Review: 3 books capture the stories, terror and inspiration at the heart of human migration
Undocumented migration is an issue that consistently figures prominently in public policy discourse in the United States. Unfortunately, between buzzwords like ‘undocumented’, ‘asylum’ and ‘refugee’, the human element at the heart of the problem is often pushed to the fore rather than seen as people seeking to improve their situation. in life. Literature that refocuses people and sheds light on why undocumented migrants around the world navigate this country’s broken, for-profit immigration system is crucial. Fortunately, there are several recent non-fiction accounts that achieve this, and do so while adding to the discussion and examining the diversity, talent and heart of the undocumented migrant community.
“Somewhere We Are Human: Authentic Voices on Migration, Survival, and New Beginnings”, edited by Reyna Grande and Sonia Guiñansaca, is a powerful collection of prose pieces, poems and visual art that celebrates the plurality of migrants present in United States. A timely and necessary text, this collection of personal stories expands the discussion of migration by spotlighting members of the LGBTQ community and showing how something as incredibly difficult and complex as migration can be made even more difficult by something as fundamental as her identity and her sexuality.
“Somewhere We Are Human” proves that very different voices telling unique stories can, when presented together, become a very cohesive and very human manifesto. Featuring artists from Mexico – which is often the only country discussed when undocumented migration is discussed – as well as the Dominican Republic, South Asia, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile , Nigeria, Ethiopia, Brazil, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, the voices of “Somewhere We Are Human” exist in a very real space in which immigration status, creativity and identity coexist and have a huge impact on each other.
Artists identify as “queer/trans/migrant,” “AfroIndigenous,” or “Chronically Malade and Disabled Black Lesbian Immigrant,” and these biographies—those identities and the role they play—highlight an important reality: migrating is difficult , it can be much worse when you have to exist – and then move – in unwelcoming spaces as someone whose identity is misunderstood, discriminated against, or viewed as problematic.
Being gay and having your sexuality as a reason for leaving your country is central to Edafe Okporo’s “Asylum: A Memoir & Manifesto”. A memoir about leaving Nigeria to save one’s life, ‘Asylum’ is a heartbreaking read in which persecution based on sexual orientation drives it all. Okporo struggled with his sexuality from an early age, and his time immersed in religion and trying to change only made things worse. On the eve of his 26th birthday, after surviving a few assaults for homosexuality, Okporo woke up to insults thrown at him just outside his house in Abuja, a city in Nigeria a little more welcoming than his hometown, the small town of Warri. , where masculinity was celebrated.
Fearing for his life after surviving a brutal attack and being exposed to the wider community because he was going to be rewarded for his work fighting for better education and health care for the LGBTQ community in Nigeria, Okporo fled to the United States. Instead of welcoming him, the US immigration system locked him up for “five months and fourteen days”.
“Asylum” is a touching, informative and honest chronicle of Okporo’s life in Nigeria – a country that brutally rejects LGBTQ people – and a story that exposes some of the shortcomings of the US immigration system as seen from the inside.
Finally, Susan Hartman’s “City of Refugees: The Story of Three Newcomers Who Breathed Life into a Dying American Town” follows three refugees who have forged a new life in Utica, NY. With a keen eye for detail and a lot of heart, Hartman follows the three for eight years: Sadia, a young Somali Bantu girl with incredible energy and an unforgettable personality; Ali, an Iraqi translator; and Mersiha, a Bosnian immigrant who dreams of opening a business. Hartman crafts a nuanced narrative about each creating a new life in a new land while simultaneously retaining memories of home and not losing their identity.
The beauty of “City of Refugees” is that it tackles all the bad things that happen to these people while reveling in their dreams and growth. Sadia, for example, becomes a young woman with her humor intact: When Hartman reconnects with her after Hartman gains 30 pounds, Sadia celebrates Hartman’s change and says she looks “delicious, delicious.”
Taken together, these three books show the ugly side of undocumented migration and the need for humane reform that takes into account the reasons that force so many millions to leave their loved ones and their countries. The books also shed light on the dreams of those who give up everything they know in search of a better future. Each book should be required reading because each focuses on people, and that should be at the center of any conversation about undocumented migration.
Somewhere We Are Human: Authentic Voices on Migration, Survival and New Beginnings
Edited by Reyna Grande and Sonia Guiñansaca
(HarperVia; 336 pages; $27.99)
Asylum: memory and manifesto
By Edafe Okporo
(Simon & Schuster; 224 pages; $26.99)
City of Refugees: The story of three newcomers who breathed life into a dying American city
By Susan Hartman
(Beacon Press; 256 pages; $27.95)