Television host and author Carmen Rita Wong exposes her deepest wounds and intimate life details in her memoir “Why Didn’t You Tell Me.” She believes that voicing our nuanced truths as children of immigrants is a transformative experience.
We deserve to have our experiences as Latines amplified and embraced so we can be seen in our whole human complexity. Writer, television host and author of “Why Didn’t You Tell Me” Carmen Rita Wong believed that her experience as the daughter of immigrants was only one of the millions of others. And while her story, a quest to discover her biological father, is specific, nuanced weaving in assimilation, healing, divorce, and motherhood, it’s a story that is universal for children of immigrants.
We had a chance to chat with Carmen herself during the #WeAllGrow Latinas & Libros Book Chat and have highlighted four experiences that children of immigrants often live.
You have a complicated relationship with your cultural identity.
You are a human, which means you are ever-evolving. And it’s natural for your cultural identity to have shifted & continue to morph as you embark on the path of self-discovery. For many immigrants and children of immigrants, the pressure of assimilation is hard to escape. Some of us face the consequences of it, for better or worse, more than others. So be gentle with yourself as you allow your cultural identity to unfold, and lead with curiosity and an open heart. You might be surprised where it takes you. Just remember, there is power within the nuance of it all.
When Carmen lived in South America, she was considered American; In the U.S., she is considered Latina. “This world sometimes forces us to name-brand ourselves, when in reality we are tremendously fluid creatures. The important thing is, do you know who you are, who you love, who you feel close to,” she said.
Contorting to match your environment was a survival mechanism. You don’t need to do it anymore.
In order to survive, there’s a chance you’ve contorted to fit the external space. Some of us carry shame around the self-sacrificing we’ve done at different points in our lives. But the truth is when we exist in environments that weren’t created with us in mind, at some point, contorting and assimilating was the only option. Not to mention the added parental pressure to succeed that first-generation children of immigrants experience. If you made it to the #WeAllGrow community, and you’ve made it to this article, it means that you are ready to change that. Free yourself because a different life is waiting for you when you choose authenticity.
“It makes your life so much richer and joyful to be able to be yourself,” said Carmen after having to do the same in a very dramatic way detailed in the book.
Your well of courage is deeper than you know.
For those of us born into circumstances where there was no safety net to fall back on, one might operate from a place of fear and scarcity. However, I invite you to explore how you can leverage those emotions to propel you in new directions and break generational patterns. You have overcome so much; imagine how much more you can accomplish and create when you tap into your well of courage.
“You can use [scarcity & fear] to your benefit. If you change that fear into effort, you can really use it,” encouraged Carmen, who has successfully applied this tactic in her life.
You may have room for improvement when it comes to boundaries.
In Latine culture, we are often encouraged to give, give, and continue giving. Pouring out of an empty cup somehow became admirable. When sacrifice is what makes you a saint, it’s common for boundaries to get a little blurry, especially for immigrant families. You have permission to lay down your boundaries. Learn to say ‘no’ and carve out time for rest. You are worth it.
“If you respect yourself, you can assert yourself, you can hold your ground,” said Carmen, whose book explores boundaries in different ways.
If you’re hungry for more conversations like these with other Latine authors, join the #WeAllGrow Latinas & Libros Book Club!
About the Author
Chantelle Bacigalupo is #WeAllGrow Latina’s Editorial Staff Writer. She is a Bolivian-American photographer, multimedia journalist, and activist based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work focuses on issues ranging across immigration, social & environmental justice, preserving Indigenous cultures, and reproductive justice. You can read more of her pieces here.