Each week, the My America blog series will introduce you to one of the writers featured in our new exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, opening November 21, 2019. The exhibit is designed to elicit thoughtful dialogue on a wide array of issues with contemporary immigrant and refugee writers delving into questions about writing influences, being multilingual, community, family, duality, otherness and what it means to be American. Check back every Wednesday to learn more about these writers and their thoughts on these themes, as we highlight select quotes from the exhibit as well as reading recommendations. Today, let’s get to know award-winning writer Marie Arana.
Born in Lima, Peru, Marie Arana came to the United States at age ten. She is a senior advisor to the U.S. Librarian of Congress, literary director of the National Book Festival, and she has written a memoir, two novels, and a biography. In her newest book, Silver, Sword & Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story, Arana seamlessly weaves three stories of contemporary Latin Americans with the history of the past millennium to explain three enduring themes that have defined Latin America since pre-Columbian times: the foreign greed for its mineral riches, an ingrained propensity to violence, and the abiding power of religion.
Arana was also a member of the My America curating team and provided invaluable guidance as to the writers, topics, and themes featured in the exhibit. Below are some of her thoughts on those very themes. Read on to learn more, and then see these topics and more discussed when My America opens November 21, 2019. Additionally, you can hear Arana in person when she helps us welcome the new exhibit at our members opening reception on November 20. Learn more here.
Selected Quotes from My America
“I was working so hard on being just an American professional that I didn’t think about the little girl, ten years old, who arrived in this country from Peru and what had happened to her. Where was she? Where had she gone? And every book that I’ve written since—and now I’m on my sixth book—has been about that identity, that Hispanic identity. And I’m trying to get at it, describe it, recreate it.”
On Being Different
“When you come to this country and you don’t say the right things, and you don’t have the right accent, and you say funny things and people laugh and, [as a kid] on a playground…it’s damaging. It’s scarring.”
On Coming to the United States
“We arrived [in the U.S.] right at the time during the civil rights struggle when little girls and boys were being hosed in the streets, when little girls were being shot in a church, when people were not being allowed to go into school rooms…It was kind of a shock to come to the States, with all those promises that we had, and to see that people who were different were not actually accepted or treated in the way that had been promised to me.”
“I am a bicultural person. I have two sides in me…It’s one of those things where you feel not exactly 100% part of the first place that you came from nor the place that you’ve gone to. So you’re reminded of that all the time. At the end of the day, it’s a virtue. I’m very glad I have it. I think it has stretched my world in ways that might not have been stretched had I stayed in Lima, Peru for all of my living days.”
On Defining America
“If I have anything to teach in what I write, it is there are the Americas. America is North and South. America, to me, has always been a fluid place. It should be a fluid place. When the Pilgrims arrived there was already a population of Native Americans. There was already a population of Hispanic Americans throughout Mexico, California, all the way up to Colorado. And so the notion of America to me is actually a very evolving place. It has always been an evolving place. It’s a very, shall I say, copious home. And I like to think of it that way. And I want other people to think of it that way. That’s the whole reason why I write about what I do. I want people to know these are Hispanic Americans, this is who we are, and we are you, which is the truth.”