February 2020


  1. Why Do People Really Wear Face Masks During an Epidemic?
  2. Faith-centered tattoos are analyzed in study of university students
  3. Boston Teen Changed the Way Teachers Approach Immigration History
  4. 'Love, loss and longing': the best books on migration, chosen by writers

Why Do People Really Wear Face Masks During an Epidemic?

To fend off disease, but also to show solidarity.

By    :               Christos Lynteris 

Date :               February 13, 2020

Source:            The New York Times  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/13/opinion/coronavirus-face-mask-effective.html 

The latest coronavirus epidemic has sent people scrambling for face masks like never before. “The world is facing severe disruption in the market for personal protective equipment,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, warned last week. “Demand is up to 100 times higher than normal and prices are up to 20 times higher.” This, even though face masks are not, on their own, a proven prophylactic against infection from the new coronavirus (hand washing is more important, medical experts seem to agree).

And yet we shouldn’t look upon this buying spree as a sign of irrational epidemic-panic. Consider mask-wearing in its historical and cultural context, and you’ll see that in China, for example, it serves as far more than simply a means of protecting oneself from infection. Masks are also a marker of medical modernity, as well as a signal of mutual assurance that allows a society to keep functioning during an epidemic.

Anti-epidemic masks as we know them today were invented in China more than a century ago, during the Chinese state’s first effort to contain an epidemic by biomedical means. When the pneumonic plague struck the northeastern provinces of the Chinese Empire (a region known then as Manchuria) in the autumn of 1910, the Chinese authorities broke with their longstanding opposition to Western medicine: They appointed Wu Lien-teh (also known as Wu Liande), a young and brilliant Cambridge-educated Chinese doctor from British Malaya, to oversee efforts to stem the outbreak. The plague was about to meet its match.

Soon after arriving in the field, Wu asserted that this plague wasn’t being spread by rats, as had been assumed, but was airborne. The statement was heresy, and turned out to be correct. Wu proved his point by adapting existing surgeons’ masks — which were made of a cotton wad encased in gauze — into easy-to-wear protective devices and ordered Chinese doctors, nurses and sanitary staff to use them. He also made sure that the masks were worn by patients and their immediate contacts, and he distributed some among the general public.

Wu’s Japanese and European colleagues on the ground were skeptical until the death of an eminent French doctor who wouldn’t cover up even while attending patients. Gauze masks were soon adopted, extensively. Some wearers would first stamp them with a seal from a temple — more than simply medical devices, the masks became talismans.

The plague, which caused pneumonia, killed everyone it infected, sometimes within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. By the time it abated in April 1911, some 60,000 people had died, but Wu’s masks were thought to have prevented an even greater disaster.

The masks weren’t just an effective prevention device: They also were an excellent PR tool for proclaiming China’s position as a modern, scientific nation. And Wu knew that. He made sure to have his anti-plague operations meticulously photographed, turning his mask into an emblem of China’s trailblazing ahead of Western medicine.

The photos were an international sensation: Between January and March 1911, newspapers across the world featured many shots of Wu’s mask — which looks much like the white paper version we know today. Cheap, easy to both manufacture and wear, and — for the most part — effective, it was a triumph. When the Spanish influenza struck in 1918, face masks were readily adopted.

In the West, the use of masks did not last much past World War II. But in China, masks remained markers of medical modernity and continued to be used for public-health crises. They were deployed during the Korean War after Mao Zedong claimed that the United States had bombarded the newly Communist country with biological weapons. Since the late 20th century, in both post-Mao China and post-British-colonial Hong Kong, masks have been used against air pollution.

It was the 2002-3 SARS epidemic that led to the massive adoption of face masks as personal anti-viral protection in China and elsewhere in East Asia: More than 90 percent of Hong Kong residents reportedly wore them during the SARS epidemic. Once again, as in 1911 — but on a 21st-century scale — photographs of mask-clad crowds became iconic of SARS across the globe.

In the West, the image of Asian people with masks is sometimes wielded, deliberately or not, as a signifier of otherness. But in East Asia, the act of wearing a mask is a gesture that communicates solidarity during an epidemic — a time when a community is vulnerable to being divided by fear, between the healthy and the sick.

Various studies of the SARS epidemic showed that mask-wearing created intimacy and trust in the face of danger. What the sociologist Peter Baehr noted for SARS goes, too, for today: “Mask culture” fosters a sense of a fate shared, mutual obligation and civic duty. It brings together people faced with a common threat and helps mitigate one of the secondary dangers posed by an epidemic: anomie, or the breakdown of social norms. Face-mask-related humor, a fixture of SARS, is back on social media in China today. Mask-wearing is a social ritual.

Understanding epidemics not simply as biological events but also as social processes is key to their successful containment. Members of a community wear masks not only to fend off disease. They wear masks also to show that they want to stick, and cope, together under the bane of contagion.


Christos Lynteris is a medical anthropologist at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

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Faith-centered tattoos are analyzed in study of university students

By            :               Terry Goodrich, Baylor University

Date         :               February 12, 2020

Source     :               Phys.org  (https://phys.org/news/2020-02-faith-centered-tattoos-university-students.html)               


With more than a quarter of U.S. adults now having tattoos—and nearly half of millennials sporting them—only a handful of studies have focused on religious tattoos. But a new study by researchers at Baylor University and Texas Tech University analyzes faith-centered tattoos and is the first to use visual images of them.

The study, published in the journal Visual Studies, analyzed 752 photos of tattoos taken at a Christian university in the United States and found that nearly 20% of those were overtly religious in content.

"The embrace of tattoos in the United States reflects a generational shift toward greater individualism and self-expression," said lead author Kevin D. Dougherty, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at Baylor University. "Americans born since the 1970s have increasingly embraced tattoos as an acceptable means to communicate identity and belonging, whereas previous generations of Americans largely did not. Today, men and women in the United States are equally likely to have tattoos."

A 2016 Harris Poll showed that 29% of American adults had at least one tattoo—up from 14% in 2008.

"An interesting discovery in our research is that the religious tattoos of college students are more likely than non-religious ones to face inward, toward the owner," Dougherty said. An example is a tattoo on the inner wrist.

"We speculate that religious tattoos may serve a different purpose than do tattoos of favorite sports teams, occupations or hobbies. While any visible tattoo is a public proclamation, tattoos oriented toward the owner represent a personal reminder of identity or affiliation. In this way, religious tattoos are personal but not private. They may encourage individuals to live in accordance with their religious beliefs."

The study also found some evidence that a generally visible tattoo may be conceptually different from tattoos hidden by clothing, said co-author Jerome R. Koch, Ph.D., professor of sociology at Texas Tech University. He has studied body art on college campuses for more than a decade.

"Generally visible tattoos seem intended more toward stories of life and remembrance, which the wearer may be willing to openly discuss," Koch said. "Tattoos which are only visible, say, to someone else with whom they are intimately involved may be more closely tied to sense of self, private memories and/or emotional conflicts."

Photos used in the study were taken by sociology students as part of a semester-long research project. Researchers analyzed 752 photos by owners' gender; whether the tattoos were religious in nature; and tattoo size—small (1 inch by 1 inch or smaller), medium (3 inches by 3 inches) or large (larger than 3 inches or more than a quarter of an arm or leg). The study also examined whether the tattoo faced the owner or faced out; and whether those with religious content featured an image, text or both image and text.

The analysis found that:

  • Overt religious content appeared in 145 photos (19% of total sample).
  • More men in the photos (23%) had religious tattoos than women (17%).
  • Of the religious tattoos on women, most (69%) were small and in more easily concealed locations. The most frequent sites of their religious tattoos were the wrist (23%), foot (18%) and back (18%).
  • Men's religious tattoos were more likely to be large than non-religious ones (61% compared to 44%). Most prevalent sites for men's religious tattoos were upper arm (26%), forearm (21%) and back (19%).
  • Half of the religious tattoos were images—the most common being the cross. More than one quarter were text, often Bible references, with a slight majority being New Testament references. But the Old Testament book of Psalms was most popular. Images with text comprised 21% of religious tattoos.
  • Religious tattoos were more likely than non-religious ones to face the owner, with 26% facing inward, in contrast to 18 % of non-religious tattoos.

Researchers said they have no way of knowing if these findings apply to all students at the university or to students at other universities. They also say it is probable that they undercounted religious tattoos—in part because tattoos may have religious or spiritual connotations but not be recognized as such.

Dougherty and Koch are expanding their research to a national level with random samples.

"So far, all our work has involved college students as respondents," Koch said. "Since we know tattoos tell life stories, broadening our respondent base is the next logical step. How might life stories expressed through body art—religious and otherwise—differ by wider differences in the race, age and social class?"

"We have a study in progress on religion and tattoos in a national sample of U.S. adults," Dougherty said. "Our research question is: Do religious people in the United States today get tattoos? We also have plans for a national survey on religious tattoos. This will allow us to determine the percentage of Americans with religious tattoos and how they differ from other Americans without a tattoo or with tattoos that have no religious significance."

Future research also might examine how tattoos are viewed in other parts of the globe, Koch said.

"It would be interesting to compare and contrast the path toward legitimation of tattoos in different parts of the developed Western world," he said. "We have some information from other scholars that, for example, conservative Catholicism in Latin America may continue to stigmatize tattoo wearers. So broader religious/folk culture may be in play where there is greater antipathy or stricter cultural norms against body art. Conversely, some of our students have reported that the fact their tattoo was religious lent legitimation with their families more than a tattoo of another type might."

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Boston Teen Changed the Way Teachers Approach Immigration History

By            :               Anna-Cat Brigida

Date         :               January 20, 2020

Source     :               Public News Service (https://www.publicnewsservice.org/2020-01-20/education/how-a-boston-teen-changed-the-way-teachers-approach-immigration-history/a68898-1)


BOSTON -- In the summer of 2017, before her senior year of high school, Isabelle Doerre-Torres met Carlos,* a Salvadoran immigrant on the verge of deportation. Doerre-Torres was an intern at a legal rights organization. She soon learned that Carlos came to Boston nearly two decades ago after he fled gang violence. He'd put down roots in a working class community, where his two daughters were born.

But like millions of immigrants in the United States, Carlos was undocumented, making his future in the U.S. precarious. When Carlos went to a routine immigration check-in that summer, he was told he had two options: buy a plane ticket and leave or be deported.

Through Carlos, Doerre-Torres discovered a part of history that her textbooks were eerily silent about: El Salvador's civil war from 1980 to 1992 that killed more than 75,000 people-and the depths of U.S. involvement. The U.S. funneled more than $4.5 billion to the right-wing Salvadoran government in the name of fighting communism. Salvadoran troops trained by the U.S. military carried out brutal massacres and caused the disappearance of alleged dissidents. All the while, the U.S. government, mainly under the Reagan administration, ignored human rights abuses in favor of carrying out their own limited foreign policy goals: containing the spread of communism.

Doerre-Torres was shocked by what she learned. She was further astounded that she had never studied this history in high school, particularly at a time when immigration debates fill the news.

"You hear about deportations and detention all the time-but along the border in Texas," Doerre-Torres says. "But it's happening in Boston, and that made me realize that people do in fact need to know about why people are coming here and why it's unsafe for people to go back."

Immigrants fleeing El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala frequently fill the headlines. Central Americans are one of the largest immigrant communities in the U.S. An estimated 2 million Salvadorans, 1.3 million Guatemalans and nearly 800,000 Hondurans were living in the U.S. as of 2013, according to demographic information compiled by the Pew Research Center. This number has likely grown in recent years. From October 2018 to July 2019, more than 560,000 people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala were apprehended at the U.S. border. But the history of Central America, where the U.S. staged or supported dozens of coups and military interventions in the 20th century, rarely makes it into history textbooks, leaving students to graduate without a basic knowledge of a region inextricably linked to the U.S.

"There's definitely a gap in knowledge and understanding how we got here and in understanding the situation in each of the three countries," says Daniella Burgi-Palomino, a senior associate at Latin American Working Group, who also advises an initiative called Teaching Central America that focuses on including these topics in U.S. classrooms. That gap includes "the U.S. role in supporting right-wing dictatorships and military in those countries in the 1980s and fueling internal conflict," Burgi-Palomino says. "That was a precursor to some of the conditions that we are seeing now."

Designing a Curriculum

Teachers at Boston Latin School are rethinking their history classes, figuring out ways to incorporate Central America into their lesson plans for the first time. They are doing so in part because of Doerre-Torres' efforts to bring this gap in the history curriculum to the school's attention. When she returned to Boston Latin School for her senior year in fall 2017, Doerre-Torres was inspired by her experience with Carlos and her own experience as the daughter of an immigrant from Colombia, another Latin American country whose history is often overlooked in Eurocentric curriculums. As her senior capstone project, she designed a six-part curriculum about U.S. intervention in Latin America, with a particular focus on Central America and the Cold War.

"How are we going to have comprehensive discussions on immigration when the only facts we're armed with are about the Maya, the Inca, and Pitbull?" Doerre-Torres says to an auditorium full of her classmates and teachers during her capstone project presentation. "What are the real reasons for people coming here? What are the real reasons for people leaving there? What is the historical context for this influx in migration? Lastly, do we as the U.S. have a role in all this?"

The sample lessons of Doerre-Torres' curriculum cover "containment," the U.S. foreign policy goal of preventing the spread of communism and policies that the U.S. supported as a result, such as a campaign of state-funded repression, torture, disappearances and killings of presumed leftists in South America called Operation Condor.

The curriculum pays particular attention to Central America, where the U.S. funded state repression, massacres, and even genocide. An estimated 200,000 Guatemalans were killed in the country's civil war from 1960 to 1996. Most of the victims were indigenous Mayans. As New York University History professor Greg Grandin wrote in The New York Times in 2013, "genocide was indeed an option in Guatemala, supported materially and morally by Ronald Reagan's White House."

During the 1980s, the U.S. sent thousands of troops to Honduras and used the country as a base for their "containment" goals in the region. Over the past 100 years, the U.S. has supported, carried out or enabled multiple coups in Honduras, most recently the 2009 coup of democratically elected Manuel Zelaya, which ushered the country into an era of increased militarization and political instability. In El Salvador, U.S.-trained troops carried out the worst massacre in modern Latin American history, the 1981 slaughter of unarmed peasants in El Mozote. As Ray Bonner, one of the first journalists to report on the massacre, wrote in 2018, "one might think the United States owes the country's citizens an apology, rather than disparaging epithets."

The sample curriculum ends with a lesson on immigration, in which students can exchange their ideas-but only after learning about the history of the countries' migrants flee.

From Theory to Practice

All around the U.S., educators are discussing how to address the national immigration debate. At a time when immigration has become such a polarizing issue, these teachers are finding ways to build understanding of immigrants' experiences among high school students to humanize the debate and build common ground.

"If you talk to a school, they often think that talking about immigration is something for immigrant kids. They don't recognize that this is actually important for all of us," says Adam Strom, director of Re-imagining Migration, a project started by two UCLA professors to develop lesson plans on immigration for high school students. "We see immigration as an opportunity to start to think about the narratives that connect all of us."

Janna Ramadan, a former Boston Latin School student who graduated in 2018, says that with the curriculum she learned, it's easy to see how some people buy into the stereotypes about immigrants. "You can see how people become misinformed easily because you only see gangs, and illicit drug trade and immigrants, but you don't understand where they are coming from, why this is happening, the history behind it and how the U.S. actually created [this] situation," Janna Ramadan says.

Teachers at BLS have adapted their lesson plans to add important historical context to the current immigration narrative and prepare their students to think critically about immigration policy.

"I have 180 days to make sure that when they leave here, they're not walking out of here misinformed, first and foremost, or not understanding how to navigate through all that is coming their way, either news stories or historical events," says history teacher Cheralyn Pinchem.

In the last six weeks of her AP history course, when she had more freedom to digress from a history textbook because her students have already taken the AP exam, Pinchem allows students to decide what topics, countries, or issues interest them. Last school year, students were particularly interested in learning about the history of immigration after reading about children in cages and hearing comments from the president that all Mexicans are drug dealers.

"They hear about it in the news, so they want to know what has really happened and historically how have we treated people from other countries," Pinchem says. Each year, she also covers a few Latin American countries in depth that are not required by the curriculum. In the past, she has discussed Puerto Rico, El Salvador, and Colombia, per her students' requests.

Another teacher at Boston Latin School, Judi Freeman, has started incorporating an assignment in her class that requires students to document their own families' migration story using an app developed by Re-Imagining Migration called Moving Stories.

"It deepened the students' understanding of the fact that everyone in the classroom had an immigration story at one point or another no matter where in the world their family hailed from," Freeman says. "It definitely connected the kids to understanding what was happening at the border with more interest than they would have brought to it otherwise."

Her class, Facing History and Ourselves, an elective that teaches past injustices with a focus on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, also covers genocides such as Rwanda, the Belgian Congo, Guatemala, and the effects of colonialism around the world. According to Ramadan, who took the Facing History course, Doerre-Torres' project has started an important conversation, but she worries the school's curriculum still remains Eurocentric.

Teaching Central America

Boston Latin School is not the first to grapple with this issue. Since the early 1990s, when many Central American countries were transitioning out of times of intense conflict, the nonprofit Teaching for Change launched an initiative called Teaching Central America to advocate for Central American history to be included in high school curriculums. The initiative includes lesson plans, book suggestions, and other educational materials about the history of Central America and root causes of migration.

Teachers, who are often the first point of contact for newly arrived students from Central America, can use the material in their classes, or to educate themselves.

Wendy Bermudez, a Teaching Central America adviser, works as a bilingual resource teacher for the gifted at Claremont Immersion Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia where the student body is half native English speakers and half native Spanish speakers, including many students newly arrived from Central America.

She herself fled El Salvador during the civil war when she was 8 years old. In high school, she remembers feeling like an outcast. She didn't often see herself reflected in textbooks or lessons, except for the occasional mention of gang violence in El Salvador. Now, Bermudez works to make sure all her students feel seen and included, whether that means talking about Central American history during class or just introducing herself to a new student from Central America.

"Our job as educators is to learn about our students and where they come from. We create lessons that will interest them, lessons about their life experiences," Bermudez says. "That's how we get our students to learn because they are more interested when you make connections to their personal life."

These experiences are crucial for the growing number of students from Central America in U.S. school systems.

Elmer Vivas Portillo, the son of Salvadoran immigrants living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, mainly learned about the Salvadoran civil war through the stories from his parents who fled the violence. But his history classes at Cambridge Rindge and Latin were mainly silent about Central American history.

"The possibility of learning more about your own history in an academic setting means that maybe you're more engaged in class and more likely to show up to school the next day to continue learning about that topic," Vivas Portillo says.

He finally had that opportunity during his first semester at Harvard College when he enrolled in a Latin American history class.

"I remember feeling so happy taking that class because I just felt a feeling for the first time that "Oh, wow. I can learn something that's so close to me in an academic setting,'" says Vivas Portillo, now a senior sociology major.

Still, students such as Vivas Portillo emphasize that teachers who are going to address this history with their students need to make sure they themselves fully understand what happened. Students can share their family's stories to enhance class discussion if they choose, but it's unfair to single one student out as the "representative" of that country, Vivas Portillo says. Plus, it could make them feel uncomfortable. "To be honest, for much of high school, I didn't have a full understanding of where I was coming from," Vivas Portillo says.

Still, he hopes more students have the opportunity to explore this history in an academic setting, whether that be in high school or college. "It would be a great disservice to overlook the role that the U.S. played in putting these countries in the positions that they are now," he says.

"This is fundamental civics," says Strom of Re-Imagining Migration. "We can't make good thoughtful decisions around refugee policy and around migration if we actually don't know our own stories."

*Name is changed because the work Doerre-Torres did was confidential.

This story was originally reported and written by Anna-Cat Brigida for YES! Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @AnnaCat_Brigida.

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'Love, loss and longing': the best books on migration, chosen by writers

Amid the American Dirt controversy, we asked authors of our favorite books about migration for their recommendations


By            :                Julia Carrie Wong, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Luis Alberto Urrea, Angie Cruz, Mohsin Hamid,

                                 Matt de la Peña, Dina Nayeri and  Aida Salazar

Date         :               February 6, 2020

Source     :               The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/feb/05/migration-book-recommendations-american-dirt)


Not all writers think of migrants as a “faceless brown mass”. Indeed, if there is one thing that readers should take away from the ill-fated release of the over-hyped American Dirt, it is that the stories of migrants and refugees have been and are continuing to be told by writers around the world, richly, with nuance, and without relying on trite stereotypes.

We asked the authors of some of our favorite novels about immigrants and migration to recommend an alternative reading list to American Dirt. Here are their selections.


Viet Thanh Nguyen

Luis Alberto Urrea’s The House of Broken Angels is the Latinx novel that Oprah should have picked for her book club. The novel has it all – humor, history, politics, emotions, all packaged into a highly readable account of a Mexican American family that straddles the border of the United States and Mexico. This is the Great American Novel, if by “American” we mean the greater America that is both north and south of the border. Urrea is an expert on the border and migration, having spent years and many books exploring these topics. He combines that intimate knowledge with a master novelist’s flair to pull us into a family whose struggles have historical roots but whose feelings are ones that we all know – love, loss and longing.

Elaine Castillo’s America is Not the Heart has a special place in my heart because it’s set in the 408 – the area code for the south bay of the Bay Area. The Bay is dominated by San Francisco, but the 408 is the less than glamorous land of bedroom communities including Castillo’s Milpitas and my San Jose. Castillo, of Filipina descent herself, focuses on the lives of documented and undocumented Filipina/os and traces their origins to the impact of American colonization in the Philippines and the US support for the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. While politics and revolution form the background of the novel, the foreground is all about the power, pleasure and peril of kinship and romance, set in a beautifully, intimately drawn portrait of the Filipino American community. Plus lots of hot queer sex.

Nguyen is the Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Sympathizer and The Refugees.


Luis Alberto Urrea

The crisis of representation and appropriation ignited by American Dirt has made my mind turn to scores of worthy books in every genre about this issue. It would be nearly impossible for me to suggest *the book* on this subject. But one of the books that weighs on my mind is this moving work of witness by Tim Hernandez, All They Will Call You. He tells a forgotten story about the fate of a group of migrants, deported by the US government in 1948, who died in the worst airplane disaster in California history. The thing that haunts me is his care for the stories of the dead, his refusal to allow those human beings to be forgotten. It is a quintessential migrant story, which makes it a truly American story.

Urrea is the author of 17 books, including Nguyen’s top pick above, the short story collection The Water Museum, The Devil’s Highway, a Pulitzer finalist in non-fiction, and several volumes of poetry.


Angie Cruz

I highly recommend Bang by Daniel Peña, Butterfly Boy by Rigoberto González, Mean by Myriam Gurba and The Moths and Other Stories by Helena María Viramontes, all of which are by Chicano writers who have dedicated themselves to researching, exploring and writing about and around the border and immigration. I read Viramontes as an undergrad. Her work was being taught in a sociology class. In my creative writing and lit classes I was taught writers like Simpson, Gaitskill and Atwood. All of whom were writers in the same generation as Viramontes but stocked on different shelves in the bookstores. And this is obviously a problem because Viramontes’ stories are innovative, acute and beautifully written and if published today, one hopes her collection wouldn’t have had to include a long academic introduction to create context and validity for her work and instead would have been reviewed and celebrated in mainstream literary spaces for the explosive content, the nuanced characters and her singular literary style.

Another work I’m excited about by a storyteller who works for the stage is Andrea Thome’s Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes). If you are in NYC you don’t want to miss the show that tells the story of undocumented immigrants coming together for a fandango on the evening of an Ice raid in New York City, as they wait for a loved one to arrive from Honduras. Inspired by interviews with undocumented immigrants from Latin America living in New York, the piece will be a community celebration where stories are brought to life through live performance, music and dance.

Cruz is the author of three novels, including Dominicana, about a child forced to marry in order to secure her family’s future in America.


Mohsin Hamid

I would like to suggest two very different books.

Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North is a novel about a young man going from Sudan to Europe. He studies, immerses himself in a different culture, and comes back changed, both angry and anger-inducing, but also perplexed and deeply unsettled. It’s a seminal text, not of the migrant who assimilates and achieves the so-called dream, but of the migrant who goes and comes back. There’s a very strong awareness in this book about the sexualisation of the migrant and the self-exoticisation that occurs, but also about the impossibility of return. You can go back to where you come from but the person who goes back is no longer the person who left. That is a theme we see echoing again and again across migrant fiction. It’s important to remember that we need antidotes to the idea that migrant fiction is simply people going north or going west. Very often, it’s people who willingly 


Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic is an incredible work on multiple levels. It tells the story of a generation of women, a shipload of Japanese wives who head to California, employing a first person plural, which is very unusual. We sometimes hear about the danger in fiction of a writer depicting a group as a “faceless mass”, or of presuming to speak for an entire group through underhanded means. Otsuka’s book is remarkable: it does speak for a group but uses form to subvert and interrogate that critique. The narrative voice that emerges is of a group of people with constantly individualized particulars. That’s a very difficult task to pull off but I think Otsuka succeeds magnificently. I would suggest this book as an antidote to the limited imaginings of what we think a narrative can be and as a reminder of the power of literary fiction to unlock some of those puzzles. It’s truly a unique and awe-inspiring book.

Hamid is the author of four novels, including The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Exit West.


Matt de la Peña

I’ll never forget the visceral experience I had the first time I read Luis Alberto Urrea’s powerful The Devil’s Highway. I was living in Brooklyn, NY, and my wife and I were expecting our first child. Back then I was reading a lot of books set on the Mexican border. Having grown up in a border community myself, I think it was my way of staying connected to home. We used to make the short drive into Tijuana frequently when I was young, to visit family, and I remember staring outside the windows of our Volkswagen Vanagon, fascinated by how drastically everything changed the second we officially left San Diego and entered Mexico. But it was The Devil’s Highway that woke me up to the political travesties surrounding this barrier between the two countries. I was so shaken by Urrea’s brutal account of 26 men and their passage across the border, into the Arizona desert, that as soon as I finished, I started again. This time I listened to the audiobook, read by Urrea himself, as I pushed my sleeping newborn around Prospect Park in a stroller. It was on these walks, listening to The Devil’s Highway, staring at my baby girl, that I realized all writing is political writing. And my own work was forever changed.

De la Peña’s books for young adults include Mexican WhiteBoy and We Were Here. He has also written several books for younger readers, including the Newbery Medal-winning Last Stop on Market Street.


Dina Nayeri

“We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings.” Hannah Arendt wrote these words in the 1943 essay We Refugees.

I think of these words when I read immigrant stories to remind myself of what an honest story owes to the reader. Has the author struggled over these private and subtle calculations? Does she understand these specific indignities? Or does she want to portray the drama for the entertainment of others? The books below impressed me because they understood deeper truths about displaced lives. They honored immigrants even in humiliating moments, instead of exploiting their stories.

Years ago, I read Dinaw Mengestu’s novels The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bearsand All Our Names in quick successionBoth are stories of Ethiopian men struggling to make a new life in DC and Chicago, to find companionship and love, despite poverty, the heartbreak of a ravaged home, and so much American hostility. Both novels show well-meaning American women who, as they try to help, trample on the men’s dignity, safety and much else.

99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai is so well rooted in the Afghan narrator’s voice and experience, it goes beyond empathy, transporting the reader. It ignores the western gaze and tells the story the way its subjects need it to be told. The result is funny and sharp and devastating. One chapter, a private family story, is written in Pashto – because it isn’t meant for everyone.

Catherine Chung’s Forgotten Country is gorgeously written and full of heart. And that’s another way to honor the subject matter: write it well. Bother to learn the craft (as many have failed to do). Chung’s book is about sisters, family loyalty and war. It is illuminating and sensory and the characters come alive in the care of a precise and compassionate author who has made a lifelong study of her craft.

Nayeri is the author of two novels, Refuge and A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, as well as the memoir The Ungrateful Refugee.


Aida Salazar

These recently published or upcoming books for children and young adults are part of a larger dialogue about immigrant realities and migrant justice that was taking place before the American Dirt fiasco. It must be acknowledged that there is no one definitive migrant story but many and must include not only Mexican voices but the many voices of migrants to the United States.

Picture books: My Shoes and I by René Colato Laínez; Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez; Dreamers by Yuyi Morales.

Middle grade: Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes; Front Desk by Kelly Yang; Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga; Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros and my book, Land of the Cranes.

Young adult: All the Stars Denied by Guadalupe Garcia McCall; Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer by Alberto Ledesma; The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande; American Street by Ibi Zoboi; Illegal by Francisco X Stork; The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante; We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez; Lobizona by Romina Russell; Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland; Indivisible by Daniel Aleman.

Salazar is the author of The Moon Within.

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