“American Like Me” Captures Immigrant Experience

in Nonfiction by

America Ferrera, award-winning actress for ABC’s hit comedy, “Ugly Betty,” turned activist in 2016 as co-founder of HARNESS, a human rights organization that connects various communities with pop culture leaders.

Focusing on the immigrant experience, Ferrera produced a new book, American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures (Gallery Books), a collection of 31 first-person essays about growing up between cultures.

One of six children of Honduran immigrants, Ferrera writes, “Honduras was my phantom limb. I always felt its presence, but I couldn’t see it, touch it or wave it in the air to prove ‘this right here is a part of me!’ ”

She acknowledges what she lost as an immigrant: hundreds of years of connection and history, and the opportunity to more fully know herself. But she also came to realize what her parents had given her: escape from a place with few economic opportunities and where people who spoke up for social or environmental justice were silenced.

Others contributors:

Lin-Manuel Miranda, forever famous for “Hamilton,” describes the excitement of Three Kings Day, a festive day of gifts on January 6, after his non-Latino classmates in elementary school celebrated Hanukkah or Christmas.

Jenny Zhang, whose prize-winning short story collection, Sour Heart, describes a young Chinese girl’s immigrant experience (“…we had two exactly two forks in the house growing up and some butter knives my grandfather scavenged from a literal dumpster”). Her family’s luxury was eating out at an all-you-can-eat restaurant, and eat they did.

Michelle Kwan, champion figure skater, is the daughter of Chinese immigrants who spent all they had on plane tickets to the United States, then sacrificed everything to pay for skates and lessons. “Neither one of them slept more than five hours per night for a good fifteen years,” she writes.

Roxane Gay, bestselling author of essays and fiction exploring gender in culture and politics (Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape CultureBad FeministDifficult Women), describes her relationship with her Haitian immigrant parents, for whom boundaries did not exist. “There were no closed doors in our household,” she writes. “They taught us to love that way in return, so we do.”

Bambadjan Bamba, (“Black Panther,” TV’s “The Good Place”) was born in Cote d’Ivoire. Coming to the South Bronx in 1992, speaking French in a Spanish neighborhood, he was bullied at school. Internalized pain and anger turned to shame of being African. Studying acting allowed him to become his authentic self.

Padma Lakshmi, actress and author born in India, as a child rejected her family’s religion. Drawn to Catholicism, then atheism, a visit to a Hindu temple (and its many foods reminiscent of her childhood), brought her back to her heritage.

Each contributor to this book has a different story to tell — Issa Rae (“Insecure”), Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black”), Lakota hip-hop artist Frank Waln, Jeremy “Linsanity” Lin, Ravi Patel (“Meet the Patels”), Laurie Hernandez (“Dancing With the Stars”), Kal Penn (“Harold and Kumar”), Carmen Carrera (transgender first-generation American), Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro, and others. All add “missing pieces of the American narrative.”

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures is now available to purchase. 

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ABOUT AMERICA FERRERA:

Picture courtesy of Adam Franzino

 

America Ferrera is an award-winning actress, producer, director and activist. Ferrera is best known for her breakthrough role as “Betty Suarez” on ABC’s hit comedy, Ugly Betty, for which she won Golden Globe, Emmy, Screen Actors Guild, ALMA, and Imagen Awards. She produces and stars in the acclaimed NBC workplace comedy, Superstore, currently in its fourth season. In 2016 Ferrera cofounded HARNESS, an organization connecting storytellers and activists to amplify the cultural narrative around social justice. She speaks throughout the country as an advocate for human and civil rights and was the opening speaker at the monumental Women’s March on Washington in January 2017. Ferrera resides in New York and Los Angeles with her husband Ryan, their son Sebastian, and their two golden retrievers.

 

Joanna Poncavage had a 30-year career as an editor and writer for Rodale’s Organic Gardening magazine and The (Allentown, Pennsylvania) Morning Call newspaper. Author of several gardening books, she’s now a freelance journalist.

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