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Where I'm From

I’m from New York, born and raised in New York on 104th Street and West End Avenue. I’m born of European parents, refugees, exiles from the European continent, educated German-speaking cultured Jews, both of them doctors. If they hadn’t escaped and found safe-haven in France and America, they would have been killed and I would not have been born. They were dreamers: a new continent, a new language, the “promise” of America and all its implied protections.

My family’s dislocation and relocation is embedded in my writer’s brain and heart. I write about it often, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, sometimes unconsciously. Their experience was unique and also typical of most Americans. Unless we are Native Americans, all of us, absolutely all of us, are from someplace else or have ancestors who were from someplace else. That includes the Pilgrims and Puritans, the slaves who were forcibly stolen from West Africa, and the economic migrants, and the undocumented adults and children who are escaping gangs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and the current President of the United States. Ignorant, pathological, abusive, so vile is this man’s blunt racism that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has formally denounced him.

Where I’m From. I’m from a progressive family, European Social Democrats. They loved Bernie, understood his rap, couldn’t understand why he didn’t make it to the White House. Their paradigm, even after so many years as citizens of America, was a European parliamentary paradigm. Build coalitions. Get things done. The Fascists are still present, but the newly formed Post-World War II coalitions will defend liberal democracy. “The courts work,” my European lawyer step-father might have said. He was enamored of the Supreme Court and read everything that was written about them. And, in this sense, he was as American as apple pie.

The term is about to begin, and this being New York, I will have students from everywhere, Dreamers included, in this ostensibly sanctuary city. But ICE is on the move. And this is worrisome. I think of my students from despotic regimes--China, Iran--many returning to their home countries after the term is over. What do I say to them? Speak boldly. Write without self-censorship. This room is a safe haven. No one will arrest you. But now I am not so sure of any of this, though I won’t stop saying it.

Every writer must feel entirely free. And even if we are not certain of our external freedoms in America right now, or our countries of origin if we are visitors here on visas, we can cultivate freedom, civility and courage within ourselves and write with a bravado that brings tears, laughter and inspiration to everyone who reads our words.




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