I was so excited to read American Like Me when MR. BOOK CLUB selected it as our January/February official selection. As an immigrant child, memories of my early days in America still fill me with the most confusing mix of emotions: there was fear, there was excitement, there was naiveté, there was misinformation. Ah, there is even an aroma of our very first American apartment that I can still tap to if I focus enough. All and all, it was a nerve-wracking time that was also kind of delicious (literally! We ate like pigs!) and full of hope. So, of course, if I see a compilation of essays written about various immigrant experiences, you damn right I’m going to read it! Plus it’s an America Ferrera project! Who doesn’t like America Ferrera?!
For the most part, I loved the book. The essays, one after the other, left me feeling giddy. Besides the occasional existential insight into what the term “American Dream” truly means, these were mostly reflections on childhood experiences. Turns out that all of us immigrants (or first generation kiddos) who were tweens in the early 90s, no matter our backgrounds, have very similar experiences. We all watched Family Matters and dreamed big 90210 dreams. We all had those tall mean girls we were afraid of and all our parents wanted us to become doctors or lawyers. This fact was of such comfort to me. How relatable! How universal! We truly are one. Reading this book, I even became inspired to revisit a long ago shelved idea of mine. See, I really want to write and publish a memoir focusing on my first year experience in America. I know, I know, here I am waxing poetic about how all of our experiences are similar and yet I want to write and sell my own story. Yes, yes, I hear a bit of a contradiction there. Well, allow me to ask you to take my word for it right now, but I’m telling ya, my story has a bit of a unique flavor to it. Will it ever be written? Yes. When? I don’t know. Suffice it to say that not everyone in my family will be lining up for a copy so that’s a bit of a deterrent. Sometimes, anyway.
Anywho, long story short: Did I like this book? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes. How many stars would I give it? 3.5. And here is why: the stories lacked diversity. Predominantly, the essays were written by various celebrities of Hispanic descent, in addition to an occasional Asian perspective. Missing entirely are Jewish voices. Not a one. Russian-Jewish immigration came in a massive wave in early and mid ‘90s; surely, our voices deserve some representation, too. We too had obstacles to overcome, a language to learn, parents’ hopes and dreams to crush. Was Mila Kunis not available? Or Natalie Portman (an Israeli immigrant)? Also missing are Arab voices (were Tony Shalhoub and/or Rami Malek not available either?), with the only one present being that of Linda Sansour—a woman known for generally doing a poor job of hiding her anti-Semitic tendencies. The combination makes one wonder if this was an editorial oversight or an intentional statement. I don’t know. But I do know that I expected better from America Ferrera.