A large part of the journey of being an immigrant is the metamorphosis we undergo when it comes to “adapting” to the place that welcomes us.
From the way we dress to the administrative bureaucracy we must deal with, every step has its tempo until we realize how our identity has mutated as we get used to new seasons in or adopted countries.
However, as the National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo recalls in her new novel, there will always be shared gestures and memories that bring us back to the point of origin.
Like clapping when the plane lands, for example.
Born in New York to a Dominican family, Acevedo grew up with a strong influence of Hip Hop, which would eventually translate into her slam poetry at age 14.
With a Bachelor of Arts in Performing Arts at George Washington University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland, she was able to join as a professor for bachelor level creative writing courses.
Today she is one of the most successful Latina authors in the genre of Young Adult Novels.
After making a name for herself with her best-selling 2018 debut The Poet X –a jewel of literature in the form of a verse novel that won her multiple awards– Acevedo made a foray into the novel format in 2019 with With the Fire on High, becoming one of the most powerful Latino voices in literature today.
Her new novel, Clap When You Land (Quill Tree Books), tells the story of two 16-year-old Dominican sisters who do not know each other but will be reunited by the death of their father on an American Airlines flight to the Dominican Republic that crashed in Queens, New York, two months after September 11.
Based on a real event that deeply affected her community, but was largely overlooked in the context of the attack on the World Trade Center, Acevedo reflects on distance and the sense of belonging, a theme that, in one way or another, is the leitmotif of much of her work.
The book’s title refers to the tradition that all Latinos have witnessed at some point in our lives when our plane lands back home and passengers burst into applause.
“There was something beautiful about this celebratory moment,” she said in an interview with the New York Times, but she always wondered what it meant. Is it that we’re thankful? Is it for the pilot? Is it God?
However, once outside the country, these traditions are largely lost during the process of adaptation to new customs, and one ends up being, as Facundo Cabral said, “from neither here nor there.”
Part of this identity fabric is what Acevedo discovers in her new novel, where, in the voice of two sisters, she reconciles herself with those roots she heard her parents talk about so much..
“They do have to be different people here. They do have to walk guarded in a different way,” she said. “I think that does something to us, that back and forth.”