The school-to-prison pipeline is getting worse for black and brown girls by J. Díaz and Holyoke, Mass.: An Ethnography by I. Rodriguez

Part I: The school-to-prison pipeline

Jaquira Díaz is a Puerto Rican fiction writer, essayist, journalist, cultural critic, and contributor to many notable periodicals.

The world isn’t kind to black and brown girls, or black and brown women, especially when they come from working-class communities or from poverty. My girls taught me that it’s possible to make our own families, to find our families. They helped me believe in love and friendship and hope. But more than anything, after they had girls of their own, it was their girls who taught me the most important lessons: they helped me see the girl I was. They helped me remember that there are girls out there who are just like I was, just like we were. My story wasn’t unique — somewhere there is a teenage girl with a mother who suffers from mental illness and addiction, just trying to get through the day. Maybe seeing herself in this book [Ordinary Girls] will make life a little bit easier.

Because of anti-blackness in the United States and Latin America, most of us are either hyper-visible or invisible or both simultaneously. So many people I’ve had conversations with don’t even know that Latinxs are not a race or that black people exist in Puerto Rico (and throughout all of Latin America) and that we don’t all look exactly the same.

As a light-skinned black Boricua, I’m often read as racially ambiguous, and because of colorism, I benefit from my proximity to whiteness. I think it’s our responsibility (those of us who benefit from light-skinned privilege or racial ambiguity or whiteness) to have a reckoning with race, to do the work to actively address institutional racism, as well as racism and colorism in our everyday lives, not just in the public eye. Otherwise, we are complicit.

-Jaquira Díaz,“Either Hyper-Visible or Invisible”: An Interview with Jaquira Díaz


The school-to-prison pipeline is getting worse for black and brown girls

Jaquira Díaz uses her own experiences of being criminalized as a young girl to talk about the racial disparity in punishments enforced at and by American schools.  By referring to how she was wrongfully accused of vandalizing the music room in her school, she puts in perspective how the accusation destroyed her involvement in a creative activity that she loved.

“When she saw the damage done to the music room, to her office, she didn’t think of the Whitney Houston-loving child who dreamed of one day being in Broadway musicals, which was how I saw myself. What she imagined was a brown girl capable of vandalism, breaking and entering, stealing. She thought I would destroy the one place that had brought me joy.”

Breakdown Room Discussion

“The very real problem of the school-to-prison pipeline is getting worse, particularly for black and brown girls… extensive study [has shown that the criminalization of Black and brown girls]  is based in part on the perception of girls having violated conventional norms and stereotypes of feminine behavior, even when that behavior is caused by trauma. In other words, black and brown girls are typically marginalized at school in these ways because officials judge that they aren’t feminine enough, or the right kind of feminine. Black ‘giddiness’ is considered suspect, black hair is ‘distracting’ and any black girl who expresses unchecked emotion, even a six-year-old, can be sent to the county jail.”

Have you experienced or have witnessed Black and brown girls experiencing the type of criminalization Jaquira Díaz describes in her personal essay?

Zoom Presentations:


Fontao, Jessica

Garcia, Ana

Gibbs, Celinda Fernande


Part II: Educational, gender, and social neglect 

Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Rodriguez grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts. She earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University, an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College, and a Ph.D. in English-creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Her short story collection, Love War Stories, a 2019 PEN/Faulkner finalist and a 2018 Foreword Reviews INDIES finalist, was published by The Feminist Press in summer 2018.

In Love War Stories, love is a battleground. Ivelisse Rodriguez’s characters—mostly Puerto Rican girls and young women on the cusp of romance—covet, wrestle with, and fight to subvert their familial and cultural legacies of suffering from, and for, love. Rodriguez’s is an intimate and unflinching new voice in Puerto Rican literature. She expands familiar Nuyorican narratives, exposing the glorified but brutal realities of love, and reckons with the inheritances that shape our communities.