4 Chicas Chat and the Construction of an Inclusive Community
If there is one thing Hispanic and Latino communities have mastered, it’s finding a family when outside pressures are working their hardest to prevent that. From the colonial invasion of South America and the Caribbean to the present-day treatment of Hispanic and Latin immigrants in the United States, subjugation and exclusion are not new feelings to this strong and resilient community. These practices of subjugation and exclusion don’t end at colonial, geographical, or political borders, but, rather, influence culture as well as the production and the consumption of popular fiction for majority groups, and especially, minority authors and readers. In order to understand the experiences of a Latinx romance writer and how they fit into the greater romance fiction genre, this paper will look closely at 4 Chicas Chat, an online community through Facebook whose goal is to create a family and foster open dialogue about diversity in the industry among other topics. 4 Chicas Chat works to break down the divide between diverse romance and non-diverse romance. Rather than focus on creating a distinct Latinx romance sub-genre, the women of 4 Chicas Chat attempt to integrate Latinx romance into the broader landscape of romance through the creation of an inclusive community. The Facebook group’s creation and the content on the page including its description, posts and comments by the administrators and community members reflect the growing family within the group and its focus on community, rather than consistent, aggressive discourse on the romance genre. The balance of community-building as well as discussions on diversity within the genre and activism done by the four women of 4 Chicas Chat within their Facebook group reveals the uniqueness of the group compared to those of a similar structure and can hopefully offer insights to the future of minority groups as romance authors and readers.
In order to understand the place Latinx literature holds in the romance genre specifically, we must first understand the history of Latinx literature within the context of the United States and popular media. The relative youth of Latinx literature as a distinct sub-genre and as a cultural movement, is extremely indicative of the relative exclusion authors within this genre face today. Latinx literature, defined as a “a transnational, pluralistic, heterogeneous, and dynamic category that broadly considers the writings of diverse peoples with cultural ties to Latin America residing in the United States,” (Franco & Smith, 9) has a deep history because of its incorporation of a large number of distinct countries and cultures. What is unique to Latin America is the unifying concept of Latindad, or “pan-Latino solidarity among Latina/os in relation to territory, identity, and sense of belonging.” (Coronel-Molina, 9) The sense of unity among the Latinx culture feeds into the sense of unity and community that is being fostered by the four women of 4 Chicas Chat. As descendants of different countries, including Puerto Rico, Brazil and Mexico, the subconscious concept of Latindad is a strong factor of the unity felt among all Latin and Hispanic peoples and the basis of all community building.
As a formal area of study, “the study of Latinx literature emerged… in the critical space opened by social and identity movements in the 1960s and 70s, with a ‘Boom’ in literary production in the 1980s.” (Franco & Smith, 10) Even though the sub-genre experienced a “boom” in literary production, Latinx romance literature holds an extremely small portion of popular fiction (no formal, statistical data exists on these factors). Latinx romance’s lack of recognition within the genre is one of the key issues at the heart of my argument. Latinx literature is segregated from American and white literature, as is Black romance, making the goal of disintegrating a distinction from diverse literature and non-diverse literature, specifically within the romance genre, an extremely hard task. The history of Latinx culture, through Latindad, and the difficulties faced by the sub-genre are major push factors in the establishment and goals of 4 Chicas Chat.
To understand the unique qualities of 4 Chicas Chat as a multi-author group, beyond just the unique qualities of Latinidad and Latinx literature, we must understand the typical characteristics of other author and, specifically, multi-author groups as well as author-reader relationships. Limited literature exists on the romance genre, especially the network created between author and fans; however, as seen through fan networks today, the author-reader relationship is highly important in informing authors and maintaining fan bases. One example of author-reader communities are street teams, “readers, friends, bloggers, reviewers, fellow authors and others who love your books so much, they want to share them with their corner of the universe.” (York) Street teams relationships offer symbiotic relationships of free promotion for the author and exclusive content for the reader. The internet is a vital tool in all form of communication and another form of author-reader relationship is dependent on that. Author blogs, and social media pages have evolved the author-reader relationship to bridge physical distant gaps between authors and readers.
Before the conception of Goodreads and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, author-reader networks depended on blogs as a form of communication. Feedspot blogs, an open blogsite, can be used to characterize multi-author blog groups. When analyzing author blogs, it is evident that a majority of author blogs are single author blogs. Even the four women of 4 Chicas Chat manage their own pages. These blogs typically consist of book promotions, previews, and materials like excerpts. Through Feedspot and their list of the “Top 100 Romance Book Blogs and Websites for Romance Readers and Authors in 2019,” we can look at a limited selection of multi-author groups. The blogs, The Reading Cafe and Inspy Romance, are multi-author romance groups which cover a wide range of sub-genres. Typical characteristics of these pages include book reviews on a wide range of novels, as well as excerpt previews and book giveaways. There is little conversation about topics that aren’t strictly romance novels. Possibly due to the format of these pages, but there is limited interaction with fans and the moderators of the pages. Multi-author group blogs, as stand-alone websites, are extremely hard to find and typically do not incorporate any discourse on industry critique.
The 4 Chicas Chat Facebook page represents an author-created reader community, a relatively new style of reader engagement, made popular by the increase in internet use and social media sites like Facebook. Facebook has brought in a new, unique way of connecting authors and readers. Many of these reader communities, like the blogs from before, are single author, closed groups with a small number of members focused on ““exclusive content, giveaways, first looks, news,” as seen by Meg’s Mob, the blog of Megan Erickson USA Today Bestseller who writes in a wide range of romance sub-genres. As far as multi-author Facebook groups, Wild Romance Writers represents the new style of network similar to 4 Chicas Chat. Wild Romance is the collaboration of over twenty authors and moderators. The Facebook group is focused on novel promotion as well as community-building material like fostering conversation with posts like “How do you take your books? With alcohol or coffee? Do you have a drink of choice when binge reading?” (Miller) This style of community engagement interactions is highly similar to the community building done in 4 Chicas Chat. The collaborative nature of Facebook, as seen by this group, is most likely why the creators of 4 Chicas Chat choose Facebook for their platform. While multi-author groups, especially on Facebook, are heavily driven by author-reader relationship building, 4 Chicas Chat uniquely incorporates conversations about discourse of the industry and life as Latinx women.
Created on October 2, 2017, the closed Facebook group 4 Chicas Chat is the inception of four Latinx romance novelists: Alexis Daria, Priscilla Oliveras, Sabrina Sol and Mia Sosa. Content of the page includes open dialogues about diversity within the romance industry as well as discussions on generic popular culture. When deciding to join the group, or not, the first point of contact a viewer would have to reveal the nature of the community is the graphic in the header of the page, also known as the Facebook Cover Photo (as seen at the top if this page). The header is a simple, bright, and welcoming yellow image which has the name of the group in script as well as a graphic of a heart patterned with multiple bright colors. Finally, the copy text reads “4 Latinx romance authors chat about… everything! (But mostly romance novels.).” (Daria, Oliveras, Sol, & Sosa) The bright colors, pleasing font, and heart graphic are visual elements that immediately welcome the viewer and hint towards a community that is vibrant, welcoming, and loving in nature. The text gives an introduction to the topics discussed but is also indicative of the group’s focus on discussing all aspects of life and popular culture along with romance novels. Without joining the group, the Facebook page is already sending a message about community and attracting members who are dedicated to Latinx literature and the greater romance genre.
Along with the Cover Photo, the description of the Facebook group 4 Chicas Chat, another element a viewer could access before joining the group, reveals the purpose of the community through inclusive language and a genuine focus on friendship building. The first line of the description is truly the most telling. The first line reads, “Welcome to our casa!” (Daria et al.) meaning Welcome to our house!. Not only does the use of the word casa reveal the bilingual nature of the group and its creators, but it also offers, up front, the group’s focus on not just building a community, but rather building a family. The description continues to use inclusive language including phrases like “friends and readers,” (Daria et al.) “relaxed and respectful atmosphere,” (Daria et al.) and ending with “join the party!” (Daria et al.) The language used in the group description is indicative of the community Daria, Oliveras, Sol, and Sosa are attempting to create. They are promoting respect, for having difficult conversations on diversity, but also inclusion and fun when the group member is asked to join the party. Finally, the group description ends with “Bienvenidos/Welcome!” (Daria et al.) Like the first sentence, this ending similarly integrates the use of Spanish language, maintaining the focus on Latinx romance and literature, as well as reinforces the themes of community building. The carefully crafted group description of 4 Chicas Chat perfectly summarizes the purpose of the group of having its origin in discussing the diversity and the place of Latinx literature in the romance genre, but the greater importance in community and family building characteristic of the Latinx community.
As revealed by the description, the purpose of the group is to not “hit you with a barrage of promotional posts,” (Daria et al.) but rather the purpose is to “to have fun and get to know one another better.” (Daria et al.) Like the description of the Facebook page is integral to its understanding, the personal missions and statements of Daria, Oliveras, Sol, and Sosa are integral to situating the creation of 4 Chicas Chat in the romance fiction genre. Intrinsic to every author’s viewpoint on the Latinx romance genre is their focus on the creation of stories, using diverse sets of characters, in order to depict a realistic story that all can relate to due to the universality of themes like love and heartbreak. Alexis Daria, a Puerto Rican author of contemporary romances, embodies this idea when she says that writers “can certainly include casts of characters who are diverse and richly developed, not propped up by tired — or worse, harmful — stereotypes.” (Daria) Mia Sosa, a Brazilian-Puerto Rican author of romantic comedies, and Priscilla Oliveras, a Puerto Rican-Mexican author of contemporary romances, both focus their opinions on the universality of the romance genre. The romance genre is a collective that celebrate[s] the joy, pain, frustration and blessings that are universal, no matter where we’re from or where we live” (Oliveras) and there are no “universal differences between a romance written by a Latina vs. any other romance.” (Sosa) Finally, Sabrina Sol, a Mexican author of erotic romances, summarizes the opinions of the ladies of 4 Chicas chat when she says, “once there’s more books like ours, then it does become normalized and there’s not this pressure on authors to be everything to everybody.” (Sol) As seen by the consistency of thought between the four authors of 4 Chicas Chat, these authors reflect the widespread opinions of minority romance writers as parts of a greater whole within the romance genre. The popularity of the Twitter movement #ownvoices fits this narrative of the important of minority perspectives telling their own stories within the genre. Even further, reception of the Twitter movement #LatinxRom, launched by the four women of 4 Chicas Chat, proves that there is a Latinx writing community who is active, who believes that #RepresentationMatters, and who is important. Rather than maintaining segregationist language of separating Latin romance from more traditional romance, the activism taken by these authors, with the help of 4 Chicas Chat, is the start to a greater conversation of inclusion and what diversity means within the genre.
The spirit of 4 Chicas Chat is most embodied through the engagement between its administrators, Daria, Oliveras, Sol, and Sosa, and its members. The relationships between each author and member is unique and the personalized attention received by every actively engaged group member is evident in the style of posts as well as the familiarity within the comments. Each relationship is organic and if the reader chooses to be engaged, each other will respond with care and thoughtfulness. Posted and monitored by the administrators, the Facebook group’s wall posts range from a wide variety of topics, like the Grammy’s to book promos, in an effort to strike a balance between the discourse on Latinx romance literature and more causal topics. The unequal balance of focused, conversations about diversity and conversations regarding casual, day-to-day life topics greatly reflects the overall group’s focus on creating an enjoyable and welcoming atmosphere, rather than focusing on solely promoting Latinx romance and the administrators’ novels. Posts are relevant and engaging. Classic themes include asking how everyone in the group’s days or weeks have been as well as discussions like “What romance podcasts are you all listening to?” (Daria) These community-building elements are common in Facebook, multi-author groups, as seen earlier. These are the efforts which attempt to build community and a strong network. In “honor of celebrating diversity in romance and supporting authors of every color every day,” (Sol) Sabrina Sol highlighted her favorite book by a black romance author: It’s Complicated by Nikki Prince. Sol’s post is an example of the style of discourse exclusively common to this group, as seen through looking at other multi-author pages. Although a majority of the posts are light-hearted and GIF-filled, every woman in this group is dedicated to discussing diversity in romance and the future of the genre. This community is not a collection of readers being blasted by promotional material by their favorite Latinx authors (although there is promotional material every once in a while), instead each post works to build the community and network to bridge the gap between writer and reader in an effort to change the industry.
While the posts are an indication about the direction Daria, Oliveras, Sol, and Sosa hope the group takes, the comments truly reveal the impact the group has had on this sub-group within the romance community. Posts with the most comments include those that ask the viewer to either take part in some sort of online quiz, “share a GIF to sum up your week,” (Sosa), or other content that elicit call to actions or answers. The community within the group is built within the comments. Responses to questions include people’s favorite restaurants, romance tropes, and romance podcasts. Through casual dialogue between the author and audience, 4 Chicas Chat puts everyone on the same playing field with the same goal. The ease between the relationships within the comments reveals the tight-knit qualities of the group as well as the shared interest in discussing diversity in romance. Although the group is slow-growing, it went from 300 members to when I first requested to join to 305 members about two weeks later, the group successfully builds relationships that reveal a deep sense of community.
The romance genre today is vast and encompasses thousands of smaller communities with diverse interests and identities. Through the creation of their community, the four woman of 4 Chicas Chat—Alexis Daria, Priscilla Oliveras, Sabrina Sol and Mia Sosa—have created a growing community rooted in love and the recognition of diversity. Like other minority authorships and readerships within the romance genre, these women, along with their community, strive to include Latinx culture within the genre not in the hopes of checking a box or for a false sense of inclusion, but rather because their identities help make up the greater diversity that is the world today. Through an inclusive and welcoming community, as seen through the Facebook group and its content, these romance novelist have created a community with rich dialogue. 4 Chicas Chat is a small representation on how minority groups operate within the majority. While maintaining their individuality and diversity, the intense focus of these women in inclusion within the genre speaks to the future of the romance genre and its expansion to include all people. Ultimately, 4 Chicas chat speaks to the change that needs to happen within the genre. The romance industry must be welcoming of all communities without feeling the need to divide them into distinct categories. In the words of Alexis Daria, “I’ve heard that change in this industry is like trying to turn a cruise ship. It’s slow, but I do see an effort.” (Daria)
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