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19 Dec, 2017

The Newcomers

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Newcomers The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom by Helen Thorpe
on November 14th 2017
Narrator: Kate Handford
Length: 15:09
Genres: Nonfiction, Social Science
Published by Dreamscape Media
Format: Audiobook

Offering a nuanced and transformative take on immigration, multiculturalism, and America's role on the global stage, The Newcomers follows and reflects on the lives of twenty-two immigrant teenagers throughout the course of their 2015-2016 school year at Denver's South High School. Unfamiliar with American culture or the English language, the students range from the age of fourteen to nineteen and come from nations struggling with drought, famine, or war. Many come directly from refugee camps, and some arrive alone, having left or lost every other member of their family. Their stories are poignant and remarkable, and at the center of their combined story is Mr. Williams: the dedicated and endlessly resourceful teacher of their English Language Acquisition class-a class which was created specifically for them and which will provide them with the foundation they need to face the enormous challenges of adapting to life in America.

Goodreads

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to move to the U.S. from a non-English speaking country and have to learn to survive here.  This is a book that answers those questions.  I think this should be required reading for anyone who wants to talk intelligently about the immigration debate in the U.S.  

The author spends 18 months with a group of teenagers who are in a Newcomers class in a Denver high school.  All of them are recent immigrants and have tested at the bottom level of English language proficiency.  They represent most of the major conflict zones on the planet – The Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Burma, Central America, Eritrea.  The school year starts with learning how to introduce yourself in English.  Most of the kids are stumped.

One of the things I found interesting in this book was the transparency of the author’s process.  She is writing about minors who have all experienced a great deal of upheaval and trauma in their lives.  She explains how she approaches the kids with a translator in their home language to ask if she can include their stories in the book.  There are kids who say no at this point and she respects that.  If they agreed, she sent home a letter written in their language to their parents that requested permission to interview the children and requested to interview them.  If permission is given, then home visits are started with an interpreter.  In spite of all these precautions, there are still communication errors and just the plain inability of an American to truly understand the lives that refugees have led.  She discusses her thought process about what questions to ask about their backgrounds.  When does reporting the story just become an excuse to pry into things for the sake of the sensational details?  She talks about when she chose to walk away from lines of questioning that are relevant to the story but would lead to retraumatizing the people being interviewed.

For the families that agreed to participate, it opens a window in to the lives in war zones.  Hearing what they had to endure before fleeing their homes was heartbreaking.  There are Iraqis who worked with the U.S. Army and then were left behind.  A Central American female police officer was targeted for murder after arresting gang members and when they couldn’t get to her they starting threatening her children.  A family with 10 children had to walk out of the DRC to avoid repeated violence.  Some of the kids were born in refugee camps.  Most are already multi-lingual.

Life in the U.S. isn’t easy.  Resettlement agencies help but families are required to be self-supporting within 4 months of arrival.  That’s hard when you don’t speak the language and can’t get a good job.  I’m surprised how many families did it.  Other families’ stories show how one small setback can upset their whole resettlement journey. 

The importance of this story is underscored by the fact that it takes place from September 2015 to December 2016.  Reading about the rise of Donald Trump as it relates to these families was stressful all over again.  Incidents of racism rise on public transport as the election takes place.  Court cases to receive asylum for Central American children are suddenly in doubt.  Family members scheduled to arrive from Somalia are suddenly turned back at the airport.  

The author does go to the DRC to see where the family that she knew from Denver came from.  She traces their route to refugee camp and meets friends and family members who have been left behind.

This is an ultimately hopeful book as you see how far the kids come in 18 months.  Some go from silent observers on day 1 to being a part of the student government a year later.  Others are still struggling with English but are able to have full conversations.  No one who reads about these families would think they are lazy and trying to work the system.  This is a book I’d love to force all Trump fans to listen to in order to see if these people’s realities align with their idea of what immigrants are.  

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in Africa
  • Books Set in North America
06 Oct, 2015

A Dystopian Novel that is all too probable – Ink

/ posted in: Reading A Dystopian Novel that is all too probable – Ink Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias
on 2012-06
Pages: 230
Genres: Civil Rights, Fiction, Occult & Supernatural, Political Science, Social Science
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

What happens when rhetoric about immigrants escalates to an institutionalized population control system? The near-future, dark speculative novel INK opens as a biometric tattoo is approved for use to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with recent immigration history - collectively known as inks. Set in a fictional city and small, rural town in the U.S. during a 10-year span, the novel is told in four voices: a journalist; an ink who works in a local population control office; an artist strongly tied to a specific piece of land; and a teenager whose mother runs an inkatorium (a sanitarium-internment center opened in response to public health concerns about inks). The main characters grapple with ever-changing definitions of power, home and community; relationships that expand and complicate their lives; personal magicks they don't fully understand; and perceptions of "otherness" based on ethnicity, language, class and inclusion. In this world, the protagonists' magicks serve and fail, as do all other systems - government, gang, religious organization - until only two things alone stand: love and memory.

Goodreads

Oh. My. God.  Just go get this book and read it.

What is scary about this book is that the dystopian scenario is so possible.  It starts with anyone whose family has recently immigrated to the United States being required to have a tattoo.  Black tattoo for temporary workers, green for permanent residents, and blue for citizens.  Get that?  Blue for citizens. It doesn’t matter if your family has been here for a while.  Brown skinned people are still subject to legal restrictions.  Over time the restrictions get more severe.  People won’t rent to Inks (people with the tattoos).  Then there are towns they can’t live in and jobs they can’t have.  Vigilantes catch them and dump them outside U.S. borders.  Next come the rumors of Inks having contagious diseases so they have GPS chips put in them if they go to the hospital so they can be tracked.  Far fetched?  I don’t think so.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Saturday offered up a creative solution to the problem of illegal immigration: track immigrants the same way FedEx tracks packages…

…”We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in
and then when your time is up—whether it’s 3 months or 6 months or 9 months, 12 months, however long your visa is—then we go get you and tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Excuse me, it’s time to go,'” Christie said.

Talking Points Memo on August 29, 2015

From there they start being rounded up.

Ink tells the story of this world from the perspectives of several people.

  • Mari survived an attack on her village in Guatemala as an infant.  Her American father brought her to the U.S.  She has a blue tattoo.
  • Finn is a white American journalist who is covering the Ink story and gets involved in the resistance when he meets Mari.
  • Meche is a wealthy Cuban American chemist with a blue tattoo who is using her family money to support the resistance and her knowledge to develop instaskin, a covering for the tattoos.
  • Del is a white painter who becomes friends with some Inks on his day job.  He is Finn’s brother-in-law and gets recruited to the resistance because he has a truck to smuggle people.
  • Abby is a white teenage hacker whose mother runs an inkatorium.  She volunteers there for community service hours and knows enough about the procedures to be able to help Mari and Meche escape.  People she meets during the escape draw her deeper into the resistance movement.

The story also embraces magical realism.  People in Mari’s village are twinned with a spirit animal.  Hers is a Jaguar who is able to fight the battle on a spiritual level.  Del has earth magic and is able to enchant his land so no one living on it can be found which makes it an ideal refuge for Inks.


This book is haunting.  I stayed up late to finish it and then dreams inspired by it all night.  I almost never give out 5 star reviews.  To get one the book has to be one that is going to stick in my mind and influence the way I think.  This book earned the 5 stars.

At the end of the book Mari visits the village where she was born.  She tries to find out more about her family who were killed there.  She was sheltered by the village priest who was killed later in the raid.  She goes to see a library at a nearby church.  The priest there talks to her about the aftermath of the Ink program in the United States.

“You could have had it removed, ” he continues, but gently, the way I’ve heard Father Tom address the kids he’s catechizing.  “My understanding is that most people welcomed the new administration’s removal program as a way of getting past the misguided policies the tattoo represented, and the bitter history it marked.”

“But that’s the point, Father,” I say, taking care to close the album without damaging the brittle pages.  “I know inks weren’t the first to endure this sort of thing, nor likely the last.  But years from now, when somebody points to my photo in a dusty album in a library like this one, I want him or her to be able to say ‘I don’t remember the face or the name, but here’s the story of the tattoo'”

“It won’t be enough,” he says sadly.

“No. But it’s a start.”

 

About Sabrina Vourvoulias

“I was born in Bangkok, Thailand — the daughter of a Mexican-Guatemalan artist and an American businessman. I grew up in Guatemala, and moved to the United States when I was 15. I studied filmmaking and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., which — it has to be said — suited me for none (and every one) of the occupations I’ve plied since. ” from her website

23 Feb, 2015

Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson

/ posted in: Current EventsFeminismReading Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson Freedom's Daughters by Lynne Olson
on 2001
Pages: 460
Genres: 20th Century, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction, Political Science, Social Science, United States, Women's Studies
Published by Simon and Schuster
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

The first comprehensive history of the role of women in the civil rights movement, Freedom's Daughters fills a startling gap in both the literature of civil rights and of women's history. Stokely Carmichael, Andrew Young, John Lewis, and other well-known leaders of the civil rights movement have admitted that women often had the ideas for which men took credit. In this groundbreaking book, credit finally goes where credit is due -- to the bold women who were crucial to the movement's success and who refused to give up the fight.

Goodreads

I found this book because I wanted to find out more about Diane Nash, who was featured in the movie Selma.

The book starts with Ida B. Wells who was a journalist in the 1800s reporting on lynching.

After the Civil War, black women were able to apply their educations in jobs such as teaching more readily than black men were allowed.  These educated women organized social services and groups to fight against injustice.  The backlash came swiftly.  Black pastors accused them of being too powerful and taking on roles that should be filled by men.  The sexism grew.

“Once male slaves were freed, they sought to claim what they saw as those rights of ownership, particularly control over black women to which white men had previously laid claim.” pg 44

It was women who kept pressing for more rights during the early 1900s. Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt were featured among others.

A recurring theme is that women would start a project and then when it was getting successful, men would come in and take over.

“News coverage, which the leaders sought, was, as Murray pointed out, a matter of men reporting on men.  Stories on the movement often read like accounts of sports contests or wars, keeping score of who was up and who was down, who won an dwho lost.  Conflict was always emphasized, whether between civil rights organizations or between local white aurthorities and activitis.  The behind-the-scenes activity that women specialized in – organizing, building consensus, sustaining a  sense of community – did not make good television, nor did it lend itself to dramatic newspaper or magazine headlines. page 235

During the 1960s black and white women worked together in most of the major campaigns. Opposition to Civil Rights was often because of fears of black men sleeping with white women. For this reason, white women were often kept in the office and not allowed to go out into the field with black men. They started to chafe under the restrictions of their “women’s work.” Black women often did not see their point about sexism because they didn’t have the same prohibitions. This led to splits in organizations and several of the white women who had been very involved in the Civil Rights movement started working with feminist organizations. This disconnect between black and white women over sexism can still be seen in discussions today around race and feminism.

I learned about women that I didn’t know anything about previously, including Diane Nash. She was incredible!

This book was a good compliment to the Rosa Parks biography I read. I’d recommend this for anyone interested in women’s history that they may not have heard before.

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