Since the beginning of our young republic, the United States of America has been recognized as a nation of immigrants. America is a rich melting pot of people from every country around the world, where the freedom to become a citizen and pursue happiness, regardless of race or ethnicity, has served as the bedrock of our ideals. The following books share the struggles of immigrants who risked everything to be part of this unique democracy.
Enrique’s Journey, by Sonia Nazario, is the harrowing true story about a son’s desperate attempt to reunite with his mother after their separation. When the 17-year- mother leaves Enrique and his siblings in Honduras to find work in the United States, it is so she can feed her family. Enrique decides to search for her on his own despite great danger, traveling across Mexico with little food, and hopping trains even as he encounters violent banditos and corrupt officials. He finally enters the United States, but is deported several times before he is able to reside there permanently. This tale of courage, determination, and love depicts the challenges faced by immigrant children after being separated from their parents.
The Devil’s Highway
The Devil’s Highway, by Urrea Luis Alberto, is a non-fiction book that recounts the dangerous trek of 26 Mexican migrants crossing the United States border. The true story describes in tragic detail the challenges they face traveling through a desolate stretch of desert called the “Devil’s Highway” in order to avoid border patrol and tougher immigration enforcement. After getting lost, 14 of the travelers die from heat stroke or hypothermia due to the extreme weather conditions. This loss of life has a profound impact on not only the group of remaining migrants, but the Border Patrol that discovers them.
The Sun is Also a Star
The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon, is a young adult novel about love, fate and immigration. The protagonist is Natasha, a Jamaican-American teen, who meets and falls in love with Daniel, a Korean-American, in New York, on the same day she and her family are facing deportation. Natasha resists being forced to leave the United States while Daniel is on his way to a college admissions interview at Yale. A romance develops between the two teenagers as their lives are about to drastically change. They focus on God’s plan for their own lives, even as they inevitably intersect with the lives of others.
Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan, is an inspiring story about an affluent Mexican girl’s migration to the United States in the 1920s. Esperanza has an idyllic life living on a large and successful vineyard in Mexico until her father’s sudden death at the hands of bandits. Due to Mexican laws unfavorable to rich landowners, Esperanza and her mother are stripped of their property and forced to flee to America. Esperanza must come to terms with poverty and learn the importance of familial ties, as she faces the difficulty of earning a living in a migrant camp.
Dreams of Joy
Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See, takes place in the 1950’s and is told from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old, Joy, and her adoptive mother, Pearl. After Joy’s adoptive father hangs himself, she naïvely steals her college fund and runs away to China, hoping to find her birth parents and the true meaning of life. The communist government has sent her birth father, an artist, to live with peasants in the countryside. Joy travels with her father, Z.G., to their new home where they will work collectively among the peasants. Although Joy misses the conveniences of America, she enjoys her new home, eventually falling in love with a promising young artist named Tao. After suffering terrible setbacks, as well as becoming a mother, Joy discovers her true sense of identity.
Of Beetles and Angels
Of Beetles and Angels, by Mawi Asgedom, is the true story about Selamawi Haileab Asgedom, or Mawis, as he journeys from a refugee camp in Sudan to America, where he is eventually accepted to Harvard. As a young boy, Mawi is taken on a dangerous trek through the desert to reach a refugee camp in Sudan. Eventually, his family arrives in Chicago with the help of the World Relief Christian organization outreach. With the church sponsorship, Mawi’s family settles in a suburb where he overcomes the challenges of cultural differences, language barriers, and poverty. Through hard work and his father’s influence, he becomes a Harvard graduate.
What Is the What
What Is the What, by David Eggers, is based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who travels from Southern Sudan to United States. The author tells the story of Deng, mixing fictional and non-fictional elements. The protagonist faces many dangers during his journey through Africa, including disease, wild animals, and corrupt soldiers. While suffering from hunger and illness, Deng and many other refugees walk through his war-torn country to reach refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. After eventually arriving in America, he is robbed and forced to contend with more challenges and hardships as an impoverished immigrant.
Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín, is a historical romance novel set in New York City. The fictional story follows a young Irish immigrant, Eilis Lacey, from her hometown of Enniscorthy, Ireland, to America after World War II. After arriving alone and settling in Brooklyn, Eilis dreams of finding steady work that was unavailable to her back in Ireland. Eventually, she finds a job at a department store during the day and begins taking evening classes to study bookkeeping in the evening. When she discovers a new love interest, a family tragedy strikes and she is forced to revaluate the new life she has created for herself in America. She must choose between independent self-discovery and the familiar life she left behind.
The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is a novel that follows the life of Gogol Ganguli as he struggles to discover his place in the world as a second-generation immigrant in the United States. In his youth, he finds it difficult to deal with the unusual name and traditions his parents have passed on to him. However, as Ganguli grows older, he begins to appreciate what his parents sacrificed to move to America from India and the difficulties they faced in their adopted country. He eventually strikes a peaceful balance despite being caught between two conflicting cultures with very different social, religious, and ideological differences.
America Is in the Heart
America Is in the Heart, by Carlos Bulosan, is an autobiography about the Filipino-American poet and activist. It follows the author’s life as a poor young man growing up with his father on a farm in the Philippines, while his mother and siblings must live separately in another city to survive. His story continues with his migration to America in the 1930s, where he hopes to find a better life. Instead, the author discovers a land torn apart by racism and its exploitation of workers. Bulosan details the plight of migrant laborers and his struggles with inequality. Despite his negative experiences and difficulties, he grows to love America and has hope for a better future in his adopted country.