93 pages • 3 hours readAmerica Ferrera
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American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures (2018) is an essay collection edited by actress and activist America Ferrera with E. Cayce Dumont. The collection contains essays from notable individuals in movie and TV entertainment, food, publishing, public service, comedy, music, and self-help content creation. These first-person accounts all address the often troublesome question of what it means to be American, especially when growing up between different cultures. American Like Me is a New York Times bestseller, and USA Today hailed it as “funny,” “touching,” and “complicated.”
America Ferrera is a well-known actress and human rights activist. She has appeared and starred in shows and movies such as Ugly Betty, Superstore, The Sister of The Traveling Pants, and Real Women Have Curves. This study guide references the 2018 edition from Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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With American Like Me, Ferrera tackles the difficult question of how one defines what it means to be American. She enlists the help of notable figures and celebrities, including comedian Issa Rae, food media star and chef Padma Lakshmi, actor and civil servant Kal Penn, comedian Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, award-winning author Roxane Gay, and popular actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, among many others. There are 32 essays in the collection, as well as an Introduction and a Conclusion by Ferrera. The essays range from short and pithy to humorous and serious to playful and creative. Regardless, the essays all address what it means to live in the US and how each author identifies (or doesn’t) with being American.
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Some experiences deal with those born in other countries who then came to the US as children or young adults. These include essays by Bambadjan Bamba, who moved from middle-upper class to poverty when his family came from the Ivory Coast to the South Bronx; Kumail Nanjiani, who moved from Pakistan to small-town Iowa in college; and Geena Rocero, who began life anew in San Francisco after leaving her happy life behind in the Philippines as a transgender beauty queen. Each of these essays explores the writer’s first impressions with America, and how the America they experienced defined them in turn.
Other essays-such as those penned by Ferrera, Issa Rae, Carmen Perez, and Uzo Aduba—address how heritage and ethnicity amplify upon returning to a homeland. For Ferrera, it was visiting Honduras, learning about her deceased father, and discovering she had a revolutionary grandfather. For Rae, it was visiting her father’s homeland of Senegal and connecting to family. Perez traveled to Mexico for the first time after her sister Patricia died, only to realize she didn’t know what it meant to be Mexican or Mexican American. Uzo Aduba visited her mother’s native Nigeria without her mother and learned the immigrant experience often renders immigrant parents as superhuman.
Comedians like Johnson-Reyes, Al Madrigal, Ravi V. Patel, and Liza Koshy infuse humor in narratives about growing up between cultures and the ways immigrants attempt to embrace or remake their cultural heritage.
The collection also includes essays from basketball player Jeremy Lin, renowned ice skater Michelle Kwan, and actors Lin-Manuel Miranda and Wilmer Valderrama, all of whom address the price and reward of success in America and how their respective culture shaped their childhoods.
Other essays, including those of Indigenous American notables like rapper and artist Frank Waln, actor Martin Sensmeier, and poet Tanaya Winder address what it means for Indigenous people to interact with a country and a colonizer culture that has historically suppressed and twisted Indigenous narratives and ways of life.
As a whole, the collection offers a chorus of voices speaking to the confluence of culture on US soil—voices that affirm the complexity and diversity of an America that is ever-changing and hopefully, for the better.