We are turning 3. Some thoughts on America's ongoing horrors, and essays on untranslatable words, Abercrombie, and forgetting your language
This month marks three years since I started this newsletter. I did that in part to convert my despair and agony into something good—to counter politicians’ hatred of immigrants by elevating writing by immigrants. My little milestone comes during yet another week filled with pain, despair, and agony. I think about how ironic it is that my parents escaped a war and I am now a parent in a country where gun violence is the leading cause of death among children. I live in a nation that protects guns more than kids and cares about money far more than human lives.
We’ve had more mass shootings than days this year. We have more guns than people, and have mass shootings in schools, on college campuses, in grocery stores, churches, and malls. We have no time to grieve one tragedy before the next one happens. We drop our kids off at school and keep our fingers crossed that they won’t be next. It’s an excruciating way to parent, to work, to live.
Anyone who thinks “it can’t happen here” is either ignorant or in denial because as long as you live in the United States, it can happen anywhere, any time. In many parts of this country, it is easier to buy a deadly weapon than to vote. “Freedom” in America means that wearing a cloth mask to protect others from a deadly virus is unacceptable, but allowing anyone to buy rifles and shoot schoolchildren is fine and normal. In Texas, you can’t vote or buy a beer when you’re 18, but you’re free to get yourself some AR-15s.
I’m exhausted from hearing people talk about this country’s gun violence without even mentioning who is responsible for it—as if incomprehensibly easy access to guns and rifles happened magically, and not through the Republican party’s deliberate policy-making. Republican politicians keep making it easier to buy guns, automatic rifles, and other deadly weapons—by lowering age requirements to buy them, opposing background checks, eliminating or limiting waiting times, and training, license, permit, registration, and carry requirements, not to mention constantly promoting gun culture. They take millions from the gun industry in exchange for murderous policies. They trade children’s lives for deeper pockets—and they’ll keep doing it.
Americans continue to elect them while posting comments like “we are better than this!” and “what can be done?!” as if the answer is some mystery every other country in the world didn’t figure out years ago by banning and strictly regulating deadly weapons. Gun violence is truly the best example of America’s exceptionalism—no country in the world comes even close to what we have here.
Republicans have banned books and abortions, but not automatic rifles. They are forcing women to give birth, but blocking legislation to ease the baby formula shortage, then passing policies that make it easier for those babies to be killed before they even learn to read. They are “protecting” our children from discussions about history, race, and gender, but not from actual bullets. Their “solution”? More guns! More police! These senseless proposals have repeatedly led to even more lives lost and money wasted. It is beyond insanity—it is evil and inhumane.
The Republican party is busy attacking women, immigrants, people of color, trans kids, and other marginalized groups while ignoring actual threats that are costing lives—white supremacy, gun violence, and the climate crisis among them. When it comes to controlling women’s bodies, there is no limit to how many laws and policies they are willing to pass and fund. But deadly weapons? Nothing to be done there!
None of this is normal, and we must not become desensitized to it. Every country in the world has people who are evil or have mental health problems. No other country puts automatic rifles in their hands.
In between the grief and the rage, I hope you find ways to donate or otherwise support groups like Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, Sandy Hook Promise, the Brady Campaign, and Guns Down America. But even more importantly, do everything in your power to vote out pro-gun politicians—which essentially means the entire GOP, and some Democrats. Support organizations like Vote Mama, which helps elect progressive women, who are known to pass policies and budgets that prioritize children and families—not firearm manufacturers’ bottom lines. It doesn’t have to be like this—this is a political party’s policy choice. It’s years and years of conservative politicians’ cruelty and greed.
I did not intend to write about this to start this newsletter, but how can I not? Writing is political. Art is political. The air we breathe is political; the pollution we inhale is a result of our actions—or inactions—and the policies enacted by those we elect. Apathy, too, is political. It preserves the current system, which is beyond unjust and horrifying.
To mark the newsletter’s third birthday, I’m sharing three books, two of which are in categories I don’t usually focus on.
Rebecca Mead is now technically a former immigrant—she’s back in her native London after living most of her adult life in New York. Like her, I am middle-aged, have one child and was born in Europe, but spent most of my adult years in New York. Her latest book, Home/Land: A Memoir of Departure and Return, very much spoke to me. I loved Mead’s reflections on what it means to upend your life in middle age and her exploration of finding home as a writer, mother, wife, and daughter.
I am embarrassed to say that I don’t remember the last time I read a poetry book before picking up Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire, a Somali-British award-winning poet. Her powerful language on topics such as migration and womanhood reminded me why in these difficult times, so many people find comfort in poetry.
I gave my daughter Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Immigrant Women Who Changed the World by Elena Favilli for her birthday, and it has been a joy to read it with her. Every night, we negotiate how many profiles to read as she can’t get enough of them. She loves when I tell her which of the women I’ve met in person, and asks questions like “What is a Paralympian?” and “How do you pronounce her name?” (Adults: More of this please, instead of butchering our names). The book has been a wonderful way to talk to her about immigrants and some fascinating careers.
Essays and Interviews
Hananah Zaheer immigrated to North Carolina from Pakistan and learned a few things from her part-time sales job that she shares in What Working at Abercrombie Taught Me About America for The Cut.
“The privilege of calling myself “all-American” made me complicit with a system that I did not fully understand and imprinted upon me values I would later reject. In a twisted way, I cannot think of a more appropriate orientation to America.”
I enjoyed Kristin Wong’s latest Catapult column entry, How Untranslatable Words Have Connected Me to My Mother.
“Looking at the photos now, it occurs to me that there are two versions of my mother: The one that speaks English politely and quietly, and the Cantonese-speaking version who lived through obstacles I will never fully understand. Something precious is always lost in the act of translation, but maybe that’s also true for the act of storytelling.”
I often talk about the pressures we put on immigrants to adapt to a new culture without dealing with the pain and loss that come with that. I’m always glad to see more writing delving into this topic, such as Anandi Mishra’s Electric Literature essay, Leaving Home Meant Losing My Mother Tongue.
“I was born to a reasonably middle-class family, where even in extended family English was a far-reaching afterthought. Thus learning it, belaboring through it, and eventually mastering it became my way of transcending class lines. While English was a language I heard spouted from the mouths of the more urban and well-connected people I knew even as a kid, Hindi meant a homely way of being, which in turn meant that I could take it for granted.”
I enjoyed Alex Espinoza’s interview with Reyna Grande for the Los Angeles Review of Books. Here is “Writing Was an Act of Survival”: A Conversation with Reyna Grande.
“The one thing that was similar to my other works is the exploration of the immigrant experience. This is something I always write about, but in A Ballad of Love and Glory, the immigrant experience I focus on is the Irish experience of the 1840s and their struggles with American nativism. But the immigrant experience is universal, and I was able to draw a lot from my own (and my father’s) experience to find parallels with the Irish in the 19th century who were mistreated, demonized, and reviled, much like the Latino immigrant is today.”
Thanks for reading,
About this newsletter: Writing about immigrant and refugee life—the struggles, triumphs, and quirks—by immigrants and refugees, and children of immigrants and refugees. For more info, here is a Q&A I did with Longreads about the newsletter. Photo in the logo: Miguel Bruna/Unsplash.
About me: I grew up in the former Yugoslavia, then immigrated to Canada, and now live in the United States, where I work as a writer and communications consultant for nonprofits focusing on human rights and social justice. I have written about my immigrant experience for The New York Times, Catapult, Pigeon Pages, the Washington Post and the New York Daily News. Last year, I attended Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing conference as a parent-fellow, and participated in the Tin House Summer Workshop. Find me on twitter, @vesnajaksic, or on my website, www.vesnajaksic.com.