The Common Good
May 2011

The Journey is Long

by Claire Lorentzen | May 2011

Books on migration and the immigrant experience.

WRITER EDWIDGE DANTICAT encourages us to “read dangerously,” because once we begin to read of the immigrant experience, we cannot return to how we were before. Inevitably, stories and information will change our perceptions of those we might consider “alien.” The seven books in this list don’t focus on specific policy agendas; rather, they allow us to consider different perspectives and unique immigrant experiences.

According to the United Nations, more than 210 million people live in countries other than the one in which they were born. Driven from Home: Protecting the Rights of Forced Migrants (Georgetown University Press) is an interdisciplinary collection of academic essays on the issues that arise from the growing number of migrants and a growing resistance in many countries to accepting them. Edited by David Hollenbach, SJ, of Boston College, the book has a section dedicated to engaging migration with a Christian framework. And You Welcomed Me: Migration and Catholic Social Teaching (Lexington Books), edited by Donald Kerwin and Jill Marie Gerschutz, is an outcome of the Theology of Migration Project at Woodstock Theological Center in Washington, D.C. Its essays range from analytical to more reflective in tone, such as “Christian Hospitality and Solidarity with the Stranger.” Both books tie the immigration debate here in the U.S. to the broader theme of global migration.

In contrast, two other books bring the tragedy and abuse experienced by many immigrants uncomfortably close to home. Tony Hefner became a security guard at one of the country’s largest immigration detention facilities, in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, to help fund his family’s ranch ministry for Latino youth. He ended up becoming a whistleblower. In Between the Fences: Before Guantanamo, there was the Port Isabel Service Processing Center (Seven Stories Press), he gives a raw account of physical and sexual abuse of detainees by Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officers and guards. The 39 stories collected in Crossing with the Virgin: Stories from the Migrant Trail (University of Arizona Press) incorporate testimonies from immigrants encountered by authors Kathryn Ferguson, Norma A. Price, and Ted Parks, volunteers with the Samaritans, a group who deliver medical and food aid to migrants as they cross the Arizona desert. In the past decade, more than 4,000 people have died attempting this crossing; the testimonies of survivors and those who try to help them urgently evoke questions of sacrifice, faith, mercy, and shared humanity.

Neighbor: Christian Encounters with “Illegal” Immigration (Westminster John Knox), written by Ben Daniel, a Presbyterian minister in San Jose, California, is also intentionally a “book about people rather than policy.” He asserts that as Christians we must be community leaders in making immigrants our friends; before we can become activists or change policies, we need a greater appreciation of our shared experiences. The book begins with a discussion of migration in the Bible, followed by a study of immigration in American church history, and then takes us through the “political journey” of immigration in the U.S. Reflection and action advice at the end of each section makes this a useful church or group study guide, with the aim of helping readers to overcome fears that might prevent fully accepting immigrants into their lives and communities.

Listen to the Children: Conversations with Immi-grant Families (Judson Press) gives practical guidance to understand and engage with immigrant families. The bilingual text is written by Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, the dean of Esperanza College, a college within Eastern University whose curriculum caters to Latino students. Conde-Frazier loosely organizes her book around the four basic human needs—physical, social, cognitive, and emotional—as they pertain to immigrant child-parent relationships, but includes a fifth human need, spirituality, and argues that it is critical to the “resiliency of children and their families.” While pastoral in tone and directed at helping social workers, clergy, and teachers understand the 18 million children from immigrant families currently living in the U.S., it enables any reader to enter into the minds of immigrant children and their parents as they grapple with issues of language, schooling, and deportation.

In Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (Princeton), Edwidge Danticat sheds light, through memoir and essay, on the experiences of those whose creative processes are shaped by violence, oppression, and poverty in their homelands and displacement in new lands. In one essay, Danticat reflects on a cousin’s death. He was undocumented, so there were complications—“because he’s an alien,” the funeral home director tells her—in getting permission to ship his body back to Haiti. Danticat asks, “Were we still aliens in death ... our corpses unwanted visitors still?” It is a poignant question for all who seek to uphold human dignity.

Claire Lorentzen is the online editorial assistant at Sojourners.

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