A Review of All the Women in My Family Sing: Women of Color Share Their Stories in a Book of Essays

Being a woman isn’t something that’s easily defined, yet society tends to put all women into one box—with the assumption we all share the same experience. As women, we’ve been taught to ignore our differences, when in reality we should be sharing our stories as women not only with the world but woman to woman. Our stories may be different, but in all of our differences, we make up what it is to be women.

Author and activist for peace and social justice, Deborah Santana did just that by putting together All the Women in My Family Sing—a book of essays written by women of color from around the world sharing their life experiences. Each essay swept me up into its storylines with its depths of what being a woman of color looks like through a variety of lenses.

As the editor of the book, Santana’s work began years ago when she discovered the lack of women of color in the publishing industry. She put out a call for women of color writers only. Everything about this book speaks women of color. The authors, the editor, the cover art, the cover design and promotions are all from women of color, according to Santana.

This book dives into the depths that have been untouched and unheard. Published in January of this year, All the Women in My Family Sing puts stories by women of color stories directly into the spotlight.
Stories about surviving traumas, realizing what race is, struggling with family and acceptance, fill the inside of this book for over 300 pages, but they weren’t the only topics. This book is broken down into eight main topics:

Editing Identity: Cultural Identity, Gender and Sexuality:

This section, which marks the beginning of the book, dives into the complex topic of how women identify themselves and how others identify them. I read about other women, similar to me yet different, and their definition of themselves and how that’s shaped the way they see themselves fitting into the world:
“The journey from Negro to Black was quite a ride. Now, here I am, African American in a time overflowing with achievements that were marked ‘First’—America’s First Black President. There were sorrows that made us weep and wail, as we donned wristbands with the hashtag#BlackLivesMatter…It doesn’t matter if you proudly check the box next to ‘Black/African American’ or make a list of your genealogy next to the ‘Other’ box. What matters is where we go from here.”—From Negro to Black by La Rhonda Crosby-Johnson.

 

At Home in the World: Immigration, Migration, and the Idea of Home:

The generic saying that home is where the heart is, isn’t always true. As humans, we’re quick to judge another individual without acknowledging that we’re all dealing with something. Whether it’s trying to find peace with one’s home or escaping one’s homeland for survival, these women’s stories tell it all. This section discusses topics such as tradition, taking things for granted and learning that home means something different to everyone:

“In the killing fields of Cambodia, I lost both of my parents. I lost two of my children. I lost my sister, my niece, and nephew, my brother and sister-in-law and my dog. In total, I lost thirty-seven immediate family members during the Khmer Rouge’s rule. When I shower, I see the scars all over my middle section from a stomach infection that nearly killed me, too. When I see the scars, I remember that I am so strong.”—Escape from the Cambodia Killing Fields by Tammy Thea.

Trailblazers, Hell-Raisers, and Stargazers: Careers, Work and Worth:

The title is self-explanatory: prominent female figures throughout history share their stories of triumph. Even with all of their accomplishments and successes, these women have had their struggles. The road to reaching the top isn’t easy, sometimes it’s discouraging, but these women kept going despite it all:
“That’s how I attained my tenure-track job at a research university. There’s nothing else to the story. Ph.D. confirmed from a credible institution. Research conducted and publications under my belt. And my tenure-track position was offered as a result of my work ethic, in addition to identifying as Black…I never felt as if the department, college or university chose me because of my academic skills or research background. Like my colleagues, I was qualified. But I felt less than competent every time I arrived on campus and unlocked my office door.”— You’re Hired! Being African American in Education by Dr. K E Garland.

With Liberty and Justice for All: The Struggle for Social Justice and Equality:

Women have always been the backbone behind the change in society—whether it’s showing up in high numbers to vote or being at the front of a march, we’re there. As the gender that’s always being told how to dress, what and what not to say, discussing the topic of social justice and equality helps us to understand how we can grow as individuals and as a society:

“Every day of the past nineteen years: ten syllables, twenty-four letters. My last name alone is five syllables and fourteen letters…I grew up angry and thought, ‘Why should I make things easy for anyone? It’s my name and if you can’t handle it, that’s your problem.’ … So what, in the end, do I think of my name? What should I do when I get married, for example? Keep Ganeshananthan? Oooh, I could hyphenate. The excitement! No, I don’t think so. I like my name the way it is.”— What’s in a Name by V.V. Ganeshananthan.

In a Family Way: Family and Friendship:

Family and friends either help us navigate through life or distract us from finding our right path. In this section, women share what role family and friends played in their lives. Our loved ones aren’t perfect, and sometimes they don’t have our best interests at heart. Sharing our stories helps to understand the value and meaning of others in our lives:

“We’re all products of the environment in which we’ve been raised. I spent a lot of time trying to make sense of alcoholism, domestic violence and parenting, and was left confused. I carried with me insecurities from not having a loving, nurturing father raise me to adulthood and beyond, and knowing what a broken family was…I am blessed to have had a strong mother who provided a road map to follow when I was face raising a child into a man alone. I understand that God places many opportunities and people in your life. I know He placed this young man in my life and gave me the humility, wisdom and compassion to teach him and show him the way, even when I didn’t know he was watching.”—An Exceptional Father by Vicki L. Ward.

But Beautiful…The Beauty Myth:

Women of color come in a variety of shades, shapes and sizes, each aspect adds to our beauty But our beauty can’t be defined by society’s standards because we’ll never be enough. We’re never the “perfect” woman if we listen to the nay-sayers. This section is about debunking what others think of beauty and redefining it to make it true to the women who are sharing their stories:

“I ran fast, expecting to look like Shirley Temple, or rather Arbadella. But the image staring back at me was neither of them. I had thin, limp, curls, not full and fluffy. I was not happy…I knew not all hair was created equal. Not only was Negro hair different from Caucasian hair, but within our own race, there are different textures and lengths…my sister and I wore our afros proudly. They weren’t big and thick like Angela Davis’; as I said, we did not have that kind of hair…the new awareness of embracing our individual images and feeling pride in who we were was further instilled by our parents. They had been doing it all along.”— Not Shirley Temple Curls by Dera R. Williams.

The Cure for What Ails You: Transcending Illness and Trauma:

Learning how to deal with the traumas of our past or the new illnesses of our present can take a toll on an individual. Coping with these issues takes time and effort and hope (lots of it). But, sharing our toughest moments could potentially help the next individual going through the same or similar situation. In this section, women of color share their deepest endeavors through life:

“I decided my own redemption was wrapped up in advocating for my daughters in a way that no one had advocated for me. When I found out my fiancé was molesting my oldest daughter, I made sure she never had to see him again by sending him to jail. My youngest daughter was born the day I made three years clean and sober…I believe that teaching people to speak up, we become living, breathing examples to one another that healing is possible.”—Learning to Thrive by Kira Lynne Allen.

 

A Woman’s Journey Is Never Done: Traveling Far, Wide and Deep:

Life can seem never-ending, but like all journeys, they do eventually come to an end. There’s this notion that once women reach certain milestones in their life: having a baby, becoming a wife, getting a successful career, that their life stops there. In this section, these women show and tell that’s there’s more to a woman’s journey through life than what’s already known:

“Neither of my grandmothers graduated from high school. They were certainly smart enough, but life’s necessities made formal education a luxury secondary to work. Faced with the daily Southern indignities of being referred to as gals, niggers and negras…my college years weren’t much better. At the predominantly white university I attended, a professor once boldly asked me how I was going to end starvation and excessive birth rates in Africa. ‘When you solve all of white America’s problems, I’ll tackle the problems of an entire continent that I’ve never visited’…Recently, I was reflecting on my life from childhood to the present and became overwhelmed with emotion, knowing that God and some very godly women must have seen something in me the moment I was born…They saw the birth of a new generation of African American womanhood.”—When Life Is a Crystal Stair by Rita Roberts-Turner.

What started out as an idea led to a platform for women of color to expose themselves while becoming free by using their words as a weapon. Santana edited each of the 69 women’s essays with the hopes of opening the eyes of her readers to a world of women that aren’t usually in the limelight.

“Storytelling is extremely important,” Santana said. “Each one of is different from one another.”

This book is helping me to better understand who I am as a woman and what that means in the grand scheme of my life.

To order All the Women in My Family Sing visit https://www.amazon.com/All-Women-My-Family-Sing/dp/0997296216

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED WITH THE MILWAUKEE COURIER ON 08/25/18