Tag Archives: immigration

A family shares story of mother’s deportation — and what it took to get back

May 18, 2017

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Lorna and Javier in 2017, choosing not to show their faces — and to use only their middle names — to protect their identity. Courtesy Lynda McDonnell

Lorna and Javier in 2017, choosing not to show their faces — and to use only their middle names — to protect their identity. Courtesy Lynda McDonnell

“We were all sleeping. It was like six in the morning. You could hear someone yelling. They came in, took my mom, took several other people. I didn’t know much of immigration at that stage in life. Never knew that they would come and do that to a person… We thought somebody did something wrong and that’s why they were there. We thought they would let my mom go eventually, but that wasn’t the case.”

Jesse was 14 and about to start high school when immigration agents pushed into his family’s home that summer morning in 2005.  His mother Lorena was a 34-year-old cleaning woman and the single mother of 12-year-old Teresa, seven-year-old Javier and Jesse.  Their experience sheds light on how deportation of undocumented immigrant parents may affect their estimated 4.5 million citizen children.

Because Lorena’s children are U.S. citizens, they were not arrested with her. Two friends agreed to care for them, but no one had money to hire a lawyer to argue Lorena’s case. So after spending two months in detention, she was flown to Honduras, the country she left at 17 to find work in America and help the impoverished family and infant son she left behind.  She considered getting a passport and ticket for Javier, her youngest, but decided that would only fracture the family further.

“In my mind, I am coming back,” Lorena says. “I wanted [that] they stay together.”

She had struggled to make a life in America without family to support her. The children were the family she created, but their fathers had left her and provided little help.

“When are you coming?” the children asked whenever she called. “One day,” she promised. “Soon.”

The journey back to Minnesota was long and dangerous, but within a week of arriving in Honduras, Lorena was headed north. “I need to coming back because I love my kids and my kids they need me.”

Meanwhile, two friends living in different Twin Cities’ suburbs shared the job of caring for Teresa, Javier and Jesse. One took them during the week, the other on weekends. They alternated the arrangement every six months to ease the burden. The frequent switching of homes and schools led Jesse to fall behind in school. Eventually he quit altogether.

“At first I was doing okay,” he says. “Then I slowly started not having stability, moving from house to house.  I ended up cheating myself out of an education because I would never have that stability or finish the school year in one school. I was constantly moving.  I would have to start all over with certain credits.”

Arrested crossing the border in California, Lorena was sent to a detention center. She worked there to buy phone cards and call the children so they could hear her voice. Her friends and the children wrote letters pleading that immigration officials let her come home to them. But there was no money to hire a lawyer and argue for a humanitarian visa. After nine months in detention, she was flown again to Honduras. Now a felon, she was banned from ever returning to the U.S. But she would not abandon her children.

In phone calls, Jesse often blamed his mother for her absence. “What crime do you have?” he asked angrily. “Why do you leave us?”   Teresa excelled at school, but Jesse struggled and Javier often misbehaved. “I didn’t have to listen because they weren’t my mom or dad,” he says.

Lorena’s second trip through Mexico and across the border was even more harrowing. She was held for ransom in Mexico and walked two days across the Arizona desert, guided by a coyote and relying on crackers, tuna and two gallons of water to survive. They passed the bodies of immigrants who had died in the desert.  But staying with the bodies, waiting for help, meant risking dying themselves.

Finally, 16 months after she left, Lorena arrived one cold winter morning at her friend’s house. There were tears and celebration, but also damage that could not be undone. Still angry, Jesse refused to leave her. Javier’s face had lost its boyish brightness. He looked older, angrier, and resisted going to school, fearing that men in uniforms would take her away again. At 19, he still mistrusts authority. “I thought cops were bad, anything with authority was bad. It’s been that way, even now.”

Twelve years later, both sons are working, and Teresa will soon graduate from college. Jesse understands the risks his mother took to return to them. Javier is convinced that he’d be in jail if his mother had not returned. “Not letting her down. That’s the main thing.”

Lorena still cleans houses and guides her children with a strong example and clear messages: Trust in God. Work hard. Help others. “I pass[ed] a lot of bad things to come back to you,” she tells them. “We need to do good things.”

With deportation threats increasing, the children’s worries about losing their mom have returned. Lorena worries more for younger families. “My kids growing up. They don’t need me. But what happens with the other women with the little ones?

“Don’t think for the parents. Think for the kids,” she urges. “You deport the parents from the kids. What do you think will happen to those kids? Do you think it will make a better country?”

Lynda McDonnell

Lynda McDonnell

Lynda McDonnell is a writer and journalist and a member of Incarnation/Sagrado Corazon de Jesus in Minneapolis. Her blog – A Pilgrim’s Way – and other information can be found at  http://www.lyndamcdonnell.com

Editor’s note: To protect the family’s privacy, family members’ middle names are used in this account.

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Busloads Of Turned-Back Immigrants, An Image Of Shame

July 14, 2014

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This post by Sister Mary Ann Walsh originally appeared on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ media blog July 3. The issue is still in the news and the blog was republished by Huffington Post. See their post, which includes some news footage of the incident, here.

Birmingham, Vietnam and Murrieta

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh 
Sometimes a picture says it all. Consider the 1963 picture of fire hoses and snarling police dogs in Birmingham, Alabama, used against African-American students protesting racial segregation. Surely not our civil servants at their best.

Or the 1972 picture of the little girl in North Vietnam running terrified and naked with burning skin after South Vietnamese planes accidentally dropped napalm on Trang Bang, which had been occupied by North Vietnamese troops. The world then saw how war could hurt children.

Now, in 2014, we see citizens of Murrieta, California, turning back buses of women and children headed for a federal processing center, a day after Mayor Alan Long told them to let the government know they opposed its decision to move recent undocumented immigrants to the local Border Patrol station.

The first two images helped turn the tide when they awakened U.S. citizens to a shameful tragedy. We know the aftermath. The Congress 50 years ago passed Civil Rights legislation to guarantee basic human and equal rights for minorities that Civil Rights workers fought (and some died) for. We pulled out of Vietnam, a war we could not win.

We now await a moral conscience moment in the welcoming of children and others escaping the violence in such countries as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Parents and children from these countries have made the difficult decision to leave their homes and have endured dangerous journeys to cross the U.S.-Mexican border. They risk it because the possible horrors of the treacherous migration, such as trafficking, abuse and even death in the desert, still look better than the almost sure death by gang violence at home.

Some hopes exist already. Contrast the mob in Murrieta, with the people of Brownsville and McAllen, Texas. There Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley offers welcome centers at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen and Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Brownsville. The youngest guest: a one-day-old baby girl. The baby and others are being helped by a host of volunteers.

Heroes are emerging. First might be Sister Norma Pimentel, MJ (Missionaries of Jesus), executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She is convening the local faith communities to address the problem and organizing the local populace to collect food, medicine, children’s sweaters and hoodies, men’s sneakers, and women’s socks and underwear. The city of McAllen is collaborating by providing portable shower facilities and tents for overnight stays.

Another is Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville. He gets the problem. On his social media blog, he notes: “What we are seeing unfold in front of our eyes is a humanitarian and refuge reality, not an immigration problem.” He adds that “the Church must respond in the best way we can to the human need” and says “at the same time we ask our government to act responsibly to address the reality of migrant refugees. A hemispheric response is needed, not a simple border response. And we ask the government to protect the church’s freedom to serve people.”

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, spoke before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in late June. He called the number of children crossing the US-Mexico border “a test of the moral character” of our nation. “We must not fail this test,” he said.

Right now, the welcoming community of Brownsville and surrounding communities are acing the test. In Murrieta, the mayor and the citizens who drove back the buses need to study more. President Obama looks for ways to return the children to their perilous homeland. The U.S. Congress sits on its hands. To prepare for the test of moral character, protesters in Murrieta, the President and the Congress, might hit the books, especially the New Testament. A place to start is Matthew 25, where Jesus states: “Whatever you do for these, the least of my brethren, you do also for me.”

 

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Looking at the Church’s immigration teaching through a personal lens

July 26, 2013

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Photo/ scazon. Licensed under Creative Commons

Photo/ scazon. Licensed under Creative Commons

It seems like Catholics are all over the map when it comes to their views on  immigration reform. Attitudes and laws regarding the undocumented can vary considerably by state but the Church takes a pretty clear position.  Personal experience with immigration also affects how we look at it.

I know how it feels to be an immigrant because I spent almost two years as an undocumented worker in a European country. I wasn’t compelled to leave my own country for economic or political reasons, as are many who come to the U.S., but I have in common with them the fact that I was seeking something I couldn’t find at home.

Like many who come to America, I didn’t have too much trouble finding work – in a job that most of its citizens weren’t qualified to do. I was paid pretty well though not as well as I would have been if I’d had papers. Not all migrants in the United States are so fortunate; some have to deal with very low wages and substandard living and working conditions.

The Church’s view

Personal anecdotes and media spin aside, what does our universal Church say about a global phenomenon that’s garnered so much national attention lately?

Are undocumented workers wrong to come to countries that restrict their participation in the official economy and civic affairs?

According to the Catechism, governments have two responsibilities in regard to immigration: to welcome the foreigner and to secure their borders. It doesn’t say much about how to integrate those responsibilities, however, which might be one reason  for the divergence in public opinion.

In his 1996 Message for World Migration Day, Bl. Pope John Paul II affirmed undocumented migrants’ right both to emigrate and to immigrate:

The Church acts in continuity with Christ’s mission. In particular, she asks herself how to meet the needs, while respecting the law of those persons who are not allowed to remain in a national territory. She also asks what the right to emigrate is worth without the corresponding right to immigrate.

How to treat immigrants

The Catechism also gives guidance on how we should treat immigrants, especially those who come to escape poverty or suffering in their own country:

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his own country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him. (CCC2241)

That doesn’t mean governments shouldn’t restrict immigration. It also doesn’t exempt those coming to a country from obeying its laws, the Catechism continues:

“Public authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.” (CCC2241)

The U.S. Bishops and immigration reform

The U.S. bishops have had quite a bit to say about immigration reform. In a 2011 statement they supported earned legalization with a path to citizenship, a future worker program, family based immigration reform, restoration of due process rights, addressing the root causes of migration and the legitimate role of the government in enforcing security.

For the undocumented who are already working here, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church stresses that immigration must be regulated according to “criteria of equity and balance.”

Institutions in host countries must keep careful watch to prevent the spread of the temptation to exploit foreign laborers, denying them the same rights enjoyed by nationals, rights that are to be guaranteed to all without discrimination.

Along with not exploiting workers, countries should respect and promote the right of family reunification, the Compendium states. But it also emphasizes that they should help foster increased work opportunities in immigrants’ country of origin.

I eventually returned to my native country and so do many immigrants who come to the United States. While immigrants are here though, the Church makes it clear both that they should receive fair treatment and that they should follow our laws.

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‘The Hunger Games’: Has it come out in time?

March 29, 2012

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COMMENTARY

What’s all the fuss about “The Hunger Games” trilogy?

There’s not much not to like about the books: love story, drama, humor, revolution, friendship, family, patriotism, murder, mystery, sci-fi, war, military strategy, mind games.

No religion, outwardly at least. But definitely moral choices. The idea of people being willing to sacrifice their lives to save others, that has a familiar ring to it.

Thousands of young people reading the Suzanne Collins series have adults following suit, and the movie is a box office blockbuster.

Personally I wonder, has this tour de force come out in time?

Is this our future?

Can a make-believe story that shows dramatically a society in which a very few are extremely well-off and the rest of a nation an underclass wake up its readers to what’s happening in the United States this very day?

Can reading this fiction penetrate enough American brains so that we see the reality of our own 2012 culture, one in which one life is more valued than another? One in which the middle-class is not just shrinking but being hammered into submission?

Yes, “The Hunger Games” is about the evil of war and the horror of taking the life of another. The very thought of children killing other children is abhorent — as is the killing of any child, any human being at any stage (even in its mother’s womb). And children killing children as a form of entertainment for a privileged upper class doubly so.

But readers (and moviegoers) have to be able to equate the context of this futuristic, post-apocalyptic trilogy to life right now, and then to life as it very well could be in the years ahead.

Medicine, food, rights for just a few?

In “The Hunger Games,” the privileged in the Capitol district have incredibly advanced health care, science-fiction type of treatments, while in backwater District 12 where heroine Katniss lives, her mother treats the sick and wounded on her kitchen table with homemade remedies.

Some Christians today want to destroy the small steps the United States has taken to provide health care for those who aren’t fortunate enough to work for companies that have insurance plans.  As one of the books’ characters applies moss to a wound to slow bleeding, I recalled a benefit a corporate CEO received upon retirement: His health care paid for the rest of his life. Like with the millions this man was making every year he hadn’t stashed away enough to pay for his own health care!

In “The Hunger Games” there are fences around each of the districts of the fictional country of Panem, and those who dare to illegally cross a border in search of food are punished or killed. It is impossible for a thinking person not to picture Mexican workers willing to risk their lives to sneak over, under and around U.S. borders in search of work so they can eat and feed their families.

Is it right and good and just for Katniss to cross the border to help her mother and sister survive but not right and good and just for Juan and Juanita to do the same?

When some Mexicans enter the United States they do so illegally.  Absolutely.

But tell me you can read “The Hunger Games” and not hope that Katniss doesn’t get caught on the wrong side of the fence.

You may or may not agree with the Catholic bishops of this country as they protest forcing Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptives and sterilization in their employees’ health insurance policies because it is a violation of the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. But you were on the side of Katniss, Peeta and Gale as they struggled to overcome the conscience-compromising policies of a powerful fictional government, weren’t you?

Time to ask ourselves hard questions

Here’s a good question to ask after reading or viewing “The Hunger Games”: What’s happening in my world that troubles my conscience but that I feel I can’t do anything about?

And how about a few more questions. We learn through authoritative studies about the growing gap between the rich and the poor. When we read “The Hunger Games” or see the film, it isn’t a reach to see how that kind of society of haves and have-nots is happening in our day. What might it take for America’s middle class to dissolve to the point that those with decent salaries and benefits could become like the underclass in Ms. Collins’ fictional world?

Would it take a so-called “right-to-work” act?

Maybe legislating collective bargaining rights out of existence?

Dissolving the nation’s health care act?

Sending good-paying jobs overseas where people are willing to work for half the salary so that a corporate CEO can retire with health care paid for life?

We see and hear the stories everyday about people who lost their jobs, lost their homes. They used to donate food to the food shelf; now they feed their families thanks to those same food shelves.

Talk about hunger games.

Bob Zyskowski is The Catholic Spirit’s associate publisher / general manager.

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Best Charity, City Pages says, is Catholic Charities

July 5, 2011

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Nice to see Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis get the recognition it deserves. This time it was in the annual “Best of” issue of City Pages.

The Twin Cities’ newspaper noted:

As busy as they are trying to pick up after a society that lets people slip through the cracks on a daily basis, they’re just as busy fighting at the Legislature to close up those cracks. At the Capitol, they’re a consistent voice for the most vulnerable, pushing back against punitive anti-immigrant bills and cuts to health care assistance and food stamps. At a time when lawmakers are contemplating tossing what remains of our social safety net in the shredder, Catholic Charities’ work and advocacy are more important than ever.

Read the whole piece at http://www.citypages.com/bestof/2011/award/best-charity-1843989/

 

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Quotations worth sharing from Irish, Irish-American and Catholic life

May 22, 2011

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Overlook Press paperback bursting with quotations that are keepers.

Words put together with craft, with wisdom, with wit scream “Hey, pay attention here” to me, and I end up highlighting clusters of them where ever I find them printed.

Peter Quinn’s “Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America” (Overlook) is a rich vein of memorable and I thought share-able quotations – some by writers we know, some by people we never knew, and many from Quinn himself, a former speech writer for New York governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo.

Enjoy.

“Tell us, doctors of philosophy, what are the needs of a man. At least a man needs to be notjailed notafraid nothungry (sic). . . not a worker for a power he has never seen . . . that cares nothing for the uses and needs of a man.”

John Dos Passos, “The Big Money”

“There was no damned romance in our poverty.”

Eugene O’Neill, “Long Day’s Journey into Night”

“There are only three types of men: Bullies, lackeys and them who refuse to be either.”

Patrick Francis Quinn

“He’ll be the last man out of purgatory, if, God willing, he was lucky enough to get in.”

Gertie Quinn

“When I consider how my life is spent,

I hardly ever repent.”

Ogden Nash

“Of all our passions and appetites, the love of power is the most imperious and unsociable nature, since the pride of one man requires the submission of the multitude.”

Edward Gibbon

“It is enough to know that children are poor to know that they need help.”

Peter A. Quinn, U.S. Congress, (D-NY)”

“If I thought less of my saliva, I’d expectorate in your face.”

Peter A. Quinn

“No Catholic breaks with Rome easily.”

John O’Hara, “BUtterfield 8”

“He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection.”

John Henry Cardinal Newman

“Bishops come and go. The city continually molts its old self and renews its pursuit of the extravagant. But amid the whirlwind of ambition and celebrity, the need will always be great for institutions and congregations whose mission stays the same: to heal souls as well as bodies, comfort the sick and dying, welcome the stranger, shelter the homeless, defend the poor and disenfranchised, and insist on the God-given dignity of every person. to the degree that the Church and its members seek their perfection in this work, the future will never be in doubt.”

Peter Quinn

“Crumble, crumble

Voiceless things;

No faith can last

That never sings.”

Lascelles Abercrombie, “The Stream’s Song”

“For Catholics, sin is ubiquitous. But so is forgiveness. Hell exists. But it might be empty. Evil is real but mingles with good, and no human being is either all good or all evil. We are mixtures of both, and who is saved or damned is beyond our knowing.”

Peter Quinn

“In the end it comes down to the old story that we are sinners, but that this is our hope because sinners are the ones who attract to themselves the infinite compassion of God.”

Thomas Merton

“We feel the water and oil used in the sacraments, taste the bread and wine, not just to enjoy them for what they are, but to plumb our belief that they aren’t just what they seem to be but, in ways that defy the limits of language, signs of God’s real presence among us.”

Peter Quinn

“Although agnostic in spirit, the secular left . . . treats the mystery of divine love as a harmless myth; at worst, as a dangerous delusion that can impede human progress, particularly in the medical sphere. Secularism claims toleration as its central tenet. But it’s a qualified toleration. It says, Go ahead and believe what you will, just as long as it has no effect on any significant part of your public life, is never asserted outside of church, and remains a private eccentricity.”

Peter Quinn

“Christians’ belief in the eternal significance of every human life is a bulwark against a Malthusian ethic of reproductive profligacy that robs the individual of any meaning other than in furthering the survival of the species.”

Peter Quinn, paraphrasing Gabriel Marcel

“A man becomes a saint not by conviction that he is better than sinners but by the realization that he is one of them, and that all together they need the mercy of God.”

Thomas Merton, “New Seeds of Contemplation”

“The current huffing and puffing over gays in the priesthood can’t negate the fact that there were, are, and will always be homosexual priest whose piety, probity, and loyalty deserve respect and gratitude rather than slanderous distrust and squalid witch hunts.”

Peter Quinn

“Those descended from the Famine Irish have a special responsibility to look past the current evocation of innumerable, anonymous aliens threatening our borders, or the latter-day recycling of theories of ethnic and racial inferiority, and to see in today’s immigrants a reminder of our ancestors: those hungry ghosts who, though dispossessed and despised, passed on to us their faith and their hope.”

Peter Quinn

“Despite our differences, we Americans are hopelessly (and hopefully) entwined with one another, our histories, ancestries, stories, songs, dreams, and lives wrapped around each other like dual strands of DNA.”

Peter Quinn

“What we need most times is not the courage of our convictions but the courage to question our convictions . . . the willingness to see the world afresh, to throw over old presumptions and consider new possibilities, to abandon routine and renew a sense of wonder.”

Peter Quinn, paraphrasing Nietzsche

-30-

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When Catholics, Irish (or any other immigrant group) were ‘real Americans’ greatest fear

May 18, 2011

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Along with the oppressed immigrant angle, I really liked the history Peter Quinn’s captured of the anti-Catholicism the Irish faced in “Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America.”
Here’s a line to remember from this work of non-fiction: “If I thought less of my saliva, I’d expectorate in your face.”
It’s a quote from the author’s father, who was a member of Congress. A Republican heard Quinn’s Democrat father quote Shakespeare and remarked that he was “unusually cultured for an Irishman.”

And then there was the description of a Quinn’s grandfather by an aunt: “He’ll be the last man out of Purgatory, if, God willing, he was lucky enough to get in.”

The connection I made is that the immigrant experience of the Irish translates pretty well for other ethnic groups who came to this country. It’s American history at gut level.

I was impressed with the quality of research Quinn did. His connecting historical fact with fictional writing on those facts is an interesting tool. It reinforced for me the concept that in some ways fiction can tell history better than non-fiction.

As an active Catholic — one who works for a Catholic diocesan newspaper — and as a “hypenated-American” although non-Irish — I connected with Quinn’s understanding of the cultural value of Catholicism.

I’ll need to think a bit more about this, but my first thought is that he crossed the line when he included his opinions about a celibate clergy, for example. Not that that opinion shouldn’t have been expressed — I’m not saying that at all — but it seemed as though that subject matter belonged in a whole other book, not one about the Irish-American immigrant experience.

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What’s in a name? A lot, if it’s yours!

November 24, 2009

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“My Name is Sangoel,”
written by Karen Lynn Williams
and Khadra Mohammed,
illustrated by Catherine Stock

Shaquille O’Neal was the name that broke the ice.

Across the United States a great angst was fomenting as families with non-traditional ethnic backgrounds named their children what to many “American” ears were strange sounding names.

Remember hearing folks ask “Why can’t they give their kids a ‘normal’ name?”

Recall being stymied in trying to pronounce unique names, those with unique spellings, and especially names from other cultures?

Then came the personable, photogenic and talented basketball player named Shaquille. Our ears started to get used to the sound of a name that wasn’t Tom or Dave, Jennifer or Jane.

The need for open-mindedness about unique names multiplies as refugees from around the world continue to flee war, hunger and oppression in lands where many names offer a test to American ears.

Authors Williams and Mohammed give us a different perspective on the phenomenon. In this colorful children’s book, readers learn what it’s like to be the African boy from Sudan who finds no one in his new country can pronounce his name.

Too different to even try

After his father is killed in war, Sangoel lives in a refugee camp until the day he and his mother and sister can emigrate to the United States.

Everything is new in this new land, and although he is only eight Sangoel is the man of the family, he takes responsibility to help his mother and sister make their way.

As the first-born son who as Dinka tradition has it is named after his father, his grandfather, and his ancestors through the ages, young Sangoel heeds his grandfather’s parting words: “You will be Sangoel. Even in America.”

That proves to be quite the challenge.

Hanging on to his name with pride, the boy despairs that no one in the United States — not the social worker helping his family resettle, not doctors, not teachers, classmates, coaches or soccer teammates — can rightly say his name.

Some don’t even try — an experience with which many an American with an ethnic last name can surely identify and empathize. People see an “ski,” a “wicz,” an accent mark or an apostrophe in a name and they don’t even attempt to sound out a pronunciation.

In this beautifully illustrated work from the collection of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Sangoel’s creativity enables him to teach others to say his name correctly — and to be accepted in his new environment without leaving behind the heritage of his native homeland.

Reading “My Name is Sangoel” — pronounced “Sun-Goal” — makes for a teachable moment, an opportunity to address at least one prejudice our nation of immigrants can live without. — bz

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