America Deconstructed tears down the myths surrounding immigration to the United States and replaces them with authentic experiences. When people immigrate, they leave the only home they’ve ever known. The United States may hold promise for some, but it is still foreign and full of new challenges. Chaithanya Sohan and Shaima Adin share their stories and have put together this collection of immigration experiences. Most of the stories contain little external drama. Instead, they explore the journey of the human heart.
Amy M. Hawes: Can you tell Book Club Babble what inspired you to put together a collection of immigrant experiences in America?
Chaithanya Sohan: When my co-author Shaima and I decided to write this book, it was purely as a fun little project. We became friends because of our shared experiences as new immigrants in America. We had never read a book about the human experiences that immigrants go through be it weird coffee shop runs, or humor arising from having complicated names. We thought it would be an interesting book if we could get enough diversity in the book.
AMH; Based on these true stories, do you believe the idea of the American Dream still holds value to those coming here?
CH: I believe the idea of the American Dream still holds value for most people, and that is one of the main driving forces for people to move out here. As someone who immigrated to America, and has been here for eighteen years, the concept of the American Dream is what you make of it. I think you need to define what your American Dream is and work hard towards it. It could be supporting your family, buying a house with a white picket fence, getting an education – all of that encompasses the American Dream, and opportunities exist where you can make that dream a reality, but you have to work hard for it.
AMH: Almost all of the writers in America Deconstructed came to the United States by default. They were not excited about moving here and would prefer to remain in their homeland. Do you think this is the way most foreigners come to America? Does the reality differ from the nostalgic notion that America is a land of promise?
CH: Shaima and I wrote America Deconstructed. We interviewed fourteen people for the book, but the stories were written by us based on the interviews. Every move is bittersweet especially when it includes thousands of miles. No matter how excited one is to move to America, you are still leaving behind friends, family, pets and that makes it bittersweet. There are stories in the book of people who dreamed of this move since they were kids. So I don’t think all of them weren’t excited as much as they were sad to leave behind their families.
AMH: What are the best and worst things about this country? What surprised you most in a positive way?
CH: I remember being in college at San Jose State and seeing students in their 40’s and 50’s in classes with me. I came from India where you could not attend regular University after a certain age. The opportunities in America are limitless with no restriction on age. I think that’s one of the best aspects of America that surprised me when I started living here.
I think there are a lot of people here who are still unaware of the world. America is a melting pot and a country of immigrants. We live in a global world, and I think it is important to be informed so we don’t buy everything that the media feeds us. Every country has positives and negatives as America does too. I think the more informed and worldly we are, the more accepting we can be as a country.
AMH: What is it like to balance two cultures? Many of the writers speak of going home, and how they are challenged by their families to either remain true to their culture or “become American.” Is there pressure to decide?
CH: I think the concept of balancing cultures is personal. Personally, I don’t think I have had to balance two cultures. I am married to an African American, and we blend the two cultures into one. I think it is a personal choice. I have always been rooted in my culture, and that has stayed with me even now after eighteen years in America.
AMH: Although I didn’t come across it in the book, I’m curious how the relatives of the featured immigrants felt about their move. Was it considered a blessing or a curse, or something in between? Or maybe, just a necessary development in the course of one’s life?
CH: I would imagine it is dependent on the situation and again depends on the individual. When one is escaping war, it becomes a necessity for survival. You do what you have to so you can take care of your family. In my case, we moved here because of an employment transfer. My family is proud today, but they do miss us during family gatherings, which make it bittersweet.
AMH: In your collection, most of the writers are well-to-do and make a comfortable journey to the US. How do you think their immigrant experience differs from those coming here to create a better life? Does financial stability make a big difference or is the emotional path essentially the same despite one’s income?
CH: Just to reiterate, the book only has two writers, and the rest of the people provided content for the book in terms of their journeys to America. I think immigrant journeys are similar when you look at the emotional path. They are leaving behind the familiar for a new country. It is always bittersweet. I came here with my immediate family, and I can still remember sitting on the flight thinking about all my grandparents, friends and even my puppy I was leaving behind. I think when you move to America or any country you are starting from scratch. In our case, my parents had jobs but we still had to get an apartment, find furniture, get a car and learn the ropes of everyday life in America. When you are fleeing war, or coming here to provide for your family back in your country, you have that additional responsibility.
AMH: How would you like your publication to influence others, both immigrants and native Americans?
CH: I think in America and generally the world today what we need more than anything is tolerance and acceptance. We hope our book can show a side to immigrant life that people aren’t aware of. We hope it will create the acceptance that is required in the world today. In addition to acceptance, we hope we can celebrate differences.
AMH: Will you write again?
CH: I am working on the second part of the series. I am not sure if it will be called America Deconstructed part II or something else, but I am hoping to get the first draft of the book completed in 2019.