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Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  421 ratings  ·  76 reviews
In 2009, when Raquel Cepeda almost lost her estranged father to heart disease, she was terrified she’d never know the truth about her ancestry. 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 scien ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Atria Books
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3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  421 ratings  ·  76 reviews

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Raquel Cepeda
Feb 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Shelves: my-book
This is my book and I loved the entire ritual of writing and process reading each draft. More Latina-Americans have to document their stories!
David Dacosta
Jul 01, 2013 rated it liked it
It’s impossible to not to be reminded of Junot Diaz while reading author Raquel Cepeda’s generational tale of family, culture and identity. The obvious comparisons reside in the fact that like Diaz, Cepeda is also a product of Dominican heritage. Her decision to intersperse the narrative with D.R. Spanish and doses of crude vernacular further supports this reasoning. Still, we cannot fairly assign the ownership of all things Dominican Republic to the now famous Pulitzer recipient. Nor can we den ...more
Melinda Goodman
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Raquel Cepeda was a student in one of my poetry workshops in the mid 1990’s at Hunter College. She was already an exceptional writer when she came into the workshop and one of the poems that she wrote during that semester has stuck in my mind ever since. I was finally able to contact her a few weeks ago hoping to get a copy of that poem to share with my current Hunter College students. It turned out that Raquel still has a copy of that poem and she also informed me of a new book that she has wri ...more
I had breakfast with some of my aunts and cousins today. I mentioned this book, saying that Cepeda had used DNA testing to understand some of her genealogy, saying that we should encourage my dad to do DNA testing for our family. I found out he did. On my dad's side: Southeastern European, Jewish, African, and a tiny bit Native American. I had one great-grandmother was was called "la india" (the Indian). So now I know what I have longoing suspected. Something I will talk more about in my What-Do ...more
Jul 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Being a Dominican-American New Yorker and having had an insatiable hunger to learn more about my family's own ancestral past and Dominican history for as long as I can remember, so much of Bird of Paradise resonated with me. So much so that for much of Part 2, I felt like Cepeda was speaking directly to me. In all my research and personal investigation of both Dominican and my own family's histories, I felt like so many of the observations she made about Dominican culture, identity and perceptio ...more
Roger DeBlanck
Jul 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The courage to unearth one’s personal trauma in a memoir has always been an ability that both impresses and baffles me. In Bird of Paradise, Cepeda utilizes the testimonial approach with great candor and honesty to excavate her painful youth in order to confront it. In her preface to the book she states, “Our identities are as fluid as our personal experiences are diverse.” That statement captures the essence of this emotionally-charged memoir.

Part one of the book mostly recounts the physical a
Oct 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books of 2013.
A truly fantastic memoir that is rich in honesty, self-discovery and curiosity. Part One of the book, Cepeda expounds on her background, detailing how she lived in New York, Santo Domingo and San Francisco in her formative years. Her time as a youth wasn't easy--reading her interactions with her mother and father will give you a soul cry. As you read part one, her spirit seems palpable despite the circumstances. Understanding her life really sets up a beautiful back
Priscilla Zabala
Nov 25, 2017 rated it did not like it
In my opinion, this story was not for me. It contained a lot of inappropriate content, and was very depressing. I began reading this story and learned that some of the characters were very strange, based on their choices in life, and it was very sad. There were times when I was reading this story that I needed to cover my mouth due to the insanity taking place in this story. I also needed to splash my face with water to calm myself down and to prevent myself from crying.

The story was about a yo
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book found a way to integrate memoir writing with historical narrative in a way few books I've read concerning culture (specially Latino culture) know how to do. While some suffer from bad writing and others lean too much on personal experience, Cepeda's book lends itself to an understanding of Latinos as a whole through her personal journey in a way that demands the reader walk in her shoes. Her journey from a traumatized child to journalist / filmmaker is interwoven with the history of hi ...more
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own
Wow wow wow such a perfect read for my time in Costa Rica, but also just incredibly written overall. After reading Cepeda’s story I’m compelled to take my own lineage more seriously. I really loved this one.
Apr 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: roots
WOW. All latinos should read this book, regardless of where they find themselves within the diaspora. SO IMPORTANT.
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
When I was younger, I’d imagine what would happen
If my parents had stayed in Puerto Rico
Who would I be if I had never seen Manhattan
If I lived in Puerto Rico with my people
My people!

I feel like all my life I’ve tried to find the answer
Working harder, learning Spanish, learning all I can
I thought I might find the answer out at Stanford
But I’d stare out at the sea
Thinking, where’m I supposed to be?

- Lin-Manuel Miranda, from the song "When You're Home" from In the Heights

As a Latina who's never rea
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book continued to provide well beyond what I ever expected it would. The first part is a intriguing memoir of the author's pre-conception and childhood years, written as smoothly and enticingly as fiction. The author consistently incorporates themes of Dominican culture, early hip hop and spirituality throughout. In the second part she shifts gears and delves into finding out the facts about her genetic makeup, telling the story of her research and DNA testing. All of the information, as it ...more
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bio-memoir
This is a great and eye-opening book! Raquel Cepeda writes with clarity, passion, sensitivity, and humor about her difficult childhood surrounded by very-human characters, and also of the conflicts and paradoxes in the lives of people of color. Her driving curiosity about her racial background and the history of her ancestors leads to the DNA search she describes in the second half of the book, and which is very interesting. I recommend this to anyone who is curious about life in NYC in modern d ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-books
Bird of Paradise was amazing. This really resonated with me as I am mixed race, the book hit very close to home in many ways. Raquel Cepeda weaves a fantastically good story detailing her experiences growing up, trying to fit in at school, and even with her family. Her father's health becomes a jumping off point to have her DNA analyzed and find out who she is and how she will define herself. This is probably my favorite first book I have won yet. The books is smart, witty, heartbreaking, and ly ...more
Loved Raquel's story~ part memoir, part cultural, spiritual, scientific investigation. The book raises great issues about race, culture, and relationships. Her journey brings to mind my own journey of how I'm who I am: as a Latina, Mexican American, American, Chicana. Who am I? Who are we? Can that be defined? Perhaps it depends on where we are or our environment... Family, friends, enemies, pop culture, music, language- all morph us into what and who we are and represent. Her book is an importa ...more
Melody Moezzi
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written. I enjoyed every much so that I wrote a review for Ms. Magazine about it. I posted it once before I believe, and I think including the link prevented my review from posting, so instead of linking to it, I'll just say--google my name and Raquel Cepeda and Ms. Magazine, and you should find it easily! If you're not willing to do that, just know that the book is fantastic.
Regina Sheerin
Aug 30, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: memoir
Poorly written and half formed (and half-witted) opinions. Showy and vulgar writing. A pastiche of politically correct, juvenile and rabid impressions poorly interwoven. Que lastima, por que en un tema importante y fuerte.
Natalie Salagean
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
There’s a word my mother uses with such frequency, such habit, with complete and total love behind every little muscle that makes the movements sound aloud, that I’ve never, ever thought to write down. Mami. Because to put that word down, to make the conscious decision to place it, italicize it, and highlight its flow and distinction in contrast to everyday English dialogue, would be a doorway into a world I am not fully yet comfortable in rendering.

It’s one thing to talk about the American drea
Aisha Francis-Samuels
Cepeda's book is part memoir, part travel journal, and part infomercial for Family Tree DNA. I'm not mad at her for it, but it's kind of a hustle that this company gave her free tests and perhaps even funded her trip around the world for a year while she traveled to the places that her DNA test showed her to be connected to.

Ultimately, the text is honest in its portrayal of the lengths some people of mixed race origin go to to deny any part of them that is African or Indigenous while playing up
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Raquel Cepeda really created an amazing piece with this one. Raw, honest, and very emotional, this seemed like it ripped pages out of my own life and smacked it all together into a book that shatters everything I have ever been taught.

Being a Dominican-American woman (also born in New York) we were always taught secrecy was one of the most important foundations of a family: never tell family business, they aren't family and there are no such things as friends, keep the police away, etc. This bo
Jan 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for:
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Linda Doyle
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
The first half of this book is a page-turning memoir that tells of Cepeda's young life as an abused and neglected child and teen. At times it can be difficult reading about the cruelty she was subjected to. The second half is almost a scholarly treatise, which occasionally delves into mysticism, on tracing one's roots. Guess which half I found more interesting? No, I'm not an intellectual, so I was more intrigued by the first part. On the other hand, though Cepeda gets into some complicated (and ...more
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this memoir! It told a story of resilience and what power comes from knowing where your origin. The abuse especially in the beginning chapters were so hard to read. I felt anger for what Raquel and Rocio endured in the beginning. Then, I wanted smack Rocio and Eduardo. Other times I laughed and reminisced about the music she mentioned. I felt many emotions while reading! Drawbacks: Some of the writing was choppy and the editor should have had Raquel cut down some of the scientific and ...more
Rasheem Johnson
I'm too much of a pessimist to have patience for a memoir with magical/spiritual elements. I don't believe a word of this crap. The hip hop stuff and personal stories are cool - save for the excessive tales of torture and abuse. Those personal stories and vivid descriptions of New York life in the late 80s/early 90s was what really kept me engaged. Unfortunately, part 2 of this memoir takes a drastic turn for the worst, trading in everything that made part 1 work and most of what made this a "me ...more
Aug 13, 2018 rated it liked it
I generally don’t like when people review books based on what they weren’t versus what they were. That said... the description of this book was misleading to me. This was more about her life, with a heavy emphasis on her fraught childhood, with a relatively short section at the end about the ancestral research. I would’ve liked the ratio flipped. If you’re looking more for a memoir, you may enjoy this.
Angelina Ruiz
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book, really shed a light on the Latina experience growing up in NYC as well as exploring the roots of what makes us who we are. Beautifully written.
Margaret Farrell
May 28, 2018 rated it liked it
First half of the book with Raquel's autobiography was incredible. Very raw and sad and eye-opening.
Second half was where she looked into her ancestry using DNA. I was much less interested in that.
Feb 13, 2018 rated it liked it
What I particularly loved about this book was the second half where she explored her own ancestors and ideas around ancestry.
Aug 12, 2018 rated it liked it
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Born in Harlem to Dominican parents, award-winning journalist, podcaster, and documentary filmmaker Raquel Cepeda is the author of Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina. Equal parts memoir about Cepeda’s coming of age in New York City and Santo Domingo, and detective story chronicling her year-long journey to discover the truth about her ancestry, the book also looks at what it means to be Latina ...more
“I have never bought into the idea that blood is thicker than water. Love and respect are meant to be earned from our children, our spouses, our families, and our friends.” 71 likes
“Shakespeare had it right all along: Love will kill you in the end.” 35 likes
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