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Bird of Paradise

Bird of Paradise

How I Became Latina

  • freshman reading
In 2009, when journalist and documentary filmmaker Raquel Cepeda almost lost her estranged father to heart disease, she was terrified she’d never know the truth about her ancestry. Born in Harlem to Dominican parents, every time she looked in the mirror, Cepeda saw a mystery—a tapestry of races and ethnicities that came together in an ambiguous mix. With time running out, she decided to embark on an archaeological dig of sorts by using the science of ancestral DNA testing to excavate everything she could about her genetic history.

The strands of her DNA would take her further, across the globe and into history. Who were her ancestors? How did they—and she—become Latina? Her journey, as the most unforgettable ones often do, would lead her to places she hadn’t expected to go. With vibrant lyrical prose and a fierce honesty, Cepeda parses concepts of race, identity, and ancestral DNA among Latinos by using her own Dominican-American story as one example, and in the process arrives at some sort of peace with her father.
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  • Atria Books | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451635874 | 
  • February 2014
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Read an Excerpt

PREFACE

Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.

—LEWIS CARROLL, ALICE IN WONDERLAND

AS I WRITE THIS, MY THREE-MONTH-OLD SON IS STARING AT ME intensely from his bouncy seat. He’s cooing loudly, like he’s trying to tell me something important, something he’ll forget by the time he utters his first word. Marceau has been here before. Of this, I am sure.

The left half of our brains, programmed to think that seeing is believing, would dismiss this kind of thinking as esoteric new age bullshit. However, there’s the other half that can’t dismiss the idea... see more

About the Author

Raquel Cepeda
Photograph by Heather Weston

Raquel Cepeda

Raquel Cepeda is an award-winning journalist, cultural activist, and documentary filmmaker. A former magazine editor, her byline has appeared in The Village Voice, CNN.com, the Associated Press, and many others. Cepeda directed and produced Bling: A Planet Rock, the critically acclaimed documentary about American hip-hop culture’s obsession with diamonds. She lives with her husband, a writer and TV producer, daughter, and son in her beloved New York City.

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