Imagine waking up one morning and walking away from your home, your friends, your books, your clothes, your photo albums and never looking back. With empty hands and somber hearts, you board a bus, a train, a plane or a boat knowing you may never return to your homeland again. Would you? Could you? People all over the world do this everyday while I sleep comfortably in my king size bed in my air conditioned home surrounded by the ones I love. If abandoning everything you have, everything you know and everyone you love to begin anew does not define courage, then I don't know what does. Yes, it may be risky and it may even lead to death, but the people who risk so much must truly suffer great injustice and despair to be willing to lose it all to gain it all.
Anyone living in South Florida knows an immigrant or is one himself. People come to America from all over the world, Haiti, Venezuela, Columbia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Cuba or Jamaica just to name a few. We leave behind our mothers, fathers, cousins, or childhood friends in search of freedom and opportunities too many in this country take for granted, for they have never experienced what is all too common outside the great walls of this nation.
In Ivonne Lamazares' novel The Sugar Island Tanya and her mother, the main characters in the story, typify the dissatisfaction and the sometimes destructive desperation that emptiness breeds. As the story progresses, I am forced to understand the complex nature of the decisions these two women make as they struggle to find their place under the sun. Instead of judging the characters, I find myself accepting or perhaps excusing their decisions and their choices. While Tanya fights to retain what little she has, her mother embarks on a never ending pursuit for something better, something different, something more. Hope is the only thing neither one allows herself to lose as she navigates through life. I cannot help but admire their strength and determination to survive and prosper in the most difficult of places or the most difficult of circumstances. Against the odds and even against each other, they fight to regain themselves.
Like a tug of war they pull and soften and pull and soften without ever letting go no mater how exhausted, bruised or disappointed and betrayed they may feel. In the chaos of their lives, they find solace in each other and in themselves, for though they may be very different, they are still the seeds of the same tree.
I must confess that I still remain somewhat foreign to their plight, the plight of the immigrant, for I was too young when I left my birthplace to remember what I lost, what I left behind and what I should have missed. Although our own personal stories may vary, the underlying story remains the same for all of us. We share a yearning for our own special place in the world, a place where we can be true to ourselves without masks and without chains that bind us and restrict our breath. We search unrelentingly for a place where the sun always lives.
Read an excerpt from The Sugar Island in the National Endowment for the Arts.
More about The Sugar Island