There is no one way to be American. Despite the political situation in the United States and what the people in power try to tell us, there has never been a formula to determine what an American looks like, sounds like, or lives like. Many people born in the United States have roots that extend beyond this country – roots that are tied to histories and cultures so rich and important that it can be quite confusing to understand one’s place. Activist and actress America Ferrera knows exactly what that means when she clearly asks in her introduction of American Like Me, “Are there different words for different kinds of Americans? Am I half American? Kind of American? Other American? I am nine years old, and suddenly I am wondering what do I call an American like me.” In American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures, America Ferrera brings together 32 well-known figures in American culture to talk about their own American experiences and what it means to create a sense of self in a country that may not always celebrate you the way you want to celebrate yourself.
Even though I am personally not American, this collection of stories has really made me think about the importance of understanding one’s identity and place in the world. Everyone’s experiences differ, but we’ve all had – and probably still have – moments where we’ve felt like we don’t belong, or that we are not represented well enough in society. As someone who has lived in five different countries since childhood, finding a sense of self and a sense of place has been a lifelong question. Feeling different and feeling out of touch with the community(ies) you find yourself in can be frustrating.
That’s why reading this collection of essays has been eye opening and even cathartic. From reading about “Girls Who Code” founder Reshma Saujani’s relationship with her Indian first name to actor and immigrant activist Bambadjan Bamba’s internalized shame of being African, this book hits all the right spots emotionally and mentally. Storytelling is the most powerful way to portray and represent our experiences. America Ferrera brought together a group of people willing to share their experiences in figuring out their identity, culture, and what it means to grow up in America – and that’s something we can all relate to.
Image courtesy of author.