I've been a fan of Raquel Cepeda's journalism for a long time, so I was excited to get to interview her for Kirkus Reviews. The first time I interviewed her was a decade ago, and it's nice to see a powerful writer and presence emerge in a different way on the page. I thought the book was engaging and charming, and particularly important given the absence of contemporary books that blend a hip-hop aesthetic with an emotionally honest and compelling personal story of being Latina.
Here's Dr. David J. Leonard, too, with an insightful take on Raquel Cepeda's new memoir, Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina:
Bird of Paradise speaks to the growing intersections of ethnography, memoir and science. It points to the changing nature of looking backward not only for exploring personal histories but those of the communities. The work points to a growing willingness among the hip-hop generation to push aside conventions, to expose personal vulnerability and uncertainty alongside of scientific discovery.
At one level it is a story of hip-hop, and how it influenced her life. Hip-hop offered acceptance otherwise unavailable outside of paradise. As with many books on the history of hip-hop and memoirs about members of the hip-hop generation, Cepeda highlights the environmental factors that gave rise to the hip-hop generation. Violence, alienation, invisibility and failing schools all shaped Cepeda's childhood, which was defined by instability resulting from abandonment, abuse, and difficulty finding acceptance and peace. For Cepeda these painful experiences didn't simply define her childhood but contributed to her love of hip-hop, which spoke to her, have her voice, and provided a nurturing home that had been absent through her early years.