Saturday, June 20, 2020
My book LOVE IN ENGLISH was announced on Thursday, and the announcement created questions. I share many of the concerns raised in the ensuing conversation about how the publishing industry treats people. I’ve asked my publisher to address some of the issues in the announcement, and the questions of positioning and comps are theirs to speak to. I’m glad they’re doing that. Their statement is live. It includes a synopsis of my immigration story, which, I agree with many in the Twittersphere, is confusing. (I’ve spent a lifetime wishing it was less so!) You can read it here. It explains why I, a white woman whose parents grew up in Argentina, wrote a white character from Argentina who, like me, came here without speaking much English. Argentina is like the U.S. in that many people who identify as Argentinian came from other places. In my family’s case, that was Spain, which my parents both left as toddlers.
My first book, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY, was a story inspired by my life as an undocumented immigrant. That, of necessity, was heavy, and a way to make sense of a lot of my pain from that experience. In LOVE IN ENGLISH, I made the main character documented, because I wanted immigration to be a non-issue, and I wanted to write a book about love, not pain. So its main “hook” is what English feels like to the non-native speaker (as I was). Why “though,” “tough” and “bough?” I remember just how perplexed and fascinated I was by all of it, and I gave Ana, the main character, those same feelings. Plus a chance to get the guy.
It is painful to feel like I have to parse my family’s step-by-step immigration journey in order to justify my right to tell my stories. When I was a child, and even before I was born, the adults in my life made a lot of decisions I wish they hadn’t. For example, my parents had already come to the U.S. when my mom was pregnant with me, but through weird timing, she was visiting Spain when I was born. We came back to the U.S. when I was a few weeks old. If only she’d given birth in the U.S! But they did not originally intend to stay here, so having me be American was not a priority. Their plan was to go back to Argentina (then and for a long time). These decisions have caused me pain throughout my life. Hispanic, Latinx, white lady, I’ll leave those labels to others. All I can say is on the many days when I was little that my parents were afraid to open the door to a knock they worried might be immigration authorities, and told me we were “ilegales,” the place they talked of going back home to was Argentina. It was where my grandparents lived and died, and where all my aunts, uncles and cousins were (and are), and where our food and our mate and our language and our accents are from.
I feel everyone’s passion on the issues the announcement kicked up, and I share it. Publishing needs to be better in centering all kinds of voices. Black and brown people deserve more. I am not a person of color, but I am here for that work.
Want to read more on this topic? Click here for my thoughts on invisible identities and identity policing.