There are many Americas within the United States of America. When I was a green card holder, a legal resident of this country, I felt like the welcomed visitor who nonetheless had to charm her hosts to be allowed to spend the night. For years after I became a naturalized citizen, I felt as if I had to prove myself worthy of the permanence enabled by my marriage to an American and granted by the U.S. government.
The diversity I carry within is is my strength.
As an immigrant, I’ve often felt confined to boxes I don’t fit in, descriptions I don’t identify with and biases that don’t apply to me, but that in the eyes of others, define their idea of me. (I’ll be lying if I say I haven’t taken advantage of their ignorance.) Portuguese is my native language, but Spanish is my keycard. It has opened doors to newsrooms, homes, stories, friendships and connections that have helped me make sense of where I stand in the hierarchical structure of mainstream America.
What is the mainstream anyway? Who decided what falls under and outside its boundaries? Who drew those boundaries? Throughout history, language has been used as a tool of stratification and subjugation. Words put people in their place. So here’s my challenge to you: Whose norms do you live by?
"Mainstream” is an abstract concept and it’s yours to define.
I teach aspiring journalists to write well in English and report with confidence with whatever Spanish they have. Because it takes confidence to succeed in worlds that are not familiar, among people who speak a language that is not your own. It also takes courage. I’ve drawn mine from each victory I’ve accomplished, each step ahead I’ve taken as widow. Because each step ahead that I’ve taken has shaken the pre-conceived notion of what a widow must be like.
“I am so many things that it’s a huge disservice to accept these labels that box us in. And look at the fastest category in the census in this country. It’s the ‘mixed’ category. So I think there’s pride in saying I am not one thing. I am fluid. I am, you know, everything and nothing. Let’s just break all the assumptions and defy all the labels out there and see where it takes me.”
It’s only when I removed my journalist hat and broke the chains that bound me to a set form and format that I realized how far my creativity can take me. There’s more for me ahead, I know. I’m not afraid of challenges. It’s only when we challenge ourselves that we grow. As I told Omar, I have “lived a lot and experienced a lot and had some rude awakenings, some personal things that happened, and I really just came to a point where I felt if I don’t try it, I’m never going to know.”
Speaking of trying …
Have you ever wanted to write as you are, but felt constricted by the expectations of others and the labels they have used to box you in? Then join me for a virtual workshop designed to help you break those chains. “Going There.” May 21, 3-5 p.m. EDT. Brought to you by Iota Short Forms and the Cobscook Institute, an educational institute in Maine serving three nations: Passamaquoddy, American and Canadian. Click here to sign up and take control of your narrative.
Oh, and before I forget …
My buddy Nic Garcia, politics editor of the Des Moines Register, created First Draft Notebooks, a line of cool, sturdy and perfectly sized reporter notebooks. I love “The Stringer,” a smaller version of the standard reporter notebook, and I’ve just ordered a new pack of 10. Check out First Draft Notebooks here and use the discount code “FERNANDA” at checkout for a 10% discount. Write on!
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