Monday, March 07, 2011

Listening to Elva, Ah-Kim, and Mr. Rosenblum as they dream in English - to name just a few

Immigration and recent immigrants to America have been on my mind a lot in the past year or so.  All my married life I've lived entirely surrounded by first generation immigrants and I've loved getting to know them (and eating their food) but our two moves this past summer/fall were for no other reason than to go deeper.  And deeper we have gone. I've had quite an education in the past year - both by getting to know the wide variety of people that surround me and by actual education - learning to tell the myths from the facts.  Now, I talk about this topic at home, at church, with my neighbors, with my friends, learn about it at seminars, and even teach about occasionally.

Parenthetically: this past weekend I attended a conference at my church that brought people from near and far together to talk about how we can look at things like racism, diversity, and immigration from a faith perspective.  It was fantastic.  We were asked questions like "Do I have my facts straight?  Am I thinking about immigration as a Christian? Do I know any immigrants?"

As if all this thinking about and living among new comers was not enough I've recently picked up three entirely different books that tell the true-or-almost-true stories of very different people making their way around our country for the first time.

Most recently I've just finished Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English. This is a fun, even light-hearted book and love story that takes on the very difficult topic of a young Jewish family escaping from Germany to England in the days before WWII. Never quite confident of their personal safety they each struggle to find a balance between assimilating into their new land and remembering and retaining their identity.  This was a truly delightful tale, loosely based on the author's grandparents. (Full disclosure insists on my mentioning that I received a free review copy of this book through the Left to Write Book Club.  The other books I found on my own so no disclosure legally needed). 

A month or so earlier I read Girl in Translation which chronicles the high school years of a young Chinese immigrant who came to New York with her mother.  This was not nearly as light or as fun but it was valuable in that it demonstrated clearly what I have found first hand - sometimes people live at standards far, far below anything we could imagine would take place in the United States.  Though written as fiction I couldn't help but notice the many parallels between the author's bio and the main character's life.

And before that there was Barefoot Heart: stories of a migrant child. This was a somewhat tedious and poorly written book that was fascinating and well worth the read; a true story/memoir about a very young Mexican American migrant work in the 1950's (and by very young I mean she was working with her family in the fields from ages 3-13).  She tells the stories she remembers from her childhood now as an adult. By the end I was entirely ready and able to overlook the writing style and was moved and amazed by the beauty of the story, one that I think is important for those of us long since assimilated into dominant American culture to understand better than we do.

I love it when my real life and what I'm reading coincide. I've had a lot to think about this year and not a lot of time to write about it.  But I'm grateful for this opportunity to learn through life, neighbors, friends, books, stories, and education and I'll keep on digging in. What about you?  Have you been an immigrant or do you know one?  What story can you tell me?  


David said...

I recently read The Latehomecomer, a memoir about a Hmong family that emigrates to the US. I can tell you more about it soon, but I really enjoyed it.

Dedee said...

This is a thought provoking post, as yours usually are. In my church congregation is a family that immigrated from South America. Sadly, I do not know them well. It's easy to get caught up in the craziness that is my life and ignore the people around me and I feel guilty about that.

You inspire me to be better.

Emily said...

I have read two out of three of the books you listed and the story of the Meixcan immigrant seems like a really good book too.

Around where we live we have mostly Indian immigrants. They are nice neighbors but I don't really know their stories.

I am friends through my child's school w/a Venuzuelan (sp?) woman. She and he husband, from Argentina, are fluent, mostly, in English. I am fascinated by her life and stories and we both laugh over her occasional tripping over the "American" language!