The biggest reason I loved books when I was a kid was because they made me feel less alone. There were pivotal moments of identification with the narrators I was reading about, whether they were facing the same familial struggles or just had the same weird pet peeve as me. I’m white, and there was no shortage of characters who looked like me in the books, movies, and television I grew up with; I had the privilege of feeling seen and heard by my culture.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for so many girls in the US. There is a blatant lack of representation of women of color in the most popularized stories, including those told in school. But the creators of All The Women In My Family Sing hope to change that for future generations. Their anthology provides young women of color with stories they can relate to, encouraging them to rise, aspire, and embrace their heritages.
With the intention of revealing racial inequities in the publishing world, Nothing But Truth LLC’s book was created entirely by women of color—all the way from its contributors to its design and marketing. The result is a beautiful collection of poetry and prose that documents the experiences of nearly seventy women, ages 16 to 77.
The works in All The Women In My Family Sing are all unique, inspiring, and enlightening. Together, they create a collection that can forge connection and bridge differences by giving their readers a glimpse of what it means to be a woman of color in the US.
We spoke with the editor, Deborah Santana, who challenges injustice with kindness, compassion, and her dedication to a variety of projects that empower women.
Why do you think stories are so important?
Stories provide insights into a person’s walk through life and the triumphs and struggles they experience. So often we are critical of how we handle the unfolding of our relationships, jobs, or choices, yet when we share our stories, we gain understanding. The readers of our anthology have told us they did not know many of the challenges facing women of color until they read the essays in our anthology. Hundreds of people have expressed gratitude for the writers’ vulnerability and bravery.
How did this book come to be?
Our publishing company, Nothing But the Truth, LLC set an intention to reveal the racial inequities in the publishing world and create a book completely written, designed, edited, and marketed by women of color. My dear friend Chris Bronstein, founder of Nothing But the Truth, asked me to co-publish this title because she is not a woman of color.
We found contributors by posting a call for submissions in various magazines and online sources. We received 300 submissions which three freelance editors and I read and culled it to 69 for the book.
Do you have a favorite story in the book?
The essays are like children—each one unique and stunning—no one better than another. I remain deeply moved by Tammy Thea’s “Escape From the Cambodian Killing Fields.” She lost both of her parents, two of her children, her sister, niece and nephew, her brother and sister-in-law, and her dog. In total, she lost 37 immediate family members during the Khmer Rouge rule. And she is the sweetest person I have ever met. How can she have so much gratitude to live in America? Because she came from a place much worse. So much of our country’s divisions arise from recounting injustices and oppression—from anger over loss. I listen to every story, remembering Desiderata by Max Ehrmann: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste; Remember what peace there may be in silence; As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons…”
“What Is Said” [a story about violence against black men] was a really powerful story. How do you find hope when things seem bleak?
“What Is Said” represents the history that is not taught in our country, as well as the atrocities done to people of color that are not faced or made amends for, or provided restitution and reparations. In Hope Wabuke’s personal revelation of how violence inflicted on black men affects her baby boy, we feel the depth of loss not available through news accounts.
War, disagreements, greed, separation, are all part of the human condition, but I believe we can aspire to live in peace and oneness with others. I meditate daily to live from a place of love and compassion. It is a commitment that I must diligently return to over and over again so I am not overcome with despair.
I loved the quote in “What It Takes: A Letter to My Granddaughter” [a letter by Belva Davis, the first African-American woman to become a television reporter on the U.S. West Coast, to her granddaughter]: “The first step to freedom is learning to love yourself.” What are you thoughts on this quote?
This quote comes from the superhero Belva Davis, who endured oppression and segregation from her day of birth. Her contributions to the world of journalism changed the path for people of color. Her quote is a reflection of what she has learned about living and thriving in spite of the conditions around her. She speaks truth to power.
What is the most powerful way that you believe white women can support women of color?
Thank you so much for this question! White women can study history to understand their privilege and how life has been for women and men of color. They can lay down their fragility about issues and be available and open to talk about how racism affects people of color. They can commit to work for equality and change. As Robin DiAngelo described it in her 2011 paper “White Fragility”: “White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress.” If white women and men read her essay and stop resisting the truth of slavery, the annihilation of indigenous peoples, the reality of stolen lands and free labor to build America, we can work to repair what is broken.
I know you work on a variety of inspiring projects—documentaries, your nonprofit, this book, motherhood, etc. Do you ever struggle or feel overwhelmed? How do you move forward?
Oh my goodness—yes, I struggle, yes, I sometimes feel overwhelmed! I move forward by spending mornings in silent meditation, taking long hikes, being in circle with dear friends, by eating healthfully and trying to have tremendous kindness for myself and others. I celebrate the miracles and openings, like this interview, where the world affirms the work I offer to it.
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