Category: Immigration

Ghost Author

Immigration Stories That Will Belong to America

By Ghost Author, Sep 10, 2013 11:38 AM

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by Anna Challet

Birds of Paradise Lost
by Andrew Lam
Red Hen Press, 2013

For the refugees who left Vietnam on boats and in helicopters, the journey home has been long and strange, if home has been found at all. It has been almost forty years since the fall of Saigon, when Andrew Lam and his family left Vietnam on a cargo plane—a passage that would take them to Camp Pendleton and then to San Francisco. In the time since that passage, Lam has become an award-winning journalist and written three books.

The thirteen stories in Lam’s most recent collection, Birds of Paradise Lost, are populated by refugees of the Vietnam War who came to the Bay Area, as well as their children and friends—but each story is a world unto itself. Lam’s characters are haunted by what they have lost, transfixed by embers that still cloud the air with smoke. What Lam explores is the question of whether they can conquer the ghosts, or at least learn to live with them peacefully.

I met Lam about a year ago, when the collection was in its final stages of editing, and was immediately struck by his disarming sense of humor, with its mischievousness and sharp edge. His stories are informed by the country that he lost, but his lightheartedness buoys words that weigh heavy on the heart. With the knowledge that everything familiar can disappear all at once, he smiles with ghosts and laughs in darkness.

And if humor and loss are bound up in each other in Lam’s work, no story in the collection illustrates this better than “Grandma’s Tales.”

In “Grandma’s Tales,” the parents of two teenage children go to Vegas for a vacation, leaving the boy and girl with their grandmother—who promptly dies. In what seems like a natural move at the time, the kids decide to “ice” her:

She was small enough that she fit right above the TV dinner trays and the frozen yogurt bars we were going to have for dessert. We wrapped all of grandma’s five-foot-three, ninety-eight-pound lithe body in Saran wrap and kept her there and hoped Mama and Papa would get the Mama-Papa-come-home-quick-Grandma’s-dead letter that we sent to Circus Circus, where they were staying, celebrating their thirty-third wedding anniversary.

Now, Grandma has lived a hard life—she has endured three wars and the deaths of four children and twelve grandchildren. To survive all this only to be shoved into the freezer by her American grandkids may be the ultimate injustice. But then, in what seems like a natural progression, she rises from the dead, leaving a trail of water throughout the house. Our narrator, the male child, shows less anxiety than one would expect over this turn of events. Grandma refuses to wait for the parents to come home and give her a proper funeral, and she leaves to travel the world, planning to make a stop at her old home in Hanoi.

Lam never mentions anything about the resurrection having been a dream. We are both sure and unsure. Following Grandma’s disappearance, the family is in mourning:

While the incense smoke drifted all over the house and the crying and wailing droned like cicadas humming on the tamarind tree in the summer back in Vietnam, Grandma wasn’t around. Grandma had done away with the normal plot for tragedy, and life after her was not going to be so simple anymore.

They heard cicadas buzz when Grandma died—the cicada itself a bug of resurrection.

Grandma won’t stay in the freezer and wait for her own funeral, and Lam won’t be held captive by his own experience of Vietnam. He too does away with the “normal plot for tragedy.” He is not imprisoned by his own past or by the label of being an immigrant writer. His memories may provide the fuel, but each story is a very different flame—some burst with unexpected colors, while others are quiet and send up a trail of black smoke into the sky.

In the latter vein is the titular “Birds of Paradise Lost,” a story of self-immolation at the heart of the collection. The narrator’s best friend sets himself on fire in Washington, D.C., to protest Vietnam’s communist regime. The narrator and his adult son get into an argument over what the act meant, his son believing that his father’s friend must not have been “of sound mind” to do such a thing. After they exchange words in the car on the way to Thanksgiving dinner, the narrator, an old man, gets out of the car and walks alone down the twilight streets:

My son’s question plagued me. Where should love for country end and where should common sense begin?

Could I pour gasoline on myself and light a match? Should I? Why should I?

… A car approached. Its bright headlights woke me from my torments. I squinted and thought for a second that it was my son coming back for me, but it passed by without slowing. When it was gone, I felt so disappointed that I nearly wept.

What has it all meant—the leaving, the suffering, the sacrifice? Has it meant anything at all? The self-immolation of the narrator’s friend provides no answers, and the narrator is left wanting only to be with his son. It’s the tension of simultaneous belonging and alienation; the narrator chooses to walk away from his son, and yet longs for his son to come find him. He wants to stand with his friend who has seemingly given his life for his country, but he questions what the act even meant. Home is far away but his son is somewhere nearby. He must keep walking; he must learn to let go.

When I interviewed Lam about Birds of Paradise Lost for a piece in New America Media (the ethnic news organization where he is an editor and I am a reporter), he told me that he writes “with the confidence that these stories, written from the heart, will belong, in time, to America.” In this vein, Lam writes in English, which is his third language (after Vietnamese and French).

Lam’s readiness to “give” these stories to America stands in contrast to much of our public discourse on immigrants. In Lam’s stories, hearts may wander from one place to another when the only option is to survive, but the characters are fully engaged in building on top of the ashes. The most heartbreaking of these stories often involve the separation of parents and children; when Lam and his family left Vietnam in 1975, when he was eleven, they had to do so without his father, a general in the South Vietnamese army. Their family was reunited later that year. There is a depth of understanding in Lam’s stories about parents and children having to leave each other (both literally and figuratively), and about the joy and grace of their reuniting and moving on.

In many ways, isn’t this life as anyone might understand it? We leave, we come home, and we find home is not as it once was. We fear, we hold tightly to the people we love, we learn how to live a different way.

I am hopeful that these stories of America will soon “belong to” America as well.

Anna Challet is a reporter for New America Media in San Francisco. This review originally appeared on

Andrew Lam

Two Years on, Remembering The Fukushima Disaster

By Andrew Lam, Mar 11, 2013 10:39 AM

Two years ago the Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated the region. They seriously damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant, sending radiated fumes into the air and leaking radiation into the waters. Nearly 16,000 people were killed by the earthquake and tidal waves, and 2,600 others were missing.

The letter below, written in Vietnamese by an immigrant who was working in Fukushima as a policeman to a friend in Vietnam, was published in newspapers and circulated on the Internet a week or so after the incident. It is an extraordinary testimony to the strength and dignity of the Japanese spirit, and an interesting slice of life near the epicenter of Japan's current crisis, the Fukushima nuclear power plant. I translated and published it on New America Media two weeks after the disaster struck on March 11, 2011. It was subsequenlty translated into at least a dozen other languages and went around the globe. I am reposting it here on the occasion of the two-year anniversary of the Tohoku disaster.


How are you and your family? These last few days, everything was in chaos. When I close my eyes, I see dead bodies. When I open my eyes, I also see dead bodies. Each one of us must work 20 hours a day, yet I wish there were 48 hours in the day, so that we could continue helping and rescuing folks.

We are without water and electricity, and food rations are near zero. We barely managed to move refugees to one place before there were new orders to move them elsewhere.

I am currently in Fukushima, about 25 kilometers away from the nuclear power plant. I have so much to tell you that if I could write it all down, it would surely turn into a novel about human relationships and behaviors during times of crisis.

The other day I ran into a Vietnamese-American. His name is Toan. He is an engineer working at the Fukushima 1 nuclear plant, and he was wounded right at the beginning, when the earthquake struck. With the chaos that ensued, no one helped him communicate with his family. When I ran into him I contacted the US embassy, and I have to admit that I admire the Americans' swift action: They sent a helicopter immediately to the hospital and took him to their military base.

But the foreign students from Vietnam are not so lucky. I still haven't received news of them. If there were exact names and addresses of where they work and so on, it would be easier to discover their fate. In Japan, the police do not keep accurate residential information the way they do in Vietnam, and privacy law here makes it even more difficult to find.

I met a Japanese woman who was working with seven Vietnamese women, all here as foreign students. Their work place is only 3 kilometers from the ocean and she said that they don't really understand Japanese. When she fled, the students followed her, but when she checked back they were gone. Now she doesn't know if they managed to survive. She remembers one woman's name: Nguyen thi Huyen (or Hien).

No representatives from the Vietnamese embassy have shown up, even though on the Vietnamese Internet news sites they claim to be very concerned about Vietnamese citizens in Japan - all of it a lie.

Even us policemen are going hungry and thirsty, so can you imagine what those Vietnamese foreign students are going through? The worst things here right now are the cold, the hunger and thirst, the lack of water and electricity.

People here remain calm - their sense of dignity and proper behavior are very good - so things aren't as bad as they could be. But given another week, I can't guarantee that things won't get to a point where we can no longer provide proper protection and order. They are humans after all, and when hunger and thirst override dignity, well, they will do whatever they have to do. The government is trying to provide air supply, bringing in food and medicine, but it's like dropping a little salt into the ocean.

Brother, there are so many stories I want to tell you - so many, that I don't know how to write them all. But there was a really moving incident. It involves a little Japanese boy who taught an adult like me a lesson on how to behave like a human being. Last night, I was sent to a little grammar school to help a charity organization distribute food to the refugees. It was a long line that snaked this way and that and I saw a little boy around 9 years old. He was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of shorts.

It was getting very cold and the boy was at the very end of the line. I was worried that by the time his turn came there wouldn't be any food left. So I spoke to him.


He said he was in the middle of PE at school when the earthquake happened. His father worked nearby and was driving to the school. The boy was on the third floor balcony when he saw the tsunami sweep his father's car away. I asked him about his mother. He said his house is right by the beach and that his mother and little sister probably didn't make it. He turned his head and wiped his tears when I asked about his relatives.

The boy was shivering so I took off my police jacket and put it on him. That's when my bag of food ration fell out. I picked it up and gave it to him. "When it comes to your turn, they might run out of food. So here's my portion. I already ate. Why don't you eat it."

The boy took my food and bowed. I thought he would eat it right away, but he didn't. He took the bag of food, went up to where the line ended and put it where all the food was waiting to be distributed. I was shocked. I asked him why he didn't eat it and instead added it to the food pile. He answered: "Because I see a lot more people hungrier than I am. If I put it there, then they will distribute the food equally."

When I heard that I turned away so that people wouldn't see me cry. It was so moving -- a powerful lesson on sacrifice and giving. Who knew a 9-year-old in third grade could teach me a lesson on how to be a human being at a time of such great suffering? A society that can produce a 9-year-old who understands the concept of sacrifice for the greater good must be a great society, a great people.

It reminds me of a phrase that I once learned in school, a capitalist theory from the old man, Fuwa [Tetsuzo], chairman of the Japanese Communist Party: "If Marx comes back to life, he will have to add a phrase to his book, Capital, and that 'Communist ideology is only successful in Japan.'"

Well, a few lines to send you and your family my warm wishes. The hours of my shift have begun again.
- Ha Minh Thanh

The above letter was originally published in New America Media where Andrew Lam is one of the editors. He is the author of "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora" (Heyday Books, 2005), which won a Pen American "Beyond the Margins" award, and "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres".

His latest book, "Birds of Paradise Lost," a collection of short stories about Vietnamese immigrants struggling to rebuild their lives in the Bay Area after a painful exodus, was recently published by Red Hen Press. He has lectured and read his work widely at many universities.


Cover of Birds of Paradise Lost

Andrew Lam

Nói Chuyện với nhà văn Andrew Lâm

By Andrew Lam, Mar 7, 2013 3:38 PM

Anna Challet, New America Media

Andrew Lâm, tác giả của cuốn hồi ký "Perfume Dreams: Những Phản Ánh Về Người Việt Hải Ngoại," và biên tập viên thuộc hảng New America Media một thời gian dài hai mươi năm, đã làm nên tên tuổi của mình là một nhà báo và nhà bình luận, nhưng trong cuốn sách mới nhất của ông, quá khứ của mình là một người tị nạn Việt Nam thông qua những câu chuyện ngắn về các nhân vật chạy khỏi Việt Nam và làm lạI cuộc sống mới tại Vùng Vịnh. "Lâm đã ngay lập tức thành lập mình là một trong những nhà văn viễn tưởng tốt nhất của Mỹ,” lưu ý tác giả Robert Olen Butler, trong khi nhà văn Oscar Hijuelos quan sát cho rằng " văn chính xác của Lâm được xuất hiện trong nhiều câu chuyện mê hoặc; và bộ sưu tập là một cương lĩnh hùng vĩ.”

New America MEdia đã nói chuyện với anh Andrew Lâm về việc thu thập, Birds of Paradise Lost (Red Hen Press, 2013), trong tháng này.

Birds of Paradise Lost là cuốn sách đầu tiên tiểu thuyết của anh- làm thế nào anh đến để xuất bản một bộ sưu tập tiểu thuyết sau nhiều năm làm một nhà báo?

Tôi đã viết truyện ngắn cho hai mươi năm nay, từ khi còn học trong chương trình văn bản sáng tạo tại San Francisco State University. Mặc dù sau này tôi tìm thấy một sự nghiệp làm nhà báo và một nhà viết tiểu luận, tiểu thuyết là tình yêu đầu tiên của tôi và tôi không bao giờ bỏ nó, mặc dù đã có không có cách nào dễ dàng để kiếm sống viết tiểu thuyết. Bộ sưu tập này là một lao động của tình yêu và sự tận tâm, và bất cứ khi nào tôi tìm thấy thời gian không bận rộn từ công việc báo chí của tôi, tôi làm việc viết tiểu thuyết hay cách khác, phác thảo về các nhân vật của tôi, và các vấn đề nghiên cứu khác nhau liên quan đến tình huống khó xử của nhân vật của tôi. Sau hai mươi năm và ba mươi câu chuyện, cuối cùng đã được lựa chọn 13 bài và bộ sưu tập đã được sinh ra. Cho đến nay các lời ngưỡng mộ từ Maxine Hong Kingston, Gish Jen, Robert Olen Butler, Oscar Hijuelos, và những người khác rất là khuyến khích.

Anh đã viết nhiều bài tiểu luận cá nhân và tác phẩm phi hư cấu về đến Hoa Kỳ từ Việt Nam. Cảm giác thế nào để mang lại kinh nghiệm đó vào cuộc sống của các nhân vật hư cấu của bạn?

Vâng, tôi luôn luôn nói rằng văn bản phi hư cấu so với viết tiểu thuyết là như kiến trúc so với hội họa trừu tượng. Trong phi tiểu thuyết, bạn phải ở lại đúng với sự kiện lịch sử, có thể là cá nhân hoặc quốc gia... Trong tiểu thuyết, nó là như bạn nhập vào một thế giới trong mơ mà bạn tạo ra, nhưng nhân vật của bạn có ý riêng của họ. Họ không làm những gì bạn muốn họ làm - họ gặp rắc rối, làm người nghiện thuốc, người chiến đấu qua những điều nhỏ mọn, và làm những điều thái quá mà bạn sẽ không muốn trẻ con của bạn làm. Nói cách khác, bạn chỉ có thể cung cấp nền tảng những hạt giống—trong trường hợp của tôi là nền tảng của người Việt tị nạn. Khi một nhân vật trong truyện linh động, người đó không giảng dạy về lịch sử của mình mà sống cuộc sống của mình, họ làm những điều bất ngờ, và làm cho bạn cười và khóc vì sai sót của và những nhược điểm của con người.

Làm thế nào bạn đi lên với tiêu đề?

Birds of Paradise Lost -- Thiên Điểu Phi Xư’- nó là tiêu đề của một trong 13 câu chuyện trong cuốn sách, và nó là một câu chuyện đề cập với cái chết và lòng thù hận và sự phản đối qua cách tự thiêu. Trong câu chuyện, người bạn tốt nhất của người kể chuyện cam kết tự thiêu tại Washington, DC và để lại một lưu ý rằng nói ông ghét chế độ cộng sản Việt Nam và mong muốn cái chết của mình để kêu gọi sự chú ý đến sự tàn ác của cộng sản. Nhưng ông cũng làm bạn bè của mình tại San Jose, California, quay cuồng từ cái chết của ông. Đó có phải là một hành động yêu nước? Một khách du lịch đi qua chụp một hình ảnh của người đàn ông trên lửa, và ngọn lửa nhắc nhở người kể chuyện của hoa Thiên Điểu - như một con chim phượng hoàng, như một ngọn lửa và một đoá hoa.

Tiếng Anh là ngôn ngữ thứ ba của anh, sau khi Việt Nam và Pháp. Làm thế nào mà anh đã đến viết bằng tiếng Anh - "lưỡi mẹ ghẻ" của anh?

Tôi có một câu chuyện vui để nói về tiếng Anh và làm thế nào tôi đã rơi vào tình yêu với ngôn ngữ. Khi tôi đến Hoa Kỳ vào năm 1975, tôi mười một tuổi, và trong vòng vài tháng giọng nói của tôi phá vỡ. Tôi đã tuyệt vọng để phù hợp và nói tiếng Anh tất cả các thời gian. Vấn đề là, trong gia đình tôi nói tiếng Anh đó là một không-không bởi vì bằng cách nào đó nó là thiếu tôn trọng để gọi cha mẹ và ông bà là "you, you" – nó có vẽ như dùng để tấn công bằng tiếng Việt. Nhưng tôi không thể nghe lời.

Tôi đọc quảng cáo như một con vẹt, tôi nói tiếng Anh tiếng không ngừng. Anh trai của tôi một đêm nói là, " mày nói quá nhiều tiếng Anh, đó là lý do tại sao các hợp âm giọng nói của mày tan vỡ. Bây giờ mày nói chuyện như một con vịt.”

Tôi nghĩ đó là sự thật. Tôi từ cậu bé Việt Nam ngọt giọng khi nói tiếng Việt và tiếng Pháp biến thành một thiếu niên lên tiếng vỡ giọng. Tôi nghĩ, "Wow, tiếng Anh là giống như ảo thuật." Nó không chỉ tan vỡ giọng nói của tôi, nó còn thay đổi sinh lý. Tôi tin rằng điều này cho nhiều tháng, tin rằng tiếng Anh kỳ diệu trong ngôn ngữ. Tôi không bao giờ rơi ra khỏi của quan điểm này .

Amanda Peterson Beadle

New Report Shows That Border Benchmarks Already Have Been Met

By Amanda Peterson Beadle, Feb 1, 2013 4:30 PM

As the components of what should be included in an immigration reform bill take shape, border security, along with enforcement, is proving to be a key part of the framework. Eight senators released a bipartisan proposal earlier this week that included a path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States. The catch is that implementation of this provision is “contingent upon our success in securing our borders and addressing visa overstays.” The day after the senators presented their framework, President Obama laid out his vision of what should be included in immigration reform legislation during a speech to labor leaders in Nevada. The president called for a clear path to citizenship that’s not contingent on securing the border, but he said the nation needs to stay focused on immigration enforcement. “That means continuing to strengthen security at our borders,” Obama said during his speech. “It means cracking down more forcefully on businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers.”

Mary Giovagnoli

Senate's Symbolic Bill Rings Opening Bell on Immigration Reform

By Mary Giovagnoli, Jan 25, 2013 2:31 PM

This week, the White House revealed that President Obama will lay out a proposal for immigration reform at a speech in Nevada next week. The visit to the home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may reflect the strong support Reid and Nevada Latinos have given to Obama. It also follows Senator Reid’s clear message this week of his ongoing intent to press for immigration reform by putting it at the top of the Senate legislative priorities list for the 113th Congress. Although symbolic, the first bill introduced in the Senate this year, S. 1, is a bill to reform America’s broken immigration system or “The Immigration Reform that Works for America’s Future Act.” It contains ten principles for reform that reflect much of the common wisdom on what is needed to create a working and productive immigration system. Now, all we need is the actual bill.

Erika Andiola

Erika Andiola: No More Broken Families

By Erika Andiola, Jan 14, 2013 10:00 AM

In an open letter to Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, undocumented immigrant activist Erika Andiola calls for immigration reform that keeps families together. Andiola's mother and brother were arrested last week in an immigration raid on her home. They were released from immigration detention the next day.

Dear Senator Flake and Senator McCain,

Thursday night I heard a banging knock at the door. I looked through the window and immigration agents asked me to open the door because they were conducting an “investigation.”

Leslie Berestein Rojas

Who Had the Longest Wait for an Immigrant Visa This Month?

By Leslie Berestein Rojas, Jan 9, 2013 12:05 AM


It's a brand new year, but the wait for family-sponsored immigrant visas is about where we left it a month ago. As usual, brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens from the Philippines are enduring the longest waits, followed by these citizens' adult married sons and daughters. Hopeful immigrants from Mexico follow in line.

Mary Giovagnoli

DHS Publishes New Provisional Waiver to Help Some Families Stay Together

By Mary Giovagnoli, Jan 4, 2013 12:20 PM

Immigration Impact

Some families facing long separations from their loved ones because of U.S. immigration laws will have an easier time of it in 2013. Thanks to a new regulation from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), immediate relatives of U.S. citizens will be able to complete part of the processing of their immigration cases without leaving the country. The “Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver of Inadmissibility for Certain Immediate Relatives” rule, often referred to as the new family unity rule, will be published tomorrow (January 3, 2013) and become effective on March 4.

Andrew Lam

Birds of Paradise Lost: Stories about Vietnamese Immigrants in California

By Andrew Lam, Dec 27, 2012 12:03 PM

 The thirteen stories in Birds of Paradise Lost shimmer with humor and pathos as they chronicle the anguish and joy and bravery of America's newest Americans, the troubled lives of those who fled Vietnam and remade themselves in the San Francisco Bay Area. The past?memories of war and its aftermath, of murder, arrest, re-education camps and new economic zones, of escape and shipwreck and atrocity?is ever present in these wise and compassionate stories.

Walter Ewing

Colorado Digs Itself Into a Fiscal Hole in the Name of Immigration Enforcement

By Walter Ewing, Dec 17, 2012 10:30 AM

Immigration Impact

At a time when state budget deficits are growing larger, you might think that state governments would avoid imposing costly, unfunded mandates on themselves. Yet that is exactly what states are doing when they pass laws that transform their police officers into proxy immigration agents. As officers spend more of their scarce resources and time rounding up people whom they suspect of being unauthorized immigrants, costs mount not only for the police force, but for jails and courts as well. More often than not, these costs are being needlessly incurred in order to lock up people who are in no way a threat to public safety.

Ben Winograd

Guidance on ICE Detainers Sends Ripples Through California

By Ben Winograd, Dec 13, 2012 2:47 PM

Immigration Impact

Every year, local law enforcement agencies receive thousands of requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to keep individuals in custody—even after they are entitled to release—while federal officers determine whether to initiate removal proceedings. Last Tuesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued simple but groundbreaking guidance to all law enforcement agencies in the state, clarifying that they have no legal obligation to honor so-called immigration “detainers.” Although Harris’ guidance was consistent with existing policies in numerous California counties, it has prompted other state law enforcement officials to publicly reconsider their willingness to cooperate with ICE.

Andrew Lam

Welcome to San Francisco, the Asian City by the Bay

By Andrew Lam, Dec 7, 2012 10:10 AM

 On a cable car over Nob Hill one morning, I overheard a blonde, middle-age tourist whisper this confidence to her companion: "It sure ain't Texas, I can tell you that much."

"No kidding," mumbled the burly man in a Hawaiian shirt as he continued filming the city with his camcorder.

The Texan couple's sense of displacement stems, at least in part, from San Francisco's unmistakable Oriental twang. For the tourist's camcorder is sure to capture, amid the city's Victorians and scenic hills, images that confirm San Francisco's central place in the Pacific Century: Young Asian students spilling out of grammar schools, video stores displaying the latest Hong Kong and Korean dramas, karaoke bars and sidewalk stalls filled with string beans, bokchoy, ginger and bitter melons.

San Francisco is now part of a statewide trend that has resulted in majority becoming minority, with minority continuing to surge and multiply. The latest census showed that whites have slowly shrunk to 48 percent of the population in San Francisco, becoming another minority in a city that has no majority. The city's Asian population, on the other hand, has risen above the 33 percent mark. That is, one in three San Francisco residents has an Asian face. For the population under 18, the number for Asian closer to 40 percent.

Politically and culturally, the result is something of a rumbling mid-Richter scale earthquake.

So much so that the current San Francisco Magazine has an unflattering picture of Rose Pak, a political activist with strong advocacy for Chinatown, on its cover, smoking a cigar. The headline: Who Runs San Francisco?

Mary Giovagnoli

This Week's Immigration Proposals: Old News, Old Ideas

By Mary Giovagnoli, Nov 29, 2012 12:10 PM

Immigration Impact

If you follow immigration, but are returning from a month-long, news-free vacation, there’s only one conclusion you would draw from the legislation Republicans offered up this week in Congress: Mitt Romney must have won the presidential election. After all, the ACHIEVE Act, introduced Tuesday by retiring Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), which offers temporary legal status but no path to citizenship to DREAMers, is surely the bill they were preparing to offer in the event that a Romney Administration was in the wings. And on the House side, a slightly revised version of the STEM Jobs Act—which failed on the suspension calendar before the election—is back on the floor at the end of this week without changing any of the problems that led to its defeat before. Surely, this suggests that the predictions that immigration would play a decisive role in the presidential election didn’t pan out and that self-deportation as an immigration reform strategy worked. Except, none of this is true.

Andrew Lam

'Shh-Thanks-Givin': My First Thanksgiving in America -- A Former Refugee Remembers

By Andrew Lam, Nov 19, 2012 1:54 PM

I wrote this piece a few years back but everyt Thankgiving, it finds meanings and renewals, sort of like that movie "It's a Wonderful Life," starring Jimmy Steward, at Christmas time. So here it is again, and enjoy. Andrew

 "Thanks-giving," said Mr. K., my seventh-grade English teacher. "Repeat after me: Thanksgiving."

"Ssshthanks give in," I said, but the word tumbled and hissed, turning my mouth into a wind tunnel. A funny word, "Ssshthanks give in," hard on my Vietnamese tongue, tough on my refugee's ears.

"That's good," said Mr. K., full of encouragement. "Very good. Thanksgiving."

As I helped him tape students' drawings of turkeys and pilgrims and Indians on the classroom windows, Mr. K. patiently explained to me the origins of the holiday. You know the story: newcomers to America struggling, surviving and finally thriving in the New World, thanks to the kindness of the natives.

I could barely speak a complete sentence in English, having spent less than three months in America, but Mr. K.'s story wasn't all that difficult to grasp. Still, I didn't particularly see what it could have to do with me.

My family and I had arrived in America several months earlier, at the end of the Vietnam War. My father, a high-ranking officer in the South Vietnamese army, was missing, having adamantly refused to join us when we fled in a cargo plane heading out of Saigon two days before communist tanks rolled in. Father -- who had stayed in Vietnam determined to fight to the end in the jungle -- was the center of our lives, and his absence left a horrible void.

We had arrived in America with nothing but rags in our backpacks and a few ounces of gold that my mother had tucked into her money belt. An impoverished aunt took us all in. Soon there were 10 people crowding together in Auntie Lisa's tiny two-bedroom apartment at the end of Mission Street in San Francisco.

Today, in her suburban condo at the edge of California's Silicon Valley, my mother is fond of referring to our first year in America as "a time of living like wandering ghosts." We had, after all, gone from being an elite family in Saigon, with three servants and a villa, to being exiles with little to our name. We did not speak English and had no discernible skills. Without Father, who was educated and spoke English, we were destined for a life of poverty.

In that refugee's broken home, there was an oppressive silence. We ate in silence in the dining room that served as a bedroom at night. We waited silently in line for the bathroom, slept silently side by side, as if saying anything would only bring us all to tears.

Indeed, Mr. K, what was there to be thankful for?

Ah, but there was.

A few days after Mr. K. explained Thanksgiving to me, something marvelous happened: My father called. He had survived, and would soon join us, having changed his mind and escaped aboard a crowded naval ship from Saigon.

When Father arrived he was skinny and haggard, no longer the war hero of my memories, but he nevertheless brought jubilation into our lives. I remember hearing my mother laugh, hearing the adults gossip and argue, and sometimes I would close my eyes, pretending that we were all still living in Saigon. One morning I looked in the mirror and was surprised to see a boy's face smiling back at me.

As the holiday drew near, I had a change of heart about Thanksgiving. If Vietnam's final act of mercy was to release its grip on my father, America was generosity itself. As in Mr. K's story, it was populated by friendly natives who helped us out. There was that businessman at the L.A. airport, a stranger, who offered to pay for my entire family's plane tickets to San Francisco when we left the refugee camp of Pendleton. In school my friends Remigio, Tai, Marvin, Wayne, Robert -- white, black, Filipino, Mexican kids -- all adopted me. Eric taught me to play baseball; 200-pound Tai protected me from the rowdy kids; and Robert, the popular blue-eyed jock, offered to take me on vacation with his family. And best of all Mr. K., ever patient and nurturing, made me his pet. Whenever I missed the bus, or even simply asked, he would drive me home after school.

That Thanksgiving my family gathered on the floor and ate two gigantic turkeys donated by religious charities. The kids fought over the food and the adults talked about job prospects. There was even talk of a possible trip next summer to the place I equated with paradise: Disneyland.

Sssthanks give in. Thanksgiving.

We have moved into the middle class since then. My father retired from his job as a bank executive, my mother from hers as an accountant. My brother and his wife are successful suburban engineers. My sister lives in a luxury condo downtown San Francisco and, not far away, I in mine. Thanksgiving at my brother's home this year will be replete with wines and seafood and crab and yes, turkey, and fabulous Vietnamese dishes. But the Thanksgiving I remember with fond memories is the first one, where we ate on the floor and wore donated clothes, and when I was just learning to pronounce the word.

New America Media editor, Andrew Lam is the author of "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora" (Heyday Books, 2005), which recently won a Pen American "Beyond the Margins" award and "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres." His next book, "Birds of Paradise Lost" is due out in 2013. He has lectured and read his work widely at many universities.

Jenny Rejeske

DACA Recipients Shut Out of Affordable Health Care

By Jenny Rejeske, Nov 16, 2012 11:00 AM

National Immigration Law Center

The Obama administration’s decision to cut access to affordable health care for young people granted relief from deportation hurts everyone. This decision came weeks after the administration initiated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which lifts the cloud of deportation for immigrant youth who have grown up here. At the same time, the administration quietly issued policy changes excluding DACA recipients from federal health insurance programs, effectively shutting their door to affordable health care.

Andrew Lam

Aging and My Traveling Life

By Andrew Lam, Oct 9, 2012 3:10 PM

 Two passports -- one new, the other old -- arrived in the mail the other day. The new, with its tough, blue covers and pristine, rigid pages that still resist my prying fingers is a stark contrast to the ink-stained, mud-smeared epic next to it, now punctured by the passport agency and rendered obsolete by the State Department.

In the old passport, I am a young man looking out to customs officers everywhere with a kind of trusting optimism. The skin that glows, the red lips, the dark, wavy hair that draped over my brows all convey something of innocence; a young man on a quest.

In the new passport, the photo shows someone else entirely; a weathered man in middle age with a sad smile and fine wrinkles around his eyes, and worse, a receding hairline. I look at this photo, myself in the present, and wonder: where did the time go?

Every man is vain, and I, of course, am no exception. In my late 20s, I was often mistaken by college students as their classmates and not their guest lecturer. And was it only a few years ago that a new intern at my news service mistook me for a fellow intern and not her editor? Then -- who knows when exactly, and which sun-drenched country was I traveling through -- the wrinkles came and the hair fell and fell.

Still, aging or not, I continue to go abroad. I do not know where the impulse to travel comes from but I have always had it, bad, ever since I was four or five. A Vietnamese child living in the Mekong Delta, I remember listening to my French educated father's stories of snow. Snow on the gilded bridges across the Seine and in the well groomed parks of Paris, snow across his bunker's window when he was a military exchange cadet in Denver, Colorado and snow on barren trees and moss strewn rock gardens and temple roof tops of fabled Kyoto.

Marisa Treviño

Conservative Pundit Says Immigrants' Rights Are Not Civil Rights. Who Is She Kidding?

By Marisa Treviño, Sep 25, 2012 12:06 PM


No Sunday TV viewing is complete without watching the Sunday morning pundit roundtables. It was a nice surprise to see Jorge Ramos as one of this week with George Stephanopoulos‘ panelists. Of course, it was to recognize the new ABC/Univision partnership and Ramos’ recent interviews with Romney and Obama, but it was nice to have someone there who was speaking from firsthand knowledge rather than making assumptions.

Sylvia Manzano

The Latino Gender Gap: Latina Voters Prefer Obama by 53-Point Margin

By Sylvia Manzano, Sep 17, 2012 10:08 AM

Latino Decisions

With seven weeks until the election Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s potential gender gap with women faces a new hurdle in the Latino community, as reported today by Pilar Marrero. According to the fourth week of the impreMedia/Latino Decisions tracking poll Latina voters plan to vote for President Obama by a margin of 74% to 21% for Romney – a 53 point gap. Among Latino men, 61% plan to vote for Obama and 32% for Romney. The September 17 polling data suggest the president continues to solidify his lead among Latinos, and there are no signs of cracks in the Obama coalition among Latino voters. Overall Obama holds 68% of the Latino vote to 26% for Romney, erasing the small bump Romney received in the September 3 (week 2) poll release following the RNC convention.

But it is among Latina voters that Romney and the Republican party fare the worst. The impreMedia/Latino Decisions tracking poll data show very clearly that Hispanic women are very opposed to Mitt Romney and the Republican Party image right now. Romney’s favorability is 27% among Latino men and just 22% among Latinas, while Republicans in Congress are seen favorably by 29% of men, but just 20% of women in the Latino community. Looking towards the vote in the U.S. House, 68% of Latinas say they will vote Democrat compared to 59% of Latino men.

Given the focus of female voters and issues in the 2012 election the impreMedia/Latino Decisions tracking poll included a new question asking Hispanic respondents which party was better equipped to address issues important to women. When it comes to handling issues of concern to women, Latino voters – both men and women say that the Democratic Party is more trusted to handle women’s issues. However, among Latinas, we find a 65 point advantage for the Democrats on women’s issues, perhaps the largest gap on any policy issue our polling data has ever revealed – this is very bad news for the Republican Party. What’s more, our data indicate that Latinas are more motivated to vote in 2012 than are Latino men. Among Latinas, 59% say they are very enthusiastic about voting this year (51% for men) and 88% say they are certain to vote (84% of men).

Explaining the gender gap among Latinos

While much has been written about the gender gap in presidential election this year, little has been said about Hispanic women. Earlier this year, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto was one of the first to point out that Susana Martinez alone would not solve the Latina gender gap for Republicans, and that much deeper policy issues were at stake. Last week, Rob Preuhs pointed out that a June Latino Decisions poll in Colorado found a sizable gender gap emerging there as well. Given the historic and current state of party platforms and policy issues, we identify five reasons why Hispanic women are less inclined to support the Republican party.

1. The hostile rhetoric about immigrants has been gendered – “anchor babies” is a slur directed at Hispanic mothers – and it is no surprise Latinas think Democrats are better than Republicans at women’s issues. Ugly framing about Latina fertility and their children in context of immigration position-taking probably led many Latinas to think Republicans were not in their corner well before they started parsing words defining rape, adopted a platform position to ban all abortions, and waged a fight against covering birth control. It would be entirely shocking if Hispanic women suddenly became the champions of the party and candidates that put that phrase into the national lexicon.

2. When 78% of Latinas, and 68% of Latinos say that Democrats are better at women’s issues relative to the GOP, it is likely a reference to a whole host of issues that matter for Hispanic women, not merely a reference to abortion politics. Abortion and contraception consistently rank last among the most important issues to Latina and Latino voters. It almost does not matter how we conceive of “women’s issues”, Democrats have taken positions much more favorable to Hispanic women – affordable health care, DREAM Act support, Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court – compared to Republicans.

3. The idea that the economy, jobs, immigration, and health care are singular issues may not be so useful when we think about the perspective and experience Latinas (and Latinos for that matter) bring to these topics. It may not be useful to think about “the most important issue”, or “women’s issues” because things like jobs, economic concerns and heath care are inextricably connected for this community. For example, Latina voters are likely to have more care-giving responsibilities than other voters, and less income. We know that Latinos lack health care at higher rates, have more children than non-Latino whites, and have more multi-generational households (e.g. older family members live in the same home). All of these factors make “health care” more pressing for Latina voters who are concerned with their family’s actual health, as well as the impact it can have on the household’s economic stability.

4. Latina voters are more likely to say that the DREAM act is a priority issue, many Latinas – whether they are parents or not – think of the DREAM act as a long-term solution that provides economic and employment opportunities for their friends, children and larger community. So again, the economy and immigration policy are not two different things.

5. While there are differences between Hispanic men and women, it is important to notice that they are on the same side — well over half of Latinos and Latinas prefer Obama over Romney, are certain they will vote, and think Democratic outreach is much better than Republican outreach. This is not the same phenomenon as the white voter gender gap, that usually refers to men and women taking opposite positions on issues or candidates. The “Latino Gender Gap” is nothing like the white voter gender gap. Since Latinos and Latinas are similarly situated in terms of the social and economic status, their political preferences and behavior is pretty much alike. Hispanic men don’t like their kids being called “anchor babies”, or having their mothers insulted either.

Immigration Policy Center

New Americans Represent Team USA at the London Olympics

By Immigration Policy Center, Jul 27, 2012 11:47 AM

Today, the 2012 Olympics formally kick off in London where the best athletes from around the world are meeting to compete. The United States is well-represented, not only by our native born-athletes but by many “New Americans.” In fact, approximately 38 of those competing on Team USA are naturalized U.S. citizens. These athletes remind us that Americans come from all over the world.

Marisa Treviño

Anniversary of Civil Rights Law sees a renewed attack on the civil rights of Latinos, blacks and women

By Marisa Treviño, Jul 2, 2012 12:02 PM


The Civil Rights Act celebrates its 48th anniversary today. It was on July 2, 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law.