This post is part of a series on reading women 2019 hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media’s Narrative Designer, Dan Michael Fielding.
Picture me, a fresh-faced eighteen year old just out of high school moving from my home town in rural Minnesota to The Cities to start college. Ever the good student, I’ve already gotten my books and have checked out the local library. I decide to sit down and start on our First Year class read, Kao Kalia Yang’s The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. Within minutes I am transported around the world and exposed to a point of view that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I spent the whole day at the library reading The Latehomecomer cover to cover.
The Latehomecomer was the first book I had ever read from the perspective of an immigrant. Growing up rural and white meant I had little experience with immigrants, and what experiences I did have were often cast negatively by news media, friends, and even teachers in my small high school.
That book set me on the path to realizing that I truly knew nothing about the world. Everything that Yang describes about the treatment of Hmong peoples was new to me. I had never learned about this in school, adults around me didn’t talk about it, and I had no way of knowing that this was something I didn’t know. Although we had briefly touched on the Vietnam War in my history classes I knew next to nothing about the human effects of war.
I’m very thankful to Yang for writing this book and sharing her family’s story with the world. It gave me a perspective on the world that I still carry with me to this day.
Do you have a book that changed your perspective on the world?
Since reading The Latehomecomer I have tried to expand my awareness of the things which marginalized people experience on a daily basis. In the spirit of this I wanted to read a book that details an immigrant or refugee experience.
Note that I’m saying an experience, not the experience. It’s too easy for us to homogenize the experiences of disparate groups and pretend that every immigrant goes through exactly the same thing, or that one person can “speak for all immigrants.” As we’re reading these books and discussing them lets be thoughtful and remember that experiences differ given the time, place, and social circumstances of an individual’s group.
If you’re a citizen by birth, like me, reading the stories of immigrants might be a new experience for you. If you’re an immigrant yourself it might seem like you know it all, but I would definitely encourage you to read a book by an immigrant from another part of the world. Each story is shaped by the specific political, cultural, and historical circumstances surrounding immigration.
There are many wonderful books written by immigrants. You don’t have to read a memoir, either. This category is broad enough that you may wish to pick up a book that falls into another genre: young adult, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, or anything else where a principle point of view character is an immigrant or refugee.
I decided to read a book that has been on my to-read list for a long, long time—in fact, I put it on my list immediately after reading The Latehomecomer!
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman has been recommended to me over and over, but I just never had the time to read it! But I’m making time now. This is the story of the Lee family’s interactions with American doctors as their daughter begins to show symptoms of epilepsy.
What will you be reading over the next two weeks? Let me know in the comments!