Poetry on the Immigrant Experience

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Poetry on the Immigrant Experience

Poetry has a way of saying things unlike any other medium. So few words and yet they strike straight to the heart. This is even more true when they address larger issues like borders, immigration and the experience of being “illegal”. Check out these poetry books for insight into the lives of immigrants.
 
Citizen Illegal by Jose Olivarez
Olivarez’s bold language and experimentation with format paint a vivid picture of life as an American citizen with parents who have been classed as illegal. His sweeping images of Mexican culture and how it intertwines with his life give a unique and striking picture of the challenges of life caught between two cultures.
 
Lessons on Expulsion by Erika L. Sanchez
Sanchez's hard-hitting language is a gut punch of imagery all at once. Flitting back and forth to different scenes, her poems have a disorienting effect. In one particularly striking poem, Amá, Sanchez poses Gabriel García Márquez’s concept of multiple births against the experience of immigration—leaving one’s family behind, noticing isolated objects in fragments of moments to convey how fragmented the whole experience of leaving your culture can be.
 
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Vuong lived in a refugee camp until he was two, then he immigrated to the United States with his mother and grandmother from Vietnam. He never knew his father. This book is a powerful record of various internal explanations for his father's fate. Although all imagined scenarios, they are crisp poems with vivid imagery. In Telemachus, Vuong casts his father as victim to a bullet and drowning on the beach. These emotionally haunting poems are not to be missed.
 
When I Walk Through that Door, I Am: An Immigrant Mother’s Quest by Jimmy Santiago Baca
Baca creates a sweeping narrative told in poems about an immigrant mother, fleeing the gang death of her husband with her four year old son. It follows her over the border and into the custody of I.C.E. For anyone who is frustrated with the current situation at the United States border, this book provides a very singular and vivid image of one woman’s experience, giving injustice a face.
 
Driving Without a License by Janine Joseph
Joseph’s poems chronicle the experience of an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines living in California. Most of all, Joseph paints the fear in everyday situations, the frantic drive away from the immigration lawyer’s office, the added stress in learning to drive. By opening up her experiences to readers, she draws them into an intimacy with the poems and immigration experience that it is difficult to ignore.