Today I turn the floor over to fellow author Arleen Williams whose ALKI Trilogy has just been released. For those of you who don’t know, Alki Point is just west of Seattle Washington, an area very lush and green. Wikipedia describes it as “reminiscent of a Pacific Northwest beach town, with a mix of mid-century bungalows, medium-rise waterfront apartment houses, waterfront businesses, a thin beach, and a road with a bike/foot trail running several miles along the water.” As you can tell by the titles, Arleen is a very active woman as are her protagonists! In this piece she talks about the inspiration for her novels.
Years ago I was living in Mexico City and thought about studying English/Spanish interpretation. When I took the college entrance examination and failed, I was sad and filled with relief. It really wasn’t for me. I have too many of my own words and thoughts to express to fill the role of an official interpreter. Yet at times, I still feel like an interpreter. In The Alki Trilogy, I “translate” immigrant lives into stories, offering a window into the realities of modern immigration.
As I write these words, I am reminded of Reese Witherspoon’s 2014 movie, A Good Lie, about the lost boys and girls of Sudan. I remember sitting in the darkened theater shaking my head when those responsible for assisting these immigrants upon their arrival to the U.S. were portrayed as totally clueless.
“Nobody can be that dumb, can they?” I whispered to my husband.
“Most people haven’t spent thirty years working with immigrants and refugees,” he shot back.
In a world of instantaneous information, one would think we’d all know of the horrors that continue to bring immigrants – both documented and undocumented – across our borders on a daily basis. But we are inundated with snippets of news and information, with work schedules and family responsibilities, with the challenges of the hectic day-to-day routine so common in this country. We don’t always understand the stories or the worlds behind the headlines we catch as we rush from one responsibility to the next in our busy lives.
In The Alki Trilogy I introduce readers to characters living lives in the shadows of our own back yards, characters making livings, making love, making mistakes and often interacting with native-born Americans in relationships that enrich the lives of all. And like those immigrants who cut our lawns and clean our pools, who grow our fruits and vegetables, who care for our elderly and infirm, they do it carrying the horrors that brought them to this land branded on their souls.
I wasn’t on some sort of zealous mission when I started writing The Alki Trilogy. In fact, when I began the first novel, Running Secrets, I had no idea I’d be writing a trilogy at all. I simply had characters in my head demanding to be heard: a suicidal young woman and an Ethiopian home health nurse, a homeless Salvadoran girl alone after her parents were deported and the college student who offered sanctuary, an Eritrean man haunted by the terrors of his escape and the hatred of some African-Americans while buoyed by the love of another. These stories were rooted in a lifetime of teaching, explaining, interpreting my world to immigrants from around the globe in an attempt to help them build new lives in this strange land. I suppose at some point my audience shifted.
When I started writing Biking Uphill, I wasn’t ready to say good-bye to Gemila Kemmal, and when Walking Home came to me, The Alki Trilogy flowed from pen to paper as though I were nothing more than a conduit for the voices of my students and the characters based on the lives and experiences they have shared with me over the past thirty years.
About the Author:
Arleen Williams is a Seattle novelist, memoirist, and co-author of a dozen short books in easy English for adults. She teaches English as a Second Language at South Seattle College and has worked with immigrants and refugees for three decades. To learn more, please visit http://www.arleenwilliams.com and http://www.notalkingdogspress.com.
One thought on “The Interpreter – Arleen Williams”
Here in the UK we tend to view immigrants, and refugees, as a burden on our resources, rather than what the vast majority of them truly are; a valuable addition to our cultural mix.