Saturday, June 3, 2017

Reads for Immigrant Heritage Month

"Immigrants Leaving for New York From Ellis Island." By Agence Rol. Agence photographique, - National Library of France (, Public Domain,
Immigration is a hot topic these days and it's pretty rare to find someone who doesn't have strong feelings about it one way or another--but how much do you know about  immigrants and refugees, or how generations of newcomers have shaped and been shaped by our communities?

June is Immigrant Heritage Month, and we can't think of a better way to understand America's shared story than by reading it.

Of course, the paths to citizenship and belonging have been--and are still--far too varied to ever capture in a single book, and many volumes have yet to be written. However, if you want to more clearly understand, for instance, what it might be like to start over in a new country or negotiate issues of cultural identity, or if you simply want to read about how others have overcome some of the same difficulties you've faced, we can recommend a few starting points.

Incidentally, this list is by no means comprehensive, and if you'd like to recommend a favorite book that deals with immigrant or refugee experiences, please post the title and author in the comments!

Buried Onions, by Gary Soto

Eddie's father, two uncles, and best friend are all dead, and it's a struggle for him not to end up that way as well. To Eddie's mind, violence makes Fresno wallow in tears, as if a huge onion were buried beneath the city. Making an effort to live an honest, upright life, despite strong temptations, Eddie searches for answers--and discovers that his closest friends may actually be his worst enemies.

Crossing the Wire, by Will Hobbs

Facing starvation, fifteen-year-old Victor Flores leaves his family’s farm in Mexico and heads north, hoping to “cross the wire” into the United States in search of work and a paycheck that he can send back to his family. Without the money to pay coyote smugglers, he must make the dangerous journey on his own any way he can, by stowing away on trains and trucks, and enduring extreme heat and cold as he hikes across the Arizona desert.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

In 1970s small-town Ohio, Chinese-American teenager, Lydia Lee dutifully strives to fulfill the dreams her parents were unable to pursue. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. 

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America, by Firoozeh Dumas

Firoozeh Dumas recounts the experiences she had after her family moved from Iran to Southern California, discussing how her family adapted to life in America.

When fifteen-year-old Maribel Rivera sustains a terrible injury, the Riveras leave behind a comfortable life in Mexico and risk everything to come to the United States so that Maribel can have the care she needs. Once they arrive, it’s not long before Maribel attracts the attention of Mayor Toro, the son of one of their new neighbors, who sees a kindred spirit in this beautiful, damaged outsider. Their love story sets in motion events that will have profound repercussions for everyone involved. 

The Good Braider, by Terry Farish (novel in verse)

Viola must leave her beloved grandmother behind when she flees war-torn South Sudan with her mother and young brother. After a dangerous journey that takes her from Sudan into a refugee camp in Cairo, Viola finally ends up in Portland, Maine, where her uncle lives. While she initially appreciates the support of the Southern Sudanese Community, she eventually feels stifled by their, and her mother’s, insistence on clinging to their native culture while Viola must navigate an American culture at school. Eventually, Viola learns to braid the two cultures to create a third—her own.

Under the Mesquite, by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

When Lupita’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, Lupita must take over the care of her seven younger siblings as her father tries to get health care for his wife. Lupita’s only peace is found beneath the mesquite tree, where she is able to draw strength from herself to face a future without her beloved Mami.

Uprising, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Bella, newly arrived in New York from Italy, gets a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. There, along with hundreds of other immigrants, she works long hours at a grueling job under terrible conditions. Yetta, a coworker from Russia, has been crusading for a union, and when factory conditions worsen, she helps workers rise up in a strike. Wealthy Jane learns of the plight of the workers and becomes involved with their cause.

Through the stories of these women, informed by extensive historical research, the author brings the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire to life for 21st century readers.

For even more books about immigrants, refugees, and related topics, check out FCPL's New Americans page. There, under "California: The Journey," you'll find California Center for the Book's list of recommended titles.

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