Immigration has been a hot-button issue in American politics and society, and that’s only heightened since the last presidential election. In the past few weeks, Visa policies for six Muslim-majority countries were tightened after a scaled-back version of President Trump’s travel ban was upheld by the Supreme Court. As Americans, immigrants, and refugees all struggle to make sense of the immigration policy and its future implications, here are a few books that examine how immigration has changed the American landscape, and how much a country owes to outsiders.
1. Americanah by
Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, a young couple who flee the military-ruled Nigeria for America. In the United States, the once self-assured Ifemelu must now, despite her academic success, deal with what it means to be “black.” Their love is put to the test when Obinze is detained in a post 9/11 world and must live a life undocumented in London. Their reunion many years later in their homeland will bring a tear to your eye and give an inside look at the hardships of being an immigrant, especially an undocumented one.
In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the titular character is an overweight nerd from a ghetto in New Jersey who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most importantly, finding love. However, Oscar feels that he may never achieve his dreams because of a curse that has haunted his family for generations, following them on their journey from Santo Domingo to the United States. Oscar Wao not only tells the story of its protagonist but also examines the Dominican-American history and explores the human capacity of perseverance.
3. Brother, I’m Dying by
Brother, I’m Dying is an autobiographical look at Edwidge Danticat’s life. Ever since she was a small child, award-winning author Edwidge Danticat considered her uncle Joseph her “second father” after she was placed in his care when her parents left Haiti for America. When she was twelve, she joined her parents and siblings in New York City—but adjusting to life in a new country was not easy, especially as her family continued to fear for the safety of those still in Haiti, as the political situation there deteriorated.
4. The Buddha In The Attic by
The Buddha in the Attic by PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novelist Julie Otsuka tells the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” in the early 20th century. “Picture brides” were similar to mail-order brides, in that they were selected by Asian immigrant workers via a matchmaker and then moved to a new country to be with their future husbands. The Buddha tells eight tales of the extraordinary lives of these women, from their boat journeys to their arrival in a new land, their first nights as new wives and their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language. This novel examines what it means to be an American in uncertain times.
5. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Exit West tells the story of a love affair between two young people in an unnamed country on the brink of civil war. Nadia and Saeed are upwardly mobile young professionals living cosmopolitan lives but are soon cloistered by the unrest in their city. They flee to Greece, England and eventually the United States in an effort to invent new lives for themselves. The first half of their story is about how war impacts everyday life; the second half is a tale of globalization and its discontents.
6. A Nation Of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story by Tom Gjelten
A Nation of Nations by Tom Gjelten is the compelling story of the America’s transformation over the last fifty years, as told from the perspectives of a number of families in Fairfax, a suburban Virginia county, that has been totally changed by recent immigration. In Fairfax, the foreign-born population has grown sevenfold in the decades following the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Gjelten introduces a cast of characters — some immigrants, some locals — to demonstrate how they have forged a new reality and what has brought them together.
7. Strangers In Our Midst: The Political Philosophy Of Immigration
by David Miller
Strangers In Our Midst by political philosopher David Miller tackles the important question of what a developed country owes to outsiders when imagining its immigration policies. Miller ponders how democracy within a state can be reconciled with the rights of those outside its borders. He argues that a state should have the right to govern its borders however it wishes, so long as the method is fair and transparent. Seeking to balance the rights of immigrants with the legitimate concerns of citizens, Strangers in Our Midst brings a dose of realism to this debate.
8. We Need New Names by
NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut novel, which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, tells the powerful story of a young girl’s journey out of Zimbabwe to America. In Zimbabwe, ten-year-old Darling and her friends try to grasp the memories from before their homes and lives were destroyed by paramilitary police. Darling has a chance to escape, though, and she travels to America to live with her aunt. Unfortunately, America’s famous abundance seems to be more than a fleeting idea, as her options as an immigrant are perilously few.
No matter which political party you side with, the impact of immigrants in the United States is undeniable. It’s important to remember that behind the politics and the news there are real people whose lives are at stake, people who are only looking for a better life for themselves and their families. These books all demonstrate the real-life battles and different perspectives of immigration in the United States.