Why I’m quitting my pro-immigration memoir (Moscow Chica) for now
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Last year, one of my major writing goals was to write the book proposal for my pro-immigration memoir on being half-Russian, half-Cuban, and ALL American. The name of the book is Moscow Chica: How Growing Up in Russia and Cuba Made Me an American and I’ve been talking about writing and thinking about writing and trying to work on writing this book since I was 25 years old. I am 32 now.
Well, although it didn’t go as quickly as originally planned, I had a big spurt of memoir writing towards the end of the year and it felt GREAT.
Since I had been talking about it since we first met, my then-fiancé insisted that I take Labor Day weekend to work on the memoir. Then, I went to a writing retreat on the coast of Washington State in the beginning of November. Finally, over Thanksgiving weekend, I spent several days at Starbucks and finished a first draft of my proposal.
It felt AMAZING.
I was so proud of the work I had done. And I was even more proud of what I was about to do: Send it to some trusted writer/editor friends for comments, so that I could get back to it, do a solid second draft, and begin looking for an agent. That was one of my writing goals for 2018.
In fact, I didn’t have as many goals this year as I had last year. I wanted to focus this year, and the things I wanted to focus on were pretty simple: Diversify my income and earn $5k a month as a freelancer, as well as pay off some debts and save money. And, last but not least, I wanted to finish my book proposal and get an agent.
That was the goal, anyway.
But now it’s six months into the year, and I’ve yet to get back to my memoir. When I have tried to look internally and figure out what the problem was, I’ve been able to pinpoint a few things: I have a major fear of success and fear of failure (two similar, but also different, issues that I am dealing with in therapy). Yet despite recognizing those and dealing with them, I still haven’t been able to get back to it.
I thought also that it might be because I’ve had a busy start to the year. I can tell you right now that January I was busy being a newlywed (since we only got married at the end of December), February I was busy finding new writing gigs since I was let go from Brit+Co, March I had travel and my birthday and various social things, April I had my shoulder surgery, and May was mostly focused on recovery.
All of this is true, yes. So I could easily say: Well, I just haven’t had time to work on Moscow Chica yet this year, but it’s going to happen soon!
Yet as I read the news this week, I started to recognize a slow and steady pit in the bottom of my stomach that has likely been there since the 2016 election.
You see, my memoir is a pro-immigration memoir. It’s about immigrants, how hard working and awesome we are. How much we want to chase the American Dream. The things that we sacrifice and do for ourselves, for our family, for our loved ones, as we strive for this. It’s about hardship and overcoming it, and integrating into American culture as we still try to retain our roots (Cuban and Russian, in my instance). All of this could be a beautiful story, and I was really excited to share it with all of you.
Except that I wasn’t anymore.
As the vitriol against immigrants leading up to the election was happening, I was sickened. But I pressed on. As the election happened and that man won, I kept going even though I thought I had lost all hope in America. But, finally, as I read the news this week… I broke.
The truth is that I am no longer proud to be an American, a major theme in Moscow Chica.
I spent my entire childhood striving to be an American, proud to have gotten my citizenship at 15, defending America to friends who saw her flaws. I was strong and steadfast in my belief that this was the best country in the world. After all, my parents told me so. That’s why they came here, bringing my 2-year-old brother and my 8-year-old self. They risked so much and had to little to begin with, all to give us a better life.
There’s no denying that I have a better life thanks to their efforts. Ultimately, I went to a great college (New York University) and graduated with a cum laude Bachelor’s Degree, and a double major in three years to boot. I am proud of my hard work there, too. And I’ve had a successful career, advancing in titles and earnings as my journalism career grew. Now I’m even a pretty successful full-time freelance writer and editor, and I’m proud of that. And I wanted to be so proud to share my story.
But I’m not. Not anymore, anyway.
It’s not that I’m not proud of my story. Or that I’m not proud of all the hard work that I and my parents have done. But I’m not proud to be an American. My book was meant to defend immigrants and humanize us, but even though I still strongly believe in that message, I don’t feel that I can work on it at the moment.
The book was meant to relay a message about American pride, about how much I love that we are a nation of immigrants. I still love that, but I am also doubting my ability to write a hopeful, optimistic book at the moment. That’s what this book deserves to be, but now is not the right time for me to do it.
I’m not hopeful. I’m not optimistic.
This week, as I read about the humanitarian crisis happening at our nation’s borders, with children being ripped away from their parents, I think back to the day when my family came to the U.S. on April 6, 1994. That was over 14 years ago.
When we first landed in Miami (not-quite-so-legally), my mom, my brother, and I were taken to some immigration room and were held there all day while our paperwork was figured out. I remember feeling alone and scared, and I remember my brother crying for hours. But I wasn’t truly alone. I was with him, and I was with my mother. Soon enough, my father joined us too. We were reunited within 24 hours.
That’s more than I can say for the children coming through at the Mexico-Texas border today. The things happening there are more terrible than I can imagine. I’ve seen some of the photos, watched some of the videos, and I can’t stand it. It’s disgusting, and I am horrified by what is happening in this country that I once proudly chose to call home.
Most of the people I personally know are equally horrified, thank goodness. I feel like I’ve chosen my friends well. Still, this is happening. It’s real and I feel helpless to stop it, even though there are things that we can all do to help (here is a helpful list, in fact).
But what I can stop is working on this memoir that no longer feels like a story I feel comfortable telling. Sure, some people might tell me that now more than ever we need to hear the GOOD immigrant stories, and I would agree with that, but I am just too emotionally drained and hopeless to tell mine right now. So, for now, I am setting aside Moscow Chica to focus on other projects.
The book and the idea won’t be going away forever, and they might not even be going away for long. Who knows, I might get some spurt of energy or a new idea to pivot the memoir or… something else might happen. Life might happen, and I might be back to it in a month or a year or even a day. I honestly don’t know right now.
What I do know is that this feeling at the pit of my stomach has been there since election night. I remember posting the very next day that I felt hopeless, and I continue to feel that way today. I’m not proud to be an American, and I can’t honestly write about that having that feeling as a child or teen right now. Maybe someday, when I have more distance from what is happening TODAY, I’ll be able to get back to it.
In the meantime, you can always check back here for more of my writing. I will, for SURE, continue to write about immigration and Latinx issues. Don’t worry, that’s not going anywhere. If anything, I hope to reach more people through my journalism work than I can through a book right now. You can also see my writing at 21Ninety, mitú, Fierce by mitú and Romper primarily, but elsewhere too.
So I hope you’ll check back here for updates. The Moscow Chica isn’t gone… She’s just, well, taking a break for now until I can recapture some of that American Dream magic.