SOCIAL SCIENCES

A Beginner’s Guide to America

Knopf. Mar. 2021. 240p. ISBN 9780525656067. $26.95. SOC SCI
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Informed by her experience as an Iranian refugee, poet, and journalist, Hakakian (Journey from the Land No) describes the ongoing challenges and revelations that immigrants face in the United States. From learning English in ESL classes to the anxiety of finding work and dealing with potentially unhelpful job counselors, new Americans confront many practical struggles—and may also find that the process of immigrating itself can stress family bonds. Hakakian writes for her past self, and for refugees and immigrants adjusting to American culture, struggling to find solid responses to, “Where are you from?” as well as “Where are you really from?” She also warns that the United States will often disappoint, as Americans have a long history of demonizing immigration and U.S. foreign policy often supports dictators in other countries, including her homeland. Notably, she takes care to remind new Americans about the country’s ongoing strain of individualism, and how family and community aren’t always first and foremost.
VERDICT Although narrated as advice for incoming immigrants, this personal, yet practical account is intended to challenge misconceptions and biases that native-born U.S. citizens have toward documented and undocumented immigrants. It is highly recommended for all.

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