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Stephanie Gentry-Fernández
Date Published: 
September 01, 2006

When I heard the phrase “Chica Lit,” I couldn’t help but picture super-femme straight Latinas that wear shoes that cost more than my couch—similar to “Sex in the City,” but with an all-Latina cast. Something about the up-and-coming genre didn’t mesh with my flea-market shopping, bad haircut sporting, comfortable shoe wearing, Queer Mestiza revolucionaria self. But thanks to Quintero, my own definition of Chica Lit has expanded to include Queer women, badly-dressed women, women who are still “figuring it out,” women who got their volunteer/activist self going on and maintain that self while talking to their folks, fierce freedom-fighting women, and survivors. You know, folks kind of like me.

Divas Don’t Yield follows the journeys of Jackie, Hazel, Irena, and Lourdes as they drive from NYC to San Francisco to attend a women’s conference. A series of emails introduces the protagonists and their initial plans for the trip. Their unique goals and collective excitement is tangible enough that I found myself thinking and planning for my own upcoming road trips. The narrator shifts from character to character with each chapter, and through this we become intimately entwined in the struggles and triumphs that are as diverse as each character’s hair texture, skin color, and ethnicity. But rather than patronize some of the major challenges that affect so many youth of color today, Quintero paints lovingly realistic portraits of familias struggling with political head butting, substance use, tradition, violence, immigration, abandonment, aspiration, prison, homophobia, and simple over-protectiveness; familias, both literal and figurative, that remain loyal to each other in spite of their differences.

While most would consider Divas Don’t Yield to be a “light,” entertaining, and relatable read, it still tackles heavy issues in a way that both honors and truthfully represents them. The four activist characters meet while organizing their campus “Take Back the Night” event, and their individual passions persist throughout the book.
Jackie, a tough, intelligent, Black Boricua/Dominicana future lawyer, struggles with allowing herself the vulnerability that sometimes occurs in relationships. She takes out her frustration on Irena, an asthmatic, blond, blue-eyed Cubana who trips over her own Spanish and, through various forms of holistic healing, is surviving a date rape that occurred her first year in college.

Irena’s occult and New Age practices don’t sit well with Mexicana, well-to-do, Catholic-for-Choice Lourdes, neither do Hazel’s Queerness nor Jackie’s foul mouth and enviable sex life. But Lourdes’ ability to love her friends—in spite of their sacrilegious ways—helps her to question her mother’s uncompromising strictness, and empower her to choose her own life path, rather than follow the one laid out for her.

Hazel, a stunning Boricua hairstylist, is facing rejection yet again by a loved one. After coming out to her mother at a young age, she is kicked out and goes to live with her grandmother in the South Bronx, where she meets Jackie. Hazel is coming to terms with admitting her love for Jackie, who is straight, and at the same time risking their intimate friendship.

Power shuffle

Approaching the heart of the seemingly unwelcoming Midwest brings them to the heart of their individual challenges and they are surprised to find themselves in barrios looking much like the ones back home. The group becomes stranded in Nebraska, and it is there that they not only come to terms with many of their challenges, but are able to do so in a place that feels comfortable and familiar.

At the conference during a “power shuffle” exercise, a facilitator asks all Latinas, Chicanas, or Mestizas to go to one side of the room. Irena astutely asks why “Chicanas were named, while the rest…are lumped under Latina.” While language and terminology are continuously evolving, the book challenged my own concept of Latinidad and how my Mexicana/Chicana identity fits into the broad label of “[email protected]”. I now see how I often take for granted how represented I am as a Mexicana/Chicana as compared to my Salvadorian, Boricua, Cuban, Dominican, Honduran, Guatemalan, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan, Bolivian, Ecuadorian, Colombian, Chilean, Argentinean, Peruvian, Uruguayan, Paraguayan, Panamanian, and Costa Rican [email protected]

What makes Divas Don’t Yield so readable is that its multiple voices speak to so many audiences—regardless of race, ethnicity, religious background (or lack thereof), language, sexuality, or income. The characters bring up concerns many of us feel on the day to day: how to deal with parents’ politics/beliefs/insanity; how to support a friend that’s surviving violence in a way that is empowering but that isn’t coddling; how to intersect political beliefs with religious and/or cultural background; and how to hustle your way through the medical industry on a limited income. Most importantly, the novel shows how the familias we create from friendships after cutting the proverbial cord are essential for survival.

The author doesn’t skip her passion for social justice for a single beat. Altogether, Divas Don’t Yield is the perfect getaway read for the unflinching activist. And who doesn’t enjoy the journey of a road trip?

One World/Ballantine, 2006