Tupac Shakur’s poetry collection, The Rose that Grew from Concrete, and the safety of a diary were my entries into becoming a writer. For the entirety of middle school and the first half of high school, I was the kid who came into class late while cracking jokes or quips and sat in the back row flirting with death as I leaned my chair, balancing on two of four legs. Exuding indifference and sass were my preferred modes of armor.
Somewhere in the transition from elementary school to middle school, I lost the self-assuredness and comfort I once had. Or rather, the semblance of those feelings, once clinging, fell. I didn’t feel smart, beautiful, or accepted for many years, and a pattern emerged where it felt like every time I tried to speak—especially in moments of conflict with adults—my throat constricted, leaving me with more tears than words. This pattern also always left me undoubtedly feeling small. By eighth grade, I learned I had depression which would continue to weigh on me and remain untreated into early adulthood. During that time, when I felt deeply lonely and unloved, however, Tupac’s words alongside the ones I scrawled into my diary became a lifeline.
I didn’t see myself—a brown first-generation Latina living in the suburbs—in books or television. I didn’t see the specific overlaps of my identities in music exactly either, but I looked to music because it was real in a way that felt exceptional. Tupac’s music taught me about racism, systemic oppression, and the injustices against Black people, women, people in poverty, and other folks marginalized by society. It felt like a vital peek into deeper truths about our country that remained shadowed and skimmed over in school. I listened to stories of people surviving, and even thriving, and the foundations of my social justice lens began to form. And when I was feeling especially low, I’d play “Keep Ya Head Up” and imagine Tupac was speaking directly to me, urging me to stay strong, dry my tears, and love my darker skin—a gorgeous marker of generations-deep resilience. It became my mantra.
So, Tupac’s music nudged me towards healing, and writing became the place where I harnessed my growing self-worth into words for myself and others. I’d often hand over letters to the adults in my life at the time to do the talking for me because writing allowed me the space to slow down, think through every choice on my own time, and I soon noticed this method was more effective than attempting to speak alone. Writing retaught me the strength of my voice and eventually my speaking caught up.
Funeral for Flaca is an ode to the troublemakers, misfits, and kids who grew up feeling unseen or misunderstood. I share slices of my life from age 5 to 29 in 19 linked essays told with a narrative voice that matures as the story unfolds. Each chapter is an immersion into my mind at various stages because I wanted to honor the many versions of my voice. The book doesn’t shy away from my experiences with a fragmented family, grief, sexual assault, or mental health, or healthy doses of sarcasm and humor either, because they’re all part of what has shaped my life and helped me find my way. Like The Rose that Grew from Concrete, I wanted to uplift honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, and I wanted to offer further evidence that what’s deemed literary can and should evolve to represent as many voices as possible. Far too often while growing up, I felt my voice lacked power. Funeral for Flaca is a testament that my voice and stories like my own matter.