In The Community
Carmen Rita Wong is no stranger to media and being in the spotlight, but the release of her new memoir titled Why Didn’t You Tell Me? forced the author to step past her discomfort and into her truth in ways she hadn't done before.
This former podcast host, non-profit leader, and money expert takes the reader on a personal deep dive into a period of growth unseen by many successful women. Luz spoke with Wong about her latest book, an engaging read about growing up Dominican-Chinese while finding her place in the world and, ultimately, in her own family.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.
LM: If you had to describe the book without using official summaries, what would you say is the essence of what the book is about?
CW: The essence is about being very, truly human. It’s about family secrets; mothers and daughters; generational trauma; the psychology of resilience; American immigrant history; racial identity, and cultural identity. It’s also about how to understand and have empathy for your parents, even when they’ve caused so much pain. And, how to keep going, no matter what.
LM: The title is pretty self-explanatory after you read the summary so we know what this means for you, but what do you think the reader can also gain from reading your journey of self re-discovery?
CW: My readers can know that you are not alone in both your suffering and your success. Our stories aren’t told enough and that means sometimes we can feel like no one understands what you’re going through. Here, you can witness my path and take strength and hope from how I made it through and how you will too. And maybe I can bring peace to some mothers and daughters or, even just peace within yourself by following how I’ve gotten there. And, to know deeply that the truth is always best.
LM: What inspired you to write about this particular part of your life journey?
CW: Libraries saved me as a kid, but I didn’t see us there. That lit my fire early on. But it turned into a blaze as time went by and it turned out that where I had thought my story ended, it was upended yet again! I also was in a time in my life where the clock was ticking and I finally was in a position to be able to focus on this, which took tremendous intent and resources over many years. Growing up, I had always just wanted to write and perform. That’s it. But this was not an option in my house. I was expected to be either a doctor, lawyer, or MBA, that’s it. So, I had some great professional success, but my resolve never died to do what I’d always wanted to do because it’s truly who I am, a storyteller.
LM: What was your creative and/or writing process like?
CW: I had so much research done and archives and photos and old cards, writings, etc., that the book got too big for my home office. Let’s just say the dining table is now my writing table. (We will dine on it again one day, I swear.) To get nitty-gritty, I created a full calendar of deadlines. Ten pages a week. Ten great pages. Some days I wrote nothing. Some days I wrote eight pages in one sitting. As much as writing nonfiction or fiction is art, it’s also a job. I treated it as both. Outside of logistics, when I’d hit a point where I was stuck, I’d have my umpteenth coffee, walk around a bit, stretch and then read or watch something good; something that told a story well. That inspired me.
LM: You’re a successful published author in a space with too few Latina authors. What advice do you have for aspiring authors out there?
CW: There are very few shortcuts. That said, there are three things that have to come together: luck, hard work, and the right people, a.k.a. network. I had a big career before hosting TV, I was on faculty as a professor at NYU, a magazine editor, an advice columnist; so many things, and still, non-Latino folks would say I couldn’t write or sell this book. “No market for it.”
All to say, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t write and sell a book because you’re Latina or that writing is not your full-time job. You want to do it, I mean, really want to do it? Do it. Keep working, whether it’s on paper or in your head or meeting more and new people of all backgrounds. Never stop consuming good stories in any form: books, movies, streaming. And, if you’re looking to write a personal story, work on yourself, whether it’s with therapy and/or reading books that can help you understand yourself. All the life around you, whether your internal self or everyone you know, meet, or pass, can be an inspiration. Absorb it and be honest and kind. Your reputation means the world. If you’re mean, egotistical, gatekeeping, or envious, it shows, and word spreads. Be someone people want to work with and be with.
LM: Anything else you’d like to add?
CW: We are living through a very difficult time. But there’s never been a time in this country that there has been such power in and hunger for our community. Hold yourself and your community strong and tight and never stop fighting to have your voice heard. The reason why some people want to silence and erase us is because we are so powerful and amazing. Remember that.
LM: Tell us where our audience can find you online!
An immigrant mother’s long-held secrets upend her daughter’s understanding of her family, identity, and place in the world...
Most people have a book or two that have greatly impacted their lives. For me, it has always been books written by Latinas with experiences similar to those I grew up with. There is something special about picking up a book written by a Latina that understands your background, your struggles and your cultura. If you’re looking for more diversity and representation on your bookshelf, look no further.
This list includes some recommendations from our Luz team, as well as some picks made by YOU, our reader.
I Am Diosa: A Journey to Healing Deep, Loving Yourself, and Coming Back Home to Soul by Christine Gutierrez
Psychotherapist Christine Gutierrez guides us through the ins and outs of empowering yourself in a variety of ways. “I Am Diosa” teaches you how to reclaim your inner goddess, invoking her ability to heal piece by piece. Implementing radical self-love and self-care are the name of the game, while also teaching you to overcome trauma to reclaim your own self worth in this mandatory read for anyone being a little hard on themselves lately.
Frida Kahlo remains one of the most powerful figures of feminine power, and author Arianna Davis uses her novel to teach you how to harness that energy into success while exploring the memory of the famed artist. Diving deep into the life of Kahlo, Davis explores not only her vibrant style but her role in politics and art to build what her legacy is today. Learn to live fearlessly and create passionately with this truly inspiring read.
19-year-old Juliet Palante takes a vacation from her life after getting an internship with her favorite feminist author in Portland, Oregon. After writing an emotional “coming out” letter to her Puerto Rican family in the Bronx, Gabby Rivera’s novel is sure to inspire queer Latinas to be themselves no matter the environment.
A favorite by our followers, “Clap When You Land” is the sophomore effort of author Elizabeth Acevedo. Centered around the meeting of worlds when Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios’ father dies in a plane accident on his way to the Dominican Republic to visit Camino over the summer, secrets unfold in this page-turner of a book.
A must-read by activist Denise Collazo, you’ll want to pre-order this book if you’re looking for a go-to guide on social justice activism. “Thriving in The Fight” explains the life and advice of Chingona social activist Collazo and the adversity she faced while building a coalition of community organizers with Faith In Action – and how you can follow in her footsteps to not only do the work but thrive while in it!
Monica Gomez-Hira spins her own telenovela tale set in Miami, featuring Carmen Aguilar as our protagonist. Carmen is just trying to find love while working at an unpaid internship over the summer, performing as a party princess in a stuffy ball gown. From trying to prevent her cousin from ruining her own quince to fending off her ex, Carmen is in for anything but a boring summer. A fun, lighthearted read for all fans of everything both novelas and romcoms, Gomez-Hira’s debut novel is a must-read.
A debut book from a Latina author featuring a 13-year-old girl in Mexico meeting her 30-year-old future self? Sign us up! Alessandra Narváez Varela wows us with her upcoming novel based in ‘90s Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where young Anamaria battles what seems like depression and the mystery of stolen girls in her city. Teaching us about self-care and those around us, “Thiry Talks Weird Love” is a highly anticipated read in 2021.
We asked YOU what books made the biggest difference in your life and here’s what you said:
"With the Fire on High" by Elizabeth Acevedo
"The Affairs of The Falcóns" by Melissa Rivero
"Finding Latinx" by Paola Ramos
"Mommy Tell Me Why Im Radiant: Mami, dime porque soy radiante?" by Sandra Gonzales
"The Undocumented Americans" by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
Read more suggestions below:
For some, poetry can be an escape from the world of novels and books. Talented writers have a unique ability to transport us out of our lives and into theirs with their ability to create stories with meaning. We’re highlighting some amazing Latinx poets who give us all the feels and would be a great edition for your bookshelf.
We’d be remiss if we did not give Alegria Publishing a shoutout for their work as an indie publishing company whose primary mission is to nurture emerging Latinx writers. Our list includes several of their publications because it’s important that we create our own Latinx spaces and uplift those who are also doing the same.
“Déjame Contarte Lo Que Dice El Corazón” by Paloma Alcantar
Interested in words of wisdom as one navigates through the trials and tribulations of love? Paloma Alcantar’s poetry book is sure to meet your needs. Every word is beautifully written to capture all of the emotions one experiences in love, and we’re settling in for it.
Copyright: Alegria Publishing
“Imperfecta” by Alejandra Ramos Gómez
Meditations on being a woman, migrant, and a Latina. Alejandra perfectly captures what it means to live in-between two cultures and the struggles of making peace with your identity and your lived experiences.
Copyright: Alegria Publishing
“Corazón” by Yesika Salgado
The first of her three poetry books, Yesika Salgado has enamored our hearts with her way with words. Salgado also co-founded Chingona Fire, a poetry collective based on highlighting Latina feminist poets. We highly recommend checking out her other books entitled “Hermosa” and “Tesoro”.
Copyright: Not A Cult Publishing
“Mujer de Color(es)” by Alejandra Jimenez
Tackling everything from obstacles in expressing cultura to embracing your femininity, Alejandra Jimenez does well to tackle it all in entrancing words. Reexamine your ability to embrace your feminine strengths with this guide, it won’t let you down.
Copyright: Alegria Publishing
“El Poemario del Colibrí | The Hummingbird Poems” by Edyka Chilomé
Edyka Chilomé is a Mexican Salvadoran poet, identifying as queer, indigenous, and mestiza. Her work is heavily centered around transformative moments full of meaning in her book “El Poemario del Colibrí” (“The Hummingbird Poems” in English).
Copyright: Deep Vellum
“Groanings from the Desert” by Alma Cardenas
Alma Cardenas allows us a glimpse into her mind with “Groanings from the Desert”, a bilingual collection of poems in both English and Spanish. Cardenas wrote all of these works in 2020 between February and October, so there’s plenty of space for everyone to enjoy her thoughts along with her.
Copyright: Alegria Publishing
“The Latinx Poetry Project” by Davina Ferreira
If you’re looking for the end all be all collection of poetry by Latinx poets, we’re recommending “The Latinx Poetry Project”. Over 45 Latinx poets are featured in this immense collection of work centered around a variety of themes: from social justice to feminism and beyond, this book truly has it all.
Copyright: Alegria Publishing