By Richard Yáñez
On the occasions that El Paso captures the attention of national media, we excitedly feel seen after long droughts in the periphery. From muralists featured in the New York Times and in major motion pictures to James Beard award finalists spotlighted in Hulu’s “Taste of the Nation,” the boundless talent of El Paso always shines brightest when it proudly rests in the hands of its storytellers.
Yasmín Ramírez is an author who embodies her hometown’s creative landscape while passionately shaping its literary future. Her debut memoir, “¡Ándale, Prieta! A Love Letter to My Family,” offers an altar of images that are intimately personal — a chapter dedicated to the geography of a grandmother’s scars — and culturally distinct: “That each time Prieta fell from her lips, I learned to love my dark skin. No one calls me that anymore. I miss how her words sounded out loud.”
The overarching tone of “¡Ándale, Prieta!” is as poignant as “Amor Eterno,” a Mexican ballad that embraces the matriarchal family living in El Paso, a border town, where vibrant communities rest side by side, sharing and merging without hesitation.
Part One of the memoir, “Finding Ita,” is a rich collection of a granddaughter’s memories. As “my Ita’s sombra,” child-Yasmín bears witness to the delicate balance of ache and joy that veils many chapters. Whether located in Sacred Heart Catholic Church, The Tap Bar or their Central El Paso home, there are portraits of cariño between Prieta and Ita that are rooted in a relationship of resilience. Their bond will resonate with many readers craving for one more childhood celebration – dancing, cooking, laughing – with a grandparent.
In episodic chapters, we share in the rituals of an intergenerational family rummaging for connections. Understanding that her mom is often too tired from working the U.S. Customs and Border Protection graveyard shift at the Paso del Norte International Bridge, Yasmín can turn to her older sister when trying to better understand Ita’s past. This leads to testimonies of trauma that many traditional Mexican-American families never dare speak of, much less document in a book.
The author’s willingness to reach deep into her family history and “share the stories that don’t want to be told – the ones that hurt down in the deep recesses of one’s soul” gives hope to readers searching for their own pathways to healing.
Having learned to be strong by proximity and necessity is the foundation for Part Two, “Finding Yasmín,” where a restless teen searches for direction, not yet understanding her full potential. The inevitable decision to move from El Paso to the Dallas area shortly after her 20th birthday is as much about a new beginning as it is a mixed understanding of the sacrifices needed to leave home.
It is when Yasmín lives, studies, and works in a part of the state where many don’t know where El Paso is, or assumed it is part of Mexico, that she struggles through more crucial lessons. And, as it should be, it is through the wisdom of her Prieta-self that she “learned to walk an interesting tightrope that many brown people face.” By having to pay more attention to her own skin, as well as process several awkward interactions, she reaches a new understanding of what “¡Ándale, Prieta!” means beyond Ita’s care.