immigrants -- fiction
It’s 1938. After the Night of Broken Glass, Oskar’s parents feel they must send him to America, so he can be safe. Traveling all alone, Oskar arrives in New York City on the seventh day of Hanukkah, which also happens to be Christmas Eve. He must walk a long way across the city to reach his Aunt Esther, hoping to reach her house before she lights the menorah at sunset.
Aunt Esther does not know he is coming, so he must navigate the cold streets by himself, over 100 blocks on the big street called Broadway. It is rather daunting for a small boy, but Oskar is comforted by his father’s last words to him: “Oskar, even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.”
It’s the early 20th century, and Molly and her family have moved to the small town of Winter Hill from New York City. In the city, there were many immigrants like themselves, but, in Winter Hill, Molly is constantly teased by her classmates for the way she looks, talks, and dresses.
Everything is new to her, and some days are very hard. When the teacher gives the class an assignment to make a pilgrim doll from a clothespin, Molly’s mother helps her make it, but it doesn’t look like the others. The doll looks like a member of Molly’s family because Molly’s mother knows they are pilgrims, too. As Jews, they faced danger when they were no longer allowed to live peacefully in Russia because of their faith—much like the pilgrims leaving England for the New World.
Eduardo and Ciro watched their beautiful, bereft mother leave them behind, not looking back once. Surely, they were now orphans. Abandoned to be raised at a nunnery in the Italian Alps, they would grow into good if very different young men with only one hope—to see their mother again.
Sisters Pearl and May Chin are “Beautiful Girls”—artists’ models in 1930s Shanghai. They live in amazing times in a modern city, dancing at nightclubs, dining at expensive restaurants, buying new outfits, and having lots of admirers. Neither college-graduate Pearl nor everyone’s darling May give much thought to their futures. They think they can go on like this forever, marrying as they choose, if they choose. Unfortunately for these Shanghai Girls, they are quite mistaken.
Set in the Gilded Age of the 1890s through the beginning of the 20th century, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, by Susan Vreeland, paints a not always pretty picture of New Yorkers’ lives during one of the city’s most bustling periods. These were the days when the Statue of Liberty was new, thousands of hopeful European immigrants crowded into slums, and, for a few talented and lucky young women, there was a chance to be independent and earn good wages at Mr. Tiffany’s stained glass studio.
She never knew her father the farmer. But in Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks, Kim is determined to do something to connect with him, though he died before she was born in far-off Vietnam. Her mother and sisters remember him with incense and candles on the anniversary of his death. However, that’s not enough for Kim. She has something else in mind even though the prospect of carrying it through is unnerving. The Cleveland neighborhood her family can afford to live in is scary. But outside the apartment building is vacant lot. Well, it’s not exactly vacant. It’s filled with junk—an old couch, tires, all kinds of trash—a real haven for rats. But it’s ground that’s not spoken for. And Kim has a plan.
It’s 1900, and lovely, smart Hilda Johansson is one of many immigrants working as live-in servants to rich households in Southbend, Indiana. In Jeanne M. Dams’ Death in Lacquer Red, Hilda has a pleasant if strenuous life, working hard to save money to bring her other family members over from Sweden. She is being courted by a handsome Irish fireman who won’t let the fact that their families wouldn’t approve--he’s Catholic and she’s Lutheran--get in the way of the romance. Even so, a dead body in the lilac bushes does put a damper on their day out together.
In a reverse chronological sequence of events, Julia Alvarez takes her readers through the immigration experience of the four Garcia sisters: Carla, Sandra, Yolanda and Sofia in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Leaving behind a life of privilege surrounded by their large extended family, the four girls move with their Papi and Mami to New York City, and begin the long, never-ending process of assimilating into American culture. The story is as much a coming of age tale as it is a feminist, Latino perspective on American culture, beautifully conveyed with a sprinkling of Spanish vocabulary here and there.