The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

I’ve been in love with writing stories since I was a tiny ten-year-old girl with a curious mind and big opinions. In those three decades, it has been through writing that I’ve come to understand the world and my connection to it.

I’ve been in love with writing stories since I was a tiny ten-year-old girl with a curious mind and big opinions. In those three decades, it has been through writing that I’ve come to understand the world and my connection to it. Poetry and lyrical language quietly seeped into my consciousness through metaphor-filled boleros and pop love songs; or through my parent’s playful tongue twisters, sayings and jokes in Spanish; and of course, through reading many, many books. All of this has synthesized in my bilingual writer’s mind despite rarely seeing my experience reflected as a brown, immigrant girl growing up in the barrios of Los Angeles.

I am unapologetic about my resolve that children from marginalized communities see themselves fully and honorably represented in literature. I didn’t truly see myself in a book until I was in college when I read, Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros. That was an awakening that should not have taken nineteen years to reach. Still, it led me into a life-long exploration of my mestiza and indigenous history, culture and struggles. What emerged was a deep love of our stories and a longing to show children that they too exist in the written world. I am a writer today because of that awakening.

When I set out to write my debut book, The Moon Within I wanted for my own daughter to see her experience dance inside the pages of this book. In fact, I used my entire family and life as a sketch for the characters and setting. You can imagine my absolute joy to have seen Joe Cepeda’s beautiful cover of a brown girl, dancing bomba in the moonlight, on a city street, just like my daughter?

My daughter was beginning to blossom and to ask so many important questions about her changing body. I knew that we would give her a moon ceremony, an indigenous-based coming of age ritual that honors women’s menstrual cycles and their connection to the moon, because other girls in our community had done a similar thing. When I went to search for books to help me present puberty to her, I found dozens of non-fiction books for adults and girls that were written from a Western European perspective and only a couple from a US Indigenous lens. When I looked to fiction, I rediscovered Judy Blume’s novel, Are You There God? It’s me Margaret. There were no books that spoke to it from a Latina perspective and certainly none from a Mexican indigenous perspective in either fiction or nonfiction. So, I set out to write a novel that would fill that gap for her and other Latinx menstruators. I wanted this book to be “the book” that they secretly passed among friends, as I did with Judy Blume’s book in the 80’s, because they saw themselves in it as girls but especially as Latinas. I wanted to invoke the beauty and magic that happens during such a tender time but one that was grounded in ancestral tradition. My intention was to have The Moon Within help redefine the story - the dominant narrative that girls bodies and menstruation in particular are dirty, to be feared or loathed – into a conversation that celebrates our bodies, honors our natural cycles and our natural connection to the moon. I hope this is only the beginning of this reframing.

Similarly, by introducing the character of Marco, as a cis gender woman, I wanted to use pre-colonial indigenous thought as a way to redefine how we view and act towards trans and gender expansive people. Mesoamericans had a broader understanding of gender and some evidence shows us that gender expansive people were more often seen through a sacred lens, with respect. It is my hope that when we remember our history, we will see that there is not only space but reverence for the gender expansive as well.

It was only after the book had been acquired that I learned that Judy Blume’s book, that we know of, was the last middle grade novel centered on menstruation written in forty-seven years. Forty-seven years! That’s generations of menstruators in the US across ethnicities and cultures with only one novel-length discussion on something as life changing and amazing as menstruation! I knew that I was writing a first in fiction for the Latinx community but had no idea it was so dismally represented in fiction for all middle grade menstruators in the US. While I am so happy that The Moon Within will begin to fill a larger gap than I anticipated, I also grieve for all book-loving menstruators who have had to wait forty-seven years to see our beautiful menstruations centered in a novel again. It is my hope that The Moon Within is only the beginning of widening a much-needed story that sees girls and menstruators in all of our humanity.

Another amazing, somewhat magical, thing that happened that makes this story so necessary. While working with an authenticity reader, David Bowles, a children’s writer, scholar and translator of Mesoamerican culture and languages, he shared with me a pre-colonial Mayan poem that he translated to English about a coming of age ritual called, Kay Nikte, Flower Song for Girls Coming of Age. When I received this poem, I was moved to tears. I had searched high and low to find some written evidence of this practice in Mexico and came up empty. It was all in oral tradition – a powerful way to resist and retain story on its own. I had surrendered to the fact that the brutalities of colonization had erased much of our written indigenous history. Our books were literally burned by Spanish colonizers. Among those that survived, however, was a book of poetry written in 1440 before European contact called, Songs of Ditzbalché and within that book, was Flower Song . This was so huge for my understanding of myself as a woman and my culture but also because that poem, that story, validated this book. Flower Song is the only pre-colonial written description of a moon ceremony in existence and it is written in verse, just like my book. When I read it, I felt as if my ancestors had reached across the centuries to bless this book in both content and in form. It truly was as if I had written The Moon Within after I’d read and studied Flower Song. And what’s most remarkable is that because Flower Song will be reprinted in the author’s note in The Moon Within, this story will no longer be buried. This story will emerge from obscurity and will reach the hearts and minds of children during this most crucial time. Here are a few verses with the hope that you will also feel its blessing.


Part of The Moon Within’s work is to break the narrative that we have been told is the only truth. Its aim is to create a new story, to open up conversations, to show brown girls and gender expansive children that they too can and deserve to bask in the moonlight. At its heart, this story hopes to empower readers to change their world and the world with their truth.

Aida Salazar is a writer, arts advocate, and home-schooling mother who grew up in South East LA. She received an MFA in Writing from the California Institute of the Arts, and her writings have appeared in publications such as the Huffington Post, Women and Performance: Journal of Feminist Theory, and Huizache Magazine. The Moon Within is her debut novel. It will be available on February 26. Aida lives with her family of artists in a teal house in Oakland, CA.
 

 


This article is part of the Scholastic Power of Story series. Scholastic’s Power of Story highlights diverse books for all readers. Find out more and download the catalog at Scholastic.com/PowerofStory. Check back on School Library Journal to discover new Power of Story articles from guest authors, including Tonya Bolden, Bill Konigsberg, book giveaways and more.

 

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