By Sandy Tan & Claudia Marina
‘American Mothers’ is a graphic novel that explores the duality of our identities as hyphenated Americans through the stories of our mothers.
OVER THE COURSE OF THIS YEAR, WE HAVE BEEN THINKING ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AN AMERICAN. IN OUR MANY CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THIS TOPIC. WE REALIZED THAT WE WERE PRIMARILY AMERICAN BECAUSE WE WERE BORN HERE. BUT WE ALSO IDENTIFIED CLOSELY WITH THE NATIONALITY THAT CAME BEFORE THE HYPHEN. BOTH OUR MOTHERS IMMIGRATED TO THE UNITED STATES IN THEIR EARLY 20S. THEIR STORIES SET THE SCENE FOR OUR EVENTUAL LIFE AND UNDERSTANDING OF OUR IDENTITIES AND HISTORIES.
FOR OUR MOTHERS, LIVING IN THE UNITED STATES CAME WITH MANY SURPRISES.
Growing up in communist countries, life was very different.
BUT SOME THINGS WERE QUITE SIMILAR.
AFTER SPENDING THE FIRST TWO DECADES OF THEIR LIVES UNDER STRICT CONTROL, THERE CAME AN OPPORTUNITY FOR MORE FREEDOM.
BUT LIVING IN THE UNITED STATES WAS NOT WITHOUT ITS CHALLENGES.
STILL THEY MADE THE BEST OF THEIR SITUATION.
NOW THAT THEIR CHILDREN HAVE GROWN, THEY HAVE A TENDENCY TO
REMINISCE ON THEIR OWN CHILDHOODS…
…AND FORM THEIR OWN IDEAS ABOUT OUR IDENTITIES. THE AMERICAN ALWAYS COMES UP, BUT FOR SOME. THE HYPHEN GETS LOST. AND FOR OTHERS THE HYPHEN IS SECONDARY TO THE CULTURE THAT CONNECTS MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS.
BUT AT THE END, WE REALIZED THAT BEING AMERICAN IS SO MUCH MORE COMPLEX THAN ONE DEFINITION ALONE. AND THAT IS SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF.
“American Mothers” was inspired by Girls Write Now workshop with Masuma Ahuja where we explored interviewing and telling others’ stories. As a pair we also read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and were inspired to tell the stories of our mothers who both immigrated to the United States in their early twenties. Realizing that we would not be “American” without their story, we both interviewed our mothers on their experience before, during, and after immigrating to the United States. We then transcribed those interviews and met to discuss a common narrative that we shared. It was exciting to work in a new format and this pair piece pushed us to try out illustration—something we had always been interested in but have never done. We both illustrated the stories of our mothers and combined them to tell a short story of identity, immigration, and coming to understand ourselves as hyphenated Americans.
Sandy Tan is a senior in high school with a strong interest in the intersection between creative writing and technology. She believes technology and writing are not only tools for self-expression but also mediums for change. She is involved in various all-womxn computer science communities, engaging in projects that address low voter turnout in the United States and the gender gap in STEM. Her goal is to inspire more young womxn to find their place in the world of technology. In her spare time, Sandy loves baking with her older sisters, reading and painting.
Claudia Marina is a design writer and editor based in New York. She teaches at Parsons School of Design and writes at the intersection of design and cultural criticism.