When you’re an immigrant coming from another country where you may be middle class or upper-middle class and privileged in many ways, you lose that status when you move to the US. All of that social capital that you and your family may have accumulated over the years, and that opened doors for you in your home country, that was your safety net — that no longer exists. No one in your new country knows what your background is. The new culture doesn’t know what to make of you. Back in India, my family was by no means wealthy, but we had a high social status because of education, because my parents had been to some of India’s top schools and colleges. That carried with it a real weight but was not acknowledged or known in the US.
Sylvester recently published her second novel, Everyone Knows You Go Home, which traces the trauma several generations of a Mexican American family face as they try to cross the border and settle into comfortable lives. When Martin and Isabel decide to get married on Día de los Muertos, Isabel knows his family history is fraught. But the appearance of Martin’s deceased father, Omar, and arrival of Martin’s teenage nephew from across the border help the family reconcile with their past. The premise, of a spirit helping to shed light on lost history, has been compared to that of Coco, but Sylvester’s work is less interested in revelations and happy endings. Her characters are marked by happenstance and ignorance, a testament to the devastating effects arbitrary laws can have on the lives of everyday people. The novel has been hailed as timely in the wake of increased anti-immigrant rhetoric, commentary Sylvester has explicitly rejected as well-intentioned but flattening. Like her parents’ reasons for immigrating, Everyone Knows You Go Home revels in uncertainty and refuses easy answers.
Each immigrant group possesses its own strategies for survival and success. For Italians, theirs rested upon two pillars: work and family. Italian immigrants helped provide the labor for American factories and mines and helped build roads, dams, tunnels, and other infrastructure. Their work provided them a small economic foothold in American society and allowed them to provide for their families, which stood at the core of Italian-American life.
Another paradox is that although Italian Americans tend to respect authority, especially the authority of parents and elders, they also harbor a suspicion of broader authority figures, such as politicians and the Catholic hierarchy. This stems from the distrust of such authority in Italy. In America, the family stood as a bulwark against the larger, sometimes hostile, institutions. Respect for authority within the family; suspicion of authority outside of the community.
This needull touched me. Most Asian parents work very hard to make sure that their children have a better life. They don’t express their love overtly but then they have their own way.
In spite of his work pride, my dad was still a very practical man. He continued singing the same song “Don’t be me” for a good decade more.
I’ll never pay dad a compliment in the same way he has never once praised me (nope, not even once). We have that kind of relationship where we hurl insults at each other to show affection. So he’d probably never get to hear this…
But Pa, you are exactly the person I want to be.
Europe is changing fast. Immigrants and refugees in all countries of Europe are growing each year. Today’s needull looks at the this change.
Germans have a word for what Franklin was afraid of: Überfremdung, or “overforeignization.” It’s the fear that home will become unrecognizable, because there are too many strangers in it, talking in strange languages and behaving in strange ways. Most of us, if we look into our hearts, can probably at least imagine the feeling. In Germany this past year it has been on fiery display. There have been large nighttime rallies and flaming rhetoric by right-wing orators in Dresden and Erfurt. There have been hundreds of attacks on refugee shelters, most still empty—although just days before Merkel’s press conference drunken thugs lobbed a Molotov cocktail into a child’s bedroom at a shelter in Salzhemmendorf, near Hanover.