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In day-to-day life, many Americans tend to take freedom for granted because it’s not something that most have to fight for. However, there are several people in the world that dream about one day making it to the U.S. and starting a new life in the land of opportunity. Unfortunately, those attempting to immigrate from other countries can spend years, even decades, trying to get to the United States, only to be denied entry. These are the stories of determination, heartbreak, and sometimes success that are so important to gain a better understanding of the struggle that so many face today.
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My (Underground) American Dream by Julissa Arce
Julissa Arce is the definition of success. After working hard in school and trading nights out for study sessions, she not only received a college scholarship but also graduated with honors. Shortly after, she landed a prestigious job on Wall Street, making herself a comfortable living on a hefty salary. However, Julissa had a secret, and she was ready to tell it. The truth is that she achieved all of these American accolades without being a citizen, as she was undocumented from the time she arrived in the U.S. as a child. This is a true story of one woman’s top-secret pursuit of the American dream.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
At just six years old, Clemantine Wamariya and her older sister Claire were forced to leave everything behind and flee from their homeland due to the Rwandan massacre of 1994. Over the course of six long years, these two lived lives as nomads, roaming from country to country in the hopes of finding a safe space, all while suffering from abuse and cruelty along the way. Eventually landing in the United States, Claire became pregnant while Clemantine was taken in by a family that sent her to private school and later ended up graduating from Yale. This story of heartbreak and perseverance is truly inspiring.
In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero
Diane Guerrero has a story to tell, and this one is her own. At the age of fourteen, her mom and dad were deported while she was at school. However, because she was born in the United States, she was able to remain in America. Despite the loss of her parents and no longer having a permanent home, she was able to continue with school and find success as an actress on well-known television shows, such as Jane The Virgin and Orange Is The New Black. With millions of undocumented immigrants in America, this memoir sheds a light on the struggles many face while trying to find success.
America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
Hero’s experience in her home country of the Philippines was chaotic, to say the least. Plagued by political unrest and being disowned by her parents, her only choice was to leave it behind and trade in for a fresh start in the U.S. Upon arrival, she ends up with her uncle in hopes of creating a brand-new life. As Hero starts to settle in, her family has questions about what she left behind, digging up buried family secrets along the way. As the plot thickens, you’ll laugh, cry, and root for Hero along the way as she realizes that she can re-create her story and become her very own Hero now that she’s in America.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
When Cameroonian couple Jende and Neni land jobs working for Lehman Brothers in New York, they feel like the luckiest people alive. When they arrived in Harlem as immigrants with their six-year-old son, they took a chance, and it was finally paying off. Just as they started building a better life for themselves and their son, the recession of 2007 hit, and their jobs became jeopardized. As the financial world started to collapse, so did the empire of Lehman Brothers. With their jobs being unstable, along with the economy, will these two be able to start from scratch and re-create their American dream once again?
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
For any success she’s found in the United States, penning her memoir about being undocumented makes the top of the list. Following the election season of 2016, she was inspired to expose her truth about immigration, in her own voice. She began to explore how various undocumented people live across America, in an attempt to better understand her own life. From state to state, she meets many people who share their stories of survival, sadness, and success. Her book allows otherwise silenced voices to be heard, in hopes of creating more understanding when it comes to immigration.
The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri
At the tender age of eight, Dina found herself living in a rundown refugee camp along with her brother and mother. Escaping Iran for a better life in America eventually landed them in Oklahoma where they were able to make a fresh start for a better life. Determined to make something of herself, and against all odds, Dina ended up studying at Princeton University. This is a story of fierce determination and takes a real-life look at how privilege over poverty shows up in the lives of refugees. Told from Dina’s experience, this is a true testament of strength, compassion, and never giving up.
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American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Based on her own experiences as a Haitian immigrant coming to America, Ibi Zoboi captures her audience right away with the depiction of Fabiola’s colorful lifestyle. Not one to try and just fit in, Fabiola brings a little bit of Haiti with her everywhere she goes. Drawing on Vodou culture and magical realism, she was ready to embark on a new life full of adventures. However, that all changed when her mother is detained on the way out of Port-au-Prince. Now forced to live with her boisterous American cousins, she has no choice but to make it on her own in America and is determined to do it her way.
Thirteen-year-old star student Sara has it all…well, all but a social security card. Her parents arrived in the U.S. from Iran when she was just two years old, seeking a better life for their family. America is all she knows and when she finds out she’s undocumented, her whole world falls apart. Although she’s now petrified that she’ll get deported, she can’t help but live the life of an all-American girl. Some days she’s consumed with getting a green card, and others it’s with securing a date to the prom. This sweet story tells the tale of what living as an American immigrant looks like through the eyes of a teenager.
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
It started as a regular day for Deming Guo. After arriving in the Bronx from China, his undocumented mother Polly had found success working in a nail salon where she set off to work one morning but never returned. With his mom missing, eleven-year-old Deming is both baffled and devastated. Eventually, he is adopted by two white professors and relocated to upstate New York. When his name is changed to Daniel Wilkinson, he is stripped of the last piece of familiarity he had. Told from two perspectives, this heart-wrenching story shows that the American dream doesn’t look the same for everyone.