My memoir Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct 1) covers a lot of ground. It traces my family’s journey from the Partition of India and Pakistan to Queens, New York; from an elite Manhattan private school to the criminal justice system and the cells of Rikers Island. It’s a story of successes, failures, and how unwittingly selling electronics to a Colombian drug cartel shaped the lives of everyone in my family. And, this may be the most important detail: it’s a father-daughter story. When I was little, Dad was the stranger who worked 7 days a week and smoked Marlboros quietly in the corner. He piped up only to complain about my skirt length. I didn’t feel close to him. But in the end, he became my best friend. We saw each other with clarity and love. That surprising relationship unfolded in the context of a legal case that destroyed his life and singularly defined mine.
The timing of Here We Are is not arbitrary. It’s fate. I ran away from this book for quite a few years. I worried that by revisiting the past, I’d be trapped in it. But, turns out, the past would not go away. It sat there, inside me, patiently (or impatiently) waiting till I was ready. I needed to feel secure enough in other parts of my life, namely, my career and my credit score. Once I did, it just hit me: Oh! I won’t get stuck in grief if I write you; if I don’t write you, I won’t be able to move on with my life. I felt like one of those old school cassette players, with the tape on pause. Writing the book was hitting the “play” button.
There were also the 2016 elections. Many Americans asked themselves: What am I doing for my country, besides complaining? I’m a writer. Sharing a piece of my family’s immigrant story became my unique contribution at a moment when immigrants — the essence of America — are under attack. President Trump likes to tell a version of who we are. My version is the truth.
Here We Are is available online and in bookstores everywhere. I recorded the audiobook — which is great for road trips or when you’re on the run. (Here’s a sample.) My book tour will make 20 stops in 13 states and in Washington DC. Come say hi — and tell me your family story!
Praise for Here We Are
“Aarti Shahani’s book is destined to take its place among the finest memoirs written in recent decades—a heartbreaking, hilarious and tender love letter to the millions of people who have made their way across lands and oceans to try and find a new life in America. This book will take you on a vivid, almost cinematic journey that is both beautiful and unforgettable.”
—Guy Raz, co-creator of How I Built This, Wow in the World and TED Radio Hour
“This timely, bittersweet immigration story will resonate powerfully with readers.”
“This thought-provoking and thoroughly engrossing memoir offers the story of Shahani’s experience, as well as those of other families who, though they did not find the American Dream, nevertheless found home.”
—Library Journal, starred review
“As it chronicles immigrant tragedy and triumph, this provocative book also reveals the dark underside of the American judicial system and the many pitfalls for people of color within a landscape of white privilege. A candid and moving memoir.”
“A worthy addition to immigration discourse, this book is a raw and engaging glimpse into the challenges immigrant families face that are either too traumatic or mundane to land on the news.”
Aarti Namdev Shahani is the author of memoir Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares. She is a correspondent for NPR based in Silicon Valley, covering the largest companies on earth. Her reporting has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, a regional Edward R. Murrow Award, and an Investigative Reporters & Editors Award. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Her activism was honored by the Union Square Awards and Legal Aid Society. She received a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, with generous support from the university and the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. She completed her bachelor’s degree in anthropology at the University of Chicago. She was among the youngest recipients of the Charles H. Revson Fellowship at Columbia University and is an alumna of A Better Chance, Inc. Shahani grew up in Flushing, Queens—in one of the most diverse zip codes in the country—and believes every American should visit her hometown to understand what makes America great.