“No human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?” ~Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner, Holocaust survivor, Author of Night and Presenter at the 28th Emmy Awards
The International Emmys will take place this year in November with Maz Jobrani hosting. Jobrani is a comedian whose new special Immigration premiered on Netflix in August. He is one of many in entertainment to draw attention to the plight of immigrants in our country. Entertainers such as Daddy Yankee, Demi Lovato, and Khalid have lent their voices in support of immigrants, as have a number of writers.
With DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) taking center stage, we have to wonder: Do we truly understand the experiences of immigrants in America? These experiences are just as diverse as our nation’s people. To highlight the significance of immigrants, and the immigrant experience, we’ve compiled a list of books, whose authors provide insight into the daily lives of immigrants in the United States. Together, their stories show not only how immigrants have helped shape American culture, but also the importance of inclusion and acceptance in society.
NOMADLAND: Surviving America into the Twenty-First Century, Jessica Bruder (September 19, 2017)
Award winning journalist Jessica Bruder follows senior migrant workers who have traded retirement for an RV and continue to work across the country. This book exposes the many people and experiences of migrant workers as well as dispels the stereotype that all migrant workers are illegal immigrants.
Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue (2016)
Jende Jonga, his wife Neni, and his six-year-old son immigrated to Harlem from Cameron and upon arrival struggle to find a way to survive. When Jende meets Clark Edwards, an executive from the Lehman Brothers, he feels he has hit the jackpot. Edwards hires him as his chauffer and his wife hires Neni to work in their Hamptons home. The Jongas are finally able to think beyond how to put food on the table when the financial world begins to crumble. While they are desperate to keep Jende’s job, what must they sacrifice in the process? This book was an Oprah Book Club Pick BookTrib featured in July, but deserves revisiting.
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu and Obineze, both bright students in Nigeria who immigrate for greater opportunities. Ifemelu immigrates to the United States and comes to realize what it means to be Black even though she has had great academic success. Obineze idealized America all his life and yet when he finally immigrated it was to London. There, regardless of his academic prowess in Nigeria, he is unable to gain steady employment and is eventually deported back to Nigeria. Both Ifemelu and Obineze show the experiences of immigrants in ‘Westernized’ countries and how the idyllic picture does not begin to capture the reality.
This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz (2012)
Diaz’s collection of short stories goes through the many doomed relationships of Yunior, the main character. Yunior, in a way, mirrors the life of the author Junot Diaz. Both are immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Both were raised by a single mother. Both are writers who are writing short stories. These short stories, while focused on romantic relationships, also show the impact and daily experience of an immigrant in the United States.
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, Dinaw Mengestu (2007)
In an effort to flee the Ethiopian Revolution, Sepha Stephanos immigrated to Washington, D.C. and runs a deteriorating grocery store. His only friends are two other African immigrants who share in the nostalgia for home and disenchantment with their circumstances. However, when Sepha meets and befriends Judith, a white woman, and Naomi her bookish and biracial daughter, his life is forever changed. Mengestu displays racism and an immigrant’s struggle in his book The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.
We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo (2013)
This novel touches on the not always positive influence of Westernization abroad while also showing the harsh reality of immigration. Darling, who is only ten years old, must navigate her way through the dangers of Zimbabwe where the men have disappeared to dangerous jobs, homes were destroyed, and school has been permanently stopped. She is then given the opportunity to go live with her aunt in what seems like the Promise Land of the U.S. Instead, what Darling finds is a world still short on opportunities and riddled with a different kind of hardship.
In addition to the above mentioned titles, you may want to read some of the other books recently had reviewed for BookTrib that focus on the unique immigrant experience in America:
Dina Nayeri’s ‘Refuge’ Follows One Woman’s Struggle to Find Her Roots: “In Refuge, Author Dina Nayeri follows Niloo, a young, married, Iranian woman on a journey to find herself and establish roots in a new land. Concurrently, through her father, Bahman’s experiences, we gain an understanding of their relationship and his attachment to home.”
American Street, Ibi Zoboi : “As a Haitian immigrant, teen Fabiola Toussaint has clear dreams for her life in America. But when her mother is detained at the airport by immigration, everything that Fabiola counted on seems lost. Now it’s up to her to navigate America on her own, including her family in Detroit, a potential love interest, and her new life at the corner of American Street and Joy Road.”
Falafel Nation: Cuisine and the Making of National Identity in Israel (Studies of Jews in Society): “When people discuss food in Israel, their debates ask politically charged questions: Who has the right to falafel? Whose hummus is better? But Yael Raviv’s Falafel Nation moves beyond the simply territorial to divulge the role food plays in the Jewish nation. She ponders the power struggles, moral dilemmas, and religious and ideological affiliations of the different ethnic groups that make up the “Jewish State” and how they relate to the gastronomy of the region.”