With issues around race, immigration and debates on abortion and women’s rights over their own bodies becoming hot button topics in the US, author Joanne Ramos’ The Farm delves into all of these without becoming didactic or compromising on the storytelling.
How did the idea for The Farm take place?
By the time I began working on The Farm, I was 40 years old, and I hadn’t written fiction since college – but the ideas behind the book were ones that had me pre-occupied for decades.
These ideas were rooted in the experiences, and people and stories I’d come to know, as a Filipina immigrant to Wisconsin.
While raising my young children in Manhattan, it occurred to me that the only Filipinas in my day-to-day orbit were domestic workers – nannies, housekeepers, baby nurses.
Many of these women were mothers who had left their own children back home in the Philippines to care for other people’s offspring in New York.
Hearing their stories reinforced a feeling I’d harboured for years: That the story of American meritocracy, on which I was raised was hollow; that what separated a ‘successful’ path like mine from one deemed less so by society had as much due to with luck and happenstance as it did with merit.
This prompted me to write The Farm.
How important do you feel stories of migration are in the world today?
I’m an immigrant, and I’ve come to know many immigrants from around the world during my childhood and my decades living in New York.
Some are educated, some are not. Some are fleeing terrible circumstances back home, and others are here for jobs. Some see themselves as American, others plan on returning home.
There isn’t one immigrant experience, and I suppose I wanted to reflect that in the book. Fiction, because it’s “made up”, asks readers to take a leap of faith, to put himself in the author’s hands and suspend belief.
Because of this, I think a reader of fiction is often more open-minded in how he approaches a work than someone reading a book of non-fiction or even memoirs, which are rooted in the “real world”, where all of us have our preconceived ideas, biases and political bents.
The novel is populated almost by female characters, etched in shades of gray. Were any portrayals inspired by your real-life counterparts?
The Farm is a work of fiction. I made up the characters and situations in the book in my head. That said, we’re all influenced, consciously or not, by the water we swim in and the current we swim against.
Mae Yu, the ambitious woman who runs the farm, is drawn from my own experiences, particularly those working in finance and acquaintances of mine who’ve attended business school or work in the corporate world.
Ate, Jane, Angel and the other domestic workers in The Farm are fictional, but their stories were inspired by women I’ve known, and anecdotes I’ve been told in my childhood, and from friends who are domestic workers in New York.
Reagan reminds me of myself as a young adult as well as many well-meaning people I know who want to use their privilege to contribute something to the world.
Ayn Rand is referred to in more than one instance, in the book. How did her writing influence your narrative?
I first read her books as a teenager. I was initially intrigued by Rand’s ideas – they’re so black-and-white. But soon it was clear to me that the world and the people in it aren’t straight-forward nor clean-cut.
In a way, my arguments with Ayn Rand as a teenager planted the seeds for The Farm.
Love and its transient nature is a lot of what my book explores. So I plucked the courage to borrow from the title and replaced Cholera with Affluenza.