While Valentine’s Day is associated with candlelight dinner dates, chocolate and jewelry, February 14 is also known as El Día de la Amistad. And what better way to extend amistad to Latinas around the country than through a network of comadres, says Nora de Hoyos Comstock, founder of Las Comadres Para Las Americas?
“The concept is deeper than family, in a way. A person may not always be close to her siblings, but we all have best friends whom we know we can count on, regardless of what is going on in our lives or even if we no longer see them because we don’t live close by,” says de Hoyos Comstock, describing what a comadre means to her. ”The memory of the comadre, and the relationship, is forever,” she says.
So the Austin, Texas-based Comstock, who has a PhD in educational administration and who started and heads a business development consultancy, decided to stretch the concept of a comadre. The result has blossomed into the non-profit organization Las Comadres Para Las Americas. This includes everything from monthly “comadrazos” in cities across the country, to a Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Group which connects women via teleconference and web or book group meetings, to a Worldwide Comadrazo which brings women together from around the U.S. and other countries.
Comstock went further, extending the concept of comadre support to celebrating and supporting Latino authors. ”I read everybody, but I wanted to make sure everyone knows about our Latino authors,” says Comstock. ”I want to help Latino writers find their audience.”
One of the results is a book of essays, Count on Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships (in Spanish, it’s Cuenta Conmigo: Conmovedoras historias de hermandad y amistades incondicionales). In the book, writers Esmeralda Santiago, Reyna Grande, Loraine Lopez, Fabiola Santiago, and Luis Alberto Urrea, as well as chef Daisy Martinez and noted psychologist Ana Nogales lovingly recount the Latina or non-Latina “comadres” who were an integral part of their formative childhood years or their adult professional years. Esmeralda Santiago describes the first ‘comadres’ she saw – her young mother’s older, wiser neighbors. Lorraine Lopez writes of how fellow author Judith Ortiz Cofer went from mentor during her graduate writing program to lifelong friend.
The Comadres also work to support Latino authors by volunteering and participating in book fairs across the country, and they created a Comadres and Compadres writers’ conference last year.
At the monthly ‘comadrazos,” women from different ages, professions and backgrounds come together to share, socialize and volunteer in their local towns and cities. Julia Abrantes is a Facilitator in New York City. ”From the moment I went to my first comadrazo, I started meeting women who were so supportive and positive,” says Abrantes. “We meet all kinds of women — secretaries, psychiatrists, attorneys and we even have a flight attendant who schedules her days so she can be here,” explains Abrantes. ”We have so much fun, that after our meetings we sometimes end up going down the street to a restaurant or bar and keep talking — it’s wonderful,” Abrantes says with a smile.
After Hurricane Sandy devastated the New York and New Jersey region, some Comadres got together and volunteered in one of the battered neighborhoods and collected food and clothing.
Comadres founder Nora Comstock says the organization is growing, and their fourth annual “Worldwide Comadrazo” will take place in Austin, Texas on March 1st and 2nd.
“We build communities. That’s what Comadres do,” says Comstock. ”Comadres help connect you to your roots, so you and your children know who we are,” she adds. ”We have an opportunity to build on those deep roots, and help build each other.”