A Ukrainian-American and immigrant myself, I got an idea to uncover a shortcut to success for all immigrants and other beginners by learning about top immigrant women’s experiences: what they did and how they did it to succeed in presumably the most competitive country in the world. The endeavor started out as an intercultural research project featuring prominent immigrant women adapting to America. Here’s a picture of all of them profiled in my new book.
The approach to focus on top immigrant women is fresh enough, I thought, to be perceived positively by the public. After all, the everyday life and misery of less fortunate immigrant women has been sufficiently described to give us a big picture of the costs for becoming a new American – for example, in a book Immigration and Women: Understanding the American Experience. Research also suggested that immigrant women are the most oppressed demographic worldwide, especially in the Muslim countries. And instinctive fairness triggered my interest.
These considerations prompted a concept of the new book: if the toughest cases of American immigrant success-under-stress worked out wonderfully, we need to know what enabled them, so we too could crack the all-American success code.
While interviewing my book subjects, I couldn’t help thinking that, had I met them earlier in my career, I might have been able to devise a shortcut to my own success. It is now my hope that by drawing attention to the lives of these extraordinary achievers, scores of other women—native-born as well as immigrants—will benefit from their accumulated wisdom as presented in the book.
Digging further into the topic, I understood that “immigrant women” is not just a hot topic but a cause worth fighting for, so I picked it up—and it became my major inspiration. You can get the others in my answers to the most frequent Q & A.
Personal Questions to Author
After authoring – and publishing – three books, I realized that people and media alike are more interested in my personality than in the content of my books. Is it because all my books are non-fiction? May be. Let’s see some repeated personal questions regarding “How They Made It in America” fresh-out-of-print book:
- What inspired and motivated you to write this book?
I typically give one of the three answers to this question, as follows.
First, I am inspired by strong women, inside and outside my family. I’ve always been fascinated by the “fair sex,” not the “weaker sex.” And I learned that successful fair sex are the women who are happy. Other women’s unhappiness stems mostly from their jammed potential, because realizing one’s potential is more tangible and fulfilling than a fleeting orgasm: it stays with you. And this understanding motivated me to do something to help more women be happy—by providing them with a blueprint to replicate the success of the best women role models.
Second, I was motivated by the challenge to fill the gap in the field social studies.
My book subjects belong to a special subset of the American women who had never before been viewed as a group—and it turned out to be the kind of challenge that the academic in me got attracted to like a butterfly to fire.
Third, I was inspired by analyzing and describing my own kind. As a first-generation immigrant, I belong with my book subjects, we’re social twins, albeit fraternal, not identical, wearing different cultural make-ups but possessing one clear common denominator – the need to integrate into the all-American culture, and prove our worth on the new turf, whatever it takes.
- Was there anything unexpected that you personally learned from your interviews?
Yes. One thing was Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg’s answer to my “American Success Scale” (which is a 1-to-10 score self-estimate of personal achievement: where do you stand on the American success ladder today?). Hilda, a top achiever in the finance business, estimated her success at Score 9, commenting, “Ultimate success at Score 10 is achievable but not sustainable.” I remembered that—and when one of the three women who said they did reach Score 10, got fired from the top position in her own company, Marvell, this wise remark from Hilda came to mind, Score 10, an ultimate, global success point, is achievable but not sustainable. We all need even more humility, that’s my unexpected lesson.
The Taming-of-the-Shrew Process
“The Taming of the Shrew” is a play by Shakespeare published in 1898; I enjoyed it as an English major at the University—and during my book research, I began associating this phrase with the daunting process of getting through the ranks of multiple gate-keepers/assistants of the prominent immigrant women I planned to interview. The gate-keepers have their own wild ways to always say No, thus they had to be “tamed.” It took a lot of my time and energy to persuade every gate-keeper, or the “shrew,” to forward my request for an interview, as they typically brushed me off, either instantly or after dragging their feet for a while, hoping I’d get tired first.
But I persisted, as persistence is my second nature. Honestly, that “taming” was the hardest part of my book writing process because all other hurdles paled in comparison. Unfortunately, unlike Shakespeare’s Petruchio, I couldn’t keep the shrew gate-keepers hungry 😊 and had to apply a velvet-glove handling.
Truth be told, whenever luck did put me in direct contact with the top immigrant women-achievers, each of them said Yes to the process: to initial interview, to filling out extensive 18-page Questionnaire (I admit to being out of my mind making it so long), to follow-ups, to proofing their Profiles, and such. It was indeed time-consuming! But my book subjects are the women with big hearts, the most generous souls I had ever met in America, all willing to go through the process, inspired by the goal to help “those who will come after us.”
Ideas Along the Way
After conceiving the book idea and commencing research, I was becoming increasingly excited by my subjects, who kept surprising me with their revelations—and our interactions led me to develop ideas, later published in my Huffington Post blogs, articles, and my own website http://fionacitkin.com/ ; here are some of them:
- Special immigrant creativity
Writing about women who dared to go reinvent selves in a new country with amazing creativity prompted my interest to why some people are more creative than the others. Sure enough, I discovered for myself a special psychological research into the creativity issues and built on that, elaborating it all in The Business Case for Immigrant Creativity.
It appears that the native creativity in each of my book subjects was enhanced by their immigration experiences: the intensity of living in two worlds, as difficult as that is, brought about a two-dimensional perspective that led to new ideas and created new businesses.
- Special immigrant-women demographic
Empowered with my in-depth perspective on immigrant lives, I deliberated on what I called the “Diversity Shield” as a way of referring to “affirmative action” – first used in Executive Order signed by President John F. Kennedy on 6 March 1961. This led to developing a 5-point business case for immigrant women as distinct diversity demographic.
My study shows that all parties of this special demographic are subject to ‘quadruple jeopardy’ [FC]; not even Ivana Trump who became a citizen marrying the rich man was exempt. Like every other immigrant woman, Ivana faced challenges of the new culture, language, glass ceiling which discounts women’s personal input, more responsibilities for bringing up children, and such. Becoming rich by marriage does not solve all problems automatically, so nobody is exempt.
- Special input of immigrant women to America’s well-being and culture
Fifty blogs summarized the special input of American immigrant women into America’s well-being and culture – and then distilled the collective know-how of my interviewees in multiple how-to case studies under Seven Success Values part of the book.
As one of the early reviewers, Craig Storti, noted, “You’ll probably pick this book up for the 18 women whose stories it tells—and these are some very impressive individuals. But there’s every chance you’ll stay on for the advice that Citkin distils from the profiles. Self-help has seldom been made so interesting.”
- Special resilience of immigrant women
Long before the book came out, surviving a quadruple jeopardy and winning the odds has been amply described in my blogs—starting with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: What Do Immigrant Women Bring to the Table? to Immigrants’ Integration and American Women Role Models. Simply put, the profiled women succeeded in America under exceptionally difficult experiences, and they have much to teach us about cracking the American success code.
As distinct as each of them is from the others, all book subjects have demonstrated intelligence, grit, drive, compassion, and leadership skills—although their lives are not the beds of roses. The U.S. may be a country of opportunity, but as HOW THEY MADE IT IN AMERICA makes clear, the best opportunities are reserved for the talented, the determined, and the prepared.
Publishing as Special Saga
How to publish a book about immigrant women is a very, very sensitive issue. On the one hand, women topics are in demand in the #MeToo era. Plus, the topic of immigration is quite in demand as well, considering the squabbles at the political arena. On the other hand, the “immigrant women” topic, bringing together two abovementioned focuses, was slipping between the cracks for a while, and I could not find an appropriate home for my book. Why?
Searching for a good literary agent has taken a lot of my energy and proved a total waste of time: the experienced agents liked the book’s concept and content but feared it won’t sell solidly, based on their prior experiences when women-and-immigration topics were not that popular.
At that point, I turned to publishers directly and found them more responsive: several professional editors gave me excellent advice of how to perfect and position the book. I took it, cut the number of the book subjects in two (as “readership does not need an encyclopedia about immigrants”), trimmed the content by one-third (as “today’s readers have a short attention span”), and sure enough, landed a big-name publisher all by myself.
My big catch was a progressive-minded Editor-in-Chief of “intelligent non-fiction” publisher who encouragingly wrote to me they need more books like mine, which have a distinctive topic, come in series – thus becoming ever-green, expand the readers’ horizons, and contribute to the idea of open borders (although I never had the latter in mind). Anyway, I considered his attention a huge honor: OMG, a publisher of such statue, and its Editor-in-Chief writing to me!
However, my joy was premature. Why? After several consecutive runs of improving the manuscript (changing the order of chapters; changing the title; replacing some central terminology and fine-tuning the content accordingly; uprooting the “authorial voice” pieces; trimming and condensing the content, etc.), the publisher’s Board turned the tables on their Editor-in-Chief who was pro-book – and gave me a pass. From start to finish, the submission process lasted nearly two years. What a mess! How did I feel as a result? Distressed I was. Deterred I wasn’t.
Remarkable Resilience Remaining Relevant
One of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill is, “Success is never final; failure is never fatal; courage is what counts.” So I plucked up my courage and moved on, and in half a year landed another publisher because after all prior trials and tribulations with editing, the book became as flawless as could be. I got a beautiful book in the end. My research-and-writing topped with a lengthy submission process cost me a pretty penny—but I have no regrets. Why?
What matters is that my mission of giving the world a book about success stories, strategies, and remarkable resilience of prominent immigrant women has been fulfilled. Now all success-hopefuls can pick up the brains of the best American role models and use their know-how to go up in life. This remains relevant today as never before.
The first century scholar Hillel put it famously:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I?
And if not now, when?”
Really, friends, let us stand up for ourselves, as immigrants or native-born, and let us also be there for others, to preserve our human dignity. And let us do it now and always. Amen!