Reading Into the Immigrant Experience
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins has had an interesting spotlight cast on it in recent days, from Oprah’s glowing book club recommendation to criticism from many Mexican, Chicanx and Latinx activists. A story about a Mexican family’s journey to the United States, American Dirt is hailed as an increasingly relevant novel in this political climate, and a good read to boot. But right now, unless you’re ready to plow through it in 7 days (it’s in our Express Reads section!) or listen to it as an audio book, you might be stuck in limbo in our holds queue.
If that’s the case, we’ve put together a short list of books that explore the subject to tide you over while you wait for American Dirt to come back in:
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez: A boy and a girl who fall in love. Two families whose hopes collide with destiny. An extraordinary novel that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be American.
Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Maribel, sustains a terrible injury, one that casts doubt on whether she'll ever be the same. And so, leaving all they have behind, the Riveras come to America with a single dream: that in this country of great opportunity and resources, Maribel can get better.
When Mayor Toro, whose family is from Panama, sees Maribel in a Dollar Tree store, it is love at first sight. It's also the beginning of a friendship between the Rivera and Toro families, whose web of guilt and love and responsibility is at this novel's core.
Woven into their stories are the testimonials of men and women who have come to the United States from all over Latin America. Their journeys and their voices will inspire you, surprise you, and break your heart.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez: Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents' house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.
But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga's role.
Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.
But it's not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister's story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?
The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero: Ana Falcón, along with her husband Lucho and their two young children, has fled the economic and political strife of Peru for a chance at a new life in New York City in the 1990s. Being undocumented, however, has significantly curtailed the family's opportunities: Ana is indebted to a loan shark who calls herself Mama, and is stretched thin by unceasing shifts at her factory job. To make matters worse, Ana must also battle both criticism from Lucho's cousin--who has made it obvious the family is not welcome to stay in her spare room for much longer--and escalating and unwanted attention from Mama's husband.
As the pressure builds, Ana becomes increasingly desperate. While Lucho dreams of returning to Peru, Ana is deeply haunted by the demons she left behind and determined to persevere in this new country. But how many sacrifices is she willing to make before admitting defeat and returning to Peru? And what lines is she willing to cross in order to protect her family?
Dominicana by Angie Cruz: Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she has to say yes. It doesn't matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year's Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by Cesar, Juan's free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.
As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family's assets, leaving Cesar to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, see a movie at Radio City Music Hall, go dancing with Cesar, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea: In his final days, beloved and ailing patriarch Miguel Angel de La Cruz, affectionately called Big Angel, has summoned his entire clan for one last legendary birthday party. But as the party approaches, his mother, nearly one hundred, dies, transforming the weekend into a farewell doubleheader. Among the guests is Big Angel's half brother, known as Little Angel, who must reckon with the truth that although he shares a father with his siblings, he has not, as a half gringo, shared a life.
Across two bittersweet days in their San Diego neighborhood, the revelers mingle among the palm trees and cacti, celebrating the lives of Big Angel and his mother, and recounting the many inspiring tales that have passed into family lore, the acts both ordinary and heroic that brought these citizens to a fraught and sublime country and allowed them to flourish in the land they have come to call home.