I’ve always been fearful of writing fiction, mostly because I didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to say. The lack of confidence that held me back for so long almost certainly stemmed from a want for identity. I was born to a Cuban mother and Italian father in Brooklyn, N.Y. in a neighborhood that was exclusively Italian, Irish and Jewish. While all of my friends had a label neatly attached, mine—Italian—never quite stuck. There weren’t any asterisks for “half-Cuban.” And since there was no denying that part of myself, and no way to acknowledge it, it was easiest to understand and explain myself simply as a New Yorker or an American.
When you don’t know who you are, you flounder. And for a long time, that’s just what I did. If I was doomed to living as a ship without a port, I at least needed an anchor. I found it in 2000, when I decided to travel to Cuba. Getting to know my aunts and first cousins, whom I had never before met, wasn’t just a life-changing experience—it was a life-making experience. I connected immediately with their warmth and wit (and that of other Cubans) and felt a sense of belonging like never before.
As serendipity would have it, I got a job soon afterward at Latina magazine. Suddenly, I was a part of something even bigger—the Latino community—and I was amazed to discover our shared experiences: the tension between past and present; the longing for a sense of place; trying to figure out where “home” is and what that word really means. Understanding those things gave me the belief in myself that I needed to make a real career as a writer. It also helped me to see that my story is the story of many others, not just Latinos, but anyone who ever has been involved in a diaspora. As the world gets smaller and more interconnected, it seems there are more of us fishes out of water than ever.
Now that I’ve been firmly moored for some time, I’m ready to set out again, this time into deeper waters. I know now that my story, my experience, my history are as worthy as any I’ve explored in my nonfiction. And in writing literature I will have more powerful tools with which to share the truth of what I’ve learned.
Yes, I have much to say. And finally, I am ready to say it.