Finding American: Stories of Immigration from All 50 States

Finding American: Stories of Immigration from All 50 States

Finding American: Stories of Immigration from All 50 States

Finding American: Stories of Immigration from All 50 States


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A captivating photographic portrait of the diverse experiences of immigrants in the United States, depicting the resilience and realities of building a home in a new place.

Disturbed by the increasingly hostile views of immigrants that arose in the United States during the 2016 presidential election, photographer Colin Boyd Shafer set out on a road trip to meet hundreds of families and individuals with roots abroad who now live in America. The result, after a year of travel covering fifty thousand miles, is this collection of striking photos and moving stories that form a portrait of the nation’s complex and shifting relationship to immigration. Some of the participants chose to make America home; others were displaced by crises. Some were warmly welcomed and granted citizenship; others battled the immigration system for years and still live with fear and uncertainty. Their circumstances and origins vary, but all are united by a willingness to share their stories—of harrowing journeys, intense love, separated families, passionate activism—in hopes of adding nuance and depth to a vital issue that continues to polarize Americans.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781773272214
Publisher: Figure 1 Publishing
Publication date: 10/31/2023
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 696,180
Product dimensions: 11.20(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Colin Boyd Shafer is an award-winning Canadian documentary photographer, social sciences educator, and the son of immigrants, with family roots in the United States. His recent photography projects include INTERLOVE, which tells interfaith love stories in Ontario; Cosmopolis Toronto, featuring someone from every country of the world who now calls Toronto home, which he presented at TEDxToronto and at the United Nations Alliance of Civilization’s Global Forum; and They Desire A Better Country, a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Order of Canada, for which he was chosen by the Governor General of Canada to make portraits of the featured recipients. His work has also featured in numerous print and TV outlets, including National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, The Globe and Mail, CNN, BBC News, and CBC’s The National. He holds two bachelor degrees as well as an MSc in Political Economy of Violence Conflict and Development from SOAS, University of London. He lives in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

Ali Noorani is the author of Crossing Borders: The Reconciliation of a Nation of Immigrants and the former executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

Read an Excerpt

Rossy: Donna, Texas (cover subject)

Rossy was twelve when her family moved to southeast Texas, near the Mexican border.

“When I arrived as an English as a second language student, I was taught by the ‘special education’ department. That label hinders the possibilities and the self-perception that you have. I believe it is one of the main reasons that you have so many dropouts in our community. You are constantly being labeled as someone who is “at risk”—only because you speak Spanish. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

As a teenager, Rossy used to get anxiety attacks just thinking about the border; seeing a border patrol vehicle would send her into a panic. She tried to avoid them, but they are ubiquitous in a border town. Today, she isn’t avoiding anything.

“You have to confront your fears. By confronting them, I am owning the effect they have on me. I still get shaky. Recently while at the border wall, I saw clothing on the ground that made me freeze. I remember that experience of having to take your wet clothes off and changing into dry ones after crossing the river. It was a flashback. It took me a second to realize that I am not there. I am on the other side.”

Rossy still has an accent, unlike many of her friends. “Why do I still have an accent if we came at the same time? Maybe that’s why I went on to study linguistics. To me, my accent represents my identity and I’ve embraced that. For my other friends, it has been easier to navigate the system, but I believe they have also lost that connection to their culture.” 

Kayse: Portland, Oregon
Kayse’s family lived a nomadic life. At sunrise, his mother milked the goats, and his father milked the camel. After breakfast, the adults and teenagers tended to the grazing livestock, and the children took care of the baby livestock. “In nomadic life, everyone in the family has a role, including children. It is like an ecosystem.” His formal education began at the age of eight in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, a two-and-a-half-day journey from home. “I had never been to a big city before. Lights, bridges—all completely alien to me. I didn’t know how to interact with other kids at school. It was the first time I felt different.” Kayse planned to continue on to college, but three months after he graduated high school the civil war began. “Nothing is planned. You live by the day, by the hour.”

When Kayse left Somalia in search of a safer home, he went first to Kenya and then Canada, before arriving in San Diego. There, he worked in a Somalian restaurant for three months until his asylum case was approved, then Kayse took a Greyhound bus to Portland, where someone he knew from his clan was already settled.

In 2002, after 9/11 and hearing stories from women in the local Somali community who were being harassed, he co-founded the Center for Intercultural Organizing (now Unite Oregon). The nonprofit organizes communities—urban and rural people of color, immigrants and refugees, and people experiencing poverty in pursuit of justice—in the hope of bringing together marginalized groups.

Kayse was elected a Democratic state senator in 2021. “I consider myself an Oregonian. Whether you were born here or somewhere else, our fate is intertwined, and we need to make sure that everybody is included—that we are always asking, ‘Who is at the table?’ This is a commitment to justice.”

Tano: Liberal, Kansas

Tano, who works in the swine industry, started playing defensive end at age seventeen. He knew his father, Estanislao Sr., wouldn’t approve, fearing it would interfere with his studies, so for the first two years, Tano didn’t tell him. If his father asked where a bruise came from,Tano would say it was from one of the cows. Estanislao Sr. learned of his son’s athletic pursuits when a local radio station interviewed Tano about his rookie-of-the-year award. Tano will never forget the first game his father came to watch and how he tried to play his best. After the game, his dad told him, “If all of these players had a real job, Mexico would be different.” Still, Tano learned recently that after a sports magazine featured him, his father carried the article around and showed it to everybody. It meant a lot to Tano to know that his father was proud of him, even if he hid it. “My dad was everything. He was my role model. He always showed me the right thing.”

Cindy: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cindy has always been a “preguntona.” Her late grandmother, Yaya, an avid reader and self-taught intellectual whose formal education ended at third grade, constantly encouraged Cindy to read and learn. “You would have thought Yaya had a PhD. That’s where my education began.”

Yaya was untraditional, even “weird,” judged by the norms of her generation. She told Cindy stories of hiding from her childhood chores to read books, and instead of marriage or kids, her dream was to become a nun and go to college. Yaya ended up working as a maid her entire life. Her earnings went toward the college education of her younger sister, who became a professor. Yaya’s life reinforced for Cindy the importance of education, a value she devotedly passed on to her granddaughter.

When Cindy was seven and they crossed the border into El Paso, her parents assured her they were going “somewhere that would be so much better.” In New Mexico, her father worked in construction during the day and at night helped her mother clean houses, banks, offices, and libraries—with the kids in tow. “There was this library they would clean, and my parents let us sit and read books. I always dreamed of studying.” 

Monse: Delmar, Delaware

When Monse was six, her widowed mom, Graciela, started traveling to Maryland for seasonal work in a crabmeat cannery. She needed money, but she also needed to escape an abusive boyfriend, who beat her children with pieces of wood. Three years later, Graciela moved to the U.S. permanently, entrusting Monse and her older sister, Maria, to the care of their aunt. Monse and Maria started panhandling for money, most of which went to their older cousin. Someone reported them to family services, and they were put in a convent, where they lived for three years.
In 2003, their aunt wrapped money into their hair, made them memorize the phone numbers they needed, and put the sisters and their little brother, Alan, on a bus north to be with their mom. Monse, who was twelve, still remembers her outfit that day—a yellow shirt with white letters, blue jeans, and new bright-white sneakers. She took care with her hair and makeup, wanting to look nice when she saw her mom for the first time in three years.
At the Reynosa-Tamaulipas border, they met their coyote—the person who helped them cross the border—and waited in a hotel room. Nine- year-old Alan was smuggled across the bridge by female coyotes. Monse and Maria were to cross the Río Bravo. “I didn’t know there was any other way to come to the United States.” They walked with a group to the riverbank, hiding in bushes when helicopters flew overhead. Monse was cold, so Maria gave her the sweater she was wearing. They crossed with inner tubes, walking through deep mud and swarms of mosquitoes, praying and holding hands so as not to be swept away. On the other side, they hid in a ditch while a border patrol truck’s blinding light searched the ground, then were instructed to run to the light of a nearby mobile home. They rested inside and waited for their ride. Monse’s new shoes and clothes were black with mud, her hair ruined. She felt stupid for dressing up. Monse lay in the truck’s bed looking up at the stars as they drove toward an interior immigration checkpoint. They had fake documents—Monse’s new name was Bianca—but she was asleep when they passed without incident. On the drive from Texas to Delaware, they crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and Monse saw the ocean for the first time.
In Delmar, Monse’s mom and her two U.S.-born children were living in a two-room trailer shared with another family.
“When we arrived, everybody jumped out of the car to go see Mom. I stayed in the car, so she came to look for me. I looked up at her, and she looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing, my love?’ I replied, ‘Are you my mommy?’—because at that moment I wasn’t sure if she was my mom.” 

Table of Contents

Foreword – Ali Noorani

A Short Note



A Longer Note


Index of Participants

About the Author

From the B&N Reads Blog

Customer Reviews