by Shailja Patel
Infused with the occasional hysterics of a previous generation’s drinking habits and lost paychecks, the stories of middle-class America are part of our nation’s collective and, at times, selective memory. What we choose to promote and what we choose to identify with is often a choice we are allowed to make, a decision and an unacknowledged privilege. Our art becomes a separate army, as apolitical as its conception may have been.
As a country of predominantly English speakers, we are dependent on unseen interpreters to reformat language to fit our tongue. The challenges of translation are faced when interpreting colloquial idiom and replacing a single word in a single poem. They are faced when the content is a departure from a reader’s view of the respective piece and possibly the culture from which it came. In these pages, you will encounter writing from outside the United States and writing from within the United States that reflects the cultural strata on which we stand and on which we create.
My parents were married on February 28, 1975, three months after they had met in Quito, Ecuador. Their wedding took place at City Hall in Quito in front of a judge and cost one American dollar. Shortly after, they settled in Chicago, my mother’s hometown. My father couldn’t speak English, and he had about $200 to this name. There are some more things I know and some I think I know, from stories told and retold in Chicago and Quito, in English and in Spanish. But as a first-generation American, like many others, I find myself inventing stories out of my parents’ crossing.
I imagine them in downtown Chicago, my father and mother looking for work, meeting afterwards on an L platform. I see them riding the L, standing close or sitting, their hands coming together like a beetles folding its wings after flight. Or at a small, cheap diner, my mother switches from English to Spanish, reads the menu for my father while he decides how he wants his potatoes — boiled and mashed, cooked russet, or fried and burnt. My father glances out a window toward downtown Chicago, still factory grim and full of sullen dust, but in the process of shedding its stoic fur for something bigger, something revitalized and new, its bear claws spreading wider on the beach of Lake Michigan. By the time my father turns his head back toward my mother, she has already picked out their dessert, a strudel cake that had been $2 more the previous week.
In these pages, we find writing that proves the immigrant story and reinvents native memories, whether they be from Columbia, Iraq, or even Babylon. Here are stories that give root to paisley, place Middle East leaders between heaven and hell, give migrants a song, recall lost friends from Dubai, and search for lost family members after a genocide in 1914. In these pages, Ingrid Rojas writes, “There was fear and hope and both of those things couldn’t survive under the same ribcage.” Often, immigrants and first generation Americans are forced to choose between fear and hope. In issue four of MAKE, we find authors and stories that navigate both.