Last week, award-winning author, Junot Díaz, visited Amherst, where a few years back he met a fan during one of his book signing who left a huge mark on him after bringing up the abuse alluded in his work and asking him if he had experienced it himself. Back then, Díaz was not ready yet to speak about what he had been through and the fan’s question caught him by surprise.
In his visit this time, Díaz was looking for this particular fan hoping he would show up but he didn’t. He remembers the disappointment the fan felt when he signed his books and didn’t say anything. So, even though it might be too late, Díaz decided to speak up. He wrote an essay for The New Yorker, addressing the fan in line at his book signing at Amherst and describing how he was raped at 8 years old and how that abuse had haunted him throughout his life.
“More than being Dominican, more than being an immigrant, more, even, than being of African descent, my rape defined me. I spent more energy running from it than I did living,” Díaz said.
The author also apologized for not answering because somehow, he felt that if he had spoken up, he could have helped someone. “I’m sorry I didn’t answer you. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth. I’m sorry for you, and I’m sorry for me. We both could have used that truth, I’m thinking. It could have saved me (and maybe you) from so much. But I was afraid. I’m still afraid—my fear like continents and the ocean between—but I’m going to speak anyway, because, as Audre Lorde has taught us, my silence will not protect me,” he explained.
Though he had often described sexual abuse in his fiction, Díaz says the shame from his childhood experience made him afraid to tell people about it directly. The author was unable to respond in the moment, but writes in response, “Yes, it happened to me … I never told anyone what happened, but today I’m telling you. And anyone else who cares to listen.” Díaz also describes the hard work in therapy that brought him to this moment.
He has decided to talk about it now, he says, because he can’t keep hiding behind the same mask as before. “In Spanish we say that when a child is born it is given the light. And that’s what it feels like to say the words, X—. Like I’m being given a second chance at the light.”
You might think that running away from something that happened in your past and burying it deep down in the back of your head can make it go away. Unfortunately, the smallest events in a child’s life shapes the man he will become. For that, always search for help whenever you encounter any kind of abuse, no matter how afraid you are or how hard it is to relive the details while telling someone, never let it get to you and fight your own demons in order to overcome the trauma it caused.