You don’t have to go far to read the narrative that political rhetoric and popular culture in the United States imposes on immigrants. Vilifying, belittling stereotypes make up a debate that treats immigrants like a monolith, or statistics, obfuscating human faces, truths, and stories.
This is not lost on young people.
The Migration Policy Institute reports that 25% of all children in the United States (roughly 17,500,000 children) have at least one immigrant parent. Of these children, 88% were born in the United States. At least 88% who have spent all or most of their lives in the United States, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance since kindergarten, growing up in the unique position of linking their parents’ old cultures to their new, American one. It is a singularly brave process.
Yet what are the social mirrors this brave, new home reflects back at young people? In a study by immigration scholars Carola and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, researchers asked children of immigrants to complete the sentence “Americans think we are —-.” A full 65% of children answered with negative associations: “stupid,” “garbage,” “lazy, gangsters, drug-addicts, that only come to take their jobs away.” The interviewees were between nine and fifteen years old.
It’s time for young people to hear, and create, the counternarratives.
The stories that come to children through media and personal confrontations with racism harm children’s sense of self (we’ll talk more on this later). So as I come of age, a Filipina American with a love for story, I’ve come to wrestle with three questions: What is the story of immigration, and who gets to tell it? What does it mean to be American?
And thus was born Intrepid YA.
Intrepid because children of immigrants, unlike those with American-born parents, grow up forging new paths from their parents’ cultural maps.
Intrepid because from language to social norms, they often take on the duty to learn how to adapt, both for themselves and for their families.
Intrepid because it is a fearless and uncertain thing to navigate multiple cultures.
This blog is a platform that highlights stories that give authentic, human accounts of the immigrant experience through the lens of young adult (YA) novels. Thus, I focus on reviewing and discussing YA novels with protagonists who are children of immigrants (1st generation Americans) and children who immigrated while very young (1.5 generation). The novels do not have to be “about” immigration: all teenagers are negotiating family dynamics, love, friends, life, belonging.
While children’s books are valuable, I chose YA novels because of the complexity of this life stage, when much of identity-building comes into play. Not only do they depict a dynamic life stage, but these are the books destined to fall into the hands of their real-life readers. These are the books have the potential to be the affirming mirrors. YA has the potential to mediate the narrative, for immigrant and non-immigrant youth.
To enrich understanding of the often-misrepresented immigrant story, the blog is also a platform to discuss literary depictions alongside the academic literature on the unique psychosocial development of adolescent children of immigrants. I can’t claim to know everything about the truths of every immigrant experience; this burgeoning academic field lends important insight to fictional narratives.
To remain true to the authenticity of depictions, I will only review #ownvoices YA. In light of the vast paucity of published authors of color as it stands, it follows that I would prioritize perspectives that have experienced growing up in an American immigrant family. The conversation on immigrants has long been dominated by outside voices.
While Intrepid YA has its beginnings in book reviews and discussions of human development, I hope that this blog will be a living, dynamic exploration. Immigration to the United States may share common themes, but as readers, we can’t ignore the diverse multiplicity of cultures, families, contexts, challenges, celebrations.
So comment. Engage. If you’re an educator. If you’re a writer. Readers (young, traditionally marginalized, or just curious) are especially welcome.
Let me know your thoughts. I am not able to represent all subjectivities; I will be learning at every step, about myself and others, making mistakes and listening and trying again to be better. Creating a literary landscape that affirms all children in the United States is a hard but worthy goal.
I hope you’ll be intrepid and join me in changing the narrative on immigration.