When I self-published my first book a few years ago, I was confronted with questions I had not expected: “Did you write a book? In English?” was the most popular. “Is it about some cultural things from your country?” was a close second. I’m a non-native English speaker originally from Peru. I am the owner of an accent which I have learned to accept with the years. I fight daily with those dangling modifiers, the darned prepositions, and the ridiculous subjunctive. Pronunciation is still hard, even after years of living in the United States. But here I am, writing the stories I want to tell. And it is that I believe immigrant writers don’t want to be pigeonholed in the role of cultural ambassadors. Immigrant writers like me want to tell stories that feel real to us and our children. I believe my cultural background and unique experiences will inevitably impregnate my stories, but I don’t want to be defined by the place I was born and raised into. I belong, mostly, to the world.
But I have discovered a place where I do take advantage of my roots: my school visits. I visit schools on Skype and in person on a regular basis. You have no idea how the eyes of children of Hispanic origin brighten when they hear me present at their school. Maybe I remind them of their mother, or an aunt. My accent feels relatable and the language doesn’t sound like a barrier anymore. It thrives like an advantage. And imagine the impact of a person with my accent and skin color in front of a mostly white classroom! The reality is, many kids have only heard an accent like mine from the janitor or the fast food worker. I stand in front of them representing immigrants who want to tell stories.
I can’t speak for all immigrant voices. We have different colors, cultures, experiences, and backgrounds. But I can speak as an immigrant woman of Latino roots and tell you that many women like me face the challenge of a macho society where women don’t typically shine brighter than their spouses or children. And being an artist of any kind feels like the wrong kind of shining. For years I’ve wanted to attend conferences and seminars but being married and the main caregiver for my children proved to be an obstacle. Furthermore, my (Latino) husband objected many times my eagerness to participate in conferences. He said men go to those gatherings to prey on unsuspecting women, to take advantage of their dreams. I dismissed his comments, but after revelations of sexual harassment and inappropriate advances in the kidlit world, I realize he wasn’t completely wrong. My husband, a man who is not close to the publishing world at all, was able to see a cross-cultural/cross-industry macho code which has tainted our society like a cancer.
But, I have faith (and I have signed up for two conferences this year, yay!). I’m glad for the #metoo and the #kidlitwomen movements for giving us the opportunity to raise our concerns. We have so many things to fight for that, at times, it feels like an interminable task. The road seems long and steep, but I encourage you to look back and see how much we have advanced. Women are no longer quiet. Even women of color, immigrants who have a different kind of voice want to speak up and be able to tell stories.
What can we do? Let’s keep pushing forward! Let’s hush when we need to listen. Let’s talk when we need to be heard. And let everyone have a voice:
“The voice of the immigrant woman muffles under the weight of her tongue.
It feels like a rock. Heavy, rough, slow. But her willingness to speak will soften it
and make it sing. Look at it flying over mountains, walls, and frowning faces.
Look at it shining, lighting hearts, making rainbows. Look at it cradling babies
humming lullabies. See it. Hear it. For it isn’t meant to be invisible
Please check all the AMAZING posts for Women’s History Month on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kidlitwomen/