I’ve been trying to understand how one writes up a sign, “Mi Casa No Es Tu Casa,” then holds it high in front of desperate and scared people. Or how do you tell a radio reporter (in a story that aired July 25), “They are not just cute little kids with brown eyes — they will suck us dry?”
We all know immigration and/or refugee issues are complex. Solutions will be expensive and a burden to governments and nonprofits. But how have some of our fellow Americans come to a place where we have lost compassion as a starting place? Could we, at least, begin the protest with “Wish we could help but …” or even “Please come in for a drink of water, and then let’s talk before we send you on your way?”
I suspect one reason for the lack of compassion is that our country is not reading enough literature. Recently, there have been many studies citing the link between reading and a person’s capacity for understanding. For example, the Oct. 4, 2013, issue of Scientific American linked reading fiction to deeper empathy, and the New York Times recently reported that readers make better life partners because they understand other points of view.
Solving problems takes a village, and as a first step, I suggest that our village start a book club. I offer the following reading list (each book is page-turning and hard to put down) as a lens into the lives of those trying to create a more hopeful future.
• “I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala” is an autobiography of a girl who grew up amid poverty and oppression and became an internationally celebrated peace activist.
• “Brother, I’m Dying” by Edwidge Danticat gives us an insight into a childhood amid violence in Haiti.
• “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea is a surprisingly funny novel that takes us into the lives of a group of Mexican teens who decide to travel illegally to America to track down a parent and a better life.
• “Little Bee: A Novel” by Chris Cleave follows the intertwined lives of a well-to-do British woman and a young Nigerian refugee.
• “What is the What” by Dave Eggers is the fictionalized account of the life of Valentino Achak Deng, who once faced unfathomable trials as one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan.
• “The Tortilla Curtain” by T. Coraghessan Boyle is a brilliantly uncomfortable novel to read about good liberals facing the reality of illegal immigration.
Read these books, discuss them with your neighbors, then buy some more poster board. My guess is you’ll want to amend some of your protest language.
Jocelyn Hale, of Minneapolis, is executive director of the Loft Literary Center.