The Farm is a work of fiction. But it is also, in many ways, true: inspired by people I have known and the stories they have shared with me.
I was born in the Philippines. When I was six, my parents, siblings, and I moved to southeastern Wisconsin. In many ways, America’s heartland was wholly different from the world we’d left. And yet, because my father’s family had preceded us in emigrating to Wisconsin, and because of the tight-knit Filipino community that had already taken root in the area, I grew up straddling two worlds: our old one, preserved in clamorous weekend gatherings filled with Filipino friends and family and too much food, and our new one, where my little sister and I were two of the four Asian kids in our elementary school.
After high school, I headed east to attend Princeton University. My world was blown open, and not just intellectually. Princeton was the first place I encountered truly great disparity—in wealth, in class, in experience and opportunity.
Years later—after stints in finance and then a career switch to journalism—I decided to take a break from the working world to spend more time with my young children. I realized one day that the only Filipinos I knew in Manhattan, where I lived with my family, were the ones who worked for my friends—baby nurses, nannies, housekeepers, cleaning ladies. My husband and I ended up hiring a wonderful Filipina nanny for a time, too.
Perhaps because I am from the Philippines and am chatty and curious about people by nature, I became friendly with many of the Filipina caregivers in my orbit, as well as others from South America and the Caribbean and elsewhere in Asia. I listened to their stories—about errant husbands and difficult bosses; about the dormitory in Queens where beds are rented by the half-day to save money and how the money saved was sent halfway around the world to support children or parents or nephews back home. I saw the daily sacrifices these women made in the hope of something better—for their children, if not for themselves—and the enormous obstacles standing in their way.
The gulf between their lives and possibilities, and mine, is vast. I often wonder if it is even bridgeable in our society today. And despite what I’ve been told countless times in my life—that I am the embodiment of the “American Dream”—I know this chasm has as much to do with luck and happenstance as it does with any kind of merit.
In many ways, The Farm is a culmination of a running dialogue I’ve had with myself for the past twenty-five years—about just deserts and luck, assimilation and otherness, class and family and sacrifice. I didn’t write it to come up with answers, because I don’t have them. Instead, the book is meant to explore—for myself, and hopefully for its readers, too—questions of who we are, what we cherish, and how we see those who are different from ourselves. I hope The Farm might serve as a window to the “other” side of these divides, from wherever readers approach it.
Joanne Ramos Instagram: @joanneramosthefarm