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The Immigrant Experience in America

The books included here explore the variety of immigrant experiences in the United States over the past one hundred years — an undocumented Honduran dreams of becoming a famous movie star, Vietnamese immigrants struggle in their new Texas homeland, and a young Ukrainian girl reconciles her desire for independence with the expectations of her family and community. While each situation is unique, the immigrants’ search for a place to call home is universal.

All titles are available at the Tacoma Public Library, and  were selected and annotated by Reference Librarians at the Main Library.

Diana Abu-Jaber - F ABUJA
Arabian Jazz
Balances are struck in this luminous first novel-between two radically distinct cultures, between obligation and self-will, between past and future, between hilarity and heartbreak-as the Jordanian family of Matussem Ramoud settles in a small, poor-white community in upstate New York. Winner of the Oregon Book Award. 1993

Maria Arana - 070.92 AR14A
American Chica:  Two Worlds, One Childhood
A memoir of growing up in America and Peru that centers on Arana's parents' turbulent marriage, and on the way cultures define, limit and enrich us. 2001

Edwidge Danticat - JF DANTI
Behind the Mountains
Danticat's debut novel for young people follows Celiane's journey from her mountain village in Haiti to join her father in Brooklyn. The author captures the color and texture of Haitian life as well as the heroine's adjustment to New York. 2002

Kavita Daswani - F DASWA
For Matrimonial Purposes
Matchmaking Indian-style collides with love "Umrican"-style in Daswani's giddy debut featuring a privileged but rebellious young woman who moves to New York after her family fails to secure a marriage for her by the time she turns an elderly 26. 2003

Andre Dubus III - F DUBUS
House of Sand and Fog
The American Dream and a modern love story are turned upside down in this suspenseful and compelling novel in which a small house becomes the focus of a heartbreaking, brutal tragedy. 1999

Mary Gardner  - F GARDN
Boat People
Vietnamese immigrants struggle with the burdens of faraway loved ones, unfamiliar customs, and the scars of their flight from home in this evocative novel set in Galveston, Tex. 1995

Ursula Hegi  - F HEGI
The Vision of Emma Blau
An epic story of German immigrants attempting to assimilate while still preserving traces of home in their language and rituals. 2000

F IMAGI
Imagining America: Stories from the Promised Land
An anthology of 37 short stories from writers of various ethnic backgrounds. A common thread is the immigrant experience-trying to reconcile the "American Dream'' with what is sometimes a less-exalted reality.1991


Jhumpa Lahiri - F LAHIR
The Namesake
The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. Lahiri's  Interpreter of Maladies won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize. 2003

Maria Laurino - 973.04 L375W
Were You Always an Italian?
Recalling guidos, gavones and gedrools, Laurino presents a concise but stimulating look at Italian-American culture as a model for the immigrant experience as a whole. The author, a third-generation Italian-American, grew up in 1950s New Jersey as a minority whose ethnicity was long stifled. 2000

Bharati Mukherjee - F MUKHE
Jasmine
Jasmine's metamorphosis, with its sudden upheavals and its slow evolutionary steps, illuminates the making of an American mind; but even more powerfully, her story depicts the shifting contours of an America being transformed by her and others like her-our new neighbors, friends, and lovers. 1999

An Na - JF NA
A Step From Heaven
Young Ju's parents don't want her to become too American, and Young Ju is ashamed of them. It's the classic immigrant child conflict, told here in the present tense with the immediacy of the girl's voice, from the time she's a toddler in a small Korean village wondering why the adults talk about America as "heaven." 2000

Joseph Papaleo - F PAPAL
Italian Stories
Papaleo's appealing stories of an Italian community in the Bronx of the 1930s and 1940s highlight the universality of his characters' experiences, which could just as well take place in Armenian, Irish, or other ethnic communities in America. Many of these stories are about the loss of the immigrant community and its traditions as new generations become more Americanized and move out of the neighborhood. 2002

Roberto Quesada - F QUESA
The Big Banana
The hero of Roberto Quesada's The Big Banana has appropriately big ambitions: he dreams of becoming a famous movie star. With that intention, Eduardo Lin has come to try his luck in New York City. But as his friend Casagrande points out, it's no simple matter for an undocumented Honduran to make a show-biz splash in el norte. 1999

Brian Ascalon Roley - F ROLEY
American Son
In his debut novel, Roley details the Filipino immigrant experience through the troubled relationship between two brothers and their struggle to assimilate into the culture of Southern California. Gabe, the younger of the two, serves as his family's peacemaker, struggling to maintain good grades while hiding brother Tomas' dangerous activities from his mother. Tomas has adopted the Mexican gangster style of dress and breeds attack dogs that he sells to the Hollywood celebrities. 2001

O. E. Rolvaag - F ROLVA
Giants in the Earth
Per Hansa and his wife come to the Dakota prairie from Norway, each having a different reaction to the open expanse of land. 1929

Dao Strom - F STROM
Grass Roof, Tin Roof
In this stunning novel about a Vietnamese family resettling in the isolation of California gold country, Dao Strom investigates the myth of westward progress and the consequences of cultural displacement. With a sagacity that belies the author's youth, she evokes the divided mind of the refugee and the child of two cultures. 2003

Amy Tan - F TAN
Joy Luck Club
The "joy luck club" is a mah jong/storytelling support group formed by four Chinese women in San Francisco in 1949. With chapters alternating between the mothers and the daughters of the group, we hear stories of the old times and the new; as parents struggle to adjust to America, their American children must struggle with the confusion of having immigrant parents. 1989

James Welch - F WELCH
Indian Lawyer
Blackfoot Indian and respected lawyer Sylvester Yellow Knife is torn between a need to identify with his Native American roots, a chance at a Congressional seat and a blackmailing scheme of which he is the target. This "has all the elements of a classic success story-including a fall from grace," said Publisher's Weekly. "A convincing story of a man who almost loses his values and his soul." 1990

Anzia Yeziersk - F YEZIE
Bread Givers
Set on New York's Lower East Side during the 1920s, this is the moving story of a young woman's struggle to free herself from the traditional female role in an Orthodox Jewish family and society. One of the authentic and touching testaments of the struggle of Jewish immigrants, especially Jewish women, to find their way in the new world. 1975

Irene Zabytko - F ZABYT
When Luba Leaves Home: Stories
In When Luba Leaves Home, award-winning author Irene Zabytko creates a bright new voice to tell the classic story of how the children of America's melting pot grow up strong enough to carry their double identities. 2003