Literature Tackling Immigration in the Trump Era

In the nascent days of 2018, the Trump Administration geared up its continued assault on immigration, which has become a shameful trademark of this presidency. Targeting both undocumented foreign nationals and those lawfully in the United States, the Administration’s push for supposed “America first” policies is embedded in a culture of “us” versus “them.”

It’s probably not a coincidence, then that, as we delve deeper into the age of Trump, a new spate of books explores the sweeping complexity of the immigrant experience. After all, if the purpose of literature is to enlighten, to provide insight into experiences not necessarily our own, and to impart empathy through stories and people who become meaningful to us, then the Trump Administration’s steadfastly anti-immigration policies are the perfect creative fodder for writers.

Among the top books of 2017, according to the New York Times were several titles that examine the danger and uncertainty of being an immigrant in the Trump era. Home Fire, a novel by Kamila Shamsie, begins with a young Muslim woman who has come to the U.S. to study as immigration officials interrogate her at the airport. It soon spirals into an ominous tale about xenophobia and the pressure to assimilate into a new culture. For readers looking for a more journalistic approach to the immigrant experience, the Times also selected The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, by Lauren Markham, as one of the year’s best nonfiction offerings. The author’s account focuses on Raul and Ernesto Flores, identical twin brothers who fled into Texas in 2013 to escape the violence of their native El Salvador. Markham has been praised for her detailed and compassionate portrayal of the brothers: they are not merely immigrants, but also teenage boys navigating life in a new high school and grappling with exams, social media, and girlfriends. [See Times Critics Top Books of 2017, by Dwight Garner, Jennifer Senior, Parul Sehgal and Janet Maslin, The New York Times, 07.Dec.2017.]

New books examining the immigrant perspective aren’t limited to adult readers. The Washington Post unveiled a new list of selections aimed at readers ages 5-18 that feature strong, compelling female characters. Several of the books center on the immigrant experience, such as Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani. For a middle school audience, the protagonist in this graphic novel is a teenage Indian immigrant named Priyanka, who struggles to understand why her mother chose to suddenly left their native country for a new life in America when Priyanka was an infant. But when Priyanka visits India and uncovers the truth about her mother’s departure, their relationship deepens. [See These Books Can Help Build Strong Girls – And Boys – For Today’s World, by Karen MacPherson, The Washington Post, 04.Dec.2017.]

In an interview with Forbes last year, Lauren Markham lamented that “Donald Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric has panicked immigrant communities in the U.S. and their families back home, and the recent [controversy over] DACA sends another message that young immigrants are suspect and have little place in U.S. society.” But Markham was also quick to add that “people keep coming” – often to escape violence, poverty, and immutable circumstances for the chance to build a better life. This unwavering belief in the American dream won’t be easily broken, even by a draconian firebrand like Trump. Immigrants, like the stories they weave, are strong, compelling, and complex. [Will Trump Solve Central America’s Refugee Crisis? by Nathaniel Parish Flannery, Forbes, 12.Sep.2017.]


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