Sisters in Search of the American...

<i> Veronica Chambers was born in Panama and grew up in Brooklyn</i>

Bettina Flores, author of “Chiquita’s Cocoon: the Latina Woman’s Guide to Greater Power, Love, Money, Status and Happiness,” has been called the Betty Friedan of the Hispanic world. Her progressive, “liberated Latina” book has been stirring the feminist soul of the Latina community since it was first published in 1990.

Flores has proved herself to be a brilliant marketing person as well. After self-publishing the book in 1990, she managed to sell a hefty 20,000 copies, hawking the book wherever possible, from “baby showers to book conventions.” Now Villard, a division of the publishing giant Random House, is reissuing the book with a confident 75,000-copy first printing and a 16-city author tour. As Flores herself puts it, “Adelante mujer!"-- You go , girl!

Although “Chiquita’s Cocoon” was originally intended as an autobiography, Flores ended up interviewing almost 200 Latina women of all ages.

Again and again, the women shared confessions of anger, frustration and hopelessness. Education, Flores explains, “is our biggest stumbling block.” According to “Intercambio Feminiles,” a national Latina newsletter from Berkeley, California, in 1982 only 44% of the Latinas 25 years and older had a high school diploma and only 6% had a college diploma (comparable national figures--from 1990--are 30% and 26.5%). In California, where the Latina population numbers 2.24 million, Latinas have a 50% high school dropout rate, more than twice the national figure.


While statistics are interspersed throughout the book, Flores is nobody’s number-cruncher. She writes in plain, sister-to-sister English. Topics range from the delicate, “Getting Smart With Planned Parenthood” to the feisty, “Tell Your Old Man to Get His Own Beer.” Flores advises young Latina women--who overwhelmingly marry at an early age--that reasons for marriage should not include: “I want to get out of the house,” “I’m pregnant,” “I’m getting older” or “Everybody else is.” Similarly the author points out that the traditional large Latino family not only makes it more difficult to succeed economically, but takes the biggest toll on the women of the community.

Flores calls the truths as she sees them and only a member of the Latina community could speak so boldly without being intrusive or condescending. She is adamant that Latina women should no longer accept the Spanish maxim “Si Dios Quiere” (“If God Wills It”) and replace it with “It’s Up to Me.” The career planning in the back of the book is sketchy, but Flores’ purpose is not to outline 10 Easy Steps to Success, but to inspire Latina woman to break from tradition and to put their own self-interests first. She, of all people, knows that while this is not easy, by no means is it impossible.

The success of Flores’ self-publishing effort is strong evidence of an untapped market. Unfortunately, despite the prominence of writers such as Laura Esquivel (“Like Water for Chocolate”) and Isabel Allende (most recently “The Infinite Plan”), there is a mistaken assumption that Hispanics (like blacks and every other ethnic minority) don’t read. By setting a large first printing, by publishing in both English and Spanish, and by pricing “Chiquita’s Cocoon” at an unusually affordable hardcover price, Villard has given this valuable book the kind of push it needs and deserves.