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“Nosotras:” Boise State faculty co-write a book about influential Latinas in Idaho

Photo by Claire Keener

“‘I didn’t know there were Latinx people in Idaho,’ that’s usually the response.”

These are the words of Maria González Cárdenas, co-author of “Nosotras,” a book that profiles 50 Latinas who have shaped Idaho in the last 50 years.

“We have contributed, we are contributing, we will continue to contribute,” Cárdenas said.

Cárdenas is a former college counselor in the College Assistance Migrant Program at Boise State University, and has served on several Idaho Hispanic boards and in Latinx organizations as a part of her background in migrant work.

The idea to write a book about Latinas in Idaho first came to her in 1992 while working as the president of Mujeres Unidas de Idaho.

It wasn’t until 2020 that Cárdenas introduced the idea to Boise State professor Emily Wakild, who joined the project soon after.

“Emily got really excited about it, especially because Emily has published work and done work within the Latina community,” Cárdenas said.

Wakild has both worked in and published books about Mexico, which were translated into Spanish.

Maria Gonzalez, Emily Walklid "Nosotros" authors
[Photo of “Nosotras” authors: Maria Gonzalez Cardena (left) and Emily Wakild (right).]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

“Through that process of translation, it became apparent to me how easy it is to publish things that need to exist in this world,” Wakild said.

Cárdenas and Wakild received funding for “Nosotras” through a Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan grant from the Idaho Humanities Council.

“I was really excited that they were so willing to support an important project like this,” Wakild said.

Initially, the book was intended to focus on Latinx Idahoans with Mexican descent, though eventually the project evolved to highlight women in the Latinx community.

“The resounding [response] was, ‘No Maria, it’s got to be about women,’” Cárdenas said. “It’s got to be about Latina women and, if you can, Mexican-descent women.”

According to Cárdenas, most of the stories from the Latinx community that get told are about men, leaving out an equally important part of their history.

“One thing that’s exciting about this project is the opportunity to tell stories that haven’t been seen, and to be able to tell them in the words of the people that experienced them,” Wakild said.

Nearly 13 percent of Idaho’s population indicated they were Hispanic or Latino, with Latinx children making up 18% of K-12 public school students, according to the 2020 census.

As Wakild pointed out, this means that approximately 1 in 5 students in Idaho public schools are Latinx, though their representation in higher education along with Idaho’s history remains unbalanced.

“So that means that [20%] of Boise State should be Hispanic or Latinx, and it’s not, and we’re nowhere close to that,” Wakild said. “Even less so when we look at political representation.”

Cárdenas hopes that this book will help young Latinas feel represented and encourage them to visualize a path to becoming influential Idaho women.

“We lose so many, they don’t even make it through their junior year, often,” Cárdenas said. “So that’s why getting to even younger than middle school and junior high is so important.”

Though the Latinx population in Idaho is diverse, “Nosotras” is set to have a larger focus on Latina women of Mexican descent in order to be more representative of the population.

The state of Idaho is unique in that 85% of Latinx citizens in Idaho are of Mexican descent. However, Mexicans only represent 62% of the Latinx population on a national level.

This means that Idaho Hispanics are more likely than all U.S. Hispanics to be of Mexican descent, according to the 2021 Hispanic Profile Data Book for Idaho.

“Latinas and Latinx communities have reinvented rural Idaho,” Wakild said. “There’s a vibrancy in the community, and yet when we think about rural, the white dude in the cowboy hat is sort of what’s on the cover for Idaho. Part of this project is expanding what we think of when we think of rural, because it’s a multicultural rural, there’s a reinvention.”

Part of Cárdenas and Wakild’s goal for their book is to ensure its accessibility to the various communities in Idaho, regardless of language or financial barriers.

“We don’t want that to be a barrier, that just the English-speaking young women or women are able to read it,” Cárdenas said. “We want the moms, the grandmas, to be able to read it. And a lot of those are going to be Spanish speakers.”

Aside from providing different translations of the book, Wakild outlined two goals for making sure the book is more accessible as an educational tool: one of which is public library access.

“We would like it to be in public libraries all around the state,” Wakild said. “We would like to send copies to as many libraries as we can afford to do.”

Additionally, Wakild hopes to offer workshops for teachers that will illustrate how they can incorporate the book into their teaching and lesson plans.

Cárdenas also hopes to have an electronic version available at some point in the future.

The release of “Nosotras” is planned for September 2022, during Latinx Heritage Month.

With the project still undergoing the writing process, Wakild encourages the Boise State community to reach out if they know of someone whom they believe should be featured in the book.

“We don’t want people to feel chosen, or not chosen or overlooked,” Wakild said.

For those who wish to suggest Latinas to highlight in the book, please contact Emily Wakild at emilywakild@boisestate.edu.

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