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Immigration Narratives in Young Adult Literature and the Power of Humanizing Fictional Narratives

Now more than ever, the subject of immigration has been featured in the news and public periodicals, especially regarding political politics and national sentiments over those currently residing in the U.S. and fighting to stay here. These types of media provide journalistic perspectives, detailing reported second-hand counts of current events affecting today’s society.

However, while useful, these non-fiction channels rely on statistics and quantifiable evidence to support their arguments (whether positive or negative) on immigrant, often neglecting personal stories of immigration, especially those of younger generations who are often considered negligible in the public eye. This is where fictional mediums like Young Adult Literature, primarily catered towards audiences from 12 to 18 years of age, provide valuable space for stories surrounding immigration and youth to be heard.

As many readers know, fiction is powerful.

Young Adult fiction allows people to connect personally to the characters they meet on the page, providing windows in other peoples’ experiences.

Unlike political journalism, which can alienate certain readers through impartiality and cold facts, fiction provides very human connections to characters, in whom we can see our own fears and joys, as well as learning about the unique experiences related to immigration.

Some recent titles that touch upon the subject of immigration affecting younger generations include The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, and Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez.

In The Sun is Also a Star, Natasha Kingsley, aspiring scientist and Jamaican immigrant, begins to fall for Korean-American Daniel Daniel Jae Ho Bae. However, the romance is soon threatened by the fact that the government will deport her family in less than 24 hours.

In American Street, Fabiola Toussaint and her mother have just left Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to stay with their American family in Detroit to find une belle vie- “a good life,” that is until U.S. immigration detains her mother for an indeterminate amount of time, leaving her to adapt to strange new American culture on her own.

In Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, first-generation Mexican-American daughter of immigrant parents, Julia Reyes, is dealing with the death of her older sister as well as her parents’ frustrating cultural ideas of what a Mexican daughter should be, polite, conservative, etc., while Julia is anything but.

According to Migration Policy Institute, “more than 43.7 million immigrants resided in the United States in 2016, accounting for 13.5 percent of the total U.S. population of 323.1 million.” Conferring with the United States Census Bureau 2017 Report: “Immigrants and their U.S.-born children now number approximately 86.4 million people, or 27 percent of the overall U.S. population.”

The titles mentioned earlier represent some of the multiple experiences relating to youth and immigration. Each discusses the nuances of bi-cultural or multicultural, in which the protagonists learn how to balance the values and customs of their American environment as well as their ethnic background. The books also touch upon the way in which immigration affects different generations of immigrant families, as well as the devastating ways in which U.S. immigration policies and sentiments affect the protagonists’ personal networks of family members, friends, and romantic partners.

By: Michele Kirichanskaya

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