Authors Talk Immigration and Refugees at Boston Public Library

Elena Georgiou and KL Pereira are talking about their perspectives on immigration experience. Feb. 13, 2018. Photo courtesy of Katie Eelman.

Yanxuan Li
BU News Service

Boston – They are both writers. They are both creative writing teachers. They both write displaced protagonists in their works.

Elena Georgiou and KL Pereira came together Tuesday at the Newsfeed Café inside the Boston Public Library to talk about immigration, refugees and identity.

“One of the things that I was looking at in this book is silence,” Georgiou said of her new short story collection,“The Immigrant’s Refrigerator,” at the panel.

Georgiou asked the audience to consider the effect of being foreign in a new land and the silence that comes with it.

“Imagine someone picked you up and put you in a country where you don’t speak the language and you don’t have a lot of money and the degree you earned in your country doesn’t count for anything in the new country,” Georgiou said. “How much would you keep your mouth closed, just because you were afraid of saying the wrong thing, because you are so tired to piece sentences together?”

In her new collection, Georgiou plucked a few persons out of the millions of people who were displaced because of war, violence and persecution and brought their stories to life on the page.

“I was really thinking about work and silence, and visibilities and invisibilities.” Georgiou said.

Born in Cyprus, a Mediterranean island colonized 11 times in the past century, Georgiou has experienced a nomadic life with her family since she was a child.

Georgiou said she still remembers 1974, when Turkey invaded the island and cut it in half within 14 hours.

“All of my family, every single one, is a refugee, is a displaced person, because they all had to live at the wrong side of the island.” Georgiou said. “When the island was cut in half, they all fled to the south.”

Georgiou wrote about those experiences in her second book of poems, “Rhapsody of the Naked Immigrant.”

KL Pereira, author of “A Dream Between Two Rivers,” said the immigration experience tends to lead to the isolation of a displaced group.

“Especially when they are put into a new culture, they tend to keep silent,” Pereira said, referring to Georgiou’s earlier point.

In her works, Pereira tends to put her characters into relationships, whether platonic or romantic.

“I think that one of the things that I was really aware of when I was writing this book was that a lot of my characters are really outsiders,” Pereira said. “I think that interactions and relations with other people and finding those people that make it just a little bit more bearable is really important.”

“That was my way of giving some hope to the hopeless characters,” Pereira said.

When asked about whether they dealt with the problem of immigrants losing their own culture, Pereira said she focuses on the loss faced in all aspects.

“One of the themes in my works is about how those displaced persons lost parts of themselves and also who their family was and how that loss is irreversible,” Pereira said.

Georgiou said she didn’t address this issue directly but does focus on the concept of moving to a whole new place.

“Perhaps I’ll deal with that in my next book, but not this one,” Georgiou said. “This one’s really about looking for a new way to live.”

Katie Eelman, the editor of Pereira’s book, has been to almost all of the author’s since she started her author tour in September.

“I never tire of hearing her read her stunning stories,” Eelman said. “I loved the event with Elena Georgiou especially because it was great to hear both authors’ perspectives on the immigrant experience and conveying it in fiction.”

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