In the weeks since it’s publication, I’ve been hearing about The Good Immigrant everywhere. This collection of essays from writers in the UK has grabbed the world’s attention and held it, and with good reason. This unflinching dialogue of what it means to be a ‘good immigrant’ has come at just the time when our world seems to be grappling with xenophobia and racism on a level we thought we (we being white people in places like the US and the UK) were past. We were wrong.
Immigrant stories are particularly close to my heart. My mother is an immigrant who moved to the US in the 70s (and would probably be considered an example of a “good immigrant”). I myself may end up an immigrant, depending on where this year abroad takes me. I, however, am white. While I’m Hispanic, and that often means ‘bad immigrant’ in the US (the whole “Mexicans are coming to steal our jobs” phobia), I will always have very pale white skin. Still, the immigrant experience is one we need to be talking about more, and talking about better. The Good Immigrant does exactly that.
There’s a mostly unspoken deal at the heart of immigration, one which says that being a ‘good immigrant’ means winning gold medals for their new country’s Olympic team, or creating entertainment that the new country can benefit from. Think, Indian food restaurants we laud because ‘real Indian people run it!’ Think, performers like John Oliver who make us laugh every Sunday night. These are the “good immigrants” who have moved to the US and improved it. Donald Trump plays off the flip side of this mostly unspoken deal when he says, for instance, that “the Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” (Source.) (Never mind that that’s not really how immigration works.) This book creates space for 20 writers to confront this issue.
Shukla‘s collection–challenging, funny, fascinating, poignant, sad, heartening–could not be more timely. In these post-Brexit, Syrian-humanitarian-crisis, US-election days, when xenophobia has not just reared it’s ugly head again but actually made it’s way into accepted election rhetoric, we need to challenge the way we talk about immigrants, about people who have adopted a new country as home. We need to be reminded that there’s no ‘good person’ who is better or more deserving of a peaceful and safe life than other people.
And remember. Tomorrow is the US election day. When you vote (and I hope you do), remember that every American family has, at some point, immigrated to the United States. We are all the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of immigrants. We’re also all Americans.