A Tear and A Smile: A Love Story
by Nwanganga Shields
LitPrime Solutions

"'Nothing good will come out of that relationship. We have to protect you as your parents. It is our duty to do so.'"

Clint and Cece are new adults in contemporary Washington, D.C., educated and edging into the possibilities of grownup life while balancing their American aspirations with the influence of their respective immigrant families. When they fall in love, they create a mixed-race black and white couple, a color blend that neither of them much notices but which family members lament and forbid. Thus these two kind and well-meaning young people must navigate their path of separation from family into adulthood while staying true to cultural norms that honor parents and keep generations close.

Clint and Cece's love is a slow, thoughtful affair. The story allows them to move toward each other incrementally, with quiet, respectful attraction. What their courtship lacks in pizazz, it compensates for with a deliberate foundation of friendship and care. The themes and setting are rich and interwoven. The Washington on detailed display here is a rich intellectual center of government, history, and art, the lauded melting pot of opportunity and advancement. Against this backdrop, Clint and Cece's other truly American story plays out, as these offspring of immigrant lineages pursue their American dreams while facing the devastation of racism, tribalism, and ethnocentrism.

While the biases of prejudice are uncomfortable to read, the characters holding these views are presented with care. These are not broadly drawn cartoon symbols of hate but rather nuanced people, the so-called racists next door. Through their loving yet hating eyes, the story shows how observations and anecdotes get generalized into prejudices and perceived truths across generations. Likewise, when presented through the guise of loving parents wanting to protect their children from harsh futures, the story doesn't give harbor to hate. Instead, the narrative deftly displays it through voices that might too easily legitimize and perpetuate the cycles of hatred.

A 2022 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

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