regardless of the mounds of education, fancy degrees and other markers of Western accomplishment. Alma dives into Nepantla, a term popularized by one of the greats in Latine literature and theory, Gloria Anzaldua. Nepantla can be translated from the Nahuatl word meaning borderlands and this is a reference not just to the physical borderlands many inhabit, but also the ones that live within us when as Latine folk we are not wholly indigenous/Spanish/Mexica, and we don’t adopt the dominate caste society. We are ‘othered’...therefore externally subjected to the in-between space; in Nepantla.

Dr. Zaragoza-Petty beautifully expresses this rarely explored region and one of the reasons I loved this book is how she gifts her personal story of living in nepantla while referencing many of my favorite female “Chingonas” such as bell hooks, Cherie Moraga, Sandra Cisneros, and Audre Lorde. She explores her indigenous roots to the mother of the mestizas (mixed blood; half indigenous/half Spanish), La Malinche, and considers the ways the aim has always been one to be conquered or tamed by ways of colonization and the ways in which it holds true today. She tells of the many ways she pushed back and the many times surrendered in exhaustion. Alma Zaragoza-Petty brings in so much richness for thoughtful consideration while telling her easy-to-read and ingest story. She takes historical context and scholarly ideas and translates them by telling her own story in a way that we can all jump on board and identify with the inner struggles that we can all relate to. Ultimately, Alma shows us that we must take an active role in our own healing and that unfortunately for many of us that includes pushing against the definitions of who we are that have been outlined for us. That means being Chingonas and owning it with pride. We must be our own curanderas (healers).

In addition, it’s a quick, easy, educational, and entertaining read. Any terms that might be foreign to the reader she explains simply and clearly. I recently had a conversation with someone who held the belief that we’ve all heard... There are 3 sides to every story. Yours, mine, and the truth. I would have to counter, that when referencing the story of this country there are approximately 32 million sides to that story. Alma Zaragoza-Petty gives her side courageously at a time when many of us are still mustering up that same courage to speak our full, unencumbered truth. This book, I feel gives us the support and permission to follow suit.



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