Immigrant Strong: January Issue

Reflections on Iran, an expat in Paris, and growing up Filipino-Egyptian

Happy 2020!

Our government has ensured it’s off to an anxiety-producing start, so I’ll kick things off on a lighter note with a humorous piece I recently published.

Growing up in Croatia, our class photos were taken in front of actual classroom objects—a stack of books, a green chalkboard, a map. Here in the United States, my pre-kindergartener’s school photo order form had background options involving everything from a fake ivy-covered wall to an American flag. I could pay extra to Photoshop her face or turn her into a key fob. I found the whole process ridiculous, so I wrote Your Child’s School Photos Are Ready for Mock Mom. Unlike most of my recent writing, it’s not immigration-related, except for the fact that I find many things about being a parent in America bizarre.

Book Recommendation

I know I’m on a roll with the graphic memoirs, but it was only a matter of time until I recommended Malaka Gharib’s I Was Their American Dream. Gharib, an NPR reporter, was born to a Filipino mother and an Egyptian father and raised in the United States, and her memoir explores growing up in between cultures and religions. It’s a delightful coming-of-age memoir that I finished in just a few hours.


Given our draft-dodging president’s desire to commit the war crime of bombing Iran’s cultural sites, let’s start with this important read, Iranian-American, Past Present Future by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It’s so good and so beautifully written, I had a hard time pulling just one quote from it.

“The question I am left with is which verb tense are we, as Iranian-Americans, meant to live in? The answer is none. We are not meant to survive. Not in this America.”

And here is another must-read by an Iranian-American; I barely breathed while reading the first part of The Day That Never Happened by Farnoush Amiri for NPR’s Code Switch. The following quote is not from the ending, but I must have read the last two paragraphs five times.

“I couldn't completely remove my "otherness," but with the right hobbies and accessories and slang, I figured I could help mask it. Every aspect of my family's Iranian identity became toned down, softened, put away for years at a time.”

I have featured author and illustrator Kate Gavino’s work before and had a feeling I’d be linking to it again. Her illustrated essays are not only beautiful, but offer a fascinating and witty look into issues of race, identity, and belonging that many immigrants and expats contemplate. Here is Is “Paris Syndrome” a Real Thing? in Catapult.

“As a writer and person of color, words are everything to me. Back home, if someone wanted to belittle or take advantage of me, at least I had my words with which to claim a little authority or control.”

I liked this LitHub piece, Finding Nuance and Much-Needed Relief in the Writing of Bharati Mukherjee, by Mira Jacob.

“What was it like, at age 16, to understand that as much as I had not been seen by my country, I had also been blinded by my own American-ness? To begin to realize that to live in my body would be a constant unraveling of my own hypocrisies? To recognize that my oppression and freedom worked in lockstep, two sides of a coin that would always be twirling midair?”

Here is another nice Catapult essay, Finding Eden and Myself in a Vietnamese Shopping Center, by Kim O’Connell. I loved many lines from it, including this one:

“When it comes to immigrant stories, people often focus on the moment of leaving—and yet immigrant stories, like family stories, are also about orienting and reorienting, about starting over, again and again.”

Witness Mami Roar is a heart-wrenching piece by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, a formerly undocumented immigrant. It’s part of Longreads’ powerful Writing the Mother Wound series—I encourage you to read every piece in it.

“The current condition of the U.S.-Mexico border is infuriating not because I’m formerly undocumented, but because the injustice against immigrants and asylum seekers suggests that neither the U.S. nor Mexico see Mexicans and Central Americans as fully human.”

I’ve never been to Kyiv or Kentucky, but I identified with many things in this essay, including the “stingy American vacation policy,” the avoidance of certain topics about your name and home country, and the blunders that come when interviewing for and working at your first job in America. Check out From Kyiv to Kentucky by Katya Cengel, also in Longreads.

“I wasn’t sure how to explain that my mother was thrilled to have me in the same country again with only a three-hour time zone difference and no language barriers, not to mention phone calls that did not include complimentary rudimentary wiretaps. But that got into talk of Ukraine, and Ukraine talk led to even more confusion.”

Here is a beautiful Granta essay, Our Home Is Mortal Too, by the London-based Katherine Angel.

“But who ever felt at home in the first place? Whose home is valued? And whose burns down?”

I’ll wrap up with this Catapult piece by Lauren Alwan, “Are You Really Sisters?”, part of what promises to be a great column, Invisible History, about heritage, belonging, and bicultural experiences.

“There had always been a confusing and insidious white standard informing the notion of difference between us, one that stemmed from the default standard of whiteness in the family, in the schoolyard, in the colonized countries of my Arab grandparents’ birth, and in the antisemitism my Jewish grandparents fought against.”

Thanks for reading,


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About this newsletter: Writing about immigrant and refugee life—the struggles, triumphs and quirks—by immigrants and refugees, and their children. Photo in the logo: Miguel Bruna/Unsplash.

About me: I grew up in the former Yugoslavia, then moved to Canada, and now live in New York, where I work as a writer and communications consultant for nonprofits focusing on human rights. I have written about my immigrant experience for CatapultThe New York Timesthe Washington Post and the New York Daily News. Find me on twitter, @vesnajaksic, or on my website,

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