Published out of Virginia Commonwealth University, Broad Street: A Magazine of True Stories, bridges personal and researched knowledge in creative nonfiction. The journal furthers what it means to tell true stories. This issue, themed Maps & Legends, goes where no map can lead to find truth: exploring what it means to be a foreigner.
In the essay “It Cannot Be Conceived,” Julie Anderson tells about being a foreigner when she taught English in China in the 1990s. This was right on the cusp of China opening up to capitalism, and Anderson’s essay hinges on a search for truth during this ideological shift. Her essay is both well-researched and accessible for non-academic audiences. We are not foreigners, even if we have no prior knowledge of 20th Century Chinese history. The essay particularly shines with Anderson’s ability to showcase change in Beijing and her own shift in perspective. “It was as if the city had taken a few hesitant steps toward westernization, then become frozen in time,” she explains, only to later fall in love with the simplicity. She fails to comprehend the appeal of American culture as Beijing later explodes with movie theatres, clubs and skyscrapers. The essay complicates notions of foreign/native and communist/capitalist, and sees truth as a matter of embracing these complications.
“The River My Father Promised” by Bea Chang is another essay on being foreign, this time feeling foreign within your own culture. Chang and her family moved to the United States from Taiwan when she was a child. In her travels around the world, Chang comes back again and again wondering what it would be like to experience life differently. In Laos: “I wanted to know what it was like—taking baths in the river.” In El Salvador, when she almost drowns, “I wondered for months afterward what it would have been like to be swallowed by the muddy water.” Everywhere she goes, she is on the outside looking in. Visiting family in Taiwan, she is excluded from conversations because “everyone was shouting [ . . . ] in Mandarin and Taiwanese too fast for me to understand.” Rivers ground Chang’s essay as a universal commonality that helps make life a little less foreign.
Bradley Dicharry’s piece “Letters & Arts” is more art than letters. Dicharry explores signs and typography as cultural identity, tracking the changes in these signs over time. The past becomes foreign. Dicharry explains this concept using Las Vegas as an example: “Our understanding of luxury and luck [ . . . ] has changed over time and so have the signs.” The highlight of his piece is the 20 full or half-page photographs he has taken of signs from across the country. The signs could tell a story of a bygone age of American culture, but the photographs lack even brief caption or analysis to help convey meaning.
Ron Smith’s poem “John Smith in Virginia” is tonally different than the rest of the journal, reveling in informality and tongue-in-cheek humor that makes Colonial American history accessible and human. Though John Smith and the colonists are foreigners, Ron Smith chooses to evoke foreignness through modern language. John Smith, “tells [the colonists] of the Ottoman princess, / beautiful, of course, who had fallen / for him and saved his / black blah blah.” A refreshing and humorous take on history that turns our contemporary language foreign.
Maps & Legends publishes stories that render even the familiar foreign in order to arrive closer to Broad Street’s goal of publishing true stories.