Migration: 9 Remarkable Books by Asian American Authors

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Migration books by Asian American Authors

In this article, we explore books by a variety of Asian American authors, that address the many experiences and aspects of migration. Through this grouping, we’re trying to reflect a broader understanding of Asian American identities as they are conventionally understood in the United States. We encourage you to consider how those ideas change over time.  

By Aakanksha Gupta

To complement the exploration of these books, we have aligned them with our Learning Arc, a recently created framework whose development was led by Verónica Boix Mansilla, that addresses fundamental and actionable principles and questions to prepare educators to teach about migration. We invite educators to use the Learning Arc in their analysis of these pieces of literature, and the essential questions about migration that emerge from them.

This is the second article in Re-imagining Migration's Media Highlight series – you can read the first here.

1. The Dragon’s Child by Lawrence Yep

Set in the time of Chinese Exclusion in the US, this is a story of Gim Lew Yep, a 10-year-old boy who is getting ready for a move to the US, just like his father and grandfather before him. Gim Lew is daunted by the idea of leaving behind his family, home and everything familiar to him, as well as scared to disappoint his father and the immigration officials at Angel Island. The Angel Island Immigration Station was built in the aftermath of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. From 1910-1940, immigration officials received and detained a large number of Chinese immigrants who moved to the U.S. with the hope of starting new lives or join loved ones. In this story, we learn about Gim Lew’s life in his home country, his experiences preparing to move, what he is told to expect, the impact of his father’s migration on their family, as well as a glimpse into their journey to the US.

 

Migration Book: The Dragon’s Child by Lawrence Yep

 

Learning Arc Questions:

  • What was life like before migration?
  • In what ways do societal and environmental push and pull forces and more intimate personal contexts motivate people‘s decisions to leave their homes?
  • What happens to those who stay and how do they relate to those who leave?
  • How do borders impact people’s lives? 

2. Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

Firoozeh Dumas reflects on her life as an Iranian-American in the US. Through interconnected stories, told with humor, Dumas hoped to challenge negative mainstream media narratives about Iranian people. She highlights the unique experiences and challenges she and her family faced as immigrants in the US, and the lessons she learned. The book answers a question that informs a lot of our work: what prompts people to move? In the case of Dumas’ family, the push and pull factors were civil unrest (the Iranian Revolution) and the desire to seek better educational and economic opportunities. What follows a big move? How do newcomers navigate their new lives? These questions are also answered in the book through its essential themes: the hope and resilience of newcomers, the ability to navigate multiple cultures and overcome bias, and the importance of names, language, traditions and family.

 

Migration Book: Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America

 

Learning Arc Questions:

  • What messages about migration are people hearing through media and thought leaders?
  • In what ways do societal and environmental push and pull forces and more intimate personal contexts motivate people‘s decisions to leave their homes?
  • How might the environment in the new land help or hinder newcomers’ inclusion?
  • How do newcomers come to understand the new land and their place in it over time?
  • How might newcomers and the receiving community balance their identities, cultural values, and world views as they interact with one another?

3. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri’s book centers around Nikhil ‘Gogol’ Ganguli, a first-generation Bengali-American, whose parents moved to the US to seek better opportunities. The book weaves together the different, yet overlapping, stories of Gogol and his parents. We learn about why the Gangulis moved to the US, how they settled in, what supported their efforts to integrate, the challenges they overcame, and their relationship with their American-born children. In parallel, we learn about how Gogol navigates his relationship with his name, his heritage, his cultural identities, and his place in his family as well as the broader American community. Like many of Jhumpa Lahiri’s books, The Namesake explores an idea shared by many immigrant-origin individuals: what it means to have a hyphenated identity i.e. two identities that are intertwined yet separate, how that plays out in day-to-day life, and how that comes with a unique set of experiences and challenges. 

 

Migration Book: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

 

Learning Arc Questions:

  • How might the environment in the new land help or hinder newcomers’ inclusion?
  • How do newcomers come to understand the new land and their place in it over time?
  • How might newcomers and the receiving community balance their identities, cultural values, and world views as they interact with one another?

4. Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio-Vargas

In his memoir, Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist and filmmaker, reflects on his experience being undocumented in the US. When Jose was twelve years old, he moved from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in Mountain View, California. He did not know that he was undocumented until after he integrated into American society, having settled into his new home. Following his discovery, he began to hide his status from almost everyone in his life, while navigating day-to-day experiences with a lot of caution. Antonio-Vargas shared his story publicly in 2011, and is one of many undocumented immigrants who are stuck in the in-betweens. These individuals live and work as Americans, contribute to the country which they consider their home, but have “no clear path to American citizenship” as he points out. As you read this book, think about a few questions: what are the factors that prompt people to move, especially unaccompanied children? How much choice do different family members have in the decision to leave their homes? What are the barriers people overcome when they move? Who creates those? How are people received when they cross those barriers?

 

Migration Book: Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio-Vargas

 

Learning Arc Questions:

  • What are the rights of people on the move with ambiguous status (not clearly recognized by the State)?
  • Who is responsible for people on the move with an ambiguous status?
  • How should nations decide who can settle and who cannot?
  • What is the purpose of borders?
  • How do the visible and invisible borders that people encounter shape their lives?

5. Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

During the Second World War, U.S. government leaders believed Japanese people in the US could not be trusted, and questioned their loyalty to the country. Following Pearl Harbor, the United States forcibly relocated and incarcerated hundreds of thousands of people of Japanese origin in internment camps. In today’s changing world, discussions about loyalty, citizenship and belonging are re-emerging, and we believe that while not specifically about migration, Farewell to Manzanar is an important resource to include in classroom conversations. The book speaks to the role that bias and fear plays in the way societies construct “us” and “them”. The book is based on the real experiences of Jeanne Wakatsuki’s family, who were sent to  Manzanar, an internment camp, located in Inyo County, California. The story is about the changes Jeanne’s family faces, and her experiences living in an internment camp, faced with the poor treatment of Japanese Americans.

Note: In 2019, Y.A. author Samira Ahmed released Internment, a novel of speculative fiction in which Muslim-Americans have been incarcerated in a camp not far from Manzanar.

 

Migration Book: Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

 

Learning Arc Questions:

  • How do the visible and invisible borders that people encounter shape their lives?
  • How might the environment in the new land help or hinder newcomers’ inclusion?
  • How should nations decide who can settle and who cannot?
  • What messages about migration (and inclusion) are people hearing through media and thought leaders?

6. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

The Best We Could Do is a graphic memoir by Thi Bui, a Vietnamese-American author, whose parents fled South Vietnam in the 1970s to seek refuge from the civil war. The story explores the long lasting impact that displacement has on those who move, how they overcome the trauma and the unique struggles that come with the experience of becoming refugees. Something that makes this story all the more powerful is that it addresses many crucial aspects of migration: what and who creates the conditions that require people to move in the first place, the obstacles that refugees have to overcome on their journey, what happens after migration, and what follows in years to come.

 

Migration Book: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Learning Arc Questions:

  • What was life like before migration?
  • In what ways do societal and environmental push and pull forces and more intimate personal contexts motivate people‘s decisions to leave their homes?
  • In what ways are people’s migration journeys similar and different from one another?
  • How much control do migrants have over their journey and what are the choices and dilemmas people face during their journey?
  • What do these journeys reveal about human nature?

7. Hate, Love and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Samira Ahmed’s thought-provoking debut Y.A. novel focuses on Maya Aziz, an Indian-American Muslim teenager. We follow Maya’s senior year in high school as she navigates a dual identity, social and cultural divides between her, her parents and peers, as well as Islamophobia and bigotry. To quote Maya, “I don’t know how to live the life I want and still be a good daughter.” This story explores the reality of many children of immigrants who straddle the line between the values of the place she knows to be home (the US) and the traditions of her family and Muslim Indian heritage. It also addresses the impact of racism, discrimination and exclusion on immigrant-origin youth.

 

Migration Book: Hate, Love and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

 

Learning Arc Questions:

  • How might the environment in the new land help or hinder newcomers’ inclusion?
  • How do newcomers come to understand the new land and their place in it over time?
  • How might newcomers and the receiving community balance their identities, cultural values, and world views as they interact with one another?
  • What messages about migration are people hearing through media and thought leaders?
  • How can we assess whether available public stories about migration are reliable and representative?
  • How do stories of migration influence how people think and (re)act?

8. Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Never Fall Down is the story of Arn Chorn-Pond, a Cambodian-American refugee, human rights activist, musician, and survivor of the Khmer Rouge led Cambodian Genocide. In Battambang, Cambodia, when Arn Chorn-Pond was a child, he was separated from his family and sent to a labor camp. He survived because he was able to entertain Khmer Rouge soldiers with his musical talents. As a 12 year old, he was forced to fight for the Khmer Rouge, and eventually escaped into a jungle where he survived on his own until he made to it to a refugee camp in Thailand where he met his future adoptive father, a Reverend in rural New Hampshire. Never Fall Down explores the way Arn Chorn-Pond persisted through difficult and traumatic years, and how he came to be where he is today. 

 

Migration Book: Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

 

Learning Arc Questions:

  • What was life like before migration?
  • In what ways do societal and environmental push and pull forces and more intimate personal contexts motivate people‘s decisions to leave their homes?
  • In what ways are people’s migration journeys similar and different from one another?
  • How much control do migrants have over their journey and what are the choices and dilemmas people face during their journey?
  • What do these journeys reveal about human nature?
  • Who is responsible for people on the move with an ambiguous status?

9. The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by Farah Ahmedi with Tamim Ansary

Farah Ahmedi’s prize-winning book (New York Public Library Best Book for Teens) chronicles her struggles growing up in Afghanistan, being surrounded by war and unrest. The Soviet-Afghan war took place from 1979-1989, and caused large numbers of people to be displaced or to flee Afghanistan to escape the war. Farah and her mother were afraid for their lives and eventually fled to Pakistan, where they lived in refugee camps before being rescued by World Relief, who helped them secure a house in Chicago. At the heart of this story is the spirit of strength and hope. It provides a personal and in-depth glimpse into the experiences of people who have to migrate as refugees.

 

Migration: The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir

 

Learning Arc Questions:

  • What was life like before migration?
  • In what ways do societal and environmental push and pull forces and more intimate personal contexts motivate people‘s decisions to leave their homes?
  • In what ways are people’s migration journeys similar and different from one another?
  • How much control do migrants have over their journey and what are the choices and dilemmas people face during their journey?
  • What do these journeys reveal about human nature?
  • How might the environment in the new land help or hinder newcomers’ inclusion?
  • How do newcomers come to understand the new land and their place in it over time?

This is the second in Re-imagining Migration's Media Highlight series, and we hope to continue highlighting books, films, art and more. Let us know if you found this helpful, and please feel free to send us suggestions. We are hoping to learn from the great work that you many of you have already begun.

Educators, the themes present in these pieces of literature might bring up some broader discussions around migration and how it impacts your students. Here are some related classroom tools from Re-imagining Migration that can inform your lessons for migrant and immigrant-origin youth and their peers:

  1. Media Highlight Series: 7 Must-Read Books by Latinx Authors

  2. Culturally Responsive Teaching Checklist

  3. A Culturally Responsive Guide to Fostering the Inclusion of Immigrant Origin Students

  4. Why Empathy Matters in Classroom Storytelling

  5. Can You Say My Name?: Names, Culture & Identity

  6. Save the Children: American Attitudes Toward Refugees and the Wagner-Rogers Act

  7. Talking and Teaching about Walls and Borders

  8. The Language of Immigration and Politics

 

Check out more resources on Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in Share My Lesson's extensive collection!

 


This blog has been reposted from Re-Imagining Migration's website. View the original post here.