Yesterday I spoke at a high school with a predominantly Latino student body. It was the school where New Jersey’s Dream Act was signed by our governor, in an economically disadvantaged area, with a significant undocumented population. When I shared my own story of growing up undocumented in the U.S., I saw faces in the crowd lighting up with hope. Yes, I was once “illegal.” Yes, now I am now up on this stage holding a book I wrote. It was like I was seeing ideas form in young minds as my words left me.
I didn’t have many stories like mine to hang on to when I was a kid who wondered how in the world I would craft a future. I loved my Judy Blume, of course, and thrilled at her frequent mentions of New Jersey. This was in the dark ages, way before the internet, so I was left to wonder, “Could Judy Blume have walked the streets of New Jersey too?” (She had, of course). It blew my mind, made me feel so much closer to her. Imagine if I’d found someone who could tell me that she’d walked my walk, the walk of the undocumented, the Latina, the person from another place.
You don’t need to have been undocumented to enjoy my book (I hope). That’s not what diversity is about. Writing should touch something deep and personal yet universal. But I’m glad this story is out in the world. Diversity is about having many voices, and, of necessity, that means that we need to hear from many different people. I am so honored to finally be one of them. When I spoke to the students who came up to me after my talk, so many of them sharing stories of their own struggles, I got a first-hand look at why trading stories has power both for the person telling the story but also for the person hearing it. They made me stronger with their stories. And I hope I made them stronger with mine.