America Ferrera enlists stars for ‘American Like Me,’ a collection of essay gems

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In America Ferrera’s new essay collection, big stars give us funny, touching, complex reminders that the word “American” is wonderfully, endlessly undefinable. | Provided photo

America Ferrera’s latest project is no movie or TV series, but a star-studded essay collection.

“American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures” (Gallery, $##) is filled with dozens of first-person stories by writers, actorsand athletes. Contributors includeFerrara, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Issa Rae, Roxane Gay, Auli’i Cravalho, Padma Lakshmi, Kumail Nanjiani,Michelle Kwan and Jeremy Lin.

In the introduction, Ferrera, star ofNBC’s “Superstore,” writes about her first nameand how she used to resent the “one smart-assin class” who would turn to face her when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance— “…you know, ’cause my name is America,” she writes. Ferreratracks her adolescence through heartrending moments when her owndefinition of Americaclashedwith that of her peers.

At one point, Ferrera’s third-grade crush tells her he likes a classmate more than Ferrera “because shehas blue eyes and lighter skin.”

But Ferrera’s essay collection makes it clear that being American for people of color isn’t just defined by ugly moments.

“Hamilton” writer and star Miranda’s piece describes how, on Three Kings’ Day, “the only Latino kids in our grade…are basically on par with Jesus.” His story tenderly and unabashedly looks at the “culture we ordinarily keep at home” as something beautiful and empowering.

“Insecure” star Issa Rae, who grew up in Los Angeles, writesaboutchildhood summers spent in Senegal, where her doctor-father came from, where “awkwardness got lost in translation.” She mentions how she — a self-proclaimed nerdy girl “berated for ‘acting white’ ” at her American middle school — felt confident in Senegal

Ferrera’s essay collection is filled with gems. From some of the biggest stars in art and entertainment comefunny, touching and complicated reminders that the word “American” is wonderfully and endlessly undefinable.

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