There is no question that women’s relationships are unique, and so is the organization we named Las Comadres Para Las Americas®. A landmark UCLA study found that reaching out to friends is a woman’s natural response to stress. It is said these friendships can bring us peace, fill the emotional shortcomings in our romantic relationships, and help us remember what lies deep inside every one of us. Women are a source of strength to each other. And despite our busy schedules, we as women need to have a relaxed space in which we can do the special kind of soul-searching talk we do when we gather with other women. Without it, we weaken.
Las Comadres Para Las Americas helps provide that time and space for women, but another reason why the organization resonates with thousands of Latinas is the familiar Spanish-language term in our name: comadres
. The term encompasses some of the most complex and important relationships that exist between women. Comadres are best friends, confidants, coworkers, advisors, neighbors, and godmothers to one’s children. The term is also used to describe midwives, and there may be no more intimate a moment than one woman helping another bring a child into the world. Comadre is indeed a powerful term, and concept, and its connotations are unique to Latino culture. All Latinas recognize the most common definition of the term comadre—the one related to friendship and camaraderie. Comadres are the women they know they can count on, lean on, and ask for advice or for help when needed. Like Las Comadres Para Las Americas, comadres make up the support system women create for themselves on the personal and professional fronts.
Comadres acquire a particular level of importance for Latinas living in an Anglo world—in addition to serving as a source of comfort, understanding, and inspiration, these women also serve as direct links to their cultural and family heritage. Sometimes, when a woman’s family is far away or is a cause of strain on her daily life, comadres become a surrogate family that doesn’t hold judgment. Comadre-type friendships can also blossom with non-Latinos who appreciate a Latina’s openness and warmth in her manner of showing affection.
Aside from finding a comadre to enrich your life, I believe another important piece to the puzzle comes from reading books by Latino authors. A journey through a writer’s words and similar experiences can provide the ultimate connection to another human being. This anthology was a dream Esmeralda Santiago and I talked about several years ago. She has been the spokesperson for the book club that forms part of Las Comadres Para Las Americas and I cherish her friendship from the bottom of my heart. The idea of bringing together a sampling of Latino literature’s most vibrant voices on the topic of female friendships seemed the natural next step. But without the book club, there might have never been an anthology. And I find it important to explain why it occurred to me to begin a book club in the first place. Emblazoned in my memory is a specific experience that led me down this path: A young Latina in her midtwenties, who had recently graduated from college, was volunteering in my office. Since I had no funds to pay her, I gave her a book by an author who also happened to be a comadre. She looked at it and said, “I have never read a Latina writer before.” I was stunned. Then I realized that this had been my own experience not so long before, and that I needed to help to change that. When the next uninitiated Latina walks through my door, I will hand her this anthology in hopes of inspiring her.
This collection of stories by prominent Latino authors is a table spread out with snapshots of friendships that overcame their difficult moments, but survived because of the humor and humanity comadres can offer, even in the darkest moments. A comadre or the idealized notion of comadreship can also manifest itself in various ways throughout a woman’s life. In “Las Comais,” Esmeralda Santiago recounts her mother’s close-knit relationships with a small and colorful army of comadres in 1950s Puerto Rico, which became an inspiration for Santiago in both her creative and personal life. In “Every Day of Her Life,” Carolina De Robertis takes on the role of caretaker for her deceased friend’s unpublished first novel, as if it were her beloved comadre’s child, her flesh and blood. If life is a highway, Stephanie Elizondo Griest sets out in “Road Sisters” on a journey with an unfamiliar copilot whose eventual friendship winds up steering her away from life’s dead ends, and back on the right path.
In “Crocodiles and Plovers,” Lorraine López remembers how a prominent yet reticent alpha author on campus guided her through the rough waters of academia, and how López figured out a way to give back to her mentor in her own fashion. In Latin America, politics or corruption can either separate two women or bring them together for a cause. Fabiola Santiago’s “Letters from Cuba” describes a tender childhood friendship that withstood the test of time, revolution, and lost correspondences. In “Casa Amiga: In Memory of Esther Chávez Cano,” Teresa Rodríguez pays a moving tribute to a woman who gave her life to defend women from the violence in Juárez, Mexico, while finding the time to be a comadre to thousands.
Long-lasting and deep friendships can be formed quickly, and sometimes in the most unexpected moments or places. When two artists with different creative styles meet at a New York City event in Sofia Quintero’s “The Miranda Manual,” neither would have expected that they would end up sharing their personal and celluloid dreams together, as well as be committed to each other through sickness and health. In “My Teacher, My Friend,” Reyna Grande relives the hardships she underwent, after emigrating from Mexico only to reconnect with an abusive father, until she walked into a classroom and met the woman who would inspire her to become a writer. In “Cooking Lessons,” chef extraordinaire Daisy Martínez recounts the day she invited three young fans, whom she met on social networking sites, to her home to create an exquisite meal that they would all savor for a lifetime.
Comadres can save your life, and they can be as wild and risk-taking as Thelma and Louise, who without each other might not have been able to walk away from an abusive relationship and unhappy home life. In “Anarchy Chicks,” Michelle Herrera Mulligan finds herself a rebellious friend at school whose fearlessness helps them plow through the pains of adolescence, dysfunctional families, and racial differences. The fact is, female friendships are scientifically proven to be good for one’s health, and in her essay “A Heart-to-Heart Connection,” Dr. Ana Nogales not only discusses why strong social support networks help prevent depression in women, but shares her own struggles with both fitting in and finding true comadres throughout her life. In Nogales’s words, “When we join with other women and learn that our experiences are similar to those of our comadres, we create a sacred space in which to heal.” The final story in this collection proves that not only women can be honorary comadres, but so can men. When Luis Alberto Urrea returns to his former home in Tijuana he reunites with his younger friend, who is still a resident of the city’s garbage dump, and shows her how to dream. And in the process, demonstrates what it means to be a compadre in this day and age.
Although writers are often known to be solitary and private people, without a comadre willing to back them through crucial years of self-discovery, making their way in the U.S. might have been utterly impossible. In these twelve candid and thought-provoking stories chock-full of devourable morsels of wisdom, perhaps you too will recognize your own comadre in your life. If this is so, then you are one lucky person, and if you’re in need of finding that special friend, now you know where to find her, comadre. You can count on us.
Nora de Hoyos Comstock, PhD
President & CEO
Las Comadres Para Las Americas www.lascomadres.org