Photos from around the World

Here’s a link to a collection of beautiful photos from around the world (Algeria pictured at left) — mostly taken in the early 1900s. http://www.citynoise.org/article/10598

Enjoy!

GOING WHERE I’M COMING FROM edited by Anne Mazer

I had initially hoped that these essays would be written by teenagers, but this collection is the next best thing. The fourteen autobiographical narratives in this anthology are written by adults, but they are retrospectives and in many cases focus on their youth.

One treat is the piece written by Judith Cofer Ortiz. If you have read An Island Like You, it is especially interesting to get an inside look at the author’s childhood and inspiration for the stories that took place in Puerto Rico and Paterson, New Jersey.

Lensey Namioka (also featured in First Crossing) writes a wonderful account of how girls are often strong math students in China, but how differently the cookie crumbles in America. Whereas in China, women often handle the finances of the household, in America the fact that Ms. Namioka was a star mathematician was a complete anomaly. I was relieved to read that she kept at it, despite the inane judgments and stereotyping by her classmates.

Ved Mehta, a prolific writer born in India, writes beautifully about experiencing New York City as a teenager for the first time, basing his impression on all the senses but sight, and the well-intentioned, if sometimes muddled, hospitality of a young couple who were “friends of friends.” It’s easy to feel nervous for the sweet Mr. Mehta, who is alone so far from home and trying his very best to be polite in all situations (such as eating beef for the very first time when dinner served is spaghetti and meatballs), and the vicarious homesickness is profound, but I found more than a little comfort in reading about his later years when he graduated from the prestigious Pomona College, Oxford and Harvard. It is evident that Mr. Mehta’s sensitive sensibilities that are so vivid in his storytelling took him far in life.

HABIBI by Naomi Shihab Nye

Habibi is the exciting story of a family that moves from St. Louis to Palestine. Liyana, our protagonist, and Rafik, her younger brother, are Arab-American and their father wants them to move to his homeland to learn about what is half of their heritage, but none of their reality.

A lot happens: everyone must learn a new language, the kids get to know their grandmother whom they’ve never before  seen, and Liyana meets a boy. But things get complicated when the political tensions in Jerusalem become everyday reality, and when Liyana learns that the boy she likes is Jewish. Can her family practice the peace that they preach?

This book is about the adventures of moving (across the world), immersing yourself in new cultures, and falling in love.

Some memorable excerpts:

[about moving] “She polished her violin, placing it tenderly back in its case with the white cloth over its neck. She considered whether to take extra cake of rosin along with new strings. There was so much to think about when you moved.” (p. 18)

[about diversity] “He would stand on his flat roof staring off to the horizon, thinking things must be better somewhere else. Even when he was younger, he asked himself, ‘Isn’t it dumb to want only to be next to people who are just like you?'” (p. 29)

SEEDFOLKS by Paul Fleischman

Seedfolks consists of thirteen separate short stories, but they are not divided. Each is linked by another to the greater story of an empty lot that transforms from a garbage dump to a community garden.

Some of the voices are young, some are very old. Some were born here and some are struggling to remain in touch with their first home. Some of these voices get along, and some need mediators; some are the mediators themselves.

Every reader can find someone to relate to in this book and someone to learn from. Chances are, if you read it more than once, the connections you make might change every time. There is always something new to find and enjoy in this little book.

[See the “Works by Country” page for a listing of the different countries represented in this book.]

CHILDREN OF THE RIVER by Linda Crew

Sundara is a young Cambodian girl who is forced to flee her country and the Khmer Rouge. She finds herself thousands of miles away from home, her parents and siblings, living on the west coast of America with her aunt, uncle and two cousins.

This is a story about balancing responsibilities to family and culture with those to personal identity and development. Sundara is a sweet, hardworking and dependable member of her household, but she is also a teenager with hopes for her future in this new place. How can she reconcile the pressures of home with her longing for a “white skin” American boy– a boy who is in love with her and won’t give up so easily? How can her family reconcile their traditions with their new surroundings?

This book touches on the difficulties of remaining true to your roots while listening to your heart and the rhythms of a new place.

Memorable excerpts:

[about fitting in] “What did Soka think? That she could go to an American school and squat in the cafeteria to eat as if she were still half a world away?” (p. 81)

[about diversity in America] “She’d been so busy trying to understand exactly what Americans were like, she’d missed the point. Americans were all sorts of things.” (p. 88)

[about finding a cultural balance] “Maybe their mistake was in feeling they had to choose, fearing they couldn’t be American without giving up being Khmer. Why couldn’t they be both? In the end, after all, what was more American than coming from someplace else, bringing another culture with you?” (p. 188)

[about America-centrism] “Surely America was an amazing country, and worth feeling thankful for. But the way some Americans talked, you’d think this was the only country on earth worth loving.” (p. 189)

SOMETHING ABOUT AMERICA by Maria Testa

Each chapter of Something About America is a new poem.

The first is called “Mad at America”. Some others are “Home Never Changes”; “What I Like About America”; “Not American”; “Reality TV”; and “Connection”. It is written in the voice of a teenage Kosovan girl reflecting on her life in America that began when she was three years old, her beautiful home country and the horrors of war they escaped.

She writes of her burn scars that no one understands, of growing into an American teenager as her parents remain rooted in their traditions, and finally of a hate crime committed against immigrants in a nearby town that brings people of all ethnicities together. The young girl finds herself on a school bus with her father going to her first rally: “Everyone in America / is a citizen of the world” (p. 74).

AN EXCERPT:

“My five-year-old / summer-before-kindergarten self / was not ready for the kids / in my new neighborhood / in America, / not ready for English / in all those different accents, / not ready to figure out / what I wanted to say / in any language”

but she continues

“I’m ready now. / I look like I do / for the same reason / I have black hair / and dark eyes / and perfect red lips. / Because I am who I am. / And because / I look like / where I’m from” (p. 9).

Why “Something about America”?

This blog is named after a beautiful little book by Maria Testa. I chose the title because everyone who visits or moves to America experiences “something” different, but everyone has a story. They may not be able to put it into words right away, and I believe that it’s important to let those feelings lie as they become clearer. What is it that makes people feel the way they do about America? The good thoughts? The resentments? The confusion and passion? The expectations? Our stories are colored by our histories, our family’s past and plans, and our own development.

My hope for this site is that will serve you as a compilation of texts—short stories, poetry, memoirs, everything I can find and I that I hope you will share with me—that focus on the experiences of young immigrants. Many of the stories are about coming to America and the “something”s the characters and authors feel, some of them are about moving from here to somewhere else, and others still are any combination of both.

Welcome, and I hope you will leave feedback, share ideas and your stories as well.

Yours here and there,

Anna