Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
-Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty

Now seems like the perfect time to remind America exactly where we’d be without immigrants (hint: we wouldn’t exist) because unless you’re a Native American, your ancestors were immigrants. Here are 10 books (fiction and nonfiction) about American immigration that are definitely worth the read to help become more enlightened about the plight and the contributions of immigrants. These books remind us that immigrants are people, just like everyone else, with hearts, minds, ideas and struggles.

It was really hard to limit this to just 10! I may have to do part 2.  (Note, I’ve included the Amazon descriptions for quick background.)

america the ingenius.jpg1.  America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World

What are the origins of the electric guitar? How did the whaling ship work? Why was the invention of the electric motor so crucial for the New York City subway? The incredible stories behind these strokes of genius and more, told by author Kevin Baker, fill the pages of America the Ingenious.

Here are 76 of the most intriguing, important, and ingenious inventions realized in America, from the Panama Canal, the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater to the oil rig, the electric sewing machine, and the telephone. Who came up with these ideas? How long did they take to realize? What were the complications? How, exactly, do these things work? And how have they affected who we are today? This book will satisfy the curiosity of history and miscellany buffs alike. Readers will walk away with a new appreciation for these world-changing inventions, as well as a newfound understanding of what makes America the perfect breeding ground for ingenuity.

2. The Joy Luck Club

joy.jpgFour mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s “saying” the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. “To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable.” Forty years later the stories and history continue.

With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.

jungle.jpg3. The Jungle

Upton Sinclair’s unflinching chronicle of crushing poverty and oppression set in Chicago in the early 1900s. A landmark work of social commentary, Sinclair’s work diligently exposes the inhumane and brutal sides of capitalism. Most readers, critics and politicians focus on this influential novel’s depictions of horrifying meat processing and packing facilities. However, Upton Sinclair also meant for The Jungle to be viewed as a socialistic treatise on the marginalized state of immigrants.

 

 

torilla4. The Tortilla Curtain

Topanga Canyon is home to two couples on a collision course. Los Angeles liberals Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher lead an ordered sushi-and-recycling existence in a newly gated hilltop community: he a sensitive nature writer, she an obsessive realtor. Mexican illegals Candido and America Rincon desperately cling to their vision of the American Dream as they fight off starvation in a makeshift camp deep in the ravine. And from the moment a freak accident brings Candido and Delaney into intimate contact, these four and their opposing worlds gradually intersect in what becomes a tragicomedy of error and misunderstanding.

5. Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948

prague.jpgFrom former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright comes a moving and thoughtful memoir of her formative years in Czechoslovakia during the tumult of Nazi occupation, World War II, fascism, and the onset of the Cold War. An intensely personal journey into the past that offers vital lessons for the future, Prague Winter combines the intimacy of an autobiography with the drama of an exciting and well-told story—all underpinned by the gravity and intelligence of a serious work of history. The result is a highly readable and incisive work filled with tragedy and triumph, a resonant narrative informed by Albright’s remarkable life experience and her characteristic candor in speaking hard truths.

6. What is the What

what-is-the-whatWhat Is the What is the epic novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children —the so-called Lost Boys—was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally is resettled in the United States, he finds a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges. Moving, suspenseful, and unexpectedly funny, What Is the What is an astonishing novel that illuminates the lives of millions through one extraordinary man.

K.L. Side Note: This book is heartbreaking and difficult to read. But I would encourage every person on the planet to read it. You will be a better, more caring person for it.

7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

briefOscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.

8. Saffron Dreams

From the darkest hour of American history emerges a mesmerizing tale of tender love, a life interrupted, and faith recovered. Arissa Illahi, a Muslim artist and writer, discovers in a single moment that no matter how carefully you map your life, it is life itself that chooses your destiny. After her husband’s death in the collapse of the World Trade Center, the discovery of his manuscript marks Arissa’s reconnection to life. Her unborn son and the unfinished novel fuse in her mind into one life-defining project that becomes, at once, the struggle for her emotional survival and the redemption of her race. Saffron Dreams is a novel about our ever evolving identities and the events and places that shape them. It reminds us that in the midst of tragedy, our dreams can become a lasting legacy.

in waiting.jpg9. Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States

Although America is unquestionably a nation of immigrants, its immigration policies have inspired more questions than consensus on who should be admitted and what the path to citizenship should be. In Americans in Waiting, Hiroshi Motomura looks to a forgotten part of our past to show how, for over 150 years, immigration was assumed to be a transition to citizenship, with immigrants essentially being treated as future citizens–Americans in waiting. Challenging current conceptions, the author deftly uncovers how this view, once so central to law and policy, has all but vanished. Motomura explains how America could create a more unified society by recovering this lost history and by giving immigrants more, but at the same time asking more of them. A timely, panoramic chronicle of immigration and citizenship in the United States, Americans in Waiting offers new ideas and a fresh perspective on current debates.

10. The Book of Unknown Americans

unknown.jpgA boy and a girl who fall in love. Two families whose hopes collide with destiny. An extraordinary novel that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be American. Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Maribel, sustains a terrible injury, one that casts doubt on whether she’ll ever be the same. And so, leaving all they have behind, the Riveras come to America with a single dream: that in this country of great opportunity and resources, Maribel can get better.

When Mayor Toro, whose family is from Panama, sees Maribel in a Dollar Tree store, it is love at first sight. It’s also the beginning of a friendship between the Rivera and Toro families, whose web of guilt and love and responsibility is at this novel’s core.
Woven into their stories are the testimonials of men and women who have come to the United States from all over Latin America. Their journeys and their voices will inspire you, surprise you, and break your heart.

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