American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood

Finalist, National Book Awards 2001 for Nonfiction

American Chica, by Marie Arana Book Cover
ISBN 9780385319621
The Dial Press
Marie Arana author photo, credit: Lucy Bekheet
Marie Arana

Marie is a Peruvian-American author of nonfiction and fiction, senior advisor to the U.S. Librarian of Congress, director of the National Book Festival, the John W. Kluge Center’s Chair of the Cultures of the Countries of the South, and a Writer at Large for the Washington Post. More about this author >

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In her father’s Peruvian family, Marie Arana was taught to be a proper lady, yet in her mother’s North American family she learned to shoot a gun, break a horse, and snap a chicken’s neck for dinner. Arana shuttled easily between these deeply cultures for years. But only when she immigrated with her family to the United States did she come to understand that she was a hybrid American whose cultural identity was split in half. Coming to terms with this split is at the heart of this graceful, beautifully realized portrait of a child who “was a north-south collision, a New World fusion. An American chica.”

Here are two vastly different landscapes: Peru—earthquake-prone, charged with ghosts of history and mythology—and the sprawling prairie lands of Wyoming. In these rich terrains resides a colorful cast of family members who bring Arana’s historia to life . . . her proud grandfather who one day simply stopped coming down the stairs; her dazzling grandmother, “clicking through the house as if she were making her way onstage.” But more important are Arana’s parents: he a brilliant engineer, she a talented musician. For more than a half a century these two passionate, strong-willed people struggled to overcome the bicultural tensions in their marriage and, finally, to prevail.

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