ReadMHK explores the Refugee and immigrant experience through books
By Jan Johnson, Teen Librarian
The ReadMHK topic for October is refugee and immigrant experiences. As someone who has grown up in Kansas all her life, this is a topic I’m not familiar with first hand. This is the genesis of ReadMHK: learning about other people, their struggles, their triumphs, and their lives by reading stories about situations that are unfamiliar to us. Even though we all experience life differently, when we take the time to find the similarities to our own lives, it helps us gain more understanding and empathy.
Non-fiction of course gives us first hand accounts of what people experience as refugees and immigrants. But, fiction can give us an account of what someone’s everyday life looks like. Below are several choices of both. Books of both types help some of us foster empathy and understanding, while providing a chance for others to read about their own realities on the page.
“Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience,” edited by Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond, is a collection of poems. This collection focuses on topics that are typical for many first- and second-generation young adult refugees and immigrants, like homesickness, cultural differences, language barriers, racism, and questioning their identity. As Craig Santos Perez writes, “Remember: our ancestors taught us how to carry our culture in the canoes of our bodies / Remember: our people, scattered like stars, form new constellations when we gather / Remember: home is not simply a house, village, or island: home is an archipelago of belonging.”
“We Are Displaced” by Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai takes us on a journey as she recounts stories from women she met visiting refugee camps, as well as her own experience being an Internally Displaced Person in Pakistan. When she was a young child, she lost her home, community, and only life she’d ever know. Yousafzai talks to other young women about their experiences being displaced from the homes they knew and loved. She gets to the heart of their stories, sharing their incredibly personal narratives to allow us to better understand their experiences.
When we meet Natasha in “The Sun Is Also a Star” by Nicola Yoon, she is just over 12 hours away from being deported back to Jamaica, after living in New York City for the past decade with her family, because her father got a DUI. Daniel is on his way to his shoo-in Ivy League college interview to become a doctor, the path his South Korean-born father has decided for him, even though his heart is that of a poet. They meet by chance and spend the day falling in love. I’m not one for love stories, but the way this one plays out is unique. We get to know and love these two in the day they spend together, as they navigate their families and reevaluate their expectations of what their futures look like. This is a beautiful look at humans and our stories of how we navigate the world. As a side note, the young man who plays Daniel in the film adaptation is an MHS alumni!
2021 Pura Belpré Award winner, “Efrén Divided” by Ernesto Cisneros, also a nominee for this year’s William Allen White award, focuses on 12-year-old Efrén and his family. An American-born Mexican, Efren takes on the responsibilities of caring of his younger siblings when his Amá is deported during an ICE raid. We get a first-hand glimpse of what happens when a family is divided by deportation and the effects it has on young children. Grab a hanky and get ready to root for Efrén as he navigates his new responsibilities and the hurt of missing his mother.
Join us for several activities centered around our October theme for ReadMHK, refugee and immigrant experiences. On October 6, our DIY night, adult programming librarian Jennie will show you how to make puto ube (Filipino steamed rice cake), alongside her mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines; registration is required. On October 14th, Dr. Debra Bolton will lead a film discussion on “Strangers in Town,” a film that tells the story of how global migration unexpectedly transformed and enriched Garden City, KS. Members of the community are invited to attend this free program made possible by Humanities Kansas. For more information, go to https://manhattanks.librarycalendar.com/.