As we continue with our bimonthly theme, Festival of Asian Literature and the Immigrant Experience, I share with you this collection of short stories entitled Our New Home: Immigrant Children Speak. This is also in keeping with today’s Nonfiction Monday. The Nonfiction Monday roundup is hosted by the lovely Jeanne Walker Harvey at True Tales & A Cherry On Top.
Little People with Big Voices. When I was browsing through the nonfiction section of our community library, most of the books they have on immigration were heavily laden with facts, statistics, and other “straightforward” details about the subject. Fortunately, I found Our New Home, a small book compared to the two big ones on either side of it. Edited by Emily Hearn and Marywinn Milne, Our New Home caught my attention when I saw “children” printed on the spine. I simply had to grab the book.
Our New Home features different stories written and told by children about their immigrant experience in Canada in particular. Again, this was a lucky find because most immigration books in our “search pool” focused on America. The stories were divided into 5 sections: leaving, differences, adjusting, problems, and feelings.
The stories are short, sweet, and simple. What really gets you, though, is the rawness of each entry as the children look back and reflect upon their immigrant experience.
A Hard Life: Resonating Themes of War, Conflict, and Bad Economy.
“My name is John and I come from Vietnam. My parents came to Canada because there was a war. South Vietnam and North Vietnam had a war. Americans has help Vietnam to have victory in wars. Then we had a war with French people. Then we had more wars coming that was when we had an idea. People that was scared goes on the boat to Canada and the U.S. Then the people who wants to be in the war stays.” – John, Vietnam (p. 16)
Most of the stories told by these children focus on leaving their homeland because of an ongoing war, socio-political conflict, and poor economy. Their families fled in search of a new place to call ‘home.’ One of the more familiar stories I’ve read was the one written by a girl from Ghana.
“When my mother got a job, she wanted me to come [to Canada] so that I can go to school. In my country you go to school only if your family has money. If your family does not have money to pay for school you can’t go to school.” – Justica (p. 17)
In the Philippines, we don’t have student loans and grants. You have to pay all fees upfront or suffer penalties for late payments. When I got to California, and decided on a temporary career change, I had no idea how I’d be able to afford going to school. My uncle walked me through the whole process of filling out my federal aid and applying for private student loans. It was a nice thought being able to go to school with financial aid. Sadly, the payments you have to make after you get done with school are big blows to your pocket. Heh.
Changes, Big and Small.
“When I first came to Canada, I was very curious. It was so big! […] When I saw the buildings, I couldn’t believe my eyes!” – Maureen, Sierra Leone/Burkina Faso (p. 36)
I particularly enjoyed reading about the children’s impression of their new ‘home,’ and the different life changes that they experienced. Some were good; others were bad. They all share something in common: experiencing a new culture and meeting different kinds of people. What I also liked about this book is the idea of going back to your roots. Some children who had bad experiences in their homeland still have that desire to go back for a visit. In addition, I like how some of them preserve a part of their culture in spite of living in a new country. Keeping one’s cultural identity intact is more precious than anything else, especially in the case of immigrants.
Endnotes. Our New Home is a rich material for content analysis in order to gain better understanding of the immigrant experience in the eyes of a child. It’s a very light and easy read that adults can share with children, and can also be used as a topic for discussion. This book offers a fresh perspective in the subject of immigration. Definitely worth looking into.