I pre-ordered this book when I ordered “The Good Immigrant” back in September 2019; it arrived this October and I knew I wanted to read it alongside the first volume. Of course I intended to read them both in November but that didn’t happen – better late than never!

I’m adding the hashtag for DiverseDecember on this one because it represents writing by and stories of People of Colour, although not everyone in the book is a Person of Colour (24 out of the 26 writers are), and I’m very glad that Shukla took the original concept and together with one of the writers from the original book, opened it out to stories from the US.

Nikesh Shukla & Chimene Suleyman – “The Good Immigrant USA: 26 Writers on America, Immigration and Home”

(16 October 2019)

I have to admit that this volume was not as immediately engaging to me as “The Good Immigrant”, as I didn’t know the context as well, although obviously in that book I found plenty of learning points and surprises, too. It was very varied and interesting and I learned a lot again. The different context meant that the contributors mostly didn’t come directly via histories of colonisation (apart from those in Puerto Rico, etc.) and in fact a few of them had come via or gone to the UK at some point in their lives.

The main thing that really shocked me and I had somehow not come across before (I’m not sure how this happened, as I have read a good few fairly diverse books set in the US) was the different perceptions of Black people who are descendants of slaves and whose families have been in the US for generations and those who are not and have moved to the US from other countries. Rahawa Haile describes it memorably in describing her father arriving in the US by way of Italy, the UK and Ethiopia:

The Good Immigrant knows nothing of black living in America and yet too much of black life under white conquest all at once. White-sanctioned conquest, too. At least now he will see their faces, nescient eyes weighing the merit and threat of him by the lilt of an accent they cannot place. Their soft relief: black but other. There but only just. African. Guilt Black, not Hate Black (not usually). As in, “Man! There are people starving back in ___”. (p. 28)

At least two essayists point this out and it’s a strong, shocking point, as it’s not a delineation we make here in the UK – I’d be interested if any other non-Black readers of this book from the US found that same shock.

Other essays chimed with me more or less but all gave a strong sense of self and place and interesting, often shocking details. I enjoyed the pieces set partly in the UK, and giving the contrast between the two countries. Walé Oyéjdidé’s piece on being a male homemaker from a Nigerian heritage that would be happier if he did a load of other things including admitting some Ghanaian things were superior was funny and striking. We see the code-switching that goes on when interacting with people outside one’s heritage group, and issues around being not x enough for America but too American for your original country.

I originally felt a bit confused by the inclusion of an Irish and a Scottish name in the list of authors, more so when they turned out to be White Irish and Scottish, as the original book was specifically about BIPOC people; however, the white contributors made it clear – and, in doing so, I feel modelled how to do this in many ways – that they can see their privilege now where they didn’t see it at the time, flitting into and out of the US so easily, flouting rules and knowing they’d get away with it. Maeve Higgins ends her piece, “Luck of the Irish” in which she does the work of providing a history of US immigration policy, thus:

I applied for an O-1 visa, which means i am an ‘alien of extraordinary ability.’ It was granted. I’m now on my second O-1 visa, so I regularly tell people I’m doubly extraordinary. That’s a joke, of course. I’m not extraordinary at all. It’s dumb luck that I was born white and Irish. And that luck, combined with a history of racialized immigration policies, meant that I was allowed to move her, to a country whose leaders look at me and see themselves, and welcome me with open arms as they push others away. (p. 114)

There is a mix of different autobiographical pieces from people originating from across the globe or second generation citizens, and some write at the intersection between race and LGBTQ+ status. There’s even a craft project to fold a paper plane while learning about different demographics and other stats of refugees. There is truly something for everyone here, and it’s an important work, which I feel should be read alongside its UK counterpart.

Have you read this book and are you from the US? I’d particularly like to read about your reaction although of course all comments are as ever welcome.