My Sisters' Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak Out

Overview

In the tradition of the bestselling Ophelia Speaks, a collection of provocative essays by teenage girls of color

My Sisters' Voices is a passionate and poignant collection of writings from teenage girls of African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American, and biracial backgrounds. With candor and grace, they speak out on topics that are relevant not only to themselves and their peers but to anyone who is raising, teaching, or ...

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My Sisters' Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak Out

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Overview

In the tradition of the bestselling Ophelia Speaks, a collection of provocative essays by teenage girls of color

My Sisters' Voices is a passionate and poignant collection of writings from teenage girls of African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American, and biracial backgrounds. With candor and grace, they speak out on topics that are relevant not only to themselves and their peers but to anyone who is raising, teaching, or nurturing young women of color.

As adolescents, women, and minorities, these young authors represent a demographic that has had no voice of its own, a group often spoken for but rarely given the opportunity to be heard. Now these young women have a chance to stand up and be counted, to present their own unique perspectives in fresh and astonishing ways. Here you'll find a Native American girl writing about the bumps in her relationship with her best friend, who's white; a Korean American girl who wishes she could help her mother understand that it's okay to socialize with boys as well as girls; and a biracial girl who feels she must be the designated spokesperson for blacks when she's around whites, for whites when she's around blacks, and for biracial people around everyone. These personal and inspiring stories about family, friendship, sex, love, poverty, loss, and oppression make My Sisters' Voices essential reading for young women of all backgrounds.

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Editorial Reviews

Agnes Birnbaum
After reading Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia and Sara Shandler's Ophelia Speaks, 18-year-old biracial Jacob felt her "struggle had not been truly identified... in addition to bearing the weight of being teenagers and female, we also carry the enormous issues of race and ethnicity." While she admits that her literary answer to this struggle won't solve all of the world's problems, it might empower adolescent girls of color. Jacob solicited works from teens across the country, writing thousands of letters to friends, English teachers and social organizations. The result is a stirring collection of essays and poems detailing the coming-of-age experiences of a diverse group of young women identified by name, age and ethnicity. Jacob and company tackle such issues as interracial friendships, poverty, oppression and family. With her personal reflections inserted before each piece, Jacob exhibits empathy with the writers, revealing rage when presenting African-American Brooke Wilson's harangue against female objectification, and later joining Chinese/Italian Alicia Mazzara in displaying defiance when forced to choose one race over another in the biographical information section of standardized forms. Some of the writings are more race-oriented than others (e.g., Shivani Agarwal's heartbreaking story of first love does not mention ethnicity, and some contributors are listed as "African American," while others are simply "Black"), but all are important and will resonate with teens—and their parents, teachers and mentors.
Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly
After reading Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia and Sara Shandler's Ophelia Speaks, 18-year-old biracial Jacob felt her "struggle had not been truly identified... in addition to bearing the weight of being teenagers and female, we also carry the enormous issues of race and ethnicity." While she admits that her literary answer to this struggle won't solve all of the world's problems, it might empower adolescent girls of color. Jacob solicited works from teens across the country, writing thousands of letters to friends, English teachers and social organizations. The result is a stirring collection of essays and poems detailing the coming-of-age experiences of a diverse group of young women identified by name, age and ethnicity. Jacob and company tackle such issues as interracial friendships, poverty, oppression and family. With her personal reflections inserted before each piece, Jacob exhibits empathy with the writers, revealing rage when presenting African-American Brooke Wilson's harangue against female objectification, and later joining Chinese/Italian Alicia Mazzara in displaying defiance when forced to choose one race over another in the biographical information section of standardized forms. Some of the writings are more race-oriented than others (e.g., Shivani Agarwal's heartbreaking story of first love does not mention ethnicity, and some contributors are listed as "African American," while others are simply "Black"), but all are important and will resonate with teens and their parents, teachers and mentors. Agent, Agnes Birnbaum. (Apr. 3) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
There is a growing collection of anthologies of original teen narratives that give a remarkable explanation of issues on the minds of today's youth. I was struck first by the cover art choice for this illuminating volume because the young model bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Lopez. The selections run a wide gamut of issues for ethnic young women today. They are arranged in broad categories so that YAs may browse this candid volume or look specifically for an issue they are concerned about. My favorites include a poignant poem about looking back at childhood, the experience of checking the "ethnic" box on the SAT grid, beautiful prose about the untimely deaths of family members, and honest descriptions about personal accomplishments. I can just imagine the excitement for all of these young writers when they see their words in print. I would have appreciated their e-mail addresses, when available. Readers will identify with certain styles over others, and I was especially impressed by the strength of the poetry. This is an exemplary addition to school and public libraries serving young adults, as well as a perfect gift for aspiring writers. Jacob provides the reader with a step-by-step successful approach to having an idea and getting it published. Category: Collections. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, Henry Holt, Owl Books, 248p., , Scarsdale, NY
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-For this book, Jacob, a biracial teen, wrote letters to English teachers, organizations, and others to solicit submissions from young women across the country about their experiences as teenagers of color. The result is a moving collection of essays and poems about family, friendships, sex, love, loss, identity, racism, and oppression. It is clear from the frank and deeply personal nature of the entries that the authors write from their hearts. The pieces are each prefaced by comments from Jacob in which she relates her own experience about the topic at hand or offers a reaction to it. Readers will see themselves reflected in some writings and will be enlightened by others.-Ajoke' T. I. Kokodoko, Oakland Public Library, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805068214
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Iris Jacob is an eighteen-year-old biracial female with a strong commitment to diversity issues. She has been a student facilitator at numerous diversity conferences, has started affinity groups for students of color and women at her high school, and codirected a youth leadership institute addressing topics of oppression, prejudice, and awareness.

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Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Four years ago I read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. That book helped me understand myself and other teen girls. Pipher does a wonderful job of acknowledging teen girls and the hardships and the happinesses that we face. Her interwoven interviews, personal anecdotes, and facts made me realize what I was going through and that I was not alone.

Next I read Sara Shandler's book, Ophelia Speaks. Shandler wrote the book to give teenage girls the opportunity to tell their own stories. Because I was reading the stories in the girls' own words, I found it easier to connect to them and their stories and to really understand their meaning.

Reading both books profoundly helped my own search for self and my understanding of other girls. However, after reading and connecting to both, I felt something was missing. Pipher had discussed girls of color and so had Shandler. Yet, I felt my struggle had not been truly identified. I felt as though girls of color had a unique and rarely validated struggle. I believed that in addition to bearing the weight of being teenagers and female, we also carry the enormous issues of race and ethnicity.

As I clarified my idea I began to think of ways to express it. My mother remembers that on the first day of 2000, I told her I wanted to write my own book, an Ophelia Speaks for girls of color. She said, "Do it," and I thought it was one of those ideas that would be quickly forgotten.

The idea stayed with me, though, because everywhere I looked, I began to see the need for such a book. Every time I heard racist comments, every time I noticed men putting down women, every time I saw girls of color in pain, I thought back to my idea. Every time I tried to bring about change and was told to back off, wait, or pick my battles, I thought about giving girls of color an opportunity to give their opinions, for once, instead of listening to everyone else's. Such a book wouldn't solve all the world's problems, I knew, but it could empower teenage girls of color. I wanted all the girls of color out there to be able to connect and to know that I feel what they feel. I wanted them to know that when they are stared at, mimicked, or harassed, they are not alone.

And so, with my mother's help, I found a wonderful agent and wrote a proposal. While doing research for the proposal I discovered that there were no self-help books on the market for teenage girls of color. Not one. This made me even more determined to see my project through. I felt as though we as girls of color not only deserved but needed a book, recognition, and a voice so we could be properly heard and acknowledged.

Within nine months of my original idea I had a book contract and went to work. I began to write letters to English teachers, clubs, organizations, and girls I knew to get pieces of writing. Again and again I heard from girls and women of color that the book was very much needed.

When the pieces began to arrive, I felt privileged to be able to read the innermost thoughts of these young women. The insights, feelings, and emotions these girls shared were captivating. The most impressive thing I found was that I could relate to every one. Their heartaches, loves, hates, laughter, and regrets were all something I have experienced in some way or another. My idea of connecting to other girls of color by speaking out and telling our stories had become a reality.

Working on this book began to occupy most of my spare time. When I would tell people about it, in the largely white community where I live, I would be met with blank stares. Then I would have to explain the concept and I would get more blank stares, or I would get patronizing comments like, 'That's an interesting project." So I stopped telling anyone; even many of my closest friends had no idea what my book was all about. But then again, many of my close friends had never understood what I had experienced as a girl of color. I didn't tell them — for a variety of reasons — and they didn't ask.

Reading the submissions from girls ages twelve to nineteen, from all over the country, made me feel as though someone did, in fact, understand me. That's how I know this book is what I wanted it to be — and if the words on these pages comfort even one more girl of color, it will be a success in my eyes.

Many of the pieces of writing I received reminded me of my own experiences. I remember changing for gym class in sixth grade and having all the white girls stand and watch as I neatly pulled my braids back, so as to not mess up my hair by playing basketball. I remember the questions like: "Do you braid your hair every night?" and "Is that really human hair, attached onto your hair or is it horse hair?" Such questions led me to hate myself and also my peers. I spent my middle school years hating all those who were around me. Because the city I lived in and the school I attended were more than 90 percent white, I had trouble finding anyone with experiences similar to my own.

In my sixth-grade year I made friends with a Latina girl named Rosa. Our friendship stemmed from our similar treatment by the whites at our school; we both dealt with the issues of identity, power, and culture. By eighth grade Rosa had been suspended four times and then switched schools. Her method of coping had been retaliating, telling the white people how she really felt. One day in the hall she told me she wanted to hit "this stupid lil' white girl." I told her to do what she wanted (I'll admit I wanted her to) and then she did. She grabbed the girl by her long blond hair, swung her around, and slapped her. Rosa's anger was not at this particular white girl. Her anger was within. She was furious that she was forced to be the translator between her parents and the rest of the city. She was angry that she had to continuously deal with the young white girls and their problems, which she felt were petty compared to her own.

Rosa and I took different paths. She let out her anger while I kept mine in. I wrote in my journal, cried, and treated everyone with contempt. I hated everyone and everything, yet I did not know why. I had three best, friends; all were white. I was never actually close to them. We would share secrets, yet I never told them my most important one: that I was not like them. When race was brought up, one of us would quickly change the subject.

I know now that the anger Rosa and I experienced is not out of the ordinary. Teen girls of color all over the country feel this way! We are angry at not belonging. We are angry that society allows us to feel marginalized and oppressed because of our race and gender.

I hated that I was forced to sit in an all-white classroom and pray that the subject of race was never discussed. I was furious that I was regularly sexually harassed on the street, but that none of the boys in school seemed interested in me. I raged because while I knew I was beautiful, I felt so ugly.

When I was younger, my anger was turned inward. Something had to be wrong with me; it couldn't be anything else. I just didn't understand. I was convinced that I was alone because I had made myself that way. It was my fault that I was uncomfortable talking about race, no one else's. It was up to me to share my feelings — that's why no one talked to me about it, not because they didn't care, but because it was my problem. I had been told my entire life that I was beautiful and that I had outstanding potential, so it was my fault for not believing it.

As a result, I spent many nights screaming into my pillow and crying. At one point I came up with a new plan. When I would get angry, I would brush my hair. This way it would have a better chance of becoming straight (I assumed by some miracle that this would happen eventually), and I would have a great way of getting my anger out, brushing as hard as I could.

In eighth grade I became more involved in school. I spoke up, I organized a few clubs, and I became active in my community. Throughout this period I felt a sense of wanting to prove myself. I wanted the white kids at my school, the white people in the community, to know that I was capable of something. I wanted to impress them. For too long I had been quiet, and now they needed to know that I was capable. At the same time I realized that none of the white kids were doing this. I wondered why they didn't want to impress the community and feel like they needed to prove themselves.

In eighth grade I also made more friends and had more fun. However, my anger was still there. It was just cleverly masked and hidden. Now, instead of being angry at the white girls' I wanted to be like them. I dressed like them, I tried to have bangs, I shaved my legs (even though they contained almost no hair), and I wore makeup. But these behaviors were just ways for me to cope with my anger.

The next year my family moved away. I began to attend a small, predominately white school in a larger, more diverse city. That summer I once again became involved in my community. I attended a leadership institute on diversity work, worked at a camp for fourth- to sixth-graders, and went to a religious camp. It was then that I began to really change. I started to realize that I, as a teen girl of color, was different from others in society. I returned to my school the next year, and I focused on change. With much resistance, I was able to start affinity groups for girls and students of color. And this was when the idea of writing a book first came to me — not because I enjoy writing (although I'm learning to) but because I wanted to bring together girls of color.

Copyright (c) 2002 Iris Jacob

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Table of Contents

Introduction

MORE THAN SKIN DEEP

Simone Senior: The Smoking Section

Wendi Nevels: The Black Sheep

Brooke Wilson: My First Love: Skratching

Vannah Shaw: A Culture of Our Own

Nzinga Moore: Standards of Beauty

Nneka Nnaoke Ufere: Fear

Lynette Salik: The Twenty Words I Never Understood

Jasmin Kolu Zazaboi: You Are You But I Am Black

Lianne Labossiere: A Page from My Diary: Black and Beautiful

Lisbeth Pelayo: Racism

Kazia T. Steele: Complexion

Jasmin Kolu Zazaboi: The Color Line

Jade Pagkas-Bather: The Color Line

Faleesha Grady: It's Hard

Elsie M. Giron: Searching for a Little Respect

Cecilia Nguyen: All-American Girl

Tara Bynum: Untitled

Andrea Friaz-Gallardo: Sick and Tired

Andrea Friaz-Gallardo: Assimilation

Alicia Mazzara: Known as "Other"

Akemie Cousin: I Wish . . . I Wish . . . I Wish!!!

Tara Bynumi: Outbreak

OUR ROOTS

Andrea Friaz-Gallardo: The San Joaquin Valley

Ashley Sng: Away from Home

Sia J. Yobah: Our Street

Sneha Upadhyay: Indian Roots

BrittneyWest: Is This Love

Sokonie S. Freeman: Through Those Articulate Eyes

Amisha Padhair: Ugat: My Village in India

Taia Waltjen: Daddy's Girl and Life's Lessons

Anonymous: My Family

Tara Ashley Chaney: Justice (for My Momma)

Shivani Agarwal: Silent Soldier

Monique Beacham: Millennium Woman

Cierra Goodloe: Abandoned

Tiana Phenix: My Heartbeat

Hilary Evans: Spades

PERSON TO PERSON

Shivani Agarwal: Chanson d'amour

Blair Revay Bonds: Lately Things

Uduak Onda: Untitled

Hyacinth Wallace-Blake: Vain Imaginings and Other Artifacts

Sarah Richardson: Friends

Alicia Carrington: Questions and Answers

Jennifer Oda: Her Dance

Jessica L. Farley: I Put on a Mask

Tayo Darrell: The Routine

Alicia Lea Haley: Untitled

Kristla Wingo: Battered Butterfly: A Story of an Abusive Relationship

Itoro Akpan: A Welcomed Identity

Tiana Phenix: Untitled

Maribel Lopez Guzman: Una Rosa en Mi jardin (A Rose in My Garden)

OURSELVES INSIDE AND OUT

Shimere Etheridge: I Am a Female Skater

Shawntai Genell Brown: Horizontal Ups and Downs

Neftara O. Clark: The Child of Our Younger Years

Meredith King: Do the Feminist Thing

Rebecca Guest: Maui Year 2001

Cara H. Sandberg: I am cara

Monica Sanchez: Untitled

Samantha McKinney: Sex

Ka'imi Crowell: Mortality

Jacqueling Nwaiwu: I Chose Schooling

Leah Skjefte: God vs. Creator

Jolynne Gonzalez: Entry to Church

Cecilia Nguyen: Behind the Wheel

Camille Hoosman: Plan C

Anonymous: Untitled

Rubi Vaughn: Spirit Keeps Her

SHARING OUR SORROWS

Shatara Miller: Death of a Grandmother, Loss of a Friend

Christina Carrillo: The Death of a Loved One

Michelle Stevenson: Untitled

Ada Samuel: The Other Day

Naeesa Aziz: Steve Said . . .

Christina Chon: Untitled

Lisa Carter: Spring Breeze

Carlotta Smith: Love Taps

Tallish Bell: Being Deaf

Camiele D. Land: Lately

Yanica Ricketts: Depression

Shimere Etheridge: These Scars

Precious Angel: Unwanted

Anonymous: Untitled

Nicole Pickering: Reflection

Mary Standing Soldier: Nonsense

Sarah Cook: That Child

V. M.: Violence and Abuse

Mary Standing Soldier: And We Were Gone

Clarice Lewis: Pain Street

RECLAIMING OUR VOICES

Jasmin Kolu Zazaboi: Don't Forget the Stars

Shimere Etheridge: My Hair

Sandra Manzanares: Me

Alicia Rodrigo: Rhythmic Vibrations

Joycelyn Hubbard: Brown Skin

Melanie Medina: Girl Who

Leslie Neyland: The Girl I Knew

Neftara O. Clark: Essence of Life

Ebony L. Herron: Chasing Ebony

Diomara Chaparro: Untitled

Deymis Baquero: What Made Me Stronger

Candice J. Bingham: Untitled

Jeanette Asabere: Daughter of Africa

Sunny Rasmussen: Untitled

Candice Fleming: The Struggle: Black, Light-skinned, and Smart

Janelle Camille Cates: For So Long

Kristin Soong: Untitled

Acknowledgments

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Reading Group Guide

TEACHER'S GUIDE
TO THE TEACHER

My Sisters' Voices presents a vast array of frank, perceptive, and richly varied writings by teenage girls of African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American, and biracial backgrounds. With honesty and intelligence -- with ample grace and generosity of spirit -- these young women tell their stories in their own words. In this anthology of more than 100 essays and poems, we find personal accounts that are by turns inspiring, affirmative, angry, revealing, and challenging -- and always real and instructive. The writings collected here cover a wide range of subjects, among them family, friends, sex, love, racism, loss, oppression, class, culture, society, tradition, spirituality, and assimilation.

In My Sisters' Voices, young women of color are being given, at long last, the chance to speak out, stand up, sound off, and be counted. As Iris Jacobs -- the eighteen-year-old biracial diversity activist who is also the smart, sensitive, and articulate editor of this collection (and its guiding narrator) -- points out in her Introduction: "We as girls of color not only deserved but needed a book, recognition, and a voice so that we could be properly heard and acknowledged" (page xvi). Indeed, as adolescents, women, and minorities, the young authors in this book represent a significant demographic that has had -- until now -- no voice of its own, a group often spoken for but rarely given the opportunity to be heard on its own terms. My Sisters' Voices rights this wrong.

With readable stories and approachable poems that communicate fears, dreams, loves, and hopes, this anthology explores and critiques both past and present issues. Demanding respect and equal justice throughout, My Sisters' Voices is essential reading for a generation of girls struggling to define themselves in a world that keeps trying to do it for them. Continuing with her Introduction, Jacobs proclaims: "This book is for teen girls of color to express what they have for so long kept to themselves . . . [We] as a group need to support one another, care for one another, use our voices, and most of all demand to be heard . . . We come from all different ethnic, cultural, and spiritual traditions. We are immigrants, some of us. We are beauties, inner and outer. We are heroines. We are winners, every one of us. We are poets. We are the present. And, make no mistake, we are the future" (page xxi).

However, My Sisters' Voices also has much to say to, and much to teach, preceding generations. The disparate yet unified writings collected in this book are, after all, intended for not only for young women of color but for all adults now raising, teaching, befriending, or otherwise mentoring today's young women of color in America. Perfectly suited for individual study as well as the classroom, this book conveys a broad spectrum of issues and ideas about race and gender with candor, sincerity, lucidity, and wisdom.

PRAISE FOR MY SISTERS' VOICES
"A powerful peek into the lives of teens at a crossroads -- girls on the cusp of womanhood grappling with racism, sexism, heritage, poverty, family, and self-image in a world where they are largely unheard." -- Chicago Tribune

"This work should encourage discussions about diversity and let teens know that they are not alone in their struggle." -- Lynda Jones, Black Issues Book Review

"A volume that intersperses short poems and prose selections written by teens of color from all over the country . . . The writers speak about the issues that matter most to teens (self-image, family, sex, love, abuse, pride, education, courage, race, and beauty), and Jacob's voice in her general introduction is clear and completely her own -- direct, insightful, angry, and alternately adolescent and adult . . . The range of voices and experiences [is] enlightening." -- Booklist

"My Sisters' Voices highlights the beautiful, brave voices of our much-silenced young women. This book is especially exciting because Jacob not only wants to broadcast the hopes, fears, and realities of young women of color -- she wants them to hear each other and come together . . . Alternately heartbreaking and empowering . . . The book seems to embody community." -- AsianWeek

"Jacob solicited works from teens across the country, writing thousands of letters to friends, English teachers and social organizations. The result is a stirring collection of essays and poems detailing the coming-of-age experiences of a diverse group of young women identified by name, age, and ethnicity. Jacob and company tackle such issues as interracial friendships, poverty, oppression, and family . . . All [of these writings] are important and will resonate with teens and their parents, teachers, and mentors." -- Publishers Weekly

PREPARING TO READ
This Teacher's Guide is designed to aid all instructors who wish to use My Sisters' Voices as a tool for exploring issues of cultural and ethnic diversity, awareness, and/or sensitivity amid the young women of color in their classrooms. The Guide is primarily divided into two sections, which both appear immediately below. The first section, "Reading and Understanding this Anthology," is meant to help students with reading comprehension, conceptual appreciation, interpretation, identification, and related matters. "Questions and Exercises for the Class," the second section, aims to help students think more freely, creatively, associatively, or comparatively about the varied writings comprising My Sisters' Voices. A "Suggestions for Further Reading" list is offered as a brief conclusion.

READING AND UNDERSTANDING THIS ANTHOLOGY
1. In the Introduction, Jacob explains the thoughts, experiences, and motivations that led her to create My Sisters' Voices. "Everywhere I looked," she writes, "I began to see the need for such a book" (page xvi). Describe the "need" she is referring to. What were Jacob's personal and universal reasons for producing this book? Which reasons do you identify with -- and why?

2. Later in the Introduction, Jacob reflects on her friend named Rosa. Who is Rosa? Describe her, explaining where, when, and why she and Jacob became friends. What does Jacob mean when she says of Rosa: "She was furious that she was forced to be the translator between her parents and the rest of the city" (page xviii)?

3. "My First Love: Skratching" (pages 9-11) is an informative and entertaining essay by Brooke Wilson that critiques today's TV commercials and our society (which basically mirrors these commercials). "I can't decide what to make of it," writes Brooke. But what do you -- as a reader of Brooke's piece, as a viewer of American TV, as a young woman of color -- "make of it"? Where would you place the blame for the particular blend of sexism and objectification that Brooke is complaining about?

4. Look again at the essay called "Fear" (pages 18-9) by Nneka Nnaoke Ufere. Why do you think this certain title was chosen? Explain the "fear" described at the conclusion of this piece. How, if at all, does Nneka connect this "fear" to the other key points of her narrative?

5. There are two different poems (by two different authors) entitled "The Color Line" (pages 30, 31-4) in this book. Re-read these poems, then compare and contrast them.

6. The sharp, vivid poem called "All-American Girl" (pages 37-8) relies heavily on irony. What is ironic about it? What is the point of this poem, in your view, and how does irony help to get this point across?

7. Revisit the poem called "Assimilation" (page 48), as well as the introductory recollection by Jacobs immediately preceding it. Both writings are highly critical of the idea of assimilation. Why? Do you agree with these writings? Explain why or why not, citing your own thoughts and experiences concerning assimilation.

8. One of the most tragic and unsettling essays in this anthology is "Our Street" (pages 67-70). Describe the neighborhood and home life that Sia J. Yobah looks back on. What did you learn about world affairs by reading this piece?

9. "Daddy's Girl" and "Life's Lessons" (pages 82-5) are two essays by Taia Waltjen that are printed back-to-back. How are these essays contradictory? And how are they similar? Why has Waltjen presented two very different views of a single individual? And how, if at all, do her essays show us that love itself can be contradictory or paradoxical?

10. In the short essay "Friends" (pages 114-5), Sarah Richardson tells the painful story of her friend Amber. "Is there a correct definition of a friend?" Sarah asks. After providing a dictionary definition, Sarah provides one of her own. What is Sarah's individual definition of friendship -- and do you agree with it? Why or why not?

11. The final paragraph of Alicia Lea Haley's "Untitled" essay (pages 123-125) begins with a "lesson" from the author. Paraphrase this lesson, and then explain how she arrived at it.

12. Explore the complicated and conflicted ideas about girls of color as "caretakers" that Jacobs discusses (pages 125-6) in her introductory remarks for "Battered Butterfly: A Story of an Abusive Relationship." What is meant by this term? And how is the notion of such "caretaking" both right and wrong, according to Jacobs?

13. "The Child of Our Younger Years" (pages 142-3) is a detailed and adventuresome poem about the separate identity one has during one's childhood. Does the poem, in your view, suggest that one's childhood identity is lost when one reaches adulthood? Or does the poem allow that both identities -- childhood and adulthood -- can co-exist? Explain. Also, what questions would you add to the list of questions comprising this poem (assuming author Neftara O. Clark invited you to contribute to her poem)?

14. Samantha McKinney's short essay "Sex" (pages 155-6) ends with the author's individual view of what a man is. Look again at the last paragraph of her essay. How does Samantha define "men"? Do you agree with her? Is her definition fair, accurate, and complete? Explain.

15. What, if anything, did the piece called "Mortality" (pages 157-8) tell you about the difference between showing emotion and playing it cool? Defend your answer by citing specific passages in this piece.

16. Summarize the somewhat complex mother-daughter relationship that is presented by Cecilia Nguyen in her "Behind the Wheel" essay (pages 168-70). How do these two women ultimately feel about one another?

17. In the troubling poem called "Love Taps" (page 193), who or what is being identified by the "hyena" imagery? Who is being addressed in this poem? How and why is the speaker of this poem critical of the "hyena" figure?

18. Two brief, moving, and difficult poems appear consecutively in the "Sharing Our Sorrows" section of My Sisters' Voices: "Nonsense" and "That Child" (pages 206-7). What does each poem tell us about its speaker or subject? What does each tell us about its individual home environment and life experiences? And does the fact that these two writings are poems in any way influence the emotional or intellectual affect that they have on you personally? Explain.

19. "What Made Me Stronger" (page 231) is a work of short prose written by Deymis Baquero. Identify and comment on the different kinds of "strength" that Deymis mentions or infers here.

20. The beautiful poem called "Untitled" (page 236) by Sunny Rasmussen thrives on a single yet powerful symbol -- a flower. Explain this flower metaphor, especially in the context of this anthology as a whole.

EXERCISES FOR THE CLASS
1. The aim of this book is to help young women of color talk about, understand, affirm, and celebrate their ethnic, socio-cultural, and personal identities. Given this aim, discuss how the book influenced your thoughts, changed your views, etc. Refer to writings from throughout the book to make your points, giving special attention to matters of race -- your own race and that of the author(s) you are citing.

2. My Sisters' Voices is, collectively, a book about speaking out, being heard, getting included, and achieving empowerment. But were there any pieces in this book -- either stories or poems -- that you, as a young woman of color, felt were not representative of who you are? Identity these works, explaining why they did not speak to/for you.

3. Is the essay entitled "It's Hard" (pages 34-5) ultimately for or against "tolerance"? Or is there a paradox presented here? Discuss.

4. Iris Jacobs, who edited this book and composed its many reflective introductions, is a biracial young woman and diversity-minded activist. How did her personality and personal history affect your reading of My Sisters' Voices? Discuss the asides and introductory remarks that she offers throughout the book. Where and why did you especially identify with what Jacobs was saying? And were there any instances where your impression of a certain story or poem was different from hers? Identify them, if so, and explain why.

5. At once point in My Sisters' Voices, Jacobs confesses in an aside: "I have yet to understand what 'too angry' means" (page 45). Discuss both the specific context and the broader meanings of this rather bold remark. Do you agree with it? Explore your views as a class.

6. Creative writing -- perhaps all writing -- might be roughly categorized as an act of expression or an act of communication. (What does it mean to express something? What does it mean to communicate something? And what is the difference, in your view?) As a class, select a few different writings from this book -- favorite poems, memorable stories, etc. Then, in each case, discuss what exactly is being communicated or expressed.

7. Re-read the poem called "My Heartbeat" (pages 100-101). As a class, try to identify all of the authors, poets, and performers listed in this poem. Which other past or present artists (literary or otherwise) would you choose to add, if you were attempting a poem like this one? Explain your choices.

8. "Because [young women of color] are so often judged on our skin color, it's an important part of our identity," Jacobs notes toward the end of this book (page 221). As a class, identity several different pieces in My Sisters' Voices that deal explicitly with skin color. How is skin described or discussed, ranked or rated, praised or prized in these writings? Also, how does skin color relate to the concept of "internalized racism" (see page 23 and elsewhere)?

9. Look back at the six different sections that comprise this book. Which sections -- "More Than Skin Deep," "Our Roots," and so forth -- did you, as an individual reader, learn the most from? Which particular section most closely reflected your own ideas and experiences? And which section seemed the least familiar to you? Explain your answers by referring to various writings from throughout My Sisters' Voices.

10. Try to create your own contributions to this anthology. Write six short pieces -- one that you think would be appropriate for each of the book's six sections. When you are finished, share and discuss these writings with your classmates. (Or, if you wish to write anonymously, give your finished works to your teacher so that he/she can present them to the class without revealing your identity.)

SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING
Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café (edited by Miguel Algarin and Bob Holman), American Negro Poetry (edited by Arna Bontemps), The Girl from Purple Mountain (by May-Lee Chai and Winberg Chai), Black American Short Stories (edited by John Henrik Clarke), I Wouldn't Thank You for a Valentine: Poems for Young Feminists (edited by Carol Ann Duffy), Short Stories of Langston Hughes (published by Hill and Wang), Annie John (by Jamaica Kincaid), Lucy (by Jamaica Kincaid), My Brother (by Jamaica Kincaid), Betsey Brown (by Ntozake Shange), for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (by Ntozake Shange), Liliane (by Ntozake Shange), Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (by Ntozake Shange), and Women of the Silk (by Gail Tsukiyama).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Iris Jacob is a biracial young woman with a strong commitment to diversity issues. She has been a student facilitator at numerous diversity conferences, has started affinity groups for students of color and women at her high school, and co-directed a youth leadership institute addressing topics of oppression, prejudice, and awareness.

MY SISTERS' VOICES Teacher's Guide Copyright © 2002 by Holtzbrinck Publishers

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2003

    I Like it

    As a contributor to this book and reader I must say what a splendid peice of work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2002

    Fabulous!

    I am so proud of this 18-year old to write such a fascinating book. Two thumbs way up. Way to go, and congratulations, I know that you will go far!

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