In the introduction, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes:
Keeping people in a refugee camp is punishing people who have committed no crime except trying to save their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.
I agree. The same applies to denying entry to immigrants generally. Preventing someone from moving freely throughout our country inherently requires using violent force (or the threat thereof) against them. How do we justify that violence? Fear that their participation in our economy will lower our own financial prospects? Concern that interacting with them will push our culture in directions we don't approve of? Worry that they might be prone to committing violent acts, since some other people who look like them or lived in the same area as them have committed violent acts? I wouldn't accept any of those reasons as adequate excuses for the use of force against my friends or family members; surely they can't excuse the use of force against strangers, either. I would like to see Nguyen's vision become reality:
...we should look at our current condition of national borders and we should imagine a more just world where these borders would be markers of culture and identity, valuable but easily crossed, rather than legal borders designed to keep our national identities rigid and ready for conflict and war, separating us from others.
In "The Ungrateful Refugee", Dina Nayeri criticizes the expectations we often have of refugees:
Even those on the left talk about how immigrants make America great. They point to photographs of happy refugees turned good citizens, listing their contributions, as if that is the price of existing in the same country, on the same earth. ... But isn't glorifying the refugees who thrive according to Western standards ... akin to holding up the most acquiescent as examples of what a refugee should be, instead of offering each person the same options that are granted to the native-born citizen? Is the life of the happy mediocrity a privilege reserved for those who never stray from home?
She sums this up powerfully: "Civilized people don't ask for resumes when answering calls from the edge of a grave."
Nayeri's essay also describes some of the abuse she was subjected to in school for being an immigrant; at one point, at age six, "two older boys pushed my hand into a doorjamb and slammed it shut on my little finger, severing it at the first segment." Although this isn't her point, these kinds of stories always make me think that the way we structure school puts kids into sort of lord-of-the-flies situations, where other kids have far too much power over them.
Lev Golinkin describes his childhood as a refugee in Austria from Soviet Ukraine. He makes an apt connection of "love" and hate:
Most Austrians barely noticed our existence; the young men with flags and patches who lounged on street corners and in metro stations were the opposite. They held themselves with absolute indifference to other Austrians, but stared, with unmistakable violence, at people who spoke strange tongues. Stay away from them--they love their homeland so much, they'll take that love out on refugees. Stay off the streets on Hitler's birhday (April 20), the humanitarian workers warned us. In fact, stay off the streets during all holidays. There's dangerous love in the air.
One of the most moving parts of this collection is Joseph Azam's essay "Last, First, Middle". The author tells us about his grandfather, who was responsible for choosing Joseph's original name, Mohammad Yousuf. "My name was a product of my grandfather's hopes and conviction; it was my inheritance." It is heartbreaking to read how this name, such a beautiful symbol of his grandfather's love, became a source of consternation in America.
In "The Parent Who Stays", Reyna Grande mourns her alienation from her family. First, because for several years of her childhood, her parents were in the US and she was in Mexico. Second, because once they were all together in the US, the process of assimilation drew them apart. She sees "rapid integration" as extremely harmful:
I know my experience isn't unique. Eighty percent of immigrant children in U.S. schools have been separated from their families during the process of migration. Complicated family dynamics add to the burden these children are already carrying, and schools that serve these children need to consider the trauma created by separation. Nothing is more counter-productive than the goal of rapid integration of immigrant and refugee children into the community. Assimilation and acculturation add to their post-traumatic stress. Immigrant and refugee children need time, patience, love, and psychological help to heal from their experiences. Trauma follows them into the classroom as it did me, and powerfully affects performance and the ability to learn.
Aleksander Hemon's essay "God's Fate" recounts a gay Muslim man named Kemalamir's harrowing experiences during the Bosnian War - including being knocked unconscious by a rocket strike while he was being used as a human shield, then being led on a week-long journey to relative safety by what he believed to be an angel - and his subsequent life as a refugee.
Porochista Khakpour came to the US from Iran with her family when she was a child. Her essay shares some of her experiences here that shaped her view of America, including a range of abuse by teachers at school:
The usual substitute teacher ... calls you "my Iranian sweetheart." ... Another teacher sticks his thumb in your mouth when he spots you sticking your tongue out at a friend. ... Years later, a science teacher offers you massages after class. ...a German teacher tells you you are so beautiful--he whispers it to you... That same year, a librarian tells you about the male and female plugs too eagerly, demonstrating over and over. Another teacher laughs when students say you look like Anne Frank and makes a joke about him looking like a German soldier. You remember his bad breath on your face as he laughs at you, all over you. "Are there Jews still in Iran?" he asks you...
Marina Lewycka came to the UK as a young child in the late 1940s. She believes the country has become much more hateful toward refugees in recent years than in her youth, and mourns the loss of "the tolerant and generous Britain" which has been replaced by (or unmasked as?) "a very different country".
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma talks about the disastrous changes in Zimbabwe between her childhood and today. I must confess, as someone who still knows embarrassingly little about most of Africa, that the most striking thing about this essay to me is how familiar and ordinary her hometown in Zimbabwe sounds. This drills home at a gut level the reality that such catastrophes could strike my homeland, too.
Fatima Bhutto's essay describes her experience Alejandro G. Iñárritu's VR-assisted art installation https://phi.ca/en/carne-y-arena/, which sounds pretty interesting.