Crossing Into America: The New Literature of Immigration
Author: Louis Mendoza (Editor), S. Shankar (Editor)
Publisher: New Press
Publish Date: 2003
Cover Type: Hard Cover
Reviewed by Paul Grant
One of the outstanding qualities of North American life is immigration. With 2 or 3% of us claiming exclusively indigenous heritage, the vast majority of us came from somewhere else. Throughout the recent few centuries, immigration has come in enormous waves, each of which permanently changed the face of the land.
The first immigrants were purely here for business. French fur-traders, Basque cod-fishermen, English tobacco-farmers, Spanish fortune-seekers and Scottish refugees all left their mark. Shortly thereafter, millions upon millions of Africans “immigrated,” mostly as slaves, although some Africans came as free merchants.
Germans came in a couple of waves in the 18th and 19th centuries, followed by Chinese, Scandinavians, Irish, Italians, Ukrainians, Poles and many others. This chronology is important. In part because of the way we’ve advertised our nation, and in part because our languages are a European, most people around the world – both here and abroad – have thought of Canada and the United States as two extensions of Europe.
But that would be wrong. North America from the very beginning has been, in the words of Indonesian novelist Toer, a “Child of all nations.” And our very identities have constantly changed.
Two themes have confronted every single immigrant to North America in the last 500 years – every single one: assimilation and preservation. On the one hand, “How do I change without losing my soul?” and on the other, “How can I communicate with my children about what matters most?”
Every immigrant group has struggled through these things differently. But America has changed all along. In the mid 1960s, The US Congress amended the immigration act to open the doors of this country to non-European countries, and reset the immigration values to focus on family reunification. In the process, Congress started in motion a process that is today changing America faster and deeper than any of the petty “culture wars”. Canada opened the doors to immigration even wider, and is becoming the world’s most immigrant-oriented country. With an enormous body of our blood hailing from Mexico, the Caribbean, Philippines, China, Japan, Vietnam, India, Iran,Arabia,East, South and West Africa, Russia, South America and more, there is nearly no way to understand the magnitude of these changes. This book is a start.
Literature – poetry, short stories, memoirs, essays and dramas – take immigration from the realm of policy to the heart. Instead of 10 million Indians, we meet just one, and meet him intimately, hearing his thoughts and fears. Instead of reading about border patrols, we smell the sage-brush along with a terrified young girl hiding from the helicopter. In sociology we discuss generational conflict; through literature we can feel stupid alongside the grandmother who can’t talk with her flesh-and-blood. Crossing into America is a highly recommended anthology to give you a richer understanding of an issue far more significant for our future than the next elections, whenever they may be.