Opinion

América’s new book: Every American has a unique story to share with us

Actress América Ferrera wrote ‘American Like Me’ about her reflections -- and those of 31 other people -- on life between two cultures.
Actress América Ferrera wrote ‘American Like Me’ about her reflections -- and those of 31 other people -- on life between two cultures. Vida en el Valle

Since April, I have been stranded on Mars, accompanied a Russian ‘red sparrow’ in her quest to free her motherland from tyrants, and rubbed elbows with some crazy, rich Asians.

I even visited the Azores (thanks Diana Marcum), trekked into México from New México with a dead wolf, and wondered how an Olympic distance runner competed to be the best in Las Vegas in a different calling.

Yup. I rediscovered a love of reading when I joined a book club. Problem was – and still is – I read at a much faster rate than my fellow sloth readers. I’m still waiting to see the movie ‘Crazy, Rich Asians’ while a trio of clubbers are still finding out what happens to Rachel Chu in her travel to Malaysia with uber-rich boyfriend Nicholas Young. Mind you, I’ve also finished the other two books in that series.

Wish me luck with finishing ‘The Girl in the Spider Web’ before the movie comes out this weekend.

But, I’m not here to bash book club members nor to rave about the two dozen books I’ve read thus far.

If you read one book this year, or next year, make sure you pick up a copy of ‘American Like Me,’ a compilation of essays by people who share two cultures. The stories are touching, inspirational, humorous, and, thought provoking.

Author América Ferrrera – yes, the award-winning actress from ‘Real Women Have Curves,’ ‘Ugly Betty’ and ‘Real Women Have Curves’ fame – throws out a thought: “Are there different words for different kinds of Americans? Am I half American? I am nine years old, and suddenly I am wondering what do I call an American like me.”

These days when the national discourse tends to do more dividing than uniting, this book is a reminder that we are all Americans regardless of our language, religion, home country, food, music or politics.

The definition of an American isn’t limited to the stereotypical hamburger-eating, blue-eyed cowboy.

It can be an Olympic gold medalist in skating like Michelle Kwan whose parents saved every penny and even mortgaged their home to make sure she could pay for her ice skating lessons.

It can be a former mayor of San Antonio like Joaquín Castro who was raised by a bad-ass activist, single mother.

Or, it can be an actress/activist like Diane Guerrero, the daughter of undocumented parents.

There are some who try to fit in when others block those efforts.

There are some who don’t see any racial barrier because they grew up in a diverse neighborhood where foods, music and traditions were shared from one house to the next.

Others are trying to regain a better sense of their culture and background that seemed overlooked by immigrant parents who thought erasing one’s past would result in a seamless transition to a new country.

Which brings us to Ferrera’s story. She is one of six children born to Honduran parents; her father deserted the family when she was 8; and, she pushed hard to become an actress at a time when dark-skinned Latinas with too many curves were not a commodity in Hollywood.

However, there is much more to Ferrera than her quest to become an actress.

She explains: “The first person to make me feel like a stranger in a strange land is the first boy I ever love. I am six years old when I fall in love with Sam Spencer.”

By the third grade, that budding love is shattered when Sam (not his real name) explains: “I like Jenna more than you. Do you want to know why? Because she has blue eyes and lighter skin than you.”

Boom!

Broken heart!

It’s amazing we all grow up thinking we’re just as American as John Wayne or Marilyn Monroe until reality – sometimes with a cold, hard slap – reminds us not everyone is as welcoming as the Statue of Liberty. Or, as comforting as a mother’s embrace.

We become strangers in our own land.

We become nobodies despite our valuable contributions as laborers, artists, or scientists.

We are overlooked despite our numbers.

Yet, we still love this country as if it’s a blood relative. We still fight her wars, support Republicans or Democrats, contribute to her prosperity.

Every one living in his nation has a story to tell. Some are similar to others in this book. Some aren’t.

We’re all different, yet very much alike.

But, don’t take my word for it. Pick up this book and read about Carmen Pérez, Ravi Patel, Jeremy Lin or the others whose stories are American stories.

(In case you were wondering, the books, listed in order of mention are: ‘The Martian,’ ‘Red Sparrow,’ ‘Crazy, Rich Asians,’ ‘The Tenth Island,’ ‘The Crossing,’ and, ‘Fast Girl.’)

Juan Esparza Loera has been editor of Vida en el Valle since it started publication in August 1990. Send questions, comments or suggestions to: jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

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