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10 Must-Read Books By Immigrants About Their Experience

Culture

A themed reading list for our times

Though there are many people who leave their home countries voluntarily, many more are forced out by harsh circumstances; a 2016 report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that every minute, 24 people are displaced from their homes, resulting in a record-breaking 65 million being forcibly displaced people around the world. The identities forged from this upheaval are constantly being negotiated and renegotiated as people resettle and acclimate to foreign environments. Despite being a nation built by immigrants—from our railways to the architectural design and construction of the White House—America’s leaders and foreign allies have recently chosen to attack immigrant communities around the world by enforcing a xenophobic policy. The welcoming attitude toward the poor, tired, and tempest-tost enshrined in the poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty has been replaced with a distinctly un-American hostility to difference.

Despite the adversity, centuries of historical precedent assure us that endurance is practically encoded in the DNA of immigrants, who are, in effect, cultural hybrids, forced to straddle worlds. Theirs is a story spanning continents and conflict zones, a story about internal battles and group trauma and barriers both real and imagined. This reading list gives shape and voice to the vast territory that is the immigrant experience.

Photo courtesy of Unbound

The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla
Writer Nikesh Shukla put together a collection of essays about immigration and identity in the U.K. with contributions from 21 authors representing Britain's black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups (BAME). The contributors include actors, journalists, and playwrights with a shared goal: providing a counter-narrative to the idea of the good or acceptable immigrant. This label was bestowed upon people like Somali-born Olympic champion Mo Farah and Muslim reality TV star Nadiya Hussain, who enjoy popularity inaccessible to other non-celebrity members of their racial and religious minorities.

In “Airports and Auditions,” Rogue One: A Star Wars Story actor Riz Ahmed, a Pakistani Muslim, shares the dangerous hypervisibility he experiences at airports where his brown skin and religious background have typecasted him as a terrorist. In “My Name is My Name” poet Chimene Suleyman writes about how British integration is synonymous with standardization forcing all immigrants to either become chameleons or erase parts of themselves. In a post-Brexit Britain, hate crimes spiked and every non-white Briton felt the glare of the national spotlight upon them. Across the pond, the Trump administration instituted an immigrant ban targeting Muslim-majority countries that rung out like a warning alarm around the world. These writings, though first and foremost about the U.K. experience, intimate the struggle for equality everywhere.