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The Middle of Everywhere: The World's Refugees Come to Our Town

The Middle of Everywhere: The World's Refugees Come to Our Town

by Mary Pipher

Over the past decade, Mary Pipher has helped us understand our family members. Reviving Ophelia did for our teenage daughters what Another Country did for our aging parents. Now, Pipher connects us with our greater family--the human family.
In cities and towns all over the country, refugees arrive daily. Lost Boys from Sudan, survivors from Kosovo


Over the past decade, Mary Pipher has helped us understand our family members. Reviving Ophelia did for our teenage daughters what Another Country did for our aging parents. Now, Pipher connects us with our greater family--the human family.
In cities and towns all over the country, refugees arrive daily. Lost Boys from Sudan, survivors from Kosovo, families fleeing Afghanistan and Vietnam: they come with nothing but the desire to experience the American dream. Their endurance in the face of tragedy and their ability to hold on to the essential virtues of family, love, and joy are a tonic for Americans who are now facing crises at home. Their stories will make you laugh and weep--and give you a deeper understanding of the wider world in which we live.
The Middle of Everywhere moves beyond the headlines, into the hearts and homes of refugees from around the world. Her stories bring to us the complexity of cultures we must come to understand in these times.

Harcourt is donating a portion of the proceeds from this book to the Pipher Refugee Relief Fund of the Lincoln Action Project.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An important book . . . Pipher shines high-beam headlights on the world of teenage girls."--Los Angeles Times
"Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia has the combination just right. [She] offers commonsensical, unthreatening solutions. Readers find Ophelia both heartbreaking and exhilarating."--Time
"Mary Pipher is that rarity in these days of culture wars: She can talk about values without self-righteousness. She reclaims some common sense in the dialogue about family."--The Seattle Times
"A canny mix of optimism and practicality gives Pipher's fans a way to resist the worst of the culture around them and substitute the best of themselves."--Newsweek
"[The] combination of cultural and psychological factors is this excellent book's greatest strength. . . . She is especially acute at spotting pressure points where culture, both past and present, collides cruelly with individual emotional needs."--The Washington Post
"Packs an emotional wallop . . . [Pipher] writes about the very topics, the very fears, that many readers have dodged their whole lives."--Houston Chronicle
In Reviving Ophelia, Dr. Mary Pipher visited the insulated and vulnerable world of adolescent girls. In Another Country, she explored endangered provinces of the American elderly. In The Middle of Everything, she takes us to Lincoln, Nebraska, a midwestern heartland where new citizens are learning to cope with the American Dream. In this humane and timely book, Pipher describes the arrival and assimilation of newcomers from places with exotic names: Kosovo, Sudan, Ho Chi Minh City, Kabul…. A pledge of allegiance with a new wrinkle.
Publishers Weekly
"I saw my father and grandfather shot in our living room," says Anton, a Bosnian teen who now lives in Nebraska. His teachers see him as a potential suicide, and he struggles to make sense of being an American high school student. Profiling Anton and other refugees from around the world Russia, Croatia, Yemen, Hungary, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone bestselling author Pipher (Reviving Ophelia), drawing upon anthropology, sociology and psychology, offers a deft, moving portrait of the complexity of American life. Pipher, a family therapist in Lincoln, Neb., where these immigrants all live, is interested in the effects of globalization how it affects people's relationships, their sense of place, their identities. She writes in rich, empathetic language and with a keen, observant eye for detail and nuance. Her relationships with her subjects range widely: she is a surrogate parent to a family of four children orphaned during the Sudanese civil war; to others she is "cultural broker," for instance, helping an Iraqi family understand the difference between what they see on television and the realities of everyday American life. As in Another Country, her book about aging parents, Pipher writes directly and movingly about the complications of people's lives in a constant culture clash but is mindful to place them in a clearly defined social and political setting. Noting that after September 11, "we are all refugees from what was once our America," Pipher's ambitious undertaking of combining personal stories with global politics is wonderfully realized. (Apr.) Forecast: Given Pipher's record and the increased attention by Americans to foreigners in our midst, this should sell handsomely. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Pipher, who has given readers fascinating insights into the lives of teenage girls (Reviving Ophelia) and aging parents (Another Country), now examines how refugees from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America are adapting to life in the United States. This book is based on the author's own work in assisting people who were settled by the government in Lincoln, NE. As with her previous books, Pipher tells stories of real people and the joys and problems they experience in rebuilding their lives. As she recounts, many of the challenges faced by the refugees are nuts-and-bolts issues, such as dealing with the immigration service, locating housing, and obtaining education and jobs. Other stories deal with deeper issues such as facing tragic pasts and the difficulties of adapting to a new world. Pipher shows that these new people have much to teach Americans about courage, love, and compassion. This touching book is recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/02.] Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Lib., Parkersburg Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A psychologist turns her descriptive and analytic lens on her hometown of Lincoln, NE, and its recent experiences with war-scarred immigrants from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Much of Pipher's work and personal interactions with Bosnians, Kurds, Dinkas, Vietnamese, and others have been with people on the cusp of adolescence through young adulthood, an appealing range for their peers to read about here. The author recounts experiences in English Language Learner classrooms, with individuals referred to her for psychotherapy, and with refugees whom she and her husband have befriended so as to serve as "cultural brokers" in a strange new land requiring a winter wardrobe, regular school attendance, and job-interview skills. Pipher emphasizes the culturally specific norms she carries with her and deconstructs how these and the norms of the young people who have come from war zones in Sudan, after flight from Iraq, and years of exile in Germany and other circumstances offer everyone involved the opportunity to grow as human beings and become more fully engaged in the experiences of others. Student researchers, nascent psychologists, and native- and nonnative-born teens will find this is absorbing discussion material.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Part survival manual, part tales from the front lines of refugee life in America, Pipher (Another Country, 1999, etc.) surveys the refugee scene in Lincoln, Nebraska. The author's hometown has been a settling area for refugees because of its low unemployment and reasonable cost of living, and it has enabled Pipher to work with refugees and gain an understanding of their predicament. Here, she tenders suggestions on how to survive in the US and also includes anecdotal material giving a taste of what it's like to be a refugee: "Imagine yourself dropped down in the Sudanese grasslands with no tools or knowledge about how to survive. . . . Unless a kind and generous Sudanese takes you in and helps you adjust, you would be a goner." Much of Pipher's take on refugee life is plain commonsensical: transplanted from absurd, grotesque, punishing, often terrifying circumstances, refugees experience problems of trauma and stress, acculturation, expression, and identity. While many feel possibilities unfolding, others have a deep malaise. They are here because our nation has a tradition for empathy-sometimes not immediately visible, sometimes selective, typically fraught, but undeniable-and it is making America, in the best sense, "a richer curry of peoples." As well as offering stories of refugee experiences-charted in groups by age: the young, adolescents, early adults-Pipher details attributes that will give refugees a leg up (attentiveness, flexibility, character, resilience) and includes a long list of things Americans can teach them-from how to feed a traffic meter to where to go with INS problems-that is the real deal when it comes to empathy. If only a fraction of the advice in this valuablebook were followed, cross-cultural compassion might become much more than just a handful of words beginning in C.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
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6.34(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.38(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

The World's Refugees Come to Our Town
Mary Pipher


I am from Avis and Frank, Agnes and Fred, Glessie May and Mark.
From the Ozark Mountains and the high plains of Eastern Colorado,
From mountain snowmelt and lazy southern creeks filled with water moccasins.
I am from oatmeal eaters, gizzard eaters, haggis and raccoon eaters.
I'm from craziness, darkness, sensuality, and humor.
From intense do-gooders struggling through ranch winters in the 1920s.
I'm from "If you can't say anything nice about someone don't say anything" and "Pretty is as pretty does" and "Shit-mucklety brown" and "Damn it all to hell."
I'm from no-dancing-or-drinking Methodists, but cards were okay except on Sunday, and from tent-meeting Holy Rollers,
From farmers, soldiers, bootleggers, and teachers.
I'm from Schwinn girl's bike, 1950 Mercury two-door, and West Side Story.
I'm from coyotes, baby field mice, chlorinous swimming pools,
Milky Way and harvest moon over Nebraska cornfields.
I'm from muddy Platte and Republican,
from cottonwood and mulberry, tumbleweed and switchgrass from Willa Cather, Walt Whitman, and Janis Joplin,
My own sweet dance unfolding against a cast of women in aprons and barefoot men in overalls.

As a girl in Beaver City, I played the globe game. Sitting outside in the thick yellow weeds, or at the kitchen table while my father made bean soup, I would shut my eyes, put my finger on the globe, and spin it. Then I would open my eyes and imagine what it was like in whatever spot my finger was touching. What were the streets like, the sounds, the colors, the smells? What were the people doing there right now?

I felt isolated in Beaver City, far away from any real action. We were a small town of white Protestants surrounded by cow pastures and wheat fields. I had no contact with people who were different from me. Native Americans had a rich legacy in Nebraska, but I knew nothing of them, not even the names of the tribes who lived in my area. I had never seen a black person or a Latino. Until I read The Diary of Anne Frank, I had never heard of Jewish people.

Adults talked mostly about crops, pie, and rainfall. I couldn't wait to grow up and move someplace exotic and faraway, and living where I did, every place appeared faraway and exotic. When I read Tolstoy's book on the little pilgrim who walked all over the world, I vowed to become that pilgrim and to spend my life seeing everything and talking to everyone.

As a young adult, I escaped for a while. I lived in San Francisco, Mexico, London, and Madrid. But much to my surprise, I missed the wheat fields, the thunderstorms, and the meadowlarks. I returned to Nebraska in my mid-twenties, married, raised a family, worked as a psychologist, and ate a lot of pie. I've been happy in Nebraska, but until recently I thought I had to choose between loving a particular rural place and experiencing all the beautiful diversity of the world.

Before the Europeans arrived, Nebraska was home to many Indian tribes. The Omaha, the Ponca, the Pawnee, and the Nemaha lived in the east, the Lakota Sioux in the west. In the late 1800s immigrants from Europe pushed out the Native Americans. Wave after wave of new pioneers broke over Nebraska and we became a state of Scots, Irish, British, Czechs, Swedes, and Danes. For a while, we had so many Germans that many schools held classes in German. But after World War I, when nativist sentiments swept our state, our unicameral made instruction in German illegal.

Mexican workers came to build the railroads and to work on farms and in meatpacking. African Americans came to farm and to work in our cities. Nebraska's first free black person, Sally Bayne, moved to Omaha in 1854, and an all-black colony was formed at Overton in Dawes County in 1885. Malcolm X was born in Omaha in 1925.

Even though people of color have a rich history in our state and, of course, the Native Americans were here first, our state's identity the last 150 years has been mainly European. Until recently, a mixed marriage meant a Catholic married to a Methodist. After World War II, so many Latvians came here that we became the official site of the Latvian government in exile. Our jokes were yawners about farmers or Lutherans-"What did the farmer say after he won a million dollars in the lottery?" "Thank God I have enough money to farm a few more years." Or, "Wherever four Lutherans are gathered there is always a fifth."

However, in the last fifteen years something surprising has happened. It began with the boat people, mostly Vietnamese and Cambodians, coming in after the Vietnam War. In the 1980s Lincoln began having a few Asian markets, a Vietnamese Catholic church, a Buddhist temple, and English Language Learners (ELL) classes. Around the same time, Mexican migrant workers, who had long done seasonal work in our area, bought houses and settled down. Refugees from the wars in Central America trickled in.

The real change occurred in the 1990s. Because Lincoln had almost no unemployment and a relatively low cost of living, we were selected by the U. S. Office of Refugee Resettlement as a preferred community for newly arrived refugees. Now we are one of the top-twenty cities in America for new arrivals from abroad. Our nonwhite population has grown 128 percent since 1990. We are beginning to look like East Harlem.

Suddenly, our supermarkets and schools are bursting with refugees from Russia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, and Ethiopia. Our Kurdish, Sudanese, and Somali populations are rapidly increasing. Even as I write this, refugees from Afghanistan, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are coming into our community. Some are educated and from Westernized places. Increasingly, we have poor and uneducated refugees. We have children from fifty different nationalities who speak thirty-two different languages in our public schools.

Our obituary column shows who came here early in the 1900s. It is filled with Hrdvys, Andersens, Walenshenksys, and Muellers. But the births column, which reflects recent immigration patterns, has many Ali, Nguyen, and Martinez babies. By midcentury, less than half our population will be non-Latino white. We are becoming a brown state in a brown nation.

Lincoln has often been described by disgruntled locals and insensitive outsiders as the middle of nowhere, but now it can truthfully be called the middle of everywhere. We are a city of juxtapositions. Next to the old man in overalls selling sweet corn at the farmers' market, a Vietnamese couple sells long beans, bitter melons, and fresh lemongrass. A Yemeni girl wearing a veil stands next to a football fan in his Big Red jacket. Beside McDonald's is a Vietnamese karaoke bar. Wagey Drug has a sign in the window that says, TARJETAS EN ESPAÑOL SE VENDEN AQUI. On the Fourth of July, Asian lion dancers perform beside Nigerian drummers. Driving down Twenty-seventh Street, among the signs for the Good Neighbor Center, Long John Silver's, Fat Pat's Pizza, Snowflakes, and Jiffy Lube, I see signs for Mohammed's Barber Shop, Jai Jai's Hair Salon, Kim Ngo's jewelry, Pho's Vietnamese Café, and Nguyen's Tae-Kwon Do.

We celebrate many holidays-Tet, Cinco de Mayo, Rosh Hashanah, and Ramadan. At our jazz concerts, Vietnamese families share benches with Kurdish and Somali families. When my neighbor plays a pickup basketball game in the park, he plays with Bosnian, Iranian, Nigerian, and Latino players. I am reminded of the New Yorker cartoon which pictured a restaurant with a sign reading, RANCHO IL WOK DE PARIS, FEATURING TEX-MEX, ITALIAN, ASIAN, AND FRENCH CUISINES.

Women in veils exchange information with Mexican grandmothers in long black dresses. Laotian fathers smoke beside Romanian and Serbian dads. By now, every conceivable kind of grocery store exists in our city. And the ethnic shelves in our IGA grocery stores keep expanding. The produce sections carry jicama and cilantro. Shoppers can buy pitas, tortillas, egg rolls, wraps, and breads from all over the world. My most recent cab driver was a Nigerian school administrator who fled his country because he was in a pro-democracy group. S. J. Perelman's description of Bangkok-"It seemed to combine the Hannibal, Missouri, of Mark Twain's childhood with Beverly Hills, the Low Countries, and Chinatown"-could now apply to Lincoln.

Copyright © 2002 by Mary Pipher
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Meet the Author

Mary Pipher is the author of three bestselling books, including Reviving Ophelia, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than two years. She received a presidential citation from the American Psychological Association, and is considered one of the great wise women of modern psychology. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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