In the epigraph to Drown, Junot Diaz uses a quote from a Cuban poet, Gustavo Pérez Firmat—“The fact that I am writing to you in English already falsifies what I wanted to tell you.” This is the dilemma of the immigrant writer. If I’d lived in Haiti my whole life, I’d be writing these things in Creole. But these stories I am writing now are coming through me as a person who, though I travel to Haiti often, has lived in the U.S. for more than three decades now.
Often when you’re an immigrant writing in English, people think it’s primarily a commercial choice. But for many of us, it’s a choice that rises out of the circumstances of our lives. These are the tools I have at my disposal, based on my experiences. It’s a constant debate, not just in my community but in other communities as well. Where do you belong? You’re kind of one of us, but you now write in a different language. You’re told you don’t belong to American literature or you’re told you don’t belong to Haitian literature. Maybe there’s a place on the hyphen, as Julia Alvarez so brilliantly wrote in one of her essays. That middle generation, the people whose parents brought them to other countries as small children, or even people who were born to immigrant parents, maybe they can have their own literature too.
- Guernica: How is immigration informing new social movements today? Is it giving people a different perspective on what national borders and national identity mean, as they relate to a new, more global sense of social change?
- Grace Lee Boggs: I think the mass expansion of the Asian-American population, particularly the Chinese population, is having an impact. I would not be surprised if [New York City Mayor Bill] de Blasio was challenged by a Chinese competitor in the next election, because the Chinese population in New York is so huge. New York has become almost a third-world country. When I was growing up it was mostly a Euro-American country. And it wasn’t until LaGuardia was elected in 1933 that Italians were even considered Americans.
- We’re at a great transition point in terms of population, demographics, and what it means to be a human being.