Nonfiction November: Books about the U.S. Immigration System

This week’s Nonfiction November topic is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, and the subject is to talk about nonfiction books on a specific topic (“Be the Expert/Ask the Experts/Become the Expert”).  I’ve been reading a lot this year about immigration, because it’s such an important topic  to understand right now.  So here are some nonfiction books about immigration.  On a related theme, I’ve posted previously on books about U.S. politics and books about U.S. history.

dear americaMy number one recommendation is Jose Antonio Vargas’ Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.  This is Vargas’ memoir about coming to America as a child from the Phillipines, about finding out that he’s undocumented when he tries to get a job as a teenager, and about living in the United States as an undocumented citizen.  I listened to this as an audio-book, read by the author, and I was happy to hear his story told in his own voice.  What makes this book important is not only Vargas’ experience, but all of the information he includes about immigration laws, statistics, and the process (or lack of process) to become a documented citizen in this country.  For more information, much of what Vargas writes about is discussed in this recent John Oliver episode.

line riverI would then read Francisco Cantu’s A Line Becomes A River, Cantu’s story about serving on the U.S. Border Patrol.  Cantu is Mexican-American and provides an inside perspective about how the Border Patrol works (and doesn’t work).  It’s not a perfect book – Cantu doesn’t serve on the Border Patrol for long, and his story is not as introspective as I would have liked.  But it’s important to recognize that Cantu isn’t an advocate for change; he’s simply telling his story.  Some have protested his readings, because he is now profiting from a problematic system.  But I still think his perspective is meaningful.

how dareThen I would read Sandra Uwuringiyama’s How Dare the Sun Rise.  Uwuringiyama came to the United States as a refugee from the Republic of the Congo after surviving a massacre.  Her story is a terrible one in a lot of ways, but what I found most meaningful was listening to her struggles to adapt to life in the U.S., and how she becomes an advocate for the rights of refugees.

Other books I would recommend are Diane Guerrero’s In the Country We Love, and David Eggers’ What is the What. I also love America Ferrera’s anthology American Like Me.

While the U.S. is still a “land of opportunity”, and many people want to live here, it’s important to recognize how hard it is for people to enter the country and build productive lives.  Our system is not as welcoming as it should be, especially today.  My father was an immigrant in the 60’s and had little trouble settling in, finding a job, and becoming a citizen — but he was a white European entering at a different time.  Families entering the U.S. face discrimination, a complicated legal system, and an economic system that makes it very hard to get ahead (despite what we’d like to believe).  And that’s without considering the many language and culture barriers that families face when they arrive here.

We can learn about immigration through fiction as well.  Some of my favorite novels about immigrants to the U.S. include The Leavers, Behold the Dreamers, Lucky Broken Girl, The Book of Unknown Americans, and Americanah.

What other books do you recommend on the experiences of immigrants?

  9 comments for “Nonfiction November: Books about the U.S. Immigration System

  1. November 14, 2019 at 10:24 am

    Thanks for these recommendations! Immigration and the refugee crisis are topics that I really want to learn more about.

  2. November 16, 2019 at 7:51 am

    These books sound so interesting and really important so I’m adding them to my list now. I feel like I need to read more around immigration and the refugee crisis so I found your post as the right time.

  3. November 16, 2019 at 11:30 am

    I think the experience of immigration is both universal and unique, and particularly complicated worldwide in the current political climate. I live in Australia but if you are interested you might like to read The Happiest Refuge by Ahn Do, a bestseller here, No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani, and Black Rock, White City by AS Patric.
    Thanks for sharing your expertise

    Please stop by to see my NonFicNov: Become The Expert

  4. November 17, 2019 at 7:59 am

    I enjoyed Line Becomes a River very much. I’m reading a book that is related to this topic called On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey. It’s a gringo’s look at Mexico.

  5. December 15, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    This is a topic I really should read more on! Thanks for the recommendations and the great descriptions of what makes each of these books worth picking up 🙂

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