Immigration is dominating the political conversation these days – but in a new book “The Ones Who Don’t Stay,” actress and filmmaker Paola Mendoza makes it personal, striving to paint a portrait of the extraordinary women who have left their homeland in search of better opportunities in the United States.
“I wanted to create something about immigrants that was a contrast to polarizing headlines. We should be able to think of immigrants as human beings, as opposed to nameless people who break laws, complicate policy and shouldn’t be here,” says Mendoza, who was born in Bogota, Colombia and is now based in Brooklyn, New York. “I wanted to show that immigrants are not here to be a drain on this country or society. I am a proud immigrant and I think what I’ve been able to contribute is characteristic of the majority of immigrants.”
In her debut novel, Mendoza – who wrote, directed and starred in the celebrated 2009 indie drama “Entre Nos” – weaves a multi-generational story about women, touching on themes of war, romantic relationships, family ties, parenthood and struggle. “The Ones Who Don’t Stay” do have characters based on Mendoza’s family – “this book is definitely semi-autobiographical,” confesses the 33-year-old – but there’s a sense of understanding woven within them that makes them at once familiar to even the most casual of readers.
“I grew up in a family with very strong women,” explains Mendoza, who was approached to write “The Ones Who Don’t Stay” after publishing executives saw “Entre Nos.” “My father abandoned us, and when he did, my mother managed to make magic from two leaves and a penny. In the absence of a lot of positive male figures in my family, as an artist I wanted to celebrate women. And in doing so, I wanted to explore the relationship between mothers and daughters.”
But that’s not to say that Mendoza – who is currently developing a television series with “Entre Nos” creative partner Gloria LaMorte – hasn’t already begun to think of life lessons to pass down to her eight-month-old son.
“I grew up with a lot of challenges, both economic and emotional,” shares Mendoza, who counts Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez among her favorite Latin American authors. “My son, on the other hand, will grow up very privileged. So it then becomes even more important that he knows where he comes from – that he knows that his mother once slept in a park when she was young.”
While she was able to forge opportunities for herself – Mendoza attended the University of California, Los Angeles and Sarah Lawrence College, where she received her Master in Fine Arts – the first-time author explains that she hopes readers of “The Ones Who Don’t Stay” appreciate their fortune and are inspired to give back.
“I think it’s important to recognize that we need to collectively build on the sacrifices of immigrants,” says Mendoza.
“It’s part of a larger duty that we have to not only our community, but to the world around us.”