"Immigration is not for the faint-hearted," observed journalist and political analyst Steven V. Roberts. Throughout history, war, persecution, economic downturns, and natural catastrophes have driven foreigners to the United States in search of a better life. Buoyed by the American Dream or lacking other choices, they often have high expectations for their adopted country. But the reality of immigrant life usually differs. Regardless of the immigrant's origins or reasons for immigrating, the immigrant experience, at least initially, is collectively characterized by loneliness, confusion, discrimination, and disillusionment. Despite these obstacles, the majority of immigrants remain eager to stake a claim to America's promises of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," whether achievable within their lifetimes or not.
The following titles, a small selection of novels, memoirs, and social histories, explore the lives of American immigrants from the 1800s to the present day. The list is by no means comprehensive, although it portrays different classes, genders, eras, and countries of origin. Please forgive us if we've left off your favorite work.
From Every End of This Earth (2009)
13 Families and the New Lives They Made in America
By Steven V. Roberts
What is it like to be an immigrant in America today? In this engaging book, Steven V. Roberts, a professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, interviews 13 families who left their native countries to build new lives in the United States. He reveals their separate, divergent experiences in this country while providing a striking outsider's view of American politics and culture. From Vietnam, Burma, China, India, Syria, Israel, Rwanda, Ukraine, Greece, Mexico, and El Salvador, all of these families, despite the diversity of their backgrounds and daily lives, have one thing in common: "the pain of dislocation, of missing home, of living in two worlds and never feeling completely comfortable in either one."
IMMIGRANTS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Funny in Farsi (2004)
A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America
By Firoozeh Dumas
When seven-year-old Firoozeh leaves Abadan, Iran, with her family to settle in Southern California in 1972, she knows only seven words of English. She weaves together stories of her hilarious attempts to adapt to American society with affectionate tales of her family: her father, an engineer whose incomplete grasp of the language (limited to "vectors, surface tension and fluid mechanics") causes him to turn up his nose at hot dogs and hush puppies; her lovely and refined mother, determined to get along without learning English; and her uncle, whose taste for fast food leads him to try one wacky weight-loss gadget after another. Light-hearted and funny, Dumas's memoir highlights the universality of family life even as it explores the differences among us.
Brother, I'm Dying (2007)
By Edwidge Danticat
* NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
* NATIONAL BOOK AWARD NOMINEE
Award-winning Haitian American novelist Edwidge Danticat (Breath, Eyes, Memory  and The Dew Breaker ) was only four when her mother left Haiti in 1973 to follow her father to America. Danticat moved in with her uncle Joseph, a wise and kindhearted pastor who became a second father to the young girl. In this heart-wrenching, sumptuously written memoir, Danticat describes her idyllic Port-au-Prince childhood, her journey eight years later to join her parents in New York, her initial disorientation and efforts to adapt, and her anguish in 2004 when her frail, 81-year-old uncle fled Haiti's political instability and died just days later in the custody of Homeland Security. Intimate and powerful, Brother, I'm Dying is a loving tribute to family, as well as a searing indictment of America's post-9/11 immigration policies (**** Nov/Dec 2007).
By Frank McCourt
Born in the United States to Irish immigrants who returned to Limerick during the Great Depression, Frank McCourt describes his impoverished Irish childhood in the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela's Ashes (1996). 'Tis continues McCourt's lively story, picking up in 1949 with his arrival in New York City. Grueling, unskilled jobs, seedy boardinghouses, and a brief stint in the U.S. Army await the 19-year-old, but his life changes when he talks his way into New York University (despite having quit school at 13) and embarks on a career as a teacher. While fans of Angela's Ashes may be disconcerted by McCourt's transformation from an innocent child to a carousing, hard-drinking man, the authenticity of his irrepressible voice and the rawness of his experiences as an immigrant in postwar New York City will keep them reading.
On Gold Mountain (1995)
The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family
By Lisa See
In this gripping, meticulously researched social history, novelist Lisa See (Shanghai Girls ) gives readers a ground-level account of the Chinese American experience during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her great-grandfather, Fong See, left China for California in 1871 and thrived at a time when Chinese immigrants were constrained...