An American Immigrant

A Novel



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August 15, 2023 | ISBN 9780593791509

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About the Book

A Colombian American journalist tries to save her career by taking an assignment somewhere she never thought she’d go—Colombia—in this heartwarming debut novel about rediscovering our family stories.

“A beautiful homage to a mother’s bravery and to the grace and grit that is our inheritance.”—Alicia Menendez, MSNBC anchor and creator and host of the Latina to Latina podcast

Twenty-five-year-old Melanie Carvajal, a hardworking but struggling journalist for a Miami newspaper, loves her Colombian mother but regularly ignores her phone calls, frustrated that she never quite takes the time to understand Melanie’s life. When the opportunity arises for a big assignment that might save her flagging career, Melanie follows the story to the land of her mother’s birth. She soon realizes Colombia has the potential to connect her, after all these years, to something she’s long ignored: her heritage, the love of her mother, her family, and the richest parts of herself. 

Colombia offers more than a chance to make a name for herself as a writer. It is a place of untold stories.

Inspired by real-life events, An American Immigrant is a story of culture and community, of abiding commitment to family, and of embracing our culture and the generations that have come before.
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Praise for An American Immigrant

“A beautiful homage to a mother’s bravery and the grace and grit that is our inheritance. An American Immigrant is a clarion call to water our roots and refuse to allow those we love to be lost in translation.”—Alicia Menendez, MSNBC anchor and creator and host of Latina to Latina podcast

“In a yearning and humbling journey to the place of her mother’s birth, a fictional Miami journalist discovers her innermost worth by yielding to family truth, creative courage, and cultural clarity—which she needs to give both her heart and the hard world her authentic best. An enchanting, brave, and uplifting story of discovery, family love, and determined hope.”—Patricia Raybon, Christy Award–winning author of the Annalee Spain Mystery series and My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love, and Forgiveness

“In An American Immigrant, Johanna Rojas Vann delivers a powerful exploration of the risks we face in pursuit of a better life. By weaving a compelling and emotional tale, she offers readers a fresh examination of identity, truth, generational sacrifice, and the real meaning of home. Ideal for book clubs, this story will have people talking.”—Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Perennials

“Johanna Rojas Vann takes readers on a journey that brings about knowledge, empathy, relatability, connection, and empowerment. The food and culture made me want to dig up recipes and follow in Melanie’s shoes in An American Immigrant and celebrate the blessings God brings us. Readers don’t want to miss this uplifting story!”—Toni Shiloh, Christy Award–winning author

“Not only does An American Immigrant celebrate tradition and cultural exploration, but it is a captivating journey of self-discovery that serves as a powerful reminder that it’s never too late to go after your dreams on your own terms. Melanie’s story is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the power of family and the true meaning of home.”—Courtney Dyksterhouse, media personality and former news anchor

“I don’t usually read fiction, but Johanna’s storytelling gripped me from the start, and I wasn’t able to put An American Immigrant down. I highly recommend this book!”—Jordan Raynor, bestselling author of Redeeming Your Time and Called to Create
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An American Immigrant

Chapter 1

2018 Miami


“Mmm, it’s still warm,” Melanie whispered as she brushed a copy of the Miami Herald across her cheek.

“What are you doing?”

She jumped and turned around to find Rick, the overnight security guard, sitting up from behind the receptionist’s desk.

“Rick! You scared me. What are you doing kicked back on Amanda’s desk?” Melanie folded the newspaper and tucked it underneath her arm. “She’ll be in any minute and I do not want to know what she’d do to you if she saw your grungy boots near her Chinese money plant.”

Rick kicked his feet off the desk and meandered across the lobby to a less comfortable post. “Ah, she doesn’t scare me. So, do you always sniff newspapers when you think no one’s looking?”

“Do you always take naps at Amanda’s desk when you’re on the clock?”


“I won’t tell Amanda what I witnessed if we never speak of this again,” Melanie said with a wink. She reached for her badge, which she kept attached to the belt loop of her pants at all times. The day HR handed her this badge was the day she became the first to arrive and the last to leave the newsroom each day. It was her first year on the job, and she had a lot to prove. This year especially would be crucial to her future success—­there’s no way she’d allow another rookie reporter to outperform her.


When she opened the door, a gust of air from the frigid newsroom tousled her cola-­colored pin-straight hair—­the perfect accessory for a confident strut to her desk.

Could this morning get any better?

She wore her favorite pair of black twill pants—­the ones she’d bought at the J. Crew Factory the day she signed her offer letter—­and had even splurged on a vanilla latte from Starbucks. The occasion warranted a fancy coffee drink, despite her having a slim thirty-­five dollars in her bank account.

It didn’t matter. Not when this was the morning she’d been waiting for. All her hard work had paid off, and now it was time for the best part: to see her byline closer to the front page of the Herald. Her articles—­usually local stories no one else wanted to cover—­were often published somewhere between pages ten and fourteen. But not today. She’d overheard the page editors discussing placing her article closer to the front because of the big interview she’d landed with the attorney general.

When Melanie reached her desk, she laid out the crisp newspaper on top. She smoothed out the front and slowly flipped through the various pages. Every part of her wanted to find her name as quickly as possible, but she knew better than to turn the pages with too much force.

Melanie loved the way a newspaper felt in her hands. The gentle weight of it. The crinkling sound that reminded her to be careful. The way it bent to the rhythm of her fingers. Opening a fresh copy each morning was like a meditative practice that never got old.

Only, suddenly, she felt pulled away from this calming ritual. She’d come to the middle of the newspaper and hadn’t found her article.

She furrowed her eyebrows and tilted her head.

Maybe it’s a little deeper in.

She turned a few more pages.

After another skim, she still came up empty.

Maybe I missed it. I must be so excited I’m missing it right before my eyes.

Okay . . . let’s start again from the beginning.

When, again, she didn’t see her story, she took a deep breath and decided to look through the entire paper once more.

Nothing. No headline. No byline. No story.

Her heart rate sped up and her cheeks became hot to the touch. She reached for her phone underneath the newspaper, launched her browser, and went to the paper’s website to find out if the digital version of her article was missing too.

No trace of it online either.

Her arms stiffened and her hand formed a fist. To protect the paper, she had to step away for a moment or she might crumple it in her hands and toss it in the trash. She backed away from her desk and marched toward the bathroom while her mind raced with all the possible reasons her article could be missing from both print and online.

In the privacy of a stall, she retraced her steps in her mind.

Did I forget to give Ignacio the updated version? No. Can’t be. I remember putting the hard copy on his desk two hours before the deadline.

Ignacio—­her boss and the editor in chief—­was old-­school and still demanded hard copies on his desk to review each day. It was one of many things Melanie admired about him. While newspapers everywhere were hyperfocused on meeting the demands of a “new kind of reader”—not to mention downsizing because newspapers just didn’t make the kind of money they used to—­Ignacio fought to keep at least a few traditions alive.

She paced in a circle inside the handicap bathroom stall.

Maybe he forgot to look at it. Or maybe it got lost. . . . He has so many stacks of paper on his desk.

Or maybe my revision wasn’t good enough. No, no, no. That’s impossible. I checked everything off the list.

Stop jumping to the worst-­case scenario, Melanie. You always do this and everything turns out to be fine.

There’s a perfectly logical explanation. There has to be.

I bet he pushed the pub date to tomorrow or another day this week. A more time-­sensitive story probably took precedence. Yep, that’s it.

But there hadn’t been any breaking news overnight, and she didn’t notice anything in the paper that hadn’t been discussed in last week’s editorial meeting. So, what could it be?

There must be something else she missed.

Fear set in. Even as a full-­time reporter, she didn’t always get her own byline. Most days, she assisted other reporters on their stories, which meant she had to share a byline. What could this mean about her performance? Her future at the paper?

She walked back to her desk, closed the newspaper, and stuffed it into the top drawer of the file cabinet by her chair. Then she sat down, bowed her head, and prayed there was a simple, logical reason why her article hadn’t been published. And, more importantly, that her job was safe. That all the planning and preparation she’d done had not been in vain. That her hard work would pay off and keep her from a life of hardship and scarcity like the one she’d grown up in.

When she finished her prayer, she looked up and spotted Genesis walking over.

“Finally,” Melanie said aloud.

Genesis was tall and slender with shiny blond hair and the biggest, brightest blue eyes she’d ever seen. Her hair was so blond and her eyes so blue that people often found it hard to believe she was 100 percent Cubana. Even Melanie had the same doubt when she first met her. But all it took was breaking out her Cuban slang for Genesis to set them straight. There was no denying authentic Cubanismo when you heard it in Miami.

“Good morning! How’s it going?” Genesis pulled out her office chair, which was tucked under the nook of her desk. 

“Genesis, my article isn’t in the paper.” No time for pleasantries. Melanie needed help from her only friend at the paper as soon as possible.

“I’m doing great this morning, thanks for asking,” she responded with a smirk.

“I’m sorry, Gen. But this is serious. I need your help. What am I going to do? Do you think I’m fired?”

Ay, tumba eso. You always get so worked up. Have you asked Ignacio yet?”

In this high-­stakes environment, it was rare to meet a free-­spirited journalist. Melanie had coined the oxymoron after working on a few stories with Genesis. Her friend’s carefree attitude often helped calm Melanie’s not-­so-­carefree personality, and she appreciated that. Only today, she needed someone who would allow her even a tiny meltdown. Her missing article was a big deal, and she needed Genesis to see that.

“No, I haven’t seen him come in yet.” Melanie had watched the doors ever since she hadn’t found her article. She wanted to be the first to speak with Ignacio before anyone else could catch him and sour his mood.

“Oh, that’s right. I think he has a meeting with the publisher again. They’re probably at some fancy hotel in Brickell. He should be here by lunch.” Genesis turned on her laptop and stared at her screen as if what she’d just said was no big deal.

About the Author

Johanna Rojas Vann
Johanna Rojas Vann is a professional writer whose work can be found online and within numerous publications. She is a second-generation Colombian American, with dual citizenship, and lives with her husband and children in Nashville, Tennessee. More by Johanna Rojas Vann
Decorative Carat
Random House Publishing Group