Ashley Rivera Mercado
Ashley Rivera Mercado is an Orlando-based contributor for Luz. Originally born in Puerto Rico, she loves everything having to do with food, photography, and live music.
In The Community
Carmen Rita Wong is no stranger to media and being in the spotlight, but the release of her new memoir titled Why Didn’t You Tell Me? forced the author to step past her discomfort and into her truth in ways she hadn't done before.
This former podcast host, non-profit leader, and money expert takes the reader on a personal deep dive into a period of growth unseen by many successful women. Luz spoke with Wong about her latest book, an engaging read about growing up Dominican-Chinese while finding her place in the world and, ultimately, in her own family.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.
LM: If you had to describe the book without using official summaries, what would you say is the essence of what the book is about?
CW: The essence is about being very, truly human. It’s about family secrets; mothers and daughters; generational trauma; the psychology of resilience; American immigrant history; racial identity, and cultural identity. It’s also about how to understand and have empathy for your parents, even when they’ve caused so much pain. And, how to keep going, no matter what.
LM: The title is pretty self-explanatory after you read the summary so we know what this means for you, but what do you think the reader can also gain from reading your journey of self re-discovery?
CW: My readers can know that you are not alone in both your suffering and your success. Our stories aren’t told enough and that means sometimes we can feel like no one understands what you’re going through. Here, you can witness my path and take strength and hope from how I made it through and how you will too. And maybe I can bring peace to some mothers and daughters or, even just peace within yourself by following how I’ve gotten there. And, to know deeply that the truth is always best.
LM: What inspired you to write about this particular part of your life journey?
CW: Libraries saved me as a kid, but I didn’t see us there. That lit my fire early on. But it turned into a blaze as time went by and it turned out that where I had thought my story ended, it was upended yet again! I also was in a time in my life where the clock was ticking and I finally was in a position to be able to focus on this, which took tremendous intent and resources over many years. Growing up, I had always just wanted to write and perform. That’s it. But this was not an option in my house. I was expected to be either a doctor, lawyer, or MBA, that’s it. So, I had some great professional success, but my resolve never died to do what I’d always wanted to do because it’s truly who I am, a storyteller.
LM: What was your creative and/or writing process like?
CW: I had so much research done and archives and photos and old cards, writings, etc., that the book got too big for my home office. Let’s just say the dining table is now my writing table. (We will dine on it again one day, I swear.) To get nitty-gritty, I created a full calendar of deadlines. Ten pages a week. Ten great pages. Some days I wrote nothing. Some days I wrote eight pages in one sitting. As much as writing nonfiction or fiction is art, it’s also a job. I treated it as both. Outside of logistics, when I’d hit a point where I was stuck, I’d have my umpteenth coffee, walk around a bit, stretch and then read or watch something good; something that told a story well. That inspired me.
LM: You’re a successful published author in a space with too few Latina authors. What advice do you have for aspiring authors out there?
CW: There are very few shortcuts. That said, there are three things that have to come together: luck, hard work, and the right people, a.k.a. network. I had a big career before hosting TV, I was on faculty as a professor at NYU, a magazine editor, an advice columnist; so many things, and still, non-Latino folks would say I couldn’t write or sell this book. “No market for it.”
All to say, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t write and sell a book because you’re Latina or that writing is not your full-time job. You want to do it, I mean, really want to do it? Do it. Keep working, whether it’s on paper or in your head or meeting more and new people of all backgrounds. Never stop consuming good stories in any form: books, movies, streaming. And, if you’re looking to write a personal story, work on yourself, whether it’s with therapy and/or reading books that can help you understand yourself. All the life around you, whether your internal self or everyone you know, meet, or pass, can be an inspiration. Absorb it and be honest and kind. Your reputation means the world. If you’re mean, egotistical, gatekeeping, or envious, it shows, and word spreads. Be someone people want to work with and be with.
LM: Anything else you’d like to add?
CW: We are living through a very difficult time. But there’s never been a time in this country that there has been such power in and hunger for our community. Hold yourself and your community strong and tight and never stop fighting to have your voice heard. The reason why some people want to silence and erase us is because we are so powerful and amazing. Remember that.
LM: Tell us where our audience can find you online!
An immigrant mother’s long-held secrets upend her daughter’s understanding of her family, identity, and place in the world...
Tulum is known as one of the most naturally beautiful and well-known destinations for people from all over the world. The beautiful beaches, “eco-friendly” lifestyle, low cost of goods, and abundance of culture make the Mexican destination a perfect paradise destination. But there is an ugly truth that's being ignored.
With a booming influx of tourists, investors, expats, and floating residents, the once-small Mexican village is now a tourist haven that’s becoming unrecognizable by the day. Since 2010 the population in Tulum increased by 65%. There’s no doubting Tulum’s attractiveness, but there’s a price for paradise, and the environment and the local residents are paying the tab.
the tropical coastline of Tulum, Mexicovia unsplash Darren Lawrence
“Greenwashing” is a term that’s grown substantially in the past decade. The term refers to false or misleading marketing tactics that businesses use to market themselves as environmentally sustainable/friendly without actually making investments into business practices that help them deliver on those eco-friendly promises.
Many of Tulum’s newer residents have come from all over the world, opening new businesses, buying real estate, and driving tourism into the town. Though business might be booming, Tulum’s local infrastructure is struggling to catch up with the demands. The lack of infrastructure directly contributes to the environmental devastation occurring in large scale across Tulum.
The Yucatán contains the largest underground freshwater system in the world and was especially important to the Mayans as they utilized the cenotes, or sinkholes, that formed along the Yucatán as their main water source. The Mayans also believed that the cenotes acted as gateways to the underworld where their gods and spirits rested. Nowadays, tourists see those same cenotes as an attraction to experience and a perfect backdrop for social media posts, but recent findings show that as much as 80% of the cenotes are polluted due to improper disposal of garbage, pesticides, and even raw sewage.
A woman swimming in one of Tulum’s cenotes.
via unsplash Mathilde Langevin
Along with the lack of infrastructure exists the sewage issue: much of Tulum’s “eco-friendly” resorts don’t have adequate sewage, and many of the new construction projects aren’t being connected into an existing network that can sustain the current population, let alone the ever expanding foreign population.
It’s estimated that as many as 80% of Tulum’s resorts do not have adequate sewage, leading to the contamination of the aforementioned Yucatán. Many of the beloved trendy places to visit run on gas generators, leading to both noise and air pollution to power most of Tulum beach. The failure of the notoriously corrupt local and federal govermment to enact and enforce legislation to protect Tulum’s environment is a direct cause of this, with developers paying top dollar to local officials that are all too happy to develop the land as quickly as possible.
\u201c\ud83d\ude31 #QuintanaRoo | Mediante un video en redes sociales, usuarios denuncian tiradero clandestino en aguas residuales de #Tulum \ud83d\ude28\n\nM\u00e1s detalles: https://t.co/f6VZNTMaYY\u201d— Por Esto! Online (@Por Esto! Online) 1629841074
There are also large economic impacts with the rise of newcomers to Tulum: many of the high-priced boutique hotels, vegan restaurants, yoga studios, and more that continue to draw in the “eco chic” tourists don’t actually generate any economic development opportunities for the locals. With many of the “eco-friendly” resorts charging nightly rates comparable to that of major U.S cities like New York and Los Angeles, the employees, local to the area, aren’t seeing their wages rise to reflect that.
The average monthly wage in Tulum is reported at $7,000 pesos, which in today’s exchange rate, is $336 dollars. Worse yet, that wage rate has remained largely unchanged since 2011.
Instead we’re seeing wealthy expats lining their pockets, and those of the local polticians and cartels, with the profit of their earnings while the local economy continues to stagnate in poverty wages. Without policy protecting workers, the environment, and local infrastructure Tulum is destined to become a wasteland that won’t ever be recovered.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel though - reports have found cleanups are underway for some cenotes in both Tulum and nearby Cancun, where high contamination rates were cited as risks for human health and the environment. The biggest factor in changing Tulum's local economy though, lies in tourists' hands.
While some tourists are attracted to “eco-friendly” travel, many aren’t doing the work to verify if these places are truly practicing what they preach. By looking for sustainable green and red flags when traveling, consumers can hold these resorts accountable for their environmentally friendly images and decide if they actually deserve your money.
Staying at resorts that utilize renewable energy sources such as solar or wind energy, limit electricity usage (common in tropical communities), provide water purification services, and practice responsible sewage practices that doesn't damage the local ecosystem are all ways of supporting the right kinds of business.
When in doubt, opt out of that trendy vegan place and look to support something locally owned that benefits Tulum’s local community. Listening to and respecting indigenous communities advocating for their environment is one of the most vital pieces of the puzzle, as these communities are disproportionately impacted by environmental devastation.
Consumers have a lot more power than they think. The power of the wallet can send a clear message that places like Tulum should be protected, and the money will stop flowing without that. Ultimately, it's up to individuals to care more about respecting the environment and the residents than their instagram posts.