Fiction can be a rich go-to venue for walking in someone else’s shoes, to transport yourself to another place or time or mindset through the power of expert wordsmithing. Most often, what you read in novels is based on real-life stories of people who have lived the tale. And when these stories are rendered in works of memoir, historiography, biography, journalistic exposés, or even poetry, we feel the same narrative power as we do in fiction. This is especially important when reading about the diverse and complex lives of Latinx communities.
By José Orduña: When I was ten my dad gave me my first wallet—it was green, with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the outside. Then he handed me my identification card, my first green card, which was actually pink. He said we’d gotten it when we’d gone to Juárez but that he didn’t think I was ready to carry it then. I remembered we’d gone very suddenly and that I missed my thirdgrade class trip to an amusement park, that a man I’d never seen showed up at our door in Chicago, and that my dad let him into our house. The next day we were on a Greyhound bus that took three days to get to El Paso, Texas, and then we immediately took a cab across a bridge into Juárez.
By Gayatri PatnaikOne of my sharpest memories as a girl was when an immigration officer came to our house in rural Finzel, Maryland when I was about nine years old. He showed up at our house unannounced and I still remember the stunned look on my mother’s face when she answered the door. I didn’t realize until much later how high the stakes were or how very close we had come to being deported. While I can’t share specifics, I can say that one of the things the officer asked for was the phone number of people my mother knew who could attest to her character. And I remember sitting there in our kitchen hearing the one-sided conversation as he called friends or acquaintances or colleagues of my mother’s, one after another. When he left, I walked with him to the door and he shook my mother’s hand and told her she was a remarkable woman and that if she didn’t hear from him in the next six months, she wouldn’t have to worry about her citizenship status further.
By José OrduñaOne convention featured the jingoistic speeches of retired generals, and ex-CIA director Leon Panetta, of protestors chanting “No more war!” being out shouted by people chanting “U-S-A!” The other convention was the Republicans’. As a Mexican immigrant naturalized as a US citizen in 2011, this is the second US general election for which I am eligible to vote.
By José OrduñaA large bearded man named Tommy rolls a shopping cart full of wooden crosses into a small square off the Pan American Avenue. Someone has painted them all white. One block south of where we stand, the United States ends abruptly. Between a double wall made of iron, a concrete trench is filled with loose coils of concertina wire. The metal teeth glint under the red sun. To our west sits an air-conditioned McDonald’s and just past that a Wal-Mart sprawls into the horizon.
A Q&A with José OrduñaHappy Publication day to José Orduña and his memoir, The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement! The Weight of Shadows chronicles the process of becoming a North American citizen in a post-9/11 United States. It is a searing meditation on the nature of political, linguistic, and cultural borders, and the meaning of “America.” Our executive editor Gayatri Patnaik spoke with Orduña to discuss James Baldwin’s influence, Orduña’s hopes for the book, and how he crafted the narrative.