As a child, Grace Talusan assumed her only career option was to become a doctor. It wasn't until the end of her undergraduate career that her eyes were opened to different and much wider horizon.
“My parents were doctors, all of their friends were doctors,” Talusan explained. “I just didn't think there was anything else I could do.”
Luckily for Talusan, her academic advisor pointed her in a new direction and she was able to secure a spot at the University of California, Irvine's MFA in Writing Program.
Now a writing professor at Tufts University, Talusan was selected as Johnson & Wales' first speaker in this year's Cultural Life Series and recently visited the Providence Campus to speak about her path from an illegal immigrant to published author.
The Journey Toward Becoming an American
Talusan began her talk by sharing a vivid story of coming to the United States. She was just 3 years old when her father, who was already in the country as a medical student, sent for the family he had left behind in the Philippines. Talusan, her mother and sister landed in Chicago just after a Windy City snow storm—and they had never seen anything like it.
Originally, the plan was to return to Manila. Talusan described her mother packing up bed sheets and toilet paper to bring home so the rest of their family and friends could experience their softness. “But when you go somewhere, it changes you,” she continued. “And that's exactly what happened. My father began to dream.”
Instead of returning to their tropical island, Talusan's family settled in the suburbs, bought a station wagon, and began their journey toward American citizenship. Unfortunately, however, the road was quite rocky.
“I still felt like I was an American. I was just like any other kid,” Talusan explained, “except our family didn't fly abroad on fancy vacations. We didn't leave the country, we drove across it.”
Instead of visiting tourist hot spots on their cross-country treks the family toured factories—from Kellogg's to Chevy to the US Mint—“and this really gave us a sense of what it meant to be an American,” Talusan said.
Finding Her Voice in the Crowd
“Growing up, I could never have imagine doing something like this,” Talusan said. “I didn't believe I had anything to contribute to the conversation. I didn't think my voice mattered.”
She attributes this partially to the fact that she never had a teacher of color until she reached college. Gradually, however, she began to realize she not only could, but should, contribute to the conversations going on around her.
“I realized me speaking up was about more than just me,” she said. “It provided a space for my family, my students to all speak about larger issues, especially those involving women and people of color.”
Talusan encouraged all those in the audience to find ways to push themselves every day.
“At this point in my life, I've realized that every time I've been afraid to do something, doing it has always been the right decision,“ she said. “Just because you can't imagine something doesn't mean you wouldn't be good at it.”
Talusan's first book, “The Body Papers”, is scheduled to be published in fall 2018.