NEW AMERICANS: AN ORAL HISTORY: Immigrants and Refugees in the U.S. Today by Al Santoli

NEW AMERICANS: AN ORAL HISTORY: Immigrants and Refugees in the U.S. Today

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Immigrants and refugees from 15 countries tell of their lives in and adjustments to the US--in a flawed collection of oral histories. Stories of war, resistance, violent death, and torture come from refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Other immigrants come here for less terrifying reasons: A Filipino child star is now an American ballerina; an English woman who left her husband in favor of an American boyfriend ended up as a publishing executive in New York. Some themes emerge strongly: govermnent assistance is bad; free enterprise is good (a former Polish Solidarity leader approves of conditions in the nonunion factory where he works); American values break down the family structure; and the most successful immigrants are divorced. Among the most interesting sections here are those rich in context, such as the story of a Guatemalan Indian family in a farm labor camp that is preceded by the words of a priest who works on behalf of migrant workers. But sufficient context is often lacking. While the stated purpose of the book is to explore the impact of the massive new wave of immigration, the author includes stories of earlier arrivals--such as that of his own lather, who came from Italy in 1921. Any historical perspective here remains implicit, not stated. And there's a uniformity of tone to the narratives, perhaps because many of the interviews were conducted through interpreters, which makes these accounts less personal and engaging than those of Everything We Had, Santoli's 1981 oral history of the Vietnam War. Nonetheless, the stories are often inspiring, and the author succeeds in presenting new immigrants as people more likely to revitalize our society than to destroy it.

Pub Date: Nov. 22nd, 1988
Publisher: Viking