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In the US we talk a lot about policy around immigration. However, we don’t talk enough about the modern immigrant experience, and having empathy and compassion for people seeking a better life. We don’t really discuss why someone would upend their lives, leave their homes and families and want to live here. We don’t talk about the stress on the family, especially while waiting for important papers like green cards and work or student visas. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue brings the first-hand account of a family who has come to the US from Cameroon to escape poverty. This book will transform the perspective of any reader b putting names, faces to the immigration debate. It brings empathy back to the conversation.
Jende Jonga came to the US from Cameroon and worked hard for years to be able to afford to bring over his wife, Neni, and their child. At first, things seem to be working out for the Jongas – Jende gets a “good paying job” ($30K a year to support a family in New York City) as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, an exec at Lehman Brothers. Neni gets into community college so she can start her education to become a pharmacist. Their little boy settles in at school.
As a chauffeur in 2008, Jende gets a front row view of the financial collapse, his boss right in the thick of things. As the economy fall apart across the country, these lives are not immune and stressers intensify. What will happen to this family who was only seeking a better life?
This book is well-rounded and human. There was humor and anger and love and family and fighting and singing. There were also societal critiques. Lots of them. Of how while people treat immigrants, people from other countries, black people, ‘the help’. That said, it would have also been easy to make the Clark family the bad guys, bland characters without empathy, but they’re not. No one in this book is. Every character is well-rounded, good, and very, very flawed.
This book was an incredible read and stands above many books I’ve read in a long time.
FHR Tip: The audiobook is well-read, and the reader sings some of the Cameroonian songs, which is something I would have missed if I just read the book.
Would I recommend it?
Yes. This is a perspective that is underrepresented in mainstream literature and overlooked in mainstream debate.
How did you feel about Behold the Dreamers? What did you think of the character development? What role does this book have in the current immigration debate?