This compilation of seventy-two essays about immigration captures immigrants’ experiences in the United States at a moment when their mere existence is being hotly contested. These powerful essays are organized around immigrants’ various motivations for coming to the U.S. Tisch and Skafidas aptly write:
Each immigrant has his or her own reasons for why they came to America. Some immigrants came here primarily to be free from oppression, others to find opportunity: still others came as an act of love, and some by force or coercion.
The people included in the book make up a diverse group, representing all faiths and ethnicities. Some of the essayists, including Alan Alda, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Barbara Boxer, Michael Bloomberg, and Nancy Pelosi, are well-known. But the stories of people without a recognizable name are also poignant and inspirational. These include the story of Juliana Perez-Calle, who came from Medellín and is a graduate of the American University Washington College of Law; Helen Polychronopoulus, a Greek immigrant who worked her whole life in the garment industry and saved enough money to allow her extended family to go to college; and Nassar Yahoobzadeh, a civil engineer, real estate developer, proud grandfather, and Jewish refugee from Iran. Tisch and Skafidas also include their own stirring autobiographical essays.
For the Jewish reader, the essays have special poignancy. Several of the essays describe how immigrants who fled pogroms in Europe and the Shoah were welcomed in America and began new lives for themselves and their families. The accomplishments of the writers and their parents are often astounding. Jeffrey and Richard Sarnoff write about their grandfather, Morris Saenoff — a poor Jewish immigrant who left a shtetl in Belarus to avoid the Czarist arm and made his way to America. He worked five years as a day-job printer to save enough money to bring his wife and sons to join him. The three sons each worked hard and succeeded in their own career paths. David, the oldest, went on to establish the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and transform the world of media. Another extraordinary achiever is Michael R. Bloomberg — entrepreneur, philanthropist, and former mayor of New York. Three of Bloomberg’s grandparents and six of his great-grandparents were immigrants. In his essay, Bloomberg eloquently describes their stories, which he characterizes as “quintessentially American.” Jewish immigrants are also impressive because of their social contributions. Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl, for instance, describes her immigrant journey from Korea to becoming the “first Asian-American to be ordained as a rabbi or cantor in the United States.”
One of Tisch and Skafidas’s stated goals is to remind people why “immigration is good for America.” The book accomplishes that and then some. It beautifully illustrates how immigrants have contributed to this country’s vibrant democracy and reminds us that — with the exception of Native Americans, to whom a section of the book is dedicated — all Americans are immigrants. The book ends with eight blank, lined pages for the reader to share their personal immigration journey and “add [their] own narrative to the mosaic of America.” Giving this book as a gift to a family member, or completing these pages oneself, serves as an appealing way to commence the recording of a family history.