It’s a common immigrant story: you escape a life of poverty and cross a giant fucking ocean to come here, because this is the land of opportunity.
And maybe, compared to where you came from, it is. But accumulating wealth is HARD when you’re working class, and ten times harder if you only *kinda* speak the language, and a hundred times harder when lots of people hate or look down on you just because you’re you.
So if you’ve hard scrabbled in the dirt and managed—through gargantuan effort—to keep your children (and husband) fed and sheltered, and your 7 year-old daughter comes to you and says,
“I WaNT tO be A wRIteR WheN I gROw up,”
Your over-frayed, over-worked, exhausted self becomes a dragon and breathes flames on that 7 year-old’s thick plastic-framed glasses and pigtails:
“NOOOOO! You do that, you live in box on side of the road! NOOO!!! You marry doctor, lawyer, or dentist! You go the easy route in life!”
Because my mother did not go through all that shit so I could throw it all away on an English degree. Immigrants did not struggle in menial labor, and struggle in hunger, and struggle in xenophobia—far from the shelter of their loved ones in a land of foreign food, foreign words, and foreign faces—all so their children could pursue something so intangible and risky like humanities and art.
But that’s what I did, anyways.
Honestly, I didn’t have a choice. This keyboard is an extension of my being. I type like a person breathes. At this point, it’s not even about money anymore. It’s about existing. It’s about being heard and understood. It’s about connection.
Because losing my mom and losing my sister taught me that connection is all we have. And it is just as important in death as it is in life. As the last living family member, I suddenly became the primary person responsible for keeping their memory alive. There is no way. No way one person can properly express the loss of an entire human, let alone two. Grieving takes a village, and so I picked up my keyboard and created one.
I told people stories. And they responded. Strangers developed an intimacy with my mom and sister that would have been impossible otherwise. They laughed with me; they smiled at my mom’s and sister’s idiosyncrasies with me; they grieved with me.
When I was seven and I told my mom I wanted to be a writer, I was mistaken. I am a writer. It is the core of my being, not an occupation.
Because I am certainly not receiving money for my efforts. I wonder what my mother would say if she knew I was measuring my success as a writer not in dollars and sales and NYT reviews, but in likes and views and clicks.
“I don’t understand why you do this, then.”
I can hear my mother’s voice narrowed in skepticism.
Because as I watch my latest article “Surviving Homicide” slowly gain views and shares and comments of “thank you so much,” and “thank you for helping me feel understood,” I see confirmation that what I have to say can touch someone’s life. That my words—and thus my being—matters. That I am important.
I have something better than financial wealth. I have connection.