Pushcart Prize Nominee: Sonya Vatomsky

In August, we launched our annual essay series. This year's series was curated by Liz Blood and P. E. Garcia and they chose "Outsiders" as the theme. It included varied—sometimes profound—responses from their group of authors, so much so that we are nominating three of them for Pushcart Prizes. Sonya Vatomsky launched the series with "Mothertonguetied: The Fantasy of Belonging". The essay explores their experience as a non-binary person and a Russian American.

Every teenager has their own coping strategies and I eventually washed up on the shore of “embrace your flaws,” willing myself to own my crooked teeth, small breasts, bad heritage. I wore old Soviet pins on my lapel, begged everyone around me to read Joseph Brodsky, and ran a personal blog called Eggplant Caviar. By the time I received American citizenship at age 16, James Bond detritus had turned from resin to amber: being Russian now held a vague cachet of sexiness. My triumph at this fact, however, was short-lived. Now that being Russian was finally acceptable, I found myself being disqualified from the designation. It was non-immigrant Americans who did this, mainly. When I mentioned being born in a foreign country, classmates born during their parents’ Paris vacations said “me too,” as if there was no difference. And when I said I was Russian, these classmates and coworkers said “you’re not.” Sure, by this point I had lived in America ten years, but what did that have to do with anything? Was it that I didn’t have an accent in English? That I “looked” American? If Russianness is defined by a lack of Americanness, I admit I fail. I am good at being an American. I have tried very hard! Worse though is to imagine Russianness defined by the degree to which its presence negatively impacted me. When I was bullied for being Russian, I was Russian. When the bullying stopped — my birthplace was no longer something my peers acknowledged.
— Sonya Vatomsky from "Mothertonguetied: The Fantasy of Belonging"

To read the essay in full, go here.

We nominated this essay because it is one of our strongest pieces of work for the year, but we are happy to share that it also went a little viral after it went up on the website. It is somewhere in the top three most visited pages on our website and it got there on the first day. We're thankful that we were given the opportunity to put it out in the world.