BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A few years ago, Charles Lopez Bruns wrote a blog post about the move he and his family made from New York City to Bloomfield when he was in sixth grade. Now it’s a book.
During the pandemic, Bruns had the time to expand on the post and turn it into a memoir; “Fatherlands: Identities of a Cuban American” was released in October. The book tells his story as a son, stepson and father against the backdrop of his Cuban American family.
“It was quite a change for us, and it was especially challenging for my mother,” Bruns said in a phone interview with The Independent Press on Dec. 9. “She grew up in Cuba, and in New York there was Spanish radio and Spanish grocery stores and newspapers.”
None of that was around North 15th Street in Bloomfield, where his family moved when they came to the other side of the Hudson River. One day Bruns’ mother took his younger brother to Milbank Park and heard another woman there speaking Spanish. They struck up a friendship that lasted more than 40 years.
That story was in the blog post, which Bruns expanded into a memoir after getting positive responses. It’s his first book, but he’s not new to writing — Bruns was an intern at The Independent Press while he was a student at Bloomfield High School, he covered BHS sports for the school paper and worked at the Herald News while in college. He now works in corporate communications.
“Every writer has a book in them, but most don’t get written,” Bruns said. “This was the most challenging writing project I’ve ever undertaken.”
As a reporter, Bruns didn’t write about himself. But his book is his life story and stories about his family. It touches on the time he spent in Cuba as a child, which, according to Bruns, was unusual.
“I reached out to extended family members who had information,” he said. “I learned a lot, some of which made me happy and some of which made me cry. It might as well have been a different world back then.”
Bruns was 11 when he moved to Bloomfield with his mother, older brother and younger brother. He went to Carteret Elementary School for a year, South Junior High School for a year before it closed, and then North Junior High School, which is now Bloomfield Middle School. The neighborhood was predominantly Italian American at the time; Bruns’ family was among the first Hispanic families in the area.
“It was a challenge for us, but when you’re that young you learn to adjust,” he said. “I made friends, and I got to the point where I felt comfortable with where I was.”
Though Bruns no longer lives in Bloomfield, he did buy his first house in the town. When he’s in the area, he’ll drive by his old house and his childhood home, and he has noticed how much the neighborhood has changed.
“Part of the irony is that now there’s so much culture there,” Bruns said. “There’s a Cuban restaurant now just a couple of blocks from where we lived. I just could not believe it. My experience would have been so different if it was now.”
Even if readers can’t relate to the specifics of Bruns’ experience, they can relate to the overarching themes, he said.
“There are stories and themes that a lot of people can relate to,” Bruns said. “You might not be Cuban, but you might be an immigrant or have the same kind of family. You can still apply the journey to yourself.”
“Fatherlands: Identities of a Cuban American” can be purchased on Bruns’ website at www.charleslopezbruns.com.