One evening the week before Thanksgiving, my husband and I were sprawled in our opposite corners of the couch, watching the evening news.
“Next week isn’t Thanksgiving, is it?” he asked.
“Nah,” I said.
But it was. And we had no plans.
He decided to try to book a table at a restaurant, but the only available option was if we wanted to have dinner at 2:30 in the afternoon. We didn’t.
And that was fine. Thanksgiving came too soon and we had no time or energy for it. We were drained from the last days of the presidential campaign, the election results, and the aftermath. Anyway, my husband asked, “Why do we even celebrate Thanksgiving? I mean, you know, genocide?”
In the midst of the election-related turmoil, my story collection Hola and Goodbye was released by Carolina Wren Press. It came out November 1, a week before Election Day. On November 2, I boarded a plane for Raleigh, North Carolina, courtesy of my publisher who had booked me for several events. I left my solidly blue state for a swing state whose Republican governor signed HB2 into law, banning local governments from passing anti-discrimination ordinances and requiring transgender people to use the public restrooms of their biological sex.
Everyone I met apologized for the politics of their state. Of course, these were book people, people for whom stories informed their worldview, expanded their experience, deepened their empathy. My story collection, which deals with an immigrant generation and subsequent native-born ones, was warmly embraced at the bookstore where I read, the conference where I sat on a panel, and by a group of Latina students at a women’s college.
At my hotel, I greeted the mostly Latino housekeeping staff in the hall each morning, and chatted with the Haitian, Russian, and Somali servers at breakfast. On my last day, Election Day, the African-American desk clerk grimly informed me that the hotel would be the site of the Republican Party election night gathering. As I sat in the lobby that afternoon waiting for my shuttle to the airport, I watched the preparations for the big night, which I was certain would be a disaster for the GOP. Because after all, how could a lying racist, sexist, tax-dodging, unscrupulous businessman with no knowledge or experience of civics or civility win the presidency?
As my Iraqi shuttle driver and I discussed the election and our hopes and fears, I imagined the hotel staff of immigrants and refugees, serving trays of hors d’oeuvres, refilling glasses, wiping up spills, collecting empty plates and stacking them in dishwashers – in other words, catering to and cleaning up after the people voting against their interests and livelihoods, and for a man whose campaign repeatedly insulted them.
I got my own brown body back to my blue state, but not before I checked early election returns while still in the air, which made the turbulence juddering the plane pale compared to the agitation in my ribcage. By the time I landed and got a cab, things were dire. My cab driver (an immigrant and a Muslim) and I were silent as we listened to NPR. When I got home, my husband and I could only exchange somber looks before going to bed.
My Seattle book launch at Elliott Bay Book Company was four days later. My energy was low, the base of my neck ached, and I had a sore throat, but it was my party, scheduled months in advance, and my sisters, brothers and cousins were coming from California, not to mention, as it turned out, one of my daughters and some high school classmates making surprise appearances.
I messaged Jacque Larrainzar whose band Secuencia Acústica was providing the music for the reading. We had planned a traditional Mexican song, a couple of boleros and some salsa tunes. Please add a song of protest and unity, I said.
So she opened with El Pueblo Unido (Jamás Será Vencido), The people united will never be defeated.
Her powerful voice and the drumbeat lifted me and I hope it did others. I read three short excerpts from my story collection – one about an immigrant from Mexico whose slow acquisition of English isolates her even in her own home, another about a young girl whose dreams of starring in an MGM musical are dashed when she is told that Mexicans don’t become stars in Hollywood; and a third about a young woman who having never learned to speak Spanish, the language of her immigrant grandmother, goes to Mexico to search for a lost self. Each excerpt was followed by a song from Secuencia Acústica, including the popular bolero Sabor a Mi.
I felt immense good will, support, and community in that space where so many stories have been shared. Here’s a reviewer of Elliott Bay Books on Yelp (with typos removed) whose words captured my hopes for the evening:
Attended Donna Miscolta’s Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories book reading. With a divided nation, Donna’s heartfelt reading about the 3 generations of this family with roots in Mexico and California, beautifully blended with Latin music of unity was well timed.
The following weekend was filled with other book-related events so when Thanksgiving Day arrived and we had no dinner to go to or to cook, we gladly spent a quiet day biking, walking, reading, listening to music, and writing. We did venture out once in the car on that dreary rainy day and ended up at Whole Foods where I had a plateful of mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy, and Brussel sprouts. So a Thanksgiving meal after all, to celebrate not genocide but the things I’m thankful for – family, friends, a city and county whose leaders have pledged to retain its policies that protect immigrants, and a vibrant writing community.
The month ends with beauty, joy, and hope. I was elated to be among the two dozen writers invited on Sherman Alexie’s Indies First Authors on a Bus to celebrate independent bookstores on Saturday, November 26. The bus traveled to three bookstores – Third Place Books in Seward Park, University Book Store, and Elliott Bay Book Company. Each place was festive with booksellers, writers, and readers. Each writer recommended a book to readers. Mine was Fire Girl: Essays on India, America, and the In-Between by Sayantani Dasgupta.
One of the striking things about this book is not just what a good storyteller Dasgupta is, but how well she listens to the stories of others to make discoveries about the world and about herself. This is, after all, the reason for stories.
Which is why I often reference this statement by the incomparable Sherman Alexie: “I firmly believe in the power of stories to change the world, and I firmly believe in the power of one story to change one life at a time.”
Let’s all keep reading.