unknownamericans:

[The following is excerpted from Newsweek with permission of the author]
I came to Los Angeles with a suitcase full of books and shoulder pads stuffed with cash. It was 1992, just a few months after the infamous riots, and I was about to start graduate school at the University of Southern California, near the epicenter of the unrest. One of my professors advised me against coming here—I don’t remember exactly what he said, but the substance of his message could be summarized in three words: Drugs! Guns! Violence! I had been warned so often about muggings that I decided to sew some bills inside the shoulder pads of my jacket. I didn’t know a single soul here.
At once the city felt familiar to me. After all, it had already beamed its likeness to my television screen and to the movie theaters of my hometown 6,000 miles away in Morocco. Look, here was the Hollywood sign, white against the green of the Santa Monica Mountains. Here were the skyscrapers downtown, glowing pink and orange under the rays of the setting sun. Here were the blue skies, the palm trees, the freeways, and the vanity license plates.
— Laila Lalami // Read the rest here. 

unknownamericans:

[The following is excerpted from Newsweek with permission of the author]

I came to Los Angeles with a suitcase full of books and shoulder pads stuffed with cash. It was 1992, just a few months after the infamous riots, and I was about to start graduate school at the University of Southern California, near the epicenter of the unrest. One of my professors advised me against coming here—I don’t remember exactly what he said, but the substance of his message could be summarized in three words: Drugs! Guns! Violence! I had been warned so often about muggings that I decided to sew some bills inside the shoulder pads of my jacket. I didn’t know a single soul here.

At once the city felt familiar to me. After all, it had already beamed its likeness to my television screen and to the movie theaters of my hometown 6,000 miles away in Morocco. Look, here was the Hollywood sign, white against the green of the Santa Monica Mountains. Here were the skyscrapers downtown, glowing pink and orange under the rays of the setting sun. Here were the blue skies, the palm trees, the freeways, and the vanity license plates.

— Laila Lalami // Read the rest here

unknownamericans:

My Mother, my hero

Amanda Camino Aleksey

It was the Christmas of 1988 when my father left Ecuador for the States, but it was the year that followed that changed the lives of my mother, my sister, and I. My sister, the youngest, seemed to take my father’s abandonment the hardest. Her behavior transformed completely from active, happy, and curious to sad and absent. I would try to engage her in play, but it was like talking to a wall. Mom would call out to her, but my sister would act as though she’d forgotten her name, or as though she’d lost all hearing. That was most of 1989 and by the end of that year mom no longer thought that my sister was simply sad or in shock of my father’s departure.

In the years that followed we saw all type of doctors: neurologists, pathologists, otolaryngologists (mom believed my sister might be deaf), and child psychologists. No one could figure out what was wrong. Since no one could find a physical or neurological diagnosis for my sister, mom was told the explanation had to be some type of mental disability.  This was not an explanation my mother took lightly. It took several more months to get an answer, but in 1991 my sister was diagnosed with autism. The child psychologist who recognized all the warning signs recommended that we travel to the United States for further evaluations and therapy. There was hope!

Getting a visa to America was not easy. Family and friends said there would be absolutely no way that my mother would get a visa, especially because she was requesting to travel with two children.  A year passed by, but in July of 1992 the three of us boarded on a plane to New York City! We were not ready for the reality of my sister’s condition, though. Mom had hoped that my sister would undergo therapy, perhaps for a year or two, and she would be cured; we would all return to Ecuador after that. This was not the case, of course. I can’t imagine what this must have been like for my mother, accepting this new reality for her children and for herself.

 Mom was a Finance Director in Ecuador; she’s worked in factories, as a cleaning lady, nanny, and a nurse assistant here in America, and it’s all been in pursuit of her children’s well-being.

—Amanda Camino Aleksey

Our colleague, Amanda, shares her Unknown American story.

nationalbook:

50 BookBench sculptures have been installed throughout London, in conjunction with a study from the National Literacy Trust that shows the number of young people who enjoy reading is on the rise.

(Via The Bookseller)

unknownamericans:

Photo: Joel Salcido
I left Mexico, the country where I was born and raised, in 2001, at the age of twenty-eight. The first three years of my immigrant life I lived in Spain. That’s where my accent began to get weird.
My wife and I had a tiny folk art store in Madrid. We sold artsy Mexican handcrafts, messenger bags made of oilcloth, things like that. One day, as I was gift-wrapping her a handpainted picture frame, a customer in her fifties asked about my origin. “You don’t look Mexican,” she said, as if she had a degree in Identities. “What do I look?” I replied, all smiles. “Italian,” she said, studying my face, “or Colombian?”
A few months later, in February of 2004, we posted a “Liquidation Sale” sign on the door. Customers asked why we were closing. I said I’d landed a job in the US. “Agh, the empire!” they’d howl, aghast, throwing their hands in the air. We were in the middle of the Bush years, and they couldn’t understand why someone would willingly move to such awful place.
An old friend from college and his boss were leaving the Wall Street Journal Americas to launch a chain of newspapers in Texas, and had offered me a position as managing editor. In Mexico, I’d started a career as a journalist that was going well, until I moved to Spain. The only job I’d gotten in Madrid, back when we arrived, ended after five months, and I hadn’t found another one since. For two years, the alerts I’d receive from the Spanish version of Monster.com highlighting jobs that matched my profile would only include positions as construction worker, call center operator, night guard. And as fun as it was to sell handcrafts from my home country to Madrileños who’d find them exotic and cute, the prospect of working at a newspaper again was way more exciting, even if that meant starting from scratch somewhere else.
Also, the store remained in the red. Very. Red.
Six months later, I landed in San Antonio. On my first day at the newsroom, I was introduced to the reporters, editors, photographers and designers with whom I’d work. Among them were Colombians, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, Spaniards, Peruvians, Uruguayans, a guy from Utah, even Mexicans. One of them, upon hearing my accent, asked where I was from. I said it, and she went, “Nah. Really?”
— Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

unknownamericans:

Photo: Joel Salcido

I left Mexico, the country where I was born and raised, in 2001, at the age of twenty-eight. The first three years of my immigrant life I lived in Spain. That’s where my accent began to get weird.

My wife and I had a tiny folk art store in Madrid. We sold artsy Mexican handcrafts, messenger bags made of oilcloth, things like that. One day, as I was gift-wrapping her a handpainted picture frame, a customer in her fifties asked about my origin. “You don’t look Mexican,” she said, as if she had a degree in Identities. “What do I look?” I replied, all smiles. “Italian,” she said, studying my face, “or Colombian?”

A few months later, in February of 2004, we posted a “Liquidation Sale” sign on the door. Customers asked why we were closing. I said I’d landed a job in the US. “Agh, the empire!” they’d howl, aghast, throwing their hands in the air. We were in the middle of the Bush years, and they couldn’t understand why someone would willingly move to such awful place.

An old friend from college and his boss were leaving the Wall Street Journal Americas to launch a chain of newspapers in Texas, and had offered me a position as managing editor. In Mexico, I’d started a career as a journalist that was going well, until I moved to Spain. The only job I’d gotten in Madrid, back when we arrived, ended after five months, and I hadn’t found another one since. For two years, the alerts I’d receive from the Spanish version of Monster.com highlighting jobs that matched my profile would only include positions as construction worker, call center operator, night guard. And as fun as it was to sell handcrafts from my home country to Madrileños who’d find them exotic and cute, the prospect of working at a newspaper again was way more exciting, even if that meant starting from scratch somewhere else.

Also, the store remained in the red. Very. Red.

Six months later, I landed in San Antonio. On my first day at the newsroom, I was introduced to the reporters, editors, photographers and designers with whom I’d work. Among them were Colombians, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, Spaniards, Peruvians, Uruguayans, a guy from Utah, even Mexicans. One of them, upon hearing my accent, asked where I was from. I said it, and she went, “Nah. Really?”

— Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

We Don't Like "Feliz Navidad" And We Don't Eat Tacos

unknownamericans:

An excerpt from The Book of Unknown Americans, up on Buzzfeed today!

harkaway:

O, hai, America! AI has Ur buks!

US edition for the win!

harkaway:

O, hai, America! AI has Ur buks!

US edition for the win!

unknownamericans:

My father came to the United States from Panama in 1971. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware, and then went on to get his master’s in chemical engineering from Northwestern. He was a student who ended up meeting a girl, who changed the course of his life, and he’s been living here ever since. It’s an ordinary story, one that will never end up in a newspaper or the subject of a feature film. But to me, that’s why it’s important.
One of my hopes for The Book of Unknown Americans was that it might tell the stories that people don’t usually hear, either because there’s rarely a chance for immigrants to make their own voices heard in a public way or because people don’t listen. And now, another hope: that you all might share your stories, too, no matter how ordinary they might seem to you. A few sentences, a few paragraphs. It’s up to you. Where did you come from? How long have you been here? What is your life like now? We’ll create a chorus, and in the accumulation of the ordinary, become extraordinary. 
— Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans


Cristina Henriquez on why she started the Unknown Americans Project and an invitation for you to submit!

unknownamericans:

My father came to the United States from Panama in 1971. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware, and then went on to get his master’s in chemical engineering from Northwestern. He was a student who ended up meeting a girl, who changed the course of his life, and he’s been living here ever since. It’s an ordinary story, one that will never end up in a newspaper or the subject of a feature film. But to me, that’s why it’s important.

One of my hopes for The Book of Unknown Americans was that it might tell the stories that people don’t usually hear, either because there’s rarely a chance for immigrants to make their own voices heard in a public way or because people don’t listen. And now, another hope: that you all might share your stories, too, no matter how ordinary they might seem to you. A few sentences, a few paragraphs. It’s up to you. Where did you come from? How long have you been here? What is your life like now? We’ll create a chorus, and in the accumulation of the ordinary, become extraordinary. 

— Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans

Cristina Henriquez on why she started the Unknown Americans Project and an invitation for you to submit!

unknownamericans:

They came from Cuba in different years, at different ages, their families leaving for different reasons after each tried—for a different number of years—and ultimately failed to make life work in their newly Communist country. I am only here because they lived—once they got to thiscountry—around the block from each other in a fairly crappy neighborhood, one that had already been converted to Cuban years before they arrived thanks to white flight. (They live, even to this day, in a house less than six miles from the block where they grew up, the block where they met at a house party full of other teenagers struggling to think of the U.S. as home; they have come far and not far at all.) I am only here because, once in this country, neither had the means or support to go to college, and so instead they got married right out of high school and had me very soon after that. I was the first child in the family born as an American—they still call themselves Cuban—and they named me after a 1981 Miss America runner-up in part to signify this.
When I found that out, I asked them why they didn’t name me after the winner, or at least the first runner-up. Why set up our family’s first American that way—with the idea of having lost something built in to her name?
The winner’s name we just didn’t like, my mom said. (The name was “Susan.”) And the first runner-up? she said. Her name was weird. You couldn’t pronounce it in Spanish. (I’ve verified the facts of their story: the name was “Paige.”) Then I asked why they changed the runner-up’s original spelling to a version that would inevitably get misspelled over and over (and over) again.
My mother said, We wanted the name to be American, but also Cuban. We wanted it spelled that way, so that when you had to correct people on the spelling, you could say to them: Sorry, I know it’s a weird spelling. My parents—they came here from Cuba.
So that’s another loss built in to their choice. Another decision for which I am eternally grateful.
—Jennine Capó Crucet

unknownamericans:

They came from Cuba in different years, at different ages, their families leaving for different reasons after each tried—for a different number of years—and ultimately failed to make life work in their newly Communist country. I am only here because they lived—once they got to thiscountry—around the block from each other in a fairly crappy neighborhood, one that had already been converted to Cuban years before they arrived thanks to white flight. (They live, even to this day, in a house less than six miles from the block where they grew up, the block where they met at a house party full of other teenagers struggling to think of the U.S. as home; they have come far and not far at all.) I am only here because, once in this country, neither had the means or support to go to college, and so instead they got married right out of high school and had me very soon after that. I was the first child in the family born as an American—they still call themselves Cuban—and they named me after a 1981 Miss America runner-up in part to signify this.

When I found that out, I asked them why they didn’t name me after the winner, or at least the first runner-up. Why set up our family’s first American that way—with the idea of having lost something built in to her name?

The winner’s name we just didn’t like, my mom said. (The name was “Susan.”) And the first runner-up? she said. Her name was weird. You couldn’t pronounce it in Spanish. (I’ve verified the facts of their story: the name was “Paige.”) Then I asked why they changed the runner-up’s original spelling to a version that would inevitably get misspelled over and over (and over) again.

My mother said, We wanted the name to be American, but also Cuban. We wanted it spelled that way, so that when you had to correct people on the spelling, you could say to them: Sorry, I know it’s a weird spelling. My parents—they came here from Cuba.

So that’s another loss built in to their choice. Another decision for which I am eternally grateful.

—Jennine Capó Crucet

nprbooks:

It’s time again for Friday Reads!  I’m finally getting around to the latest volume in Mary Robinette Kowal’s delightful Glamourists series. Boss Lady Ellensays she’s excited to spend her weekend baking pies and reading Rebecca Rasmussen’s new Evergreen. From Code Switch, Kat Chow reports that An Untamed State is shudderingly intense, and Mama Susan Stamberg is knocking back Of All the Gin Joints. How about you?

Hooray, EVERGREEN!

Ceferino Ramirez

unknownamericans:

image

To whom it may concern….

In 1962 I arrived in Miami from Cuba via Pan Am Airways as a refugee under an Unaccompanied Minor Program called “Pedro Pan.” I was 16 years old.

Today, accompanied by many bitter/sweet memories, and almost 69, I sit down to tell you a Reader’s Digest version of my…