That Feeling When Someone Steals Your Book Title
I’ll cut to the chase here.
It sucks. It feels dismissive, embarrassing, and physically painful. I looked forward to the day that Carlitos, Guadalupe’s son, would read the book about how his mother kept the family together after their apartment was raided. Now I guess I’ll have to explain to Carlitos which of the two books with the same title is about his mom.
Let’s get the questions everyone has been asking over with, because I don’t want to talk about them and I don’t really care. Do you think the press knew about your book? Yep. Do you think the author knew about your book? He said he hadn’t read my book and that using the title was “unintentional,” so I guess he didn’t know about my book. Can you sue? No, you can’t copyright titles, and I wouldn’t sue anyway. I don’t have the energy. I’ve already been mentally absent from my family. I’m so damn exhausted.
I’m not writing the essay for the people looking to grow and learn and become enriched by this discussion. I just can’t. Yeah, this could be an essay on cultural appropriation, an essay on storytelling, an essay on powerful publishing houses and whiteness and latinidad and racial invisibility and commodification and simplification of community stories.
Truth be told, I already kinda wrote about a lot of those things when the American Dirt saga was all over the news. It’s funny to read it now. Me: so composed, so articulate. I am not composed and articulate anymore. I’m just fucking tired and mad.
I’m talking to a different group of folks here, and you know who you are. You are the artists who understand that our “work” is not just work, our “art” is not just art. Rather, what we create comes from the deepest parts of ourselves, and takes a toll on our bodies and spirits as it comes to fruition. We don’t just create for the sake of creation, we create because it’s a matter of survival. We create to record the stories of suffering that don’t get told, both so that our children can know those stories and so that our children never have to live them.
I’m talking to artists of color, queer artists, women artists, those who cannot tell the stories of their communities without chronicling the systems that seek to destroy them.
I’m talking to the people who intuitively know that to steal one’s art is every bit as defiling and violating as it is to break into one’s house and steal the heirloom, the crest, the family tree. Because that’s what our art is: the piece of who we are that came from those who raised us, that we will pass on to the next generation so they can create a world their ancestors could only imagine.
So I’m writing this essay to you, to say, well, I feel you, I’m sorry, and thanks for being here for me. Because this sucks.
Here are two things about this that really get me.
First, to be honest, I was barely even shocked when I found out. I guess I knew it was always a possibility. I told a complicated story, and complicated stories rarely receive mass public appeal. I told a story that incriminated many, including myself, for our roles in a system that exploits undocumented labor for economic profit. It is also a story that links ICE violence to police violence, and, as the friends I just lost who love my immigration work but take issue when I say “Black Lives Matter” attest, the public is not ready for that. It’s much easier to say #ChingaLaMigra than it is to say #DefundThePolice, even though those whose homes have been raided and whose fathers have been cuffed and taken from them can tell you that it doesn’t matter whether it was those in green or those in blue who take them away. Still feels the same.
Second, there’s a danger in focusing our work only on egregious acts of violence. Yes, these viscerally disturbing events are often what finally sparks enough rage in white liberals to cause them to engage in protests. But when we focus on egregious violence only, we elide the systemic violence that dismantles our communities outside of the view of the general public. And perhaps even more dangerous, we run the risk of allowing those outside the community to assuage their liberal guilt by addressing only this violence. We see this constantly in the aftermath of extra-judicial police killings. As the Black Lives Matter movement (especially Andrea Ritchie) brilliantly highlighted, the killings of Black folks by police are only one manifestation of a chronically violent, anti-Black system of control. Segregation, gentrification, redlining, and voter disenfranchisement are just some examples of structural violence that slowly shortens the lives of those caught in these systems. Chronic, slow violence invisible to outsiders is violence just the same.
As the authors who deliver the messages about this violence, we must take care to center the egregious within the historic and systemic. We can’t allow our readers to put down their protest signs when police stop choking Black men to death but continue to stop-and-frisk en masse. We can’t let our readers stop raising their fists when children are let out of their cages but their parents are arrested en route to pick them up because they can’t get driver’s licenses.
The separating of parents from children at the border is universally egregious. The book hasn’t been released, so I haven’t read it, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to purchase it. But I hope care was taken in the writing of the book to move the reader to think about the entire Department of Homeland Security system, the role of the attorney general, the actions of individual ICE agents, the precedent set by the previous administration, the connections to police and the wars on terror and drugs, and the public support that made it all possible. I hope care was taken to implicate a system that separates families in many ways, certainly and perhaps most dramatically at the border, but also invisibly throughout the interior of the U.S. every day. To me, stealing the title of one’s book does not give me confidence that care was taken to do this.
I apologized to one of the mothers in the book that the title had been taken. She said, “Quizó imitarlo per no llegó ni a los talones a su libro.” Translate it yourself.
In the end, I guess you should read that other book too. We are on the same side here, recording and critiquing the work of the immigration law enforcement system and the impact it has on families and communities. I hope you read it. Or don’t. Or read mine. Or read both. I don’t know. I’m just too fucking exhausted.