Goodbye, Arizona. Hello, NYC!
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Like books, life is lived in chapters. Some beginnings and ends are clear, like the time span between the first kiss and the first love. Others are hazy or stubbornly defiant of the plans we make. There’s actually very little about our plans that is certain because the true ending, that definitive last punctuation mark in our stories, is not up to us. (Even those who choose their endings are ultimately pushed by outside forces.)
We were three when we moved to Arizona from New York in 2012, chasing a professional opportunity for me that we embraced as an opportunity for all of us. I’d expand my repertoire and range by directing the New York Times’s coverage of the Southwest as its Phoenix bureau chief. My husband, Mike, hoped to build on the strategic communications skills he’d mastered to start a consulting business. Our daughter, Flora, would grow up as her parents did: in a house, playing outside and seeing the sky drop on the wide-open spaces surrounding her.
Our collective goal, molded around a former editor’s informal arrangement, was to spend five years in Arizona and, from there, move to Mexico, where, I was told, my cultural familiarity, human-focused stories and linguistic skills would be put to great use. But editors changed and arrangements were remade based on what I interpreted as a reductive perception of my worth, so Mike and I decided to make Arizona our home. “Cut the chains,” he told me, and I did. All of a sudden, the future seemed full of options, not just for me, but for the three of us.
The idea of creating roots in a state whose racist politics gave rise to a generation of civically engaged Latinos unafraid to demand equal rights for their communities felt like the realization of my version of the American Dream. As an immigrant, mother and writer, I firmly believe in the power of self-empowerment. And I firmly believed that Arizona was exactly where my family and I should be.
But then my husband died, transforming Arizona from a place of hope and possibility to the safe port I needed to steady myself until I figured out what to do next. In the depths of my grief, a friend told me, “Don’t ask yourself ‘why.’ Ask, ‘what for.’” In other words, what are the lessons I have to learn to keep on growing?
That is the approach I’ve embraced and the one I’ve instilled in my daughter, who is now a bright, creative, conscientious and mature 12-year-old. I’ve devoted myself to teaching narrative journalism, making sure to remind my students that they were learning to become better writers in English from someone whose native language is not English — and that, to me, is the most important lesson I’ve taught them. I’ve leveraged my knowledge and perspective onto a spot as a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, where I’ve never been told what to write or how to write, only pushed to refine my argument and trust my instincts. I’ve applied my experience as an immigrant and journalist who has written extensively about immigrants to the script of ¡Americano!, a musical that, on June 19, will end its 12-week run Off Broadway. (Got your tickets yet?) I’m currently revising the working draft of my memoir.
My daughter is happy, healthy and as excited as I am to embark in our next adventure. It’s time. We’re ready. Our hearts and minds are steady and strong. We’re comfortable and confident in who we are.
We’re moving back to New York in July.
After Mike’s death, I promised myself that I’d live with purpose and that includes doing work that is purposeful. It also includes doing work that allows me to right the wrongs I experienced as a young professional in the United States. I will guide and uplift. I will value and encourage perspectives that are unlike mine. I will not assume I know what’s right because adjectives are subjective; what’s right for me may not be right for you. I will nurture. I will have the courage to try and empower others to try as well.
I have a beyond-exciting new job in New York, but you’re going to have to wait a bit to hear about it. For now, I’m happy to report that I’ll retain my affiliation as a professor of practice at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, leading its narrative writing instruction in a new online course I’m developing and in CronkitePro, the school’s nondegree training program for media and communications professionals.
I’m not turning my back on what I’ve built, only reshaping it. My roots are strong, and they know no borders. I am the face of the new America. I am a citizen of the world. And I am always up for un cafecito. If you’re a paid subscriber, stay tuned for news on how to schedule time to meet with me one-on-one via Zoom or in person if you’re in New York. If you’re not, please consider subscribing.
More from me soon.
With love and purpose,