Memoir and Nonfiction: Dreams and Nightmares

9781250204752_custom-82a0e3effa5978448ac625b9370c95382e915b28-s300-c85.jpgAarti Shahani covers Silicon Valley for NPR News. Her memoir, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares, is the story of one immigrant family’s painful journey, spinning out from the Partition of India in 1947 to the present day. Memoirs give us a retrospective look at life, of course, but this one conveys the pain of childhood with a sharp, poignant awareness.  It shines the light as well on the loving tenacity of a daughter trying to make sense of the demons that haunted her father and the aspirations that drove him. We carry our earlier selves within us, Shahani seems to be saying, whether we’re aware of that or not.

In her interview with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, Aarti Shahani talks about dreams, reality, and sheer chance and how all these factors shaped the story of her family. At the very end of the interview, she talks about how, despite the way he’d been treated in the United States, he still wanted to come “home” there to die. Inskeep asks her to talk about why that was., what it was that still made America home. She responds by saying that she never had a chance to ask him. She says the book is in part a plea to Americans to think about what we are doing to the country, and in part a eulogy for her father. She tears up, and at the end, there’s a little snippet of conversation that almost feels like it should be off-mic. Steve Inskeep asks her if she has a tissue, if someone should get her one. She says, in a voice shaking itself into composure with a little laugh, “I have a sleeve. It’s okay.”


1426303327.jpgI have a sleeve. Curiously moving words. We have never needed to tell the truth about American nightmares, as much as we do today.

Ten years ago, Ann Bausum’s Denied, Detained, Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration was a relevant and important book. At the time, it was possible to hope that the stories it contained would not be repeated in our lifetimes. Yet today with a new introduction and afterword, the book is an essential reminder that history has a way of cycling back if we don’t learn its lessons.


Immigrants and Neighbors on this Fourth of July

Today, NPR reports the story of a deported migrant, named only as Nasario, who waits anxiously to be reunited with his daughter. Nasario, a victim of the Trump administration’s so-called zero-tolerance policy, is a Guatemalan farmer fleeing gang violence. He and his young daughter were apprehended crossing the border illegally and were separated. Six weeks later, he’s been deported and his daughter remains in a New York shelter. She is five years old. She was taken out of his arms by border patrol agents. They both cry every day. Nasario is a broken man.

These are the stories of our time. A new one every day. Someday there will be books for young readers about these stories, but how will we frame them? As part of a grim interlude that has been overcome and the culprits brought to justice? Or as part of a successful takeover by fascists and racists of a country once founded on principles of liberty and justice?

What would I do if my child and I were in danger in my homeland? Would I not try to leave by any means available to me?

Meanwhile, in the book trenches, I’m Your Neighbor continues its collection of books for young readers, books that celebrate and honor immigrant experiences and offer booksellers, librarians, educators, community organizers, and families information and titles that can help build connections across cultures. IYN-Web-Banner-2.jpeg

I was honored to be on a panel at ALA 2018 with Anne Sibley O’Brien, Thi Bui, Bao Phi, and Terry Young speaking on Unpacking the Immigrant Experience: Creating a Space for New Arrivals . And beyond honored to receive the 2017-18 APALA award for children’s fiction for Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh.

This is the America I know. Today, it seems in danger of extinction.

Writing Because You Must

OzickWhen I first crossed the border into Canada, I found some things familiar, and I liked a lot of what was not. I mean, in the goddess category, there’s Margaret Atwood. But I missed NPR terribly. CBC is starting to grow on me, but the voices of NPR meant more to me than I’d ever realized.

So thank goodness for audio archives and streaming, and for the friendly stations that broadcast all the way to Vancouver Island.

Here’s a Weekend Edition Sunday interview to treasure: Cynthia Ozick on reading as a child, the loss of a literary culture and the importance of fiction. Much to think about at a time when I sometimes feel left in the dust by the changing, shifting world.