I moved around a lot as a child, but I grew up mostly in Miami, a city which people are constantly moving in and out of. I suppose that’s part of what made it feel like home. In Miami, when you meet someone, it’s not unusual that they’ll ask your name, followed by “Where are you from?”
It’s not the question you think it is. It’s not: where did you grow up? Or, where were you born? Or, what is your cultural background? (Though the answers can be.)
It’s really, how do you identify yourself—place yourself—in this rich kaleidoscope of countries and ethnicities and backgrounds that is Miami? In this rich kaleidoscope of countries and ethnicities and backgrounds that is the world?
As writers, we’re answering that question constantly, sometimes without even realizing it. Chasing the Sun is set entirely in Lima, Peru, where I was born before my family moved to the US when I was four. My current work-in-progress is set in Miami, with characters from Peru, characters from the US, and characters that feel caught somewhere in between. My next inkling of an idea seems destined to take place in a small city in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, just miles from the Mexican border.
I guess I’m still moving around a lot, and I have no idea where I’ll go next. Maybe that’s the whole point, for both writers and readers. We all come to the page carrying different pasts and perspectives with us. But we make a choice when we sit down to read or write a book, to pack those bags up and go on an adventure together. We stand in the terminal that is the unopened book, and then we look around, eyes wide with anticipation and excitement, and ask, “Where to next?”
That’s what I love so much about writing. In one story, it’s allowed me to explore my roots, my background and the unknowns of my family history. In another, it’s helped me dig deeper into a city I grew up in, which I was only able to see clearly once I took a step back to observe it.
Recently someone asked me if I think I’ll ever depart from these places—the ones I come from, the ones I grew up in, and the places where I currently live—in my fiction. I think it was their way of asking if I’ll ever dip my toe beyond these perspectives.
But isn’t it the role of fiction to challenge us to see the world from different points of view? And a writer’s perspective, like their identity, is made up of so much more than place: it’s culture, and ethnicity, and race, and gender, and sexuality, and fears, and triumphs, and obsessions, and beliefs and thousands of other factors—large and small—that mold who we are and what we’re here to say.
In other words, it’s where we’re writing from. And I hope I’ll get to explore all of those places, not just within myself, but in others. I have a feeling we could all travel the globe, to all sorts of exotic places on and off the page, and still find the universal in our human experience.
What about you? Where do you write or read from? Where do you hope to go next?
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- The One Thing I Hope to Do Differently for the Next Book - Tuesday, August 12, 2014
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