Being a Canadian in LA and How it Helped me Write TRAFFICKEDA lot of immigrants move to America for financial opportunities or to fulfill their dreams, but I moved to America for love. I met my future husband in Korea, where we were both teaching English, and after our year was up, he told me he’d always wanted to live in LA. I’m always up for an adventure, so I said sure. Beaches and sunny weather all year round sounded pretty good.
LA was exotic, though not quite in the way I’d imagined. People spoke English, but some of the words were different. They teased me about my accent and loved to say “eh,” imagining a shared joke that I didn’t get. LA had mailboxes, but they were blue instead of red. At the post offices and government offices, I spoke through glass. In the stores, all the packaging was different: Kraft Dinner was Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, there were no plastic bags of milk, and I couldn’t practice my French by reading the cereal boxes.
In the streets, few people rode bikes and most of the cars were expensive, even in poor neighborhoods. When I tried to ride my bike to work, I nearly got killed. Police officers scared me with their hands on their guns, shining flashlights in my eyes when they pulled me over. I’d always had friends from many different countries and races, but in LA, there was more racial tension and people didn’t mix as much. On the bus, I often witnessed the drivers mistreating immigrants who didn’t speak English perfectly and when I could, I stood up for them, demanding the drivers treat them with respect. People on the buses stared at me like I was crazy.
Even when I was trying to have fun at a party, I laughed too loudly for LA and people looked at me oddly. Sometimes I’d touch someone in conversation and realize I’d invaded their personal space. The rules were different and yet I couldn’t figure out what they were. I made jokes and no one laughed; they made jokes and I didn’t laugh. They had their childhood TV shows; I had mine. Nobody had watched The Beachcombers or The Littlest Hobo. We understood one another, but we didn’t understand at all. For the first time in my life, I had a hard time finding friends. I was miserable and lonely.
I used that loneliness and sense of separation when writing TRAFFICKED. The main character, Hannah, is living with a Russian family, but she is Moldovan, so it’s a similar feeling of speaking the same language, but being off kilter. She’s always afraid of making a mistake. When she leaves the house, it’s terrifying because nothing is familiar. The first time she takes a bus, she doesn’t know where to put the money because in Moldova, you hand the money to the driver and they give you change. But the driver won’t take the money. She doesn’t understand. Panic settles in. Finally the driver points at the hole for the money and she figures it out. When she talks to the neighbor boy, every small interaction holds the possibility for confusion. This is how I felt for the first couple years in Los Angeles.
Gradually, I adjusted to LA culture. I got a nicer car. I rode my bike along the ocean, like a sane person. I learned that the farmer’s markets are the place to shop. I found some wonderful people who helped me learn the ropes, laughed about my struggles and put up with my occasional singing of Oh Canada. I kept writing. My husband and I moved to New York City, I found a great literary agent and then Viking wanted to publish my book. And now it’s out. Many immigrants come here for their dreams. I might have come for love, but I got my dreams too, which is pretty cool, eh?
Description of Trafficked from Goodreads:
A 17-year-old Moldovan girl whose parents have been killed is brought to the United States to work as a slave for a family in Los Angeles.
Hannah believes she’s being brought from Moldova to Los Angeles to become a nanny for a Russian family. But her American dream quickly spirals into a nightmare. The Platonovs force Hannah to work sixteen-hour days, won’t let her leave the house, and seem to have a lot of secrets—from Hannah and from each other.
Stranded in a foreign land with false documents, no money, and nobody who can help her, Hannah must find a way to save herself from her new status as a modern-day slave or risk losing the one thing she has left: her life.
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