It's just the beginning of the Trump Presidency, and it's now a more a crucial time than ever to turn to books about the immigrant experience. On Wednesday, Trump is expected to sign Executive Orders that will limit immigrants from seven Muslim nations, slash the number of refugees who can find solace here, and direct federal resources toward building the much-talked-about Mexico border wall.
Whatever your politics, immigration has long been a hot button issue, brought to the forefront again thanks to the 2016 Presidential Election. The conversations surrounding immigration have been at once important, impassioned, and many times, downright insane. What many people seem to forget at the end of a long day fighting for or against continuing to build the melting pot that America has come to be celebrated for, is that immigrants are people, with their own fears, joys, and crucial stories to tell.
There are countless texts, both fiction and non-fiction, that detail the immigrant experience. While some are joyous and some are heartbreaking, most are crucially informative in a time where fake news has become a main source of misinformation. Below are 11 books that prove what many of us know to be true: Immigrants get the job done.
1'The Distance Between Us' by Reyna Grande
Reyna Grande's memoir details her life before and after illegally emigrating from Mexico to the United States. When her father leaves his wife and three children behind in Mexico to make the dangerous trek across the border to the United States, he promises he will soon return from “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side) with enough money to build them a dream house. His promises become harder to believe as months turn into years. When he summons his wife to join him, Reyna and her siblings are left with their grandmother. The three siblings are forced to look out for themselves; until their mother at last returns, and the reunion sets the stage for a dramatic new chapter in Reyna’s young life: her own journey to “El Otro Lado” to live with the man who has haunted her imagination for years, her long-absent father. A funny, heartbreaking, lyrical story about the joys and sorrows of childhood.
2'American Street' by Ibi Zoboi
This YA fiction novel follows the life of Fabiola Toussaint as she and her mother emigrate to the U.S. from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Fabiola thought she would finally find une belle vie — a good life. But after they leave Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school, and a surprising romance, all on her own. Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream? This is gorgeous narrative of coming-of-age in a strange new world that hits shelves on February 14, 2017.
3'The Book of Unknown Americans' by Cristina Henriquez
This heartbreaking adult fiction novel tells a poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love, unflinching honesty and humanity, that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American. This book focuses on the lives of a Panamanian boy and Mexican girl: two teenagers who live in the same apartment block filled with immigrant families like their own. After Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Rivera family leaves Mexico for America. But they soon discover that Maribel's recovery — the piece of the American Dream on which they've pinned all their hopes — will not be easy. At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamá fifteen years ago. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America.
4'We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future' by Deepa Iyer
In We Too Sing America, renowned activist Deepa Iyer catalogs recent racial flash points, from the 2012 massacre at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, to the violent opposition to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and to the Park 51 Community Center in Lower Manhattan. Iyer asks whether hate crimes should be considered domestic terrorism and explores the role of the state in perpetuating racism through detentions, national registration programs, police profiling, and constant surveillance. She looks at topics including Islamophobia in the Bible Belt, and the energy of new reform movements, including those of “undocumented and unafraid” youth and Black Lives Matter. This book takes an unflinching look at the continued racism directed against South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh people in the U.S.
5'The Making of Asian America' by Erika Lee
In the past fifty years, Asian Americans have helped change the face of America and are now the fastest growing group in the United States. But as award-winning historian Erika Lee reminds us, Asian Americans also have deep roots in the country. The Making of Asian America tells the little-known history of Asian Americans and their role in American life, from the arrival of the first Asians in the Americas to the present-day. This definitive history of Asian Americans delves into everything from the lives of sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s to Japanese Americans that were incarcerated during World War II. Lee also discusses the lives of Asian Americans today, now held up as America’s “model minorities” in ways that reveal the complicated role that race still plays in the United States.
6'Under the Same Sky' by Joseph Kim with Stephan Talty
Inside the hidden and mysterious world of North Korea, Joseph Kim lived a young boy’s normal life until he was five. Then disaster struck: the first wave of the Great Famine that killed millions, including his father, and sent others, like his mother and sister, on desperate escape routes into China. Alone on the streets, Joseph learned to beg and steal. Finally, in desperation, he too crossed a frozen river to China. Soon, through an underground network of activists, he was spirited to the American consulate, and became one of just a handful of North Koreans to be brought to the U.S. as refugees. Joseph knew no English but soon became a dedicated student, mastered English, and made it to college. Under the Same Sky is an unforgettable story of suffering, redemption, and learning to thrive in a sometimes strange new country.
7'The Lines We Cross' by Randa Abdel-Fattah
This YA novel follows Michael, who likes to hang out with his friends and play with the latest graphic design software. But his parents drag him to rallies held by their anti-immigrant group, which rails against the tide of refugees flooding the country. And Michael is on their side. Until he meets Mina, a beautiful girl from the other side of the protest lines, who shows up at his school. She turns out to be funny, smart — and a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. Suddenly, his parents' politics seem much more complicated. Mina has had a long and dangerous journey fleeing her besieged home in Afghanistan, and now faces a frigid reception at her new prep school, where she is on scholarship. As tensions rise, lines are drawn. Michael has to decide where he stands. Mina has to protect herself and her family. Both have to choose what they want their world to look like. This timely book explores the emotionally and politically charged atmosphere behind immigration in the U.S. today. Keep this one on your TBR list: it will be published in the U.S. on May 9, 2017.
8'Lucky Boy' by Shanthi Sekaran
This adult fiction novel follows two women. One is Solimar Castro Valdez. She is eighteen and optimistic when she embarks on a perilous journey across the US/Mexican border. Weeks later, she arrives on her cousin's doorstep in Berkeley, CA, dazed by first love found then lost, and pregnant. This was not the plan. But amid the uncertainty of new motherhood and her American identity, Soli's son motherhood becomes her foundation. The other is Kavya Reddy. When she can't get pregnant, this desire will test her marriage, it will test her sanity, and it will set Kavya and her husband, Rishi, on a collision course with Soli, when she is detained and her infant son comes under Kavya's care. This is emotional story about immigration, motherhood, and love that will leave you spellbound.
9'When I Was Puerto Rican' by Esmeralda Santiago
Esmeralda Santiago's classic memoir begins in rural Puerto Rico, where her childhood was full of both tenderness and domestic strife, tropical sounds and sights as well as poverty. As she enters school there is a soon a clash between the Puerto Rican and Yankee cultures. When her mother takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be 11 children, Esmeralda, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually take on a new identity. In this first volume of her much-praised, bestselling trilogy, Santiago brilliantly recreates the idyllic landscape and tumultuous family life of her earliest years and her tremendous journey from the barrio to Brooklyn, from translating for her mother at the welfare office to receiving high honors at Harvard. Santiago's story is one of the American dream both realized and deferred.
10'The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria' by Janine Di Giovanni
While not specifically about Syrian refugees, this book details in unflinching accounts, what is happening in the war-torn country and why so many of its citizens are desperately seeking asylum elsewhere, including in the U.S. Speaking to those directly involved in the war, di Giovanni relays the personal stories of rebel fighters thrown in jail at the least provocation; of children and families forced to watch loved ones taken and killed by regime forces with dubious justifications; and the stories of the elite, holding pool parties in Damascus hotels, trying to deny the human consequences of the nearby shelling. The Morning They Came For Us is an fearless account of a nation on the brink of disintegration, charting an apocalyptic but at times tender story of life in a jihadist war – and an unforgettable testament to human resilience in the face of unimaginable horrors.
11'The Sun is Also a Star' by Nicola Yoon
One of the most celebrated YA novels of 2016 follows the epic stories of Natasha, an illegal Jamaican immigrant, and Daniel, an Asian American son of immigrants. This book follows 24 hours in the lives of these two teens. It's only 12 hours before Natasha and her family are being deported back to Jamaica, and she is doing everything in her power to stop it. Daniel is preparing for a college interview that his parents — and only his parents — want him to attend. When their worlds collide, questions of fate and young love arise. Will the Universe conspire to keep them together, or is it destiny that they be torn apart. This moving narrative employs a unique and fascinating structure that will have you at the edge of your seat and clutching your heart at the same time.