El Paso author and college English instructor Yasmín Ramírez didn’t begin writing with the intention of publishing her first book.

“I started writing as a way to grieve her, then it became a way to hold on to her,” Ramírez said about jotting down stories to cope with the death of her grandmother, Ita.

What resulted was a memoir, ¡Ándale, Prieta! A Love Letter to My Family,” about family, love, and finding oneself. But the exercise also gave Ramírez a deeper appreciation for the nickname her grandmother gave her: Prieta, often a term of endearment meaning dark skinned.

The book title was suggested by Lee Byrd, co-owner of the former Cinco Puntos Press, the local independent publication house that published her book. Byrd noted a common phrase in the book, “¡ándale, prieta!” or, “come on, prieta,” which Ita often said to Ramírez.

When the book came out, Ramírez received “countless messages from fellow prietas, negras and morenas who shared the nickname and a fondness for it even if they felt conflicted about it growing up.”

Written in English and heavily sprinkled with Spanish and Spanglish, the book captures the bond between her and her grandmother and includes a few recipes from Ita, who Ramírez said expressed her love through her cooking. 

“¡Ándale, Prieta!” is the latest selection of the El Paso Matters Book Club, which asked Ramírez to tell readers about herself, her book and what’s next. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

For those who aren’t as familiar with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Absolutely! I’m the author of “¡Ándale,Prieta! A Love Letter to My Family.” The memoir is about growing up with my family here in El Paso. l have a deep appreciation for the Borderplex area and love writing about it. In addition to being a writer,I’m also an educator at El Paso Community College,where I teach various courses in the English discipline. I’m an avid reader,music aficionado and dog mom.

What are some key themes you would like readers,particularly El Pasoans,to take away from your book?

The key themes I would like El Pasoan readers to take away from my book is a great appreciation for the region,a love of the imprecations in ourselves and families,and resiliency. 

What’s your favorite line in the book and why?

“That each time ‘Prieta’ fell from her lips,I learned to love my dark skin.” This is one of my favorite lines,because it highlights how my grandmother,Ita,continuously broke from tradition. In an area heavily influenced by Mexican culture,my Ita pushed away at colorist ideas while also helping love the darker tone of my skin. 

Some of your books and writings deal with El Paso,immigrants,Hispanic culture and growing up in a binational region. What is the key to keeping readers that are not from the area interested in these topics?

At its core,“¡Ándale,Prieta!” is about family,love,and finding oneself. These topics are universal. The additional layer of culture simply adds to the richness of the themes. 

What is something unique about the El Paso/Juárez border region that inspired or is portrayed in your book?

Language was very important for me to capture in the novel. There is a beauty to how El Pasoans move between Spanish,English and Spanglish often communicating in various combined levels. This doesn’t happen in other places,and it was a goal to highlight the fluidity and magic of this. 

As an author,what do you make of the current national debate regarding the censorship of books at school libraries?

We’re living in a time where expertise is being easily disregarded in favor of heavily biased or unsubstantiated individual research. I’m horrified and heartbroken that groups of people believe they know what is best for the masses when the only thing driving them is personal belief. Books have the power to foster creativity,knowledge and empathy. Acts to limit this speaks volumes to what is truly driving these bans and censorship. 

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects or aspirations?

Yes! I’m happy to be returning to my fiction roots. I’m writing a young adult manuscript about a girl,Lola, growing up in El Paso who wants to be a rock star. I hope readers will get to meet her soon. 

Can you recommend three books by local authors for our readers?

Absolutely! “El Paso Del Norte: Stories on the Border,” by Richard Yañez; “Loving Pedro Infante,” by Denise Chávez;and “Barely Missing Everything,” by Matt Mendez.