Immigrant Strong: July 2021 Issue

A world without sushi, cherry blossoms, and writing about Cuba

This month, I participated in the online Tin House Summer Workshop, workshopping with the great Nicole Chung and learning from many authors I’ve featured in this newsletter, including Zaina Arafat, Nadia Owusu, and Jaquira Díaz. It felt magical to be surrounded by others who appreciate literature, love writing, and understand the powerful role it can play in not only creating beautiful art, but dismantling our society’s harmful systems of white supremacy and patriarchy.

I’m glad I squeezed in time to read a book I can share here — it’s Rajiv Mohabirs Antiman: A Hybrid Memoir. As a queer Indo-Guyanese poet and immigrant, Mohabir wrestles with his racial, multicultural, and sexual identities — and does that through multiple languages and styles. It’s a unique genre-bending book and it was fitting to read it right after Tin House, a week that embodied and celebrated diversity and inclusivity. (Also, I learned I have two places in common with Rajiv — Scarborough, Toronto and Queens, N.Y.)

Speaking of great immigrants, please check out this fantastic project I worked on for Carnegie Corporation of New York. It was such a pleasure to write about immigrants like Wayne A.I. Frederick from Trinidad and Tobago, who was in so much pain as a child with sickle cell disease, he told his grandmother when he was 3 that he would become a doctor. Frederick is now president and professor of surgery at Howard University. We also highlighted Katalin Karikó, who was rejected in her career from jobs, grants, and promotions. But the Hungary-born scientist never stopped believing in the power of mRNA to fight disease, and today, we have her to thank for developing the groundbreaking technology that became the basis of the COVID-19 vaccines.


Essays

I loved this Entropy essay, Error Messages, in which Rebecca Delacruz-Gunderson examines her biracial and multicultural identities, the meaning of her name, and more. As someone born in Serbia and raised in Croatia (while they were part of Yugoslavia) who has a Canadian passport and lives in the United States, I very much related to her explanations of never having a right box to check off. (And like hers, my name always gets butchered).

“Suddenly, I feel a stronger claim to the term “POC,” although nothing about me has changed. And the more people think that I’m something I’m not, the more confused I am when I look in the mirror. Sometimes, I feel as if I could be a completely different person if I wanted to be.”

I also enjoyed Julie Chen’s Catapult essay What Does It Mean to Be “Made” Somewhere?

“I didn’t belong to the Chinese Italian community, and I belong to a global diasporic community in the basic sense that I, like one in five people in the world, am ethnically Chinese. But in Prato, I learned to stop searching for an authentic, fixed self, or an automatic kinship with those who might share my identity—especially in a globalized and capitalist world.”

Here is Tanushree Baidya’s great interview in Hypertext magazine with Dariel Suarez, in which he makes terrific points about apolitical writing and discusses writing about his home country of Cuba.

“I think there’s a lot left to explore. More selfishly, it allows me to stay connected with that part of myself, a sensibility and experience that’s difficult to replicate in the U.S. It’s very centering, though at times also nostalgic and somewhat tragic, because as I mentioned in the essay, there’s a lot that’s inevitably lost identity-wise, not matter how much one attempts to retain it.”

The great Ocean Vuong reminds us that immigration doesn’t just mean coming to America and, with that in mind, recommends four books in this NPR roundup.

“One of my goals was to kind of de-center America as the site of immigration — and we realise that immigration is a species-wide legacy. Everyone who has been human from time immemorial has had to make the decision about how to move and escape and make new routes.”

Here is one more list—9 Books About the Complexity of Identity—by Rajiv Mohabir, the author of today’s featured book.

“While white America still secretly holds the belief that to diversify literature means to compromise craft or quality—I’ve heard this whispered behind hands at readings and by people representing literary organizations—I believe that moving beyond white aesthetics to be uncanny in its ability to stretch American literature.”

Also on the topic of identity, here is a piece that looks at Fourth of July from the perspective of a multicultural person—Judy Bolton-Fasman’s ‘His Legacy Was His Patriotism’: My Father’s American Dream for WBUR.

“I was the girl with the strict, formal father and the young mother with the unmistakable Cuban accent. I was supposed to have a foot in each of my parents’ worlds, yet I often felt that I belonged in neither place.”

Elina Zhang penned this powerful LitHub essay, Surviving Tough Love: Growing Up as the Child of Chinese Immigrants.

“Is this what we, the children of immigrants and the marginalized, inherit? Our parents’ failures and traumas? For the longest time I believed I inherited the worst parts of my parents—their tempers, their miserliness, their fears about the world.”

Here is a wonderful Guernica essay, In a World Without Sushi, by Juhea Kim.

“I was proud of my father not only for making a new life for himself, but for becoming so valued in a society where Asian men of his age are often caricatured—or worse, are simply invisible. In American culture, they are resigned to the wordless background, and serve as punchlines for white people’s much more exciting lives. They show up in movies as unsmiling bodega owners or restaurant managers with heavy accents.”

I’ll wrap things up with Julie Chang’s Cherry Blossom Girl in The Rumpus

“There is a violent current in the air and my face might be the trigger that suddenly unleashes a slur, if I’m lucky—or a punch, a bucket of sulfuric acid, a hammer, a bullet, if I’m not. It’s the randomness that is most terrifying. There are an infinite number of permutations of perpetrator, weapon, and setting.”

Thanks for reading,

Vesna


About this newsletter: Writing about immigrant and refugee life—the struggles, triumphs, and quirks—by immigrants and refugees, and children of immigrants and refugees. 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 TimesCatapultthe Washington Post and the New York Daily News. This 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.


Loading more posts…