Five women of color sat in a circle at Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education, laughing and bonding over “Girl in the Mirror: Three Generations of Black Women in Motion.” The memoir touches on the Great Migration, separation from family, disconnection from ancestors, and the past. All of the women were moved by Natasha Tarpley’s story, but one woman in particular felt a strong connection to the storyline.
“I’m a child of immigrants, so I see myself in this book. We can go all the way back and see where it relates to now,” said Barbara Salcedo, 49. Salcedo’s family is from the Dominican Republic.
“For years, I’ve been wanting to join a book club. My husband says he’ll buy me a house just for my books,” said Diane Alvarez, 45, as the women erupted in laughter. As a first-generation Honduran American, Alvarez said she too felt a connection to Tarpley’s story. She is currently teaching her two children, who are 13 and 17, about their Honduran heritage.
The gathering was part of the One Book, One Bronx book club, which takes place on Tuesdays at BronxArtSpace on E. 140th Street in Mott Haven, and on Wednesdays at Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education in Longwood.
The book club was initially scheduled to meet at Casita’s 6th floor gallery where the new exhibition “RESPECT: Exploration of Black & Afro-Latinx Female Identity,” was displayed, but due to elevator issues it was moved to the first floor gymnasium. The books that the group will be discussing on Wednesdays will align with the exhibits. The theme during the week that the Tarpley novel was discussed was Black Female Identity.
Executive director and founder of One Book, One Bronx book club, Ron Kavanaugh, led the discussion about “Girl in the Mirror,” with the help of New School student Branden Janese.
“The book is written like diary entries through different perspectives, which makes me think of family secrets. It’s extraordinarily difficult to uncover the truth of these secrets,” said Janese, 28.
In the story, Tarpley traces her grandparents’ migration from Alabama to Chicago, where her mother lives, to Boston after her father’s death, and her own trip to Africa. The story pays homage to the lives, struggles, and loves of the black people who came before her.
Kavanaugh, who also founded the Mosaic Literary Magazine and the Literary Freedom Project said that he is trying to put One Book, One Bronx at the forefront to “build community.”
Sarata Toriola, who Kavanaugh jokingly termed the book club “veteran,” admitted that as someone who usually reads by herself, it’s nice to read with a group. “It’s empowering to read books written by women of color, and people of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, and to hear other voices within our communities through reading,” said Toriola. “Being able to see the same faces from book to book has been fun, and I’ve made a lot of connections.”