By Monique Truong, Novelist
Immigrants are optimists at heart. War refugees — the subset to which I belong — are even more so. We believe that we can change our circumstances and change them for the better. I’m a writer, so allow me to tell you a story: In 1995, I’m twenty-seven years old, a newly minted attorney with degrees from Yale and Columbia, and I’m standing in the library of a Manhattan law firm with a breathtaking wraparound view, which includes Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Tears are rolling down my face because being a litigator was already pure misery for me.
“My parents did not risk our lives to leave Vietnam so that I could cry in air conditioning in the U.S.,” was my exact thought. Epiphanies come in many forms, and that was mine. Liberty and I had a heart-to-heart that day, and I began to systematically unravel the financial stability of my new profession and trade it in for a creative life. I’ve written two novels, The Book of Salt (Houghton Mifflin 2003) and Bitter in the Mouth (Random House 2010). They have gone into the world and won many awards and have been read by enough people so that I’m now described as a “bestselling author.” More importantly, they have allowed me a voice within an American literary tradition that is so vibrant because it welcomes the new.
Most importantly, my parents understood my decision. I, like them, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1980 in Dayton, Ohio, but I contend that I became an American when I looked around me and saw here the promise of more.
The above was first published in The Huffington Post as part of an article entitled, “Great Immigrants, Great Stories: Three Tales of Becoming an American,” written on behalf of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.