BOOK REVIEW: ‘All the Women in My Family Sing,’ Edited by Deborah Santana

c.2018, Nothing But the Truth Publishing
$16.95 ($24.50 Canada)
363 pages

Who are you?

Spoken or unspoken, serious or in jest, you get asked that question all the time. Where are you from? Who are your parents? Have you been here before, and what do you do? In “All The Women in My Family Sing,” edited by Deborah Santana, the questions stand: who are you and what is your story?

It’s a no-brainer: every day you spend in this world is different, socially, than it was last week, last year, in your mother’s time. Great-grandma might not even recognize your world — and that’s especially so if you are women of color.

Take, for instance, home.

It’s a complicated word, to be sure. It means going back to where people love you, where your roots lie, even if your parents spent their lives leaving it. It might be the first place you experienced bullying. Maybe you wonder where “home” is — or you may already be there but you’re “just not sure how long” you’ll stay.

On racism: what would you say if, after learning about Rosa Parks, your child asks which water fountain he would’ve had to choose, had he lived then? Or: what do you do when your school pays homage to the historical figure who stole your ancestors’ lands? Also: if you endured racism as a child, will there ever be a time when you’ve “stopped being 8 years old”?

And then there’s the matter of identity.

What was it like to be raised in an all-White neighborhood, educated in an almost all-White school, with mostly all-White friends? Many of the authors know — and they honor the elders who taught them through example what it was like to be a woman of color. Still, many write about being the “only”: the only Black English teacher, the only Asian student, the only 40-something Latina in the mom-group …

Sometimes, you may “feel like part of no people and every people.” Your hair is curly. Your political beliefs are loud. The next generation is yours to raise, if you choose, and you’ve got things to tell them. You are beautiful, and you know that “Some scar tissue knits so tight that it shores you up like a bone.”

There’s something absolutely compelling about the stories in “All the Women in My Family Sing.” They’re like an addiction.

Read one, and your eyes fly open. Turn to the middle and your heart sinks. Taste one at random and find a kindred spirit, then disagree with another that just doesn’t touch you right. That’s the appeal of this book: each of the essays in here — written by everyday women as well as those with fame — are short enough to dip into quick. You can easily skip around, and they’ll all make you think and think and think.

Yes, “All the Women in My Family Sing” is for women. It’s more feminist than not. And yes, men can enjoy it, too, because reading it is like falling into a web of nourishing voices. This is a book to have, no matter who you are.

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