Interview with Author Joanne Ramos from THE FARM
Almost all the women in THE FARM are mothers, and yet the mothers in the book cross lines of class and race. Please discuss the centrality of the theme of motherhood to THE FARM.
As you pointed out, almost every character in THE FARM is a mother, a surrogate mother, or someone desperate to become a mother. I was interested in exploring the lengths that mothers will go to give their children better lives. This holds true for the immigrant women in the book, who make huge sacrifices daily for their family—and often earn a living by taking care of other (wealthy) people’s kids. But this also holds true for the privileged women in the book. If you asked any of these mothers why they do what they do—why they chose to be clients of The Farm, why they left their sons and daughters back home in the Philippines—they’d answer that they did it for their kids. What compels them—a visceral love for their babies—is in its most basic sense the same, regardless of race, or class, or socio-economic status.
So, what makes the mothers in THE FARM so different from each other? Why do we disdain some and feel an affinity for others? Is it because of their race? Their class? Is it because of the power imbalance among them? Do we care that some mothers in the book can ensure that their kids have an edge starting in utero? Does it bother us that, regardless of how hard some of the mothers in the book work, their children’s lives will be defined more by the neighborhoods they were born in and the education-level of their parents than anything else?
Why did you write THE FARM?
The ideas out of which THE FARM sprung are ones that have obsessed me for decades. They’re rooted in my experiences and the people and stories I’ve come to know as a Filipina immigrant to Wisconsin, a financial-aid student at Princeton, a woman in the male-dominated world of high finance, and a mother of three in the era of helicopter parenting.
Growing up in Wisconsin, I spent many weekends of my childhood with my father’s family in a town not too far from mine. These clamorous, food-filled Sundays surrounded by the tight Filipino community in Milwaukee taught me what family is. Flash forward decades, when I was at home with my young children, and suddenly the only Filipinas I knew day-to-day in New York were nannies, housekeepers, baby nurses. Some of these women became my friends. Hearing their stories—of sacrifices made, children left behind an ocean away, errant husbands, indifferent bosses—reinforced a feeling I’d harbored for years: that what separated my path from theirs, a ‘successful’ one from one deemed less so by society, was as much a function of happenstance as merit.
I was trying to write about all this—this stew of ideas—in THE FARM.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
The Farm is a continuation of a conversation I’ve had with myself for most of my adult life—about the blurry line between luck and merit, inequality, motherhood, feminism, and how we see, or fail to see, people who are different from ourselves. My greatest hope for the book is that it allows a reader to see the world, and the people around her, in a slightly new light, and that this new perspective prods her to question, question, and maybe even: act.
How do you think THE FARM challenges the idea of the American dream?
America has given me and my family so much, and I feel American through and through. In fact, I’ve been told many times in my life that I and my family are the embodiment of the “American Dream”—the product of hard work and smarts, and the fulfilment of this country’s promise. And yet, so much of any “success” I’ve had is due also to happenstance and luck: that my parents were educated; that my mom, a newcomer to America, had the tenacity to figure out the public-school system in our area and find a school for gifted kids that was willing to bus me and my little sister all the way across town; that such a program even existed, and on and on.
One of the foundational narratives of capitalism, the story that allows us as a society to accept the inequality that is a natural consequence of a competitive system, is that we start our lives on a relatively even playing field, and through merit, we can change our circumstances. Is this true? Is it less true today than it was before—and if so, why, and are we okay with this?
Why are you supporting EMC through your book?
Like many of the women in THE FARM, I am a mother. Like every mother I know, I would do anything to make sure my children were safe, and healthy, and that they got a fair shake in life. So many mothers around the world are not able to ensure these things for their offspring—starting in utero. Every Mother Counts works to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for mothers and their babies from Bangladesh to Tanzania to underserved communities here in the United States.
I am where I am because of a mixture of hard work, and luck. The reception for THE FARM, my first book and a childhood dream long deferred, was bigger than I’d ever imagined. I feel compelled to share some of my good fortune with groups like EMC that are doing the difficult day-to-day work of making this very unequal world a little more just, particularly those that focus on mothers and under-served communities and areas of the world. I am not sure there isa group out there that fits the themes of THE FARM better than EMC.
About the author:
Joanne Ramos was born in the Philippines and moved to Wisconsin when she was six. She graduated with a BA from Princeton University. After working in investment banking and private-equity investing for several years, she became a staff writer at The Economist. She lives in New York City with her husband and three children.