1243 A place to call home
Finding Home: The Journey of Immigrants and Refugees
by Jen Sookfong Lee, illustrated by Drew Shannon
Victoria: Orca Books, 2021
$24.95 / 9781459818996
Reviewed by Valerie Green
I strongly believe that Jen Sookfong Lee’s book Finding Home: The Journey of Immigrants and Refugees should be introduced into schools as required reading for all young adults.
This book is an excellent way of showing students the diversity of people around the world and helps them to understand the many reasons why people leave their own homeland for a foreign shore. It also teaches them about racism and decolonization and describes the variety of religious beliefs throughout the world.
Lee manages this mammoth feat in her book by telling the stories of many actual immigrants and refugees in her twelve profiles which are both moving and unforgettable. She also includes her own family history of how her grandfather came to Canada from China in 1913 at the age of 17.
Lee grew up in a working-class neighbourhood with her family on Vancouver’s east side and her friends included people from all over the world — such as Fiji, Italy, China and Vietnam — as well as members of the First Nations. It was a diverse area and allowed Lee to learn about many different cultures, foods and religions and how and why people decided to leave their homelands.
She begins her book by explaining the history of human migration and the difference between being forced to leave a country because of dangerous oppression, and the desire to move to another place simply for a better life. I particularly like the sidebars throughout the book giving statistics and additional information. The illustrations by Drew Shannon are an excellent addition and the photographic material used is exceptional.
The chapters are divided between the History of Human Migration, Migration Today, Racism and Hardship, and Life in a New Country, all interspersed with the stories of those real-life immigrants bringing these chapters alive.
One of the biggest obstacles for new immigrants to overcome is language and that is why ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers are so important in this transition. Learning skills vary. Some adults are more determined to learn because they know their livelihood will depend upon speaking the language of their adopted country, while others prefer to form communities with their own people where they can continue to speak their own language. Children can pick up a new language easier while many teens who come to attend university paid for by their parents, simply want to have fun and lack the motivation to speak a new language unlike those who are seeking freedom from oppression.
As a reader of this very informative book, I learnt much I did not know. Facts such as in 2018 alone “In 2018 Canada welcomed more than 28,000 refugees, the highest number of any country in the world.” In addition, the differences between immigrants, refugees and migrants are clearly explained — immigrants come by choice for reasons such as better jobs, school or to be near family; refugees come because of war or persecution and migrants are usually people who are seeking asylum across a border into another country.
Baharak Yousefi is an example of a refugee from Iran. She came when she was 13, arriving in Vancouver via Seoul, South Korea, where her family had paid human smugglers to bring them to Canada. Today Baharak is a librarian at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby. Her story is one of the profiles the author describes in the book.
Gaby and Juan Gomez arrived in Canada from Guadalajara, Mexico as immigrants in 2002. Both were industrial engineers and they chose Canada in order to experience a different culture. Their daughter Maya was born in 2006 and as immigrant parents they continue to make sure that their Mexican roots are not forgotten.
Most migrants to the United States come from Mexico. Others flee across borders seeking asylum in a free country. The common factor for all immigrants, refugees and migrants is the desire to improve their standing in life and at the same time find security, safety and happiness in their chosen land.
One particular section of this book is colonization and the dark side of colonialism, particularly relevant in today’s world. “Colonization was, for many years, one of the biggest reasons people moved around the world. The British Empire, which flourished from the late 1600s until the mid-20th century, had control of over 60 countries . . . ” states Lee.
She goes on to say that the military were the first to settle in a colonized country followed by traders, hunters, farmers and religious leaders — to name but a few. Some of these people later travelled between the colonized countries. In Australia, early “settlers” were convicts sent out from Britain and were often used as free labour for a growing country. Once freed some were often able to establish their own businesses. One such example is Mary Reibey, a convicted horse stealer in Britain, who rose to prominence in Australia in the import/export business and real estate development world. She died in 1855 and in 1994 the Australian government printed her portrait on the $20 bill.
But there was also a dark side to colonialism. Often violence and aggression occurred to gain control of a country. Local languages and culture were eradicated and people were forced from their homes to reservations or other segregated areas. In Canada, the residential school system began in the 1880s and was managed by the government and church groups. Children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in schools. There “they were punished for speaking their first language and were often emotionally, physically and sexually abused.”
The last residential school was closed in 1996 and in 2008 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was formed to listen to and gather stories of residential schools from survivors and witnesses and to educate people across Canada about the residential school legacy.
Readers will enjoy all the many stories and facts Lee has accumulated in “Finding Home” about immigration around the world. I can find no fault with this beautifully produced book published by Orca Book Publishers in Victoria, and thoroughly recommend it to both young and older adults alike. The additions of a superb glossary and numerous resources to follow up on, certainly enhances the book.
Jen Sookfung Lee has been nominated for many book awards. She now lives in Burnaby with her son and teaches at The Writer’s Studio Online with Simon Fraser University, edits fiction for Wolsak & Wynn, and co-hosts the literary podcast Can’t Lit.
Valerie Green was born and educated in England where she studied journalism and law. Her passion was always writing from the moment she first held a pen in her hand. After working at the world-famous Foyles Books on Charing Cross Road, London, followed by a brief stint with M15 and legal firms, she moved to Canada in 1968 where she married and raised a family, while embarking on a long career as a freelance writer, columnist, and author of over twenty non-fiction historical and true-crime books. She is currently working on her debut novel Providence, which will be published soon as the first of The McBride Chronicles, an historical four-generational family saga bringing early BC history alive. Now semi-retired (although writers never really retire!) she enjoys taking short road trips around BC with her husband, watching their two beloved grandsons grow up and, of course, writing. Editor’s note: Valerie Green has recently reviewed books by Kay Jordan, Leanne Baugh, Sara Cassidy, Catherine McKenzie, Mary-Anne Neal, Vanessa Winn, Edeana Malcolm and Janie Chang.
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