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Literature / The Dirty Girls Social Club

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The Dirty Girls Social Club is a 2003 novel by Alisa Valdes (formerly Valdez-Rodriguez). The novel explores the lives of six Latina women, all best friends from their Boston University days: Lauren, "half-New Jersey Cuban and half-white trash", who's the the Boston Gazette's "caliente" journalist; Sara, a white blonde-haired, blue-eyed Cuban Jew who's seemingly living the happy life as a wealthy stay-at-home mom and is married to her hot lawyer husband, but her lifestyle comes at a price; Amber, a Mexican American singer who is a proud member of the Mexica movement, and seeks her big break in music; Elizabeth, a gorgeous Afro-Colombian who is a born-again Christian, and is loved by her community, but hides a big secret that could ruin her; Rebecca, a self-declared "Spaniard" who owns the famous Latina magazine, Ella, and cannot understand the man she's currently married to; and Usnavys, a half-Dominican half-Puerto Rican who's vice president of the United Way, and dreams of getting a man who can maintain her expensive lifestyle.


Despite being of different races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds, these girls (who jokingly refer to themselves as the sucias) find commonality in their shared Latina heritage. As per a post-graduation promise they made to each other, the six friends get together every six months to share stories of their daily lives.

The novel was followed by two sequels, Dirty Girls on Top (2008), and Lauren's Saints of Dirty Faith (2011).


The novel gives examples of:

  • Affectionate Nickname: Usnavys is affectionately called Navi by the sucias and Juan.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Lauren is turned by Amaury being a drug dealer, thinking he's one of these. She is absolutely astonished when she discovers that he turns out to be kind, literate man who only got into drugs to help support his family.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Absolutely no male in the books is safe from this portrayal (except Juan). And this is presented as culturally ingrained in all Latino men.
  • Author Avatar: Lauren is clearly based off of Valdes, right down to her physical appearance, her white and Cuban heritage, and her life as the token Latina at a Boston newspaper.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lauren and Rebecca end up in happy relationships with men who they truly love, Sara is free from her violent husband and is about to start her new career in interior design, Usnavys marries Juan, Elizabeth finally hooks up with the woman of her dreams, and Cuicatl has become a famous singer. On the downside, Lauren is still in a job that exploits her ethnicity, Sara loses born her unborn daughter and her beloved housekeeper who's been in the family for decades, Elizabeth is still scrutinized by the community for her sexuality, and she and Selwyn settle in Colombia only to be forced to return to the states when the Colombian government starts cracking down on gay couples, and Cuicatl has been disowned by the Mexica movement.
  • Broken Aesop: The book does indeed showcase how racially, religiously, and socially diverse Latinas are, yet the sucias themselves invoke and fall into the very stereotypes they claim not to follow. Case in point, they define their Latinidad by ultra-capitalist standards, believing themselves to be superior to poor Chicanos and Mexican Americans for their immense wealth, and not concerning themselves with what they consider to be frivolous matters, such as civil rights movements, and take pride in their ability to assimilate to the dominant (white) American culture. What's worse is that the book doesn't even try to avert the stereotypes surrounding Latino men, as most of the male characters are portrayed as cheaters, machistas, and drug dealers (with the only "good" Latino man happening to be an Extreme Doormat for his selfish girlfriend).
  • Brown Face: The editors at the Gazette purposely darkened Lauren's face on the billboards to make her fit their "spicy brown Latina" narrative. Naturally, other Latinos like Amaury are surprised to see that she's much whiter in person.
  • But Not Too Black: Colorism is shown to be commonplace in the Latin community. Liz is condescendingly hailed at her newscasting job as the "black woman who talks white but has an Hispanic last name". Usnvays' mother tried to downplay her daughter's blackness in her childhood by claiming she's light-skinned, and forbidding her from dating dark-skinned men. Rebecca's mother also forbade her daughter from dating black men, which initially influences Rebecca's hesitation to date her Nigerian-British colleague Andre. Lauren herself frequently makes colorist remarks towards darker Latinos.
  • Category Traitor: Amber sees Rebecca as this for identifying with her Spanish side instead of her Indigenous roots. Later on, she riles up a group of her Mexica fans by calling Shakira a sell-out for dyeing her hair blonde. Ironically, Amber herself is labeled a traitor by the Mexica for selling out to a record label to sing in English and Spanish, the two colonial languages.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: Elizabeth is said to look just like Beyonce. Likewise, Sara is described as a Latina Martha Stewart.
  • Closet Key: Lauren was this to Elizabeth.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: As a child, Usnavys father walked out on the family. Some years later, she watches her older brother get shot to death.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Usnavy's reaction when she spurs Juan one last time, and he leaves for good. He comes back though.
  • Disappeared Dad: Usnavys' father walked out on the family when she was a child.
  • Domestic Abuse: What Sara goes through at the hands of her husband Roberto.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": After Amber changes her name to Cuicatl, she refuses to be called by her birth name, and firmly corrects anyone who tells her otherwise. Even after the Mexica movement have disowned her, she still clings to this name, claiming that she's not a "part-time India".
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Despite Usnavys looking down at Juan for his poverty, she does admire him for sacrificing a potentially wealthy lifestyle in order to give back to his community.
    • Although Lauren thinks little of Chicana singers, even she is shocked to the core when Amber refers to Selena as a "wuss".
    • Amaury refuses to sell drugs to his fellow Caribbeans and other Latinos, preferring to sell to wealthy gringos who can both afford his merchandise, and have less to lose in the long-run.
  • Foil: Amber and Rebecca are polar opposites in regards to how they view their heritage. They are both Chicana mestizas (mixed Indigenous and European), but they identify solely as one of these sides, and treat the other as non-existent. Amber identifies as a Mexica, and her career consists of her singing in Nahuatl, she marries her boyfriend in a traditional Aztec ceremony, and even changes her name to Cuicatl (Nahuatl for "song"). Rebecca identifies solely as Spanish, and is convinced that she's descended from Spanish royalty despite her appearance is that of a mixed race woman. She's horrified when someone calls her Mexican because it implies that she's brown and not white.
  • Foreshadowing: The first chapter hints that not all is well with the sucias:
    • Sara has a few cuts and bruises on her body that she chalks up to clumsiness, and from a ski trip with the sucias. It's later discovered that these bruises are from her husband's beatings, and the turtleneck was to cover up both the gash and her broken collarbone.
    • Rebecca's confusion about her dull, depressed husband Brad. Lauren recounts how Brad used to gawk at the girls whenever they spoke Spanish, and looked visibly offended when the girls corrected him when he misquoted a philosopher. This hints to how Brad only viewed Rebecca (and Latinas in general) as an "Earth mother", and considered educated Latinas to just be wannabe white girls.
    • Lauren mentions how Elizabeth never seemed to get along with all the men that the sucias would set her up with. Probably has to do with how she was never attracted to men in the first place.
  • Freudian Excuse: Usnavys' over-the-top materialism and obsession with wealth may have stemmed from living in the projects in extreme poverty. She's also hesitant about latching onto a man out of fear that he might walk out on her the way her father did.
  • Gold Digger: Subverted with Usnavys. Despite her exasperation with Juan for being perpetually broke, she does genuinely love him. Downplayed with Rebecca, who is wealthy on her own through her magazine and thus does not depend on Brad's trust fund, but admits that she probably wouldn't have married him if he weren't the son of a billionaire.
  • Heritage Disconnect: Lauren only seems to have a surface understanding of Cuban culture and speaks limited Spanish (which improves by the end thanks to Amaury's help), Amber grew up unaware of her Mexican heritage and didn't speak Spanish, but when she grew to understand it more in her university days, she began to identify fiercely with her Indigenous roots. Usnavys is half-Dominican, which she is hesitant to identify with because it comes from her deadbeat father.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Roberto, who makes it no secret that he used to lust after Elizabeth (until she came out as a lesbian), yet brutally beats Sara if he only suspects that she might be staring at another man for too long.
    • Ed thinks it's wrong for Lauren to wear the Movado watch that her ex-boyfriend gave her, yet has no qualms about sleeping with other women behind her back.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Ed's excuse to Lauren when she catches him having sex with another woman in their bed.
  • Implausible Deniability: Even with all the deep bruises all over Sara's body, she refuses to admit to her friends or herself that Roberto is abusing her.
  • Internalized Categorism:
    • All the sucias are guilty of this in varying degrees, given all the disparaging remarks they make towards poorer Latinas and their country of origin/background's cultures.
    • Rebecca is Mexican American, but is convinced that she's only descended from Spanish royalty. She attributes her brown skin and straight black hair as Moorish blood.
  • Ironic Nickname: The girls refer to themselves as sucias (dirty girls) ironically as a way of harpooning the stereotype that Latinas are promiscuous. The girls' lifestyle shows that they are anything but.
  • Irony: Usnavys, who's the vice president of a nonprofit charity organization, is the most materialistic of the sucias.
  • Jerkass: Every single character if you look hard enough, but special mention goes to:
    • Usnavys, who constantly puts down Juan behind his back for not being able to buy her expensive gifts (despite her making a big enough salary to buy those things herself).
    • Rebecca, who considers herself superior for her supposed "white" Spanish heritage, and distances herself from anything that could prove otherwise.
    • Chuck Spring, Lauren's editor-in-chief who makes himself seem woke for hiring Lauren for the sake of diversity, yet treats her as nothing more than a walking stereotype. He forbids her from bringing up Latino-related politics in her columns, and tone polices her if she speaks out against this. He also thinks that Puerto Rico is a foreign country, but Lauren can't correct him, or else he'll tone police her even more.
    • Ed, who cheats on Lauren with a Mexican woman. When Lauren catches him in the act, instead of apologizing, he excuses his actions as I'm a Man; I Can't Help It.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Brad is a sleazy man who seemed to only marry Rebecca for the sake of satisfying his ethnic curiosity and defy his openly racist parents. However, he is right that Rebecca is trying too hard to be a white girl given that she insist that she's white Spanish, even though actual white people don't see her as such.
  • Karma Houdini: Roberto manages to escape justice for near-fatally beating Sara and killing Vilma by running off to Spain.
  • Latino Is Brown: Discussed. Most of the sucias (minus Rebecca and Amber/Cuicatl who fit this trope, and Sara who has more pressing problems) are highly critical of the notion that all Latinos are black-haired and brown-skinned. There are several instances throughout the book where minor characters are left confused at the idea of white Latinas (Lauren) and black Latinas (Elizabeth and Usnavys).
  • Lower-Class Lout: Lauren's mother is typical uneducated white trash who's a drug addict, been to prison, and has been a major headache for her ethnic husband. She has a strained relationship with Lauren, and accuses the latter of thinking she's better than her because she graduated university.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Roberto engrained belief about housewives. He lashes out at Sara for enjoying having sex with him too much, believing that women should not be able to enjoy sex the way a man does. Sara had originally believed this, until Elizabeth made her take some feminist theory classes in university.
  • Meaningful Name: The girls' friend group is called the Buena Sucia Social Club, which they named after Buena Vista Social Club, a Cuban music group.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Elizabeth regrets visiting Sara resulting in the latter getting a near-fatal beating by her husband.
    • Sara's father realization that the rigid patriarchal gender roles that he and the family ingrained in their daughter are what made her vulnerable to a life of domestic abuse from her husband, which resulted in the deaths of his unborn granddaughter and their beloved family maid.
  • Odd Friendship: The sucias are unusually close, despite having clashing personalities that would theoretically make it difficult for them to even be around each other. Amber is the one who stands out here, as she starts out as the poorest of the group, identifies as Mexica (rejecting the label of Latina), and takes pot shots at white Latinas like Cameron Diaz and Christina Aguilera, yet she aligns herself with a group that bonded because of their Latina heritage, looks down at poor people, and two of its members are lily white Latinas.
  • Only One Name: Before her rename to Cuicatl, Amber was known professionally by her first name, dropping her last name Quintanilla so she wouldn't be associated with the late Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla.
  • Race Fetish:
    • Rebecca's WASP husband Brad married her with the expectation that she was the typical meek, humble, "Earth mother" Hispanic. He's off-put that she's actually a successful magazine founder, accusing her of being a wannabe white girl, and subsequently divorces her.
    • This is implied to be the reason why Roberto was attracted to Elizabeth, who resembled an "exotic" beauty in contrast to the white, blonde-haired blue-eyed Sara.
  • I Reject Your Reality: The raven-haired, brown-skinned and hook-nosed Rebecca telling everyone that she's white Spanish.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Sara and Roberto had been engaging in this since they were toddlers. While she admits that she also hits him sometimes during their marriage, it's clear that her beatings are nowhere near as bad as the ones he gives to her. It's because of this dynamic that Sara fails to recognize that Roberto has become a full-on domestic abuser.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Elizabeth is described as superhumanly beautiful by the sucias, and is the reason behind her tv network's sky-high ratings. Unfortunately, this leads her to being subjected to sexual harassment from sleazy men (Roberto being one of them). Later when she's outed as a lesbian, she is considered to be a "wasted" beauty, and her boss at the news station expresses disappointment that many of the (male) viewers won't be able to tune in (read: sexualize her) anymore.
  • Spicy Latina: Lauren is thought to be this by the other employees at the Gazette. In reality she's more of a subversion, but occasionally fakes playing along with the role to keep the editors off of her back, and because she really needs the money.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Repeatedly hits each of the sucias on the head
    • Lauren's constant purging lands her in the hospital.
    • Sara carrying on a secret relationship with Roberto (while he's on the run from the police for murder and domestic violence), thinking he's changed. She conveniently forgets what happens to some unfortunate spouses when their violent, jealous ex shows up.
    • The reason for Elizabeth and Selwyn's short-lived happy ending in the first book is understandable, considering Colombia and some other Latin American countries have conservative views on marriage and sexuality.
    • Being married to a white fetishist husband, getting belittled by a prospective magazine buyer, and being refused to have a house sold to you in a fancy white neighborhood are just some of the reality checks that Rebecca has to go through to be reminded that she's not the white Spanish woman she pretends to be.
    • Lauren's Saints only features Lauren, Rebecca and Usnavys, while Sara, Elizabeth, and Cuicatl are nowhere to be seen. For all their closeness in the previous books, friendships change over time, and some, sadly, disappear altogether.
  • Take That!: Lauren has a lot to say about job tokenism, which is still very much applicable today:
    Lauren: It's not that I'm not appreciated at the Gazette. Chuck and the other editors at the Gazette value my "diversity", as long as I think like they do, write like they do, and agree with them on everything. Far as I can tell, Gazette newsroom diversity means hiring "team players", compliant as beaten dogs yet different enough in skin tone, last name, or national origin to be shut out of the little silly things, like promotion.
  • Token Minority:
    • Lauren the only Latina working at the Boston Gazette. Being a Latina diversity hire, Lauren is constantly subjected to bigoted comments from the other staff, ranging from microaggressions, to stereotypes, to accusations of sleeping her way into the position. Then there's her boss Chuck who forces her to keep her work fun and girly, free of politics.
    • Back in their Boston University days, it's implied that the sucias were the only Latinas in their journalism and communications programs.
  • Tranquil Fury: Rebecca never loses her cool, and merely responds back in a calm manner when someone says something bad to her.
  • True Companions: It's easier to identify the sucias as sisters than friends. They are always there for each other, and wherever they are in the world or whatever they're doing at the moment, they always show up to their biannual sucia meetup.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Elizabeth is a black Latina and a lesbian. Her boss proudly states how he got all the diversity activists off his back when he hired her for this reason (minus the lesbian part).
  • Unfortunate Names:
    • The group is the Buenas Sucias social club, coined by Usnavys. Lauren doesn't like the name because "buena sucia" means "big smelly 'ho" in Spanish.
    • Usnavys was named after a U.S. Navy carrier by her mother, who wanted to appear patriotic to the mainland. Usnavys had tried to lie about her name's origins by claiming that it was Taíno, but the girls didn't buy it.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Elizabeth's discreet visit to Sara's house, which gets outed by the media, results in Roberto beating Sara near-death causing her to miscarry, and killing Vilma, their live-in maid.
  • You No Take Candle: How Amaury speaks at first being a recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic, though downplayed in the fact that he is highly intellectual. By the end of the book when he begins to attend an ESL program in college, he speaks in proper syntax.