Tag Archives: Immigrants

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II Book Review

From afar, it may seem that America was the superhero who swooped in to save the day during World War II. The reality is that our country has its own sins to grapple with from the era, i.e. the internment of Japanese-Americans.

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II, by Andrew Fukuda, was published last year. In 1935, two ten-year-olds become penpals. Alex Maki, from Bainbridge Island, is the son of Japanese immigrants. He believes that the person on the other end of the letter, Charlie Levy from Paris is a boy. When Charlie reveals that she is a girl, he does not initially react well. But she persists and they eventually become good friends.

Their lives are both upended by World War II. After Pearl Harbor, Alex, his family and hundreds of thousands of other Japanese-Americans are forced out of their homes and into interment camps. For the next few years, his home is the Manzanar War Relocation Center. Because she is Jewish, Charlie must grapple with tightning noose that is coming over close to her neck and every neck of of Jewish person in Europe.

This book is really good. What kept me reading was the relationship that changed as the protaganists grew up and faced challenges that would destroy many adults. The details make the narrative jump off the page and hook the reader until very end. It is a marvelous read that hilights a dark time in our history that is not even a century old.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II is avaliable wherever books are sold.

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Ms. Marvel Review

*This review is solely based on the series as I have never read the original text.

For far too long, the majority of superheroes have been white and male. Thankfully, things have been changing to include women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community.

Ms. Marvel premiered last Wednesday on DisneyPlus. Based on the comic book of the same name, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is a Pakistani-American teenager who is going through the same growing pains that we all went through at that age. Her parents are overprotective, she is unpopular at school, and desperately wants to spread her wings. She is also also a Captain Marvel Superfan.

Living in Jersey City, New Jersey, Kamala is torn between her own needs and being true to the family /faith that she was raised in. When she unexpectedly gains superpowers, she must use them to save the world.

Like Peter Parker before her, it is her ordinary ness that makes her stand out. What I have watched so far, I like immensely. As the child of immigrants, she speaks to and represents the mindset of many children and grandchildren who chose to leave the land in which they were born and make a new life in the US. I love that she is a nerd and proud of it. I love her imagination and I love her spirit.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

New episodes of Ms. Marvel are released every Wednesday on DisneyPlus.

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Jewish American Heritage Month: Americans Jews Who Made an Impact

May is Jewish American Heritage Month. With antisemitism on the rise in frightening numbers, the easier thing would be to hide who we are. Instead, we should be loud and proud of who we are. In honor of this month, I would like to offer a small list of American Jews who have made an impact on this nation.

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P.S. Last week was both Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. Happy Birthday Israel and may the memories of those who gave their lives for their country be a blessing.

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Death and Love in the Holocaust: The Story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt Book Review

Love can get us through the toughest of times. It gives us hope like few things can.

Death and Love in the Holocaust: The Story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt, by Steve Hochstadt was published last month. The book tells the story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt, a married couple who survived the Holocaust.

They were born in Berlin and were among the last Jews deported out of the country. Married in Theresienstadt, Sonja and Kurt were in Auschwitz and among the lucky ones to walk out alive. Finding each other after the war, they emigrated to the United States and rebuilt their lives.

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What I liked about this book was the dual narrative. The historical facts are interspersed with interviews with the book’s subjects. What I find amazing is not just one of them survived, but they both were among the few to return to the land of the living. What I got from the story was that love can get us through the darkest of times, even when hope seems lost.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Death and Love in the Holocaust: The Story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt is available wherever books are sold.


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Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality Book Review

No social movement that aims to create a better world is without its internal struggle. While the men are at the forefront, it is often the women who do the work. But few are given the spotlight and the respect they deserve.

The late Constance Baker Motley was one of these women. Her story is told in the new biography Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality. Written by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, it was published in January. Born to immigrants from the Caribbean in 1921, she came of age in an era in which both her gender and her skin color created barriers. Instead of just submitting to these barriers, she broke them. After graduating from law school, she was the only female on staff working for the legal team of the NAACP under the leadership of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Balancing work, marriage, and motherhood, Baker Motley smashed both Jim Crow to bits and created a large crack in the glass ceiling. Her career contained a lot of the firsts: the first African-American woman who was a state Senator in NY and the federal judiciary, and the first woman elected as Manhattan Borough President.

As a product of the American education system, I am utterly dismayed that she is not a household name. She was not just a groundbreaker, but a rule breaker. These days, it is perfectly normal for a woman to have the figurative balls of her job, her marriage, and her children in the air at the same time. But not back then. In fighting for the rights of both women and Black Americans, she paved the way for equality that has become the norm and unfortunately, still has to be fought for.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality is available wherever books are sold.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, New York City

Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American Book Review

America’s history is made up of immigrants. But as obvious as this truth is, there are still many who will deny this reality.

Wajahat Ali is a writer and the son of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan. His memoir, Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American, was published at the beginning of the year. Growing up as an average American kid, he lived in two worlds: the suburbia that was his childhood and the Pakistani culture that his parents knew. Coming of age during the 9/11 era, he inadvertently became the face and the voice of his faith. Eventually finding his way as a writer, a husband, and a father, Ali has a unique insight as to what it is to live in the United States with its promises and contradictions.

I loved this book. His writing is funny, sarcastic, heartbreaking, and real. What I related to was how universal his experience is. Though my own family has been in this country for more than a century, I’m sure that my forebears would relate to Ali’s story. The names may change, the places may change, and the language may change, but the sentiments remain the same.

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely.

Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American is available wherever books are sold.

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Both/And: A Life in Many World Book Review

It’s easy to think that we know someone famous based on the headlines and the soundbites coming from the press. The reality is that we don’t know them at all.

Huma Abedin‘s memoir, Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds, was published last November. Born to Muslim Pakistani and Indian immigrants in Michigan, she spent her formative years in Saudi Arabia. Taking a job with the Clinton administration in the late 1990s, she has worked for Hillary Clinton for more than two decades. She is also known for her troubled marriage to Anthony Weiner, a politician whose fall from grace can only be described as brutal.

The reader is taken on a journey across the world and across the spectrum of local, national, and international politics over the last few decades. Abedin’s tale is that a woman who has broken boundaries, redefines what it is to be American, and that of a survivor who has thrived in spite of the dark times in her life.

This book is so good. Abedin leaves nothing off the table, telling her story in an emotionally honest and open manner. Her narrative is nothing short of inspirational.

The part of the book that was the most challenging for me as a reader was the scandal that broke up her marriage and opened the door to he who shall not be named. It is akin to a rollercoaster that had no off switch. Given what was being thrown at her, she could have easily taken to her bed and soothed her grief with food or alcohol. Instead, she took it one day at a time and got through it with her head held high and her courage intact.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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West Side Story Movie Review

Regardless of whether or not one is a fan of Broadway musicals, they are likely to at least know of West Side Story. To make a long story short, it is Romeo and Juliet taken from Italy in the 16th century and put down in New York City in the late 1950s.

The reimagining opens as San Juan Hill, a neighborhood in Manhattan, is being torn down to become what we know today as Lincoln Center. Not surprisingly, the residents of this neighborhood are people of color, immigrants, and low-income Caucasians.

The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods. Riff (Mike Faist) is the leader of the Jets, who are all White. Bernardo (David Alvarez) is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Though he has a career as a boxer, he is equally concerned with protecting his family and his fellow Puerto Ricans.

Their fates are changed when Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) meet at a dance. Maria is Bernardo’s younger sister. Newly arrived in NYC, she is both idealistic and stubborn. Without their parents, the only maternal influence she has is Anita (Ariana DeBose), Bernardo’s girlfriend. Anita is spicy, whip-smart, and is eager to take advantage of the opportunities that lay before her. Tony is Riff’s best friend and his former second in command. After spending a year in prison, he wants more from life than being a hoodlum.

As the two fall in love and envision a life together, their relationship is tested by the violence around them. If they could get those closest to them to find a way to get along, Maria and Tony could have a chance at a future. But as lovely as that idea is, it will take a miracle to make it happen.

Kudos go to director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner. They took a chance on remaking a classic and succeeded. What makes it stand out from its 1961 predecessor is both the casting of Latinx actors and the understanding that socio-economic issues, politics, and racial strife is the backbone of this narrative.

The deliberate decision of seeking out and hiring performers who are from Latin America or of Latin American descent adds a feeling of authenticity that is missing from the original film. Even Rita Moreno, who is also Puerto Rican (Anita in the 1961 movie and Valentina, the co-owner of the pharmacy and widow of the late pharmacist in this adaptation) had her skin darkened.

If there is one performer who stands out, it is Rachel Zegler. In her first on-screen role ever, she shines as Maria. Her voice is absolutely stunning. Most young actors start out as background players or in small roles, slowly building up their resume. To come out of the gate in the lead role in a major movie and blow everyone away shows that she has nothing but a bright future ahead of her.

This narrative is as timely and powerful as it was sixty years ago. The problems have not changed, they just have different names and different faces. If nothing else, it reminds the audience that we have two choices. We can continue to figuratively shoot ourselves in the literal foot, or find a way to work tother.

Though it clocks in at a little over two hours, it is worth sitting through.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

West Side Story is presently in theaters.

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Filed under History, Movie Review, Movies, New York City, Politics, William Shakespeare

The Futility and Wasted Resources of Hate: Lebanon & Ron DeSantis

“Hate” is a word with a mixed meaning. It can be as benign as stating that you hate a certain type of food or color. Or, it can be as malicious as saying that you hate a certain group of people. We all know where this second statement can lead to.

In Lebanon, its been a year since explosion in Beirut. Instead of addressing the crisis that immediately followed the blast and healing the damage that it created, the neglect of those in power has added to the misery of the ordinary citizen. Both the government and the economy are collapsing. One might think that logic would come into play, but it hasn’t. The geniuses who lead this nation thought that the best use of their dwindling resources was to fire rockets at Israel.

If anyone can explain to me how this makes sense, I would love to hear it.

Earlier this summer, we started to believe that Covid-19 was starting to fade into history. Then the delta variant hit and the number of cases started to rise again. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has chosen to pretend that the virus is ancient history. He has removed all mask mandates, threatened to withhold funding to school districts that require masking, and is more concerned with his re-election campaign than the welfare of the people who reside within the state. He has also blamed immigrants for the increase in hospitalizations instead of looking to the fools who still refuse to get vaccinated. Covid does not care if you were born in this country or if you emigrated from another nation.

Blaming immigrants (or any minority group for that matter) has unfortunately been part of the human experience. The problem is that we never learn that this is belief is nothing but a myth. It is an easy way out instead of facing the issues that hold us back.

I know that we will never be able to answer this question, but when will we learn that hate is nothing more than a waste of time?

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Letters Across the Sea Book Review

War has a way to pulling us apartment, forcing us to see someone else as “the other”. It can also bring us together and remind us of our common humanity.

Letters Across the Sea, by Genevieve Graham, was published earlier this year. In Toronto in the summer of 1933, Hannah Dreyfus and Molly Ryan are best friends. Both the grandchildren of immigrants (Eastern European Jews and Irish Catholic respectively), they are friends in a time in which antisemitism is rising in their hometown. Though Molly only sees her BFF and has a crush on Max, Hannah’s big brother, other people are not so tolerant of their differences. Things come to a boil in August during the Christie Pits riot, forcing Hannah and Molly to go their separate ways.

Six years later, World War II is on the horizon. After years of toiling at any job she could get, Molly has finally gotten her dream job as a journalist. Men from across the country have enlisted. Among them are Max and Molly’s brothers. When the letters from the soldiers start to arrive, Molly must contend with the past and the unspoken truth that has been buried since that night in 1933.

This book is amazing. Graham’s eye for the historical facts while creating a fictional world is top notch. I was fully invested in the story, hoping that Molly and Max would get together while praying that the male characters would come home. It was a history lesson in the best way, learning about this time in Canadian history without feeling like the reader is sitting in a university lecture hall.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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