As the country faces a xenophobic resurgence, we present novelists, filmmakers, and activists who’re narrating how our immigration system threatens families, mothers, and children. Shanthi Sekaran’s new novel Lucky Boy follows an undocumented eighteen-year-old Chicano mother who winds up in immigration detention–causing her son to be adopted by an upper class Desi foster mother. To write the book, Shanthi relied partly on the “Shattered Families” report produced by Race Forward; the organization’s Executive Director, Rinku Sen, will discuss how immigration enforcement splits apart children from their families. The struggles of a tough migrant mother fighting for her child also feature in Paola Mendoza’s novel Ones Who Don’t Stay and her feature film Entre Nos. Mendoza recently served as the Artistic Director of the Women’s March, whose migrant justice framework she summed up to Univision: “We believe migration is a human right and that no human being is illegal.” Moderated by writer and Race Forward staff Kavita Das.
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In Shanthi Sekaran’s Lucky Boy (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2017), eighteen year old Solimar Castro-Valdez leaves her Mexican village and arrives in Berkeley, California, heartbroken, pregnant, and undocumented. When Solimar lands in immigration detention, her son Ignacio is adopted by Kavya Reddy, an upper class Desi. That both mothers love Ignacio forms the central conflict in this “fiercely compassionate story about the bonds and the bounds of motherhood and of love” (Cristina Henríquez). As The New York Times called the book an “exceptional novel” and wrote that “in pitting two very different kinds of immigrants against each other—one comfortably assimilated, the other helpless in every sense—Sekaran offers a brilliantly agonizing setup.
Paola Mendoza’s semi-autobiographical novel Ones Who Don’t Stay (Rola Productions 2013) starts in early 1970s Colombia, where Mariana, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy family, falls in love with Antonio, a fisherman’s son. Leaving behind their families and the war, the couple migrates with their two small children to Los Angeles where Mariana must fight to save her daughter. Mendoza wrote this novel of strong immigrant women after publishing executives saw her Tribeca-lauded feature film about a Colombian immigrant family migrating to Queens, Entre Nos (2009). Mendoza co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in the film, which won an honorable mention at the Tribeca Film Festival. One of Filmmaker Magazine 25 New Faces of Independent Film, the Bogotá-born actress also appeared in On the Outs (2004) and Sangre de mi sangre (2007).
Rinku Sen is the Executive Director of Race Forward and the publisher of Colorlines.com. Race Forward’s “Shattered Families” report showed that there are at least 5,100 children currently living in foster care who are prevented from uniting with their detained or deported parents. Rinku co-authored The Accidental American: Immigration and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization (Berrett-Koehler 2008), the story of a Moroccan-born waiter who had worked at the World Trade Center during 9/11 and found himself the victim of hate crimes in the post-9/11 era. As Barbara Ehrenreich writes, “Sen and Mamdouh show how, in a few weeks in 2001, the restaurant’s immigrant workers went from being victims of terrorism to being targets of American anti-immigrant fervor.”
Kavita Das worked in social change for fifteen years on issues ranging from homelessness, to public health disparities, to racial justice, and now focuses on writing about culture, race, feminism, social change, and their intersections. Nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize, Kavita’s work has been published in The Atlantic, Los Angeles Review of Books, NBC News Asian America, Guernica, Quartz, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Colorlines, and AAWW’s The Margins, where she rebutted Derrick Hudson’s yellowface and wrote about what it meant for Asian Americans to be cool. She’s at work on a biography about Grammy-nominated Hindustani singer, Lakshmi Shankar, who played a pivotal role in bringing Indian music to the West, to be published by Harper Collins India. Kavita can be found on Twitter @kavitamix.
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