Non­fic­tion

Jour­neys: An Amer­i­can Story

Andrew Tisch & Mary Skafidas

  • Review
By – August 20, 2018

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.

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions