Melissa Rivero didn’t always want to be a writer. Growing up in Greenpoint, she wrote some poetry as a kid and won a couple of awards at school. It was a muscle she had but didn’t flex, and she eventually moved away from it. It didn’t seem like a viable career. At New York University, she studied marketing and international business, and later enrolled in law school. “I’m a child of immigrants — I am an immigrant — so for us it’s always financial stability first,” she says.
But writing came back in a big way. Her first novel, “The Affairs of the Falcóns,” which came out in April, details the struggles of Ana Falcón, an undocumented Peruvian woman who has to navigate a minefield of familial and cultural tensions amid an uncertain future. It’s a gripping and assured debut, filled with small details culled from Rivero’s own life growing up undocumented in Greenpoint, but also frighteningly relevant. While Ana shuttles between her factory job in Williamsburg and the Queens apartment she, her husband and two kids are temporarily sharing with distant family members, the pressures of money, security, and the hope of a better life test her boundaries. There is no choice but to keep moving forward; there is no going back.
The idea for the book began to develop during a time when Rivero’s father was diagnosed with cancer. “Everything totally changed,” she said. “It made me refocus on what was important.” She stepped away from the law firm she was working at and began to take writing classes. “I went back to what came naturally to me.”
Conversations with her mother about their life sparked the beginning of the book, which would continue to develop over the next seven years. She was thinking about the changes in her neighborhood, where she still lives, and the fond memories that remain. “I miss the family and the sense of neighborhood that existed,” she said. “Each block had a personality. The pump would be open in the summer, people would be grilling in the street, there would always be music. We may not have had a lot of money and the apartments might have been dilapidated, but I always felt rich in life, with love and happiness.”
During that time Rivero also became a mother, which completely altered the shape of the novel. “When I had children it changed my perspective,” she said.
Ana is a fighter, willing to do whatever is necessary to make a life for herself and her children. Nothing will stop her. And, as Rivero talks about writing a novel while at the same time working a day job and raising children, not to mention the common pressures of daily life, it appears she shares some of that same resilience. “I see that,” she agrees. “And I got that from my mother, and down and down. I was driven to tell this story.”
Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Brownstoner magazine.
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