A JOURNEY of Language, Identity, and Books

Sana U. Hoda

I moved to the US at the age of 6. I had a Dora the Explorer haircut, spoke very little English, and what little I did speak was indecipherable to my classmates in Arlington, Virginia.
My tongue just couldn’t seem to do the gymnastics required for an American accent. I don’t remember making any friends that first year and mostly followed my older sister around (though I’ve since done that anyways, even after achieving a native’s fluency of English).
I, however, did not seem to notice this. In my new American world, any cultural challenges were eclipsed by the two greatest joys that had been bestowed upon me: (1) a MyLittle Pony lunchbox and (2) individually wrapped Kraft cheese singles. The store around the corner was home to more candy than I ever imagined possible, and yet the cooled cheese fridge was truly where my heart lay. I actually don’t know why I’m still talking about the cheese, it’s really not relevant to this story.

Within the first week of school, I’d been placed in the ESL program. English was now officially my second language. I went on to learn my vowels (even y), watch a daily hour of Sesame Street religiously, and read anything I could get my hands on, even the Kraft singles wrapper. At the end of my first year in an American elementary school, I’d made significant strides – my homeroom teacher gifted me a first-edition copy of Little Women, a book given to her by
her grandmother. Even then, Dora haircut and all, I knew this leather-bound, faded and yellowing book meant something big. That book has since traveled with me across the world, and now sits in my bookshelf, back home once more in Virginia.

Over the years, books became and remained my truest companions. I was a shy child. My limbs grew faster than the rest of me, I had bushy eyebrows before they were trendy and I found people too´.people-y. And so, I sought comfort in books. I spent the bulk of my
formative childhood in McLean, with the Dolly Madison library just around the corner. And in McLean, curled up on the beanbags of that library, I became an Indian-American.
I learned Americana through The Babysitters Club and leaned into my Indian heritage through Midnight’s
Children. Books became my teachers of new worlds, of new opinions. Books took me around the world without visas and vaccinations. I traveled to Mount Olympus with the Greek Gods and into the Heart of Darkness in the Congo. Books taught me the words to
recognize and identify who I was.

And now, decades later, mother to my own Indian American children who were born with a native fluency of English, I have published the first book in my series called Stories of the World. This first book is about Diwali – the Indian festival of lights; the eternal story of good over evil, of courage over cowardice. Stories of the World: Diwali recounts the ancient tale of a brave hero, an evil villain, and an epic battle. It invites the youngest readers to join Ram on his adventure to defeat despair and learn about how Diwali is celebrated across the world today.

Far from the days of my indecipherable English, we now live in communities where Diwali is celebrated by public school systems as a holiday – and I am
so proud to share this book with you and with the young readers in your life.

My hope is that this book powers their travels around the world and through time, and they too find comfort in the simplest pleasures – the pages of books, and the slices of cheese.

Order “Stories of the World: Diwali”, now on Amazon.
Reach Sana for book readings, signing, and more at www.SanaHodaSood.com