The Introduction: What’s In A Name
A while back, I visited writer Diana Gabaldon’s website. As I browsed through her pages, I noticed how she engaged her readers by telling the story of her parents and how she came to be. Being a woman of mixed culture from Arizona, like me, I found the story inspiring. I imagined she did so because she has had to struggle with her identity as a writer, which is something I have faced as well.
Gabaldon’s approach got me thinking about writing identity. Writers, in some way, always deal with the concept of identity in their work, and it’s a universal struggle I’ve noticed over the decades. As a writer, I feel we struggle because it’s a part of our writing journey; this is a natural process of finding our “voice”– the voice that creates in a unique way and defines who and what we are.
With that being said, here’s how I found that voice.
The Background Story
As you now know, my name is Brandy Rae Ramirez. My maiden name is Castillo. I am a fourth generation American whose family didn’t cross a border, but rather, the border crossed us. One day my family were Mexican citizens in the area of New Mexico, but thanks to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, they were Americans the next day. Over the generations, my family acclimated, and today we are like any other American family, mixed with a variety of heritages and cultures.
Unfortunately, however, because of my looks and the way I grew up, many people put me into the “ethnic” category. I also put myself in that category when I started writing, which I found restrictive. Because of my Mexican, Spanish, and Native American background and Southwestern upbringing, I do write about many things considered “ethnic.” I also spent many years researching and writing within the Mexican American literature genre; however, the more I thought about it, the more I decided I’d rather be pegged a Woman’s Fiction writer rather than a Latina writer, so that’s where my struggle began. I started asking myself, “Should I avoid writing about the Southwest?” “Should I include Spanish words and phrases to capture a character?” “Should I not write about people like me?”
For too long I got stuck with categories. The same categories we have to mark on applications, and the ones people judge us by. For too long, I allowed these categories to cause me unnecessary stress, and I questioned my identity and voice for longer than I should have; however, after talking to amazing writers like Leslie Marmon Silko, Terrance Hayes, and Luis Valdez, as well as reading Gabaldon’s bio, I realized sometimes we just have to embrace the categories and use them to our advantage, which is what I have decided to do.
My name is part of that choice.
Growing up in West Phoenix, a neighborhood that was 95 percent Hispanic was a challenge with a name like “Brandy Rae.” Many of my friends had names like Annette, Maria, Sylvia, and other common Latina names. My mother, on the hand, grew up in a small Northern Arizona town, Winslow, and her love of Country music and the rodeo, I believe, played a role in her naming of my two older sisters, younger brother, and I.
My oldest sister is Shelley Renee; the second oldest is Tanya Marie; my younger brother is Steven Mario (not too bad); and then there’s me, Brandy Rae.
Let’s just say I got some great comments over the years, and it got to the point where I learned to hate my name. The only people who ever called me “Brandy Rae” were family members, and even they, along with my husband and kids, loved to tease me about it because they knew I hated it.
Accepting the Mix
After my husband and I moved to Texas, I started meeting a lot of people with my first and middle name. I couldn’t help but tease my mom about that because I feel she knew I would end up in Texas. Let’s just say that little by little, my name didn’t seem so bad.
Additionally, the more advanced I became as a writer and found my writer’s voice, I began to see the benefit of having such a name because it defines who I am as both a writer and a person. Brandy Rae represents the American me–the woman who belongs nowhere but everywhere, as Gloria Anzaldúa states in many of her texts about what it means to be a mestiza (of mixed race). If we look at what it means to be American, we’re all a bunch of mestizos/as full of varied but rich backgrounds and cultures. As for Ramirez and Castillo, those names simply represent another great culture I am part of in this great country.
Does that mean people will categorize me as an”ethnic” writer? More than likely. However, I hope people will instead view me as a contemporary American writer who happens to write about life and culture in the Southwest. Overall, I guess only time, the American Literary Canon, and readers of my work will decide.
In fact, you, the reader can decide by clicking one of the links to this page. Under each section, you will find samples of my written work. I would love to know what you think.