Out in the Open

'One never stops being an immigrant': Author Junot Diaz talks about the challenges of national identity

We talk to Junot about the identity of an immigrant: whether he thinks immigrants are ever fully accepted and what his experience was like.
Junot Diaz said that to this day, nothing could even begin to equal what he and his siblings and community endured in first years in the United States.

"Outsider with a voice."  That's how one paper described author Junot Diaz in a profile 20 years ago. 

CBC's Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay and Diaz talk about that quote and the label "immigrant."

We made five cards, each one listing an identity Junot Diaz has been called or calls himself. In each card, there's a quote relating to him. (Debbie Pacheco/CBC)

Junot says his relationship with the United States has been defined by the experience of "othering," familiar to many immigrants coming to the country.

"If you're an immigrant in the United States and you come from a poor immigrant community, especially when folks are incredibly vulnerable, I think that what you find out is that you're unfairly targeted and demonized in ways that are surprising even in those of us who grew up in these societies," Junot told Piya.

Junot Diaz came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when he was six years old. Forty years later, he says the immigration process is never over, even after officially becoming a citizen of the country, because of that demonization. 

One never stops being an immigrant.- Junot Diaz on Out in the Open

"What one discovers, especially if one maintains a close, intimate, invested relationship with their community, is that immigration never stops," Junot explains. "One never stops being an immigrant."

The author identifies as Dominican — not American — despite spending the majority of his life in the U.S. He says there is an immense gulf between him and his siblings who were born in the U.S. For him, it's a challenge to be constantly asked to choose one side over the other when it comes to national identity.

"When I think about what my Dominican-ness is, I think of myself as in diaspora. And yet there is no Dominican Republic without its diaspora. The same way there is no United States without its immigrants. But I forcefully need to argue for our presence, because we're being erased in ways that make no sense to me."​