Can assembling immigrant stories bring change?

tags: immigration, activism

David A. Taylor is the author of two Library of Virginia Literary Award finalist books in nonfiction, and teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University. Contact him at david.taylor@jhu.edu.

Recently I got a letter in the mail from former U.S. Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal. This was not completely out of the blue, since I had sent him, with some misgivings, a copy of my new book containing recollections he shared of his first job in business in the 1950s.

Blumenthal had dispatched that episode of his life in his memoir with a few swift paragraphs. “I spent four intense and insane years at Crown Cork International,” he wrote. There he had a complicated relationship with his then-boss who, like Blumenthal, came to America as a young refugee from a war-torn Europe.

When I interviewed him about that relationship for the book, Blumenthal voiced skepticism about my project so I was doubtful he’d think much of it. So I was relieved to read his letter: “You may recall that I voiced some surprise that there was enough in your subject matter for an interesting story,” he wrote. “Now I see that there was!”

This echoed what researcher Madeline Lohman sees in immigrant narratives. The people closest to them — often the children — don’t get a full picture until much later. The Immigrant Stories collective started, says Lohman, a senior researcher with Advocates for Human Rights, “with second generation, and 1.5-generation immigrant youth” who pushed for recognition of the stories of their elders, stories that had for years been obscured by barriers of language, trauma or feelings of shame. For their generation, uncovering these stories triggered a desire to illuminate those experiences for the community.

Read entire article at Richmond Times-Dispatch

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