Q&A With the Writers of ‘Somewhere We Are Human,’ an Anthology of Migrant Resilience
It’s not every day you meet writers who are telling compelling stories of migration and survival.
A collection of perseverance as told by forty-one migrants, refugees and Dreamers, “Somewhere We Are Human: Authentic Voices on Migration, Survival, and New Beginnings,” features stories that explore themes of class, gender, race, nationality, politics, parenthood and sexuality to offer insight into their humanity, propelled by attaining the ultimate goal of the “American Dream.”
One of the authors, Reyna Grande (she/her), has several memoirs and novels under her belt. Among them are “Across a Hundred Mountains” and “The Distance Between Us.” She has won the International Latino Book Award and an American Book Award, alongside various honors.
From Guerrero, Mexico, she immigrated to the United States when she was nine years old, and grew up undocumented in Los Angeles until she turned 15. She was the first person in her family to attend college, and by becoming a writer, she “was able to contribute to the literature of the undocumented, to document ourselves and tell our stories.”
The other half of “Somewhere We Are Human,” Sonia Guinansaca (they/them), also migrated to the U.S. as a child, and is an Ecuadorian queer poet, social activist and organizer. They were raised in Harlem, New York, while at the forefront of the movement for immigrant rights. “I started my community organizing there, in specifically working with other undocumented young people,” Guinansaca said. They have received residences from the British Council, the Poetry Foundation and the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation.
Grande recently published a novel titled ”A Ballad of Love and Glory,” and Guinansaca is at work on her first memoir.
mitú sat down to speak with writers Grande and Guinansaca about their first anthology collaboration, published by HarperVia. The book is now available for purchase. The powerhouse authors detail their experience of collecting submissions and editing them for the book.
Reyna, you had a new novel that was published earlier last month, how does it differ from your previous work?
GRANDE: My book that came out on March 15, is a historical novel called “A Ballad of Love and Glory,” and it is about the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846. My male protagonist, John Riley, is a real historical figure. During the 1840s, the Irish were the least desirable immigrant group in the country, so I explore the Irish diaspora. He and his countrymen experienced a lot of abuse and mistreatment in the army. Then he switched sides to defend Mexico against the U.S. invasion. It’s a sweeping, epic story, like an old-fashioned romance. This was the first time I wrote about battles, soldiers and politics, and it took me about seven years to complete.
What inspired you to make this anthology?
GRANDE: I wanted to empower our community by celebrating our stories, celebrating our resilience and celebrating the contributions we make to this country. That’s why the image of the dandelion is important, because it shows how the dandelion is such a strong plant, that no matter how many times we try to get rid of it, it always comes back, it survives and thrives, and that’s what we immigrants do.
Can you tell us about the process of making this anthology?
GRANDE: This project is a beautiful creation that came from Sonia and I wanting to create something like this for a long time. Our agent helped us come together to create this book. The publisher HarperVia was interested in the anthology, and the pieces came together beautifully in a way that doesn’t often happen in publication. Once we got the green light to go ahead with the project, we put out the call for submissions.
Why is this anthology important?
GUINANSACA: “Somewhere We Are Human” was necessary in bringing together emerging and established writers. HarperCollins was interested in publishing an anthology featuring ‘Dreamers,’ and we wanted to tell a range of stories that included those who have TPS, are seeking asylum, have been deported or decided to leave on their own. I want this to be an introduction and an urgency to continue investing in more undocumented writers. I really hope that the pieces in there by queer, transgender, nonbinary folks help continue to shape the world that we urgently need.
How many submissions did you receive?
GRANDE: We got over 150 submissions, in addition to the submissions we requested from the people we knew, and then it took us several weeks to read each one. Sonia focused on poetry and I focused on essays. It was important we included a variety of voices from different countries because we didn’t want it to be a Latinx anthology. The undocumented community comes from various places in the world, not just Latin America. We are Argentinian, Ecuadorian, Salvadorian, Dominican and Mexican. We also included countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Bangladesh and Nigeria.
How did you get the idea for the title?
GRANDE: Sonia took a line from one of their poems, ‘somewhere we are blank,’ and the first word that I thought of was, ‘human.’ Immigrants tend to be dehumanized often, but we are human, and I felt that sometimes we longed for a place where our humanity can be acknowledged. We fell in love with the title because it reflected the message that we were trying to convey in the anthology.
What do you want readers to take away from the book?
GUINANSACA: We wanted anyone who gets their hands on this book to feel like they can see themselves represented. And the message all 40 plus pieces bring to everyone who engages with the book itself is, I’m not alone. There are folks who have stories similar to mine, or the stories of my parents or my great grandparents and here we are, all trying to create better worlds for all of us to live in.
What are you working on now? Or are the both of you planning a future project?
GUINANSACA: This is our first project where you put a Gemini and Virgo together. It’s still going to be a couple of years of speaking engagements, touring and making sure the stories are uplifted. Personally for me, I’m launching house of Allegria, which is multifold project supporting emerging queer, trans, non binary, undocumented and formally undocumented artists, which means providing them with an artist-in-residency opportunity, giving them stipends to publish their first chapbooks, and bringing them into the network of artists and cultural workers to provide the support they need.
Article has been updated for clarity.
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