author – activist – faculty – mom
Today my new novel, THE ACCIDENTAL MISTRESS, comes out, a story of two immigrant sisters. I haven’t been thinking about the novel that much these past few days, because I was worrying about 1500 missing immigrant/refugee children. As it turns out, it’s not the trafficking scandal we had originally thought. PLEASE UN-SOUND the alarm. For details about why, read this thread by Josie Duffy Rice.
While the trafficking scandal isn’t as we had thought, the reality of ICE breaking up families is much worse than we had thought. I was horrified by the photo shared on twitter by my dear friend Nanci Armstrong Temple: “Privately owned ICE family detention center Karnes has a transport bus filled entirely with car seats. No spaces for parents. #PrisonBusForBabies #DeportICE”
And this is what our immigration policies–really our consistent foreign policies do. They break up families. The wars and interventions and “free trade” agreements make countries and economies in the Global South unlivable, due to violence, ecological, and/or economic devastation. Women are often fleeing patriarchies in the Global South. Not invented by colonization, but most certainly made more brutal and rigid, as the men of formerly/currently colonized countries act out colonial legacies of rage, shame, and terror on the bodies and lives of women.
These policies have separated families for centuries. When people emigrated and were exiled to find that “better life” in the West or more resourced parts of the Global South. They left parents, siblings, and everything they knew. Families sometimes still feel the effects of those disconnections several generations later. I also know countless stories of children separated from parents–as babies or toddlers–for months or years when parents had to work in faraway situations in which they couldn’t bring kids.
Yet something about a bus full of carseats to intentionally remove children from their parents is so profoundly sinister and premeditated. As African people in the Americas, one of the most brutal wounds of slavery was the forcible removal of children from their families. Back then it was on the auction block. Now it is in special vans.
I have to keep reminding myself that these issues are all connected to the new book I have coming out today. THE ACCIDENTAL MISTRESS is about two immigrant sisters, Violet and Lily, and the way that US racism, classism, and xenophobia drives a wedge between them. Violet immigrates as a high school scholarship student to an elite boarding school in New England. She assimilates in the US and at the start of the novel is poised to marry an African American millionaire. The younger sister, Lily, comes to the US undocumented and becomes a stripper. So while Violet is striving for respectability politics, Lily faces double stigma–undocumented and a sex worker (triple stigma if you also count that fact that she’s much darker skinned).
Violet, the assimilated sister is ashamed of her homeland, ashamed of her sister, ashamed of herself. She has disappeared her accent and all traces of her “Third World” history. She would have just continued on the path to self-erasure, if a case of mistaken identity hadn’t caused her to lose everything: her fiance, her job, her swanky address, and she comes under investigation by the FBI. Only under these conditions is she forced to abandon her strategy of assimilation and reconnect with her Caribbean family out of sheer survival.
Yet Lily, the unassimilated sister, also has something to learn. Those who stay true to their roots can see that those who assimilate are rewarded with material and status gain. They don’t always see, however, the profound emotional and cultural price. This is particularly true for those who have to assimilate as young people, and don’t have the opportunity to make a choice as adults. I was very mindful to set Violet’s age of immigration at fourteen. This is around the age that a person’s palate forms. If a person learns an new language much later, they will always speak with an “accent.” But if they learn earlier, they can easily make a new set of sounds. Violet arrives in the US, just as her palate is forming. She is able to change the way she speaks, but only with great effort.
So when circumstances push Violet and Liy together, these two sisters, now adult women, get a chance to heal from the disconnection of immigration and colonization. The book is also a feminist heist and romance novel, as are all my Justice Hustlers books. Fun and sexy, but with hardcore politics at the center.
There’s also a metaphorical twist of marketing that has to do with the cover of the book. Originally, there had been two sisters on the cover. Kensington Books’ design department did a great job of finding stock photos for each character. However, just before the book went to press, it turned out that the photo of Lily was being used as a primary image for another Kensington book. They had to pull her off the cover of THE ACCIDENTAL MISTRESS. Please don’t blame Kensington Publishing, blame racism. I wrote a whole post about the lack of stock photos of black women for my previous book, THE BOSS.
But I made a special image of THE ACCIDENTAL MISTRESS cover for today’s book release. The photo of Lily is like a ghost image over the buildings in the background. Can you see her?
Meanwhile, we need to keep fighting against ICE terror, racist immigration policy, unjust foreign policy, and other ongoing and Tr*mp era outrages to our communities. And in addition to that activism, may we all register to vote, vote, and vote some more. No ban. No wall. Protect DACA. All but Native Americans are from immigrant communities. All families deserve to stay connected. No one is illegal.