Yasmín Ramírez is a talented and acclaimed Latina author who grew up in El Paso, Texas, on the U.S. Mexico border.
Ramírez is a 2021 Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Author Fellow and a 2020 recipient of the Woody and Gayle Hunt-Aspen Institute Fellowship Award. She is also an Assistant Professor of English, Creative Writing, and Chicanx Literature at El Paso Community College.
In addition, Yasmín Ramírez stays active in the Borderplex arts community and serves on the advisory board of BorderSenses, a literary non-profit.
“¡Ándale, Prieta!” is her debut book, a memoir inspired by her relationship with her grandmother and written as a way to help her cope with her loss after her grandmother passed.
Yasmín shared with BeLatina how her upbringing on the U.S. Mexico border impacted her life and writing, what first inspired her to write her memoir, and what she hopes Latina readers take away from her story and her experiences as an author.
BeLatina: What first inspired you to write ¡Ándale, Prieta!?
Yasmin Ramirez: After my grandmother’s death, Ita, I began writing a short story to help cope with her loss. They have really pieced together fragments of our favorite memories of her, but they helped me hold on to her. After I decided to start an MFA program in Creative Writing, I found the stories that received the best responses were those pieces I’d written about my Ita. From there, it seemed like I had something special. Not just to me, but maybe something others could connect with.
How did your childhood, living on the Mexican-American border, impact your life and career as a writer?
Yasmin Ramirez: To be honest, it didn’t at the time. Growing up between two cultures seemed so normal that I never knew it was abnormal. In El Paso/Juárez, there was a constant back and forth flow of food, language, and customs. One of my favorite memories, which I didn’t share much about in the book, was walking across the Santa Fe bridge to spend the day in Juárez shopping. I didn’t realize my life was “different” until I moved away from El Paso to the Dallas Metroplex. That was the first time I truly realized what it felt like to be an outsider and how differently I grew from others.
As a writer, it has been impacted a lot. Simple questions such as if I should italicize Spanish in my book to wondering if there is too much Spanish for non-speakers made me doubt some of my ideas. As a young writer, I didn’t see a lot of Spanish surnames on shelves either. I didn’t realize it wasn’t because people like me didn’t write, which is the perception, but it’s because people like me aren’t often published. Luckily, I found a beautiful community of writers in El Paso who supported my work and mentored me. This network grew until it led me to this moment.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book, and what was the most rewarding?
Yasmin Ramirez: The most challenging part was, hands down, having to dwell on moments in my life I didn’t love. I didn’t want to highlight them. My relationship with my father and Ita’s death were moments I honestly struggled and cried about.
Initially, the most rewarding was getting through those first drafts knowing that I had something. Now, it’s all the kind of messages I’d never expected. I’ve received messages from other girls/women like me, Prietas, who feel seen just with the title. Others who have already read the book tell me it makes me think of their own abuelito/as. When I first started the book, it was just for me, and seeing these first responses after just a week. Wow!
Can you share the most valuable and memorable advice or piece of wisdom you received from your grandmother? How did her words leave a lasting impact you want to honor in your debut book?
Yasmin Ramirez: Oh, there is so much! She was the dicho queen. I even have a list from earlier drafts in the book because that’s how she gave advice. La reina del dicho. One phrase that sticks out the most, or resonated in times of hardship, was “amárrese un huevo.” I don’t know where or how she came up with this saying, but it meant we had to steady ourselves and buckle down to get things down. Woman up because when it came down to it, there might not be anyone else you could rely on.
These words stuck because I had to be stubborn to get where I am now with “¡Ándale, Prieta!” I had to keep writing even if I didn’t want to be in that space. I had to keep working and sending the manuscript out. Many think that writing is about muses blessing people. Really, it’s about being stubborn about the work, even when it’s hard. We take “no” as an opportunity to get better, revise (yes, sometimes cry!), but maintain that forward momentum.
Having Latina voices in literature has never been more important. What do you hope readers take away from your memoir, and what do you want other aspiring Latina authors to know about their own potential as writers?
Yasmin Ramirez: I hope readers take away that it’s important to value our stories. We often don’t think our own lives/stories are fascinating. Mostly it’s because we lived them. I hope that when they see the title “¡Ándale, Prieta!” it will make young Latinas pause and hopefully reflect on their own stories. I hope they’ll say, “Hey, I want to do that, too.”