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The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness and Hopeby Claudia Kolker
Synopses & Reviews
Do you have a relative or friend who would gladly wait on you, hand and foot, for a full month after you had a baby? How about someone to deliver a delicious, piping hot home-cooked meal, just like your mother’s, right to your front door after work? Do you know people you’d trust enough to give several hundred dollars a month to, with no receipt, on the simple promise that the accumulated wealth will come back to you a year later?
Not many of us can answer “yes” to these questions. But as award-winning journalist Claudia Kolker has discovered, each of these is one of a wide variety of cherished customs brought to the United States by immigrant groups, often adapted to American life by the second generation in a distinctive blending of old and new. Taken together, these extraordinary traditions may well contribute to what’s known as “the immigrant paradox,” the growing evidence that immigrants, even those from poor or violence-wracked countries, tend to be both physically and mentally healthier than most native-born Americans.
These customs are unfamiliar to most Americans, but they shouldn’t be. Honed over centuries, they provide ingenious solutions to daily challenges most of us face and provide both social support and comfort. They range from Vietnamese money clubs that help people save and Mexican cuarentenas—a forty-day period of rest for new mothers—to Korean afterschools that offer highly effective tutoring at low cost and Jamaican multigenerational households that help younger family members pay for college and, eventually, their own homes.
Fascinated by the success of immigrant friends, Claudia Kolker embarked on a journey to uncover how these customs are being carried on and adapted by the second and third generations, and how they can enrich all of our lives. In a beautifully written narrative, she takes readers into the living rooms, kitchens, and restaurants of immigrant families and neighborhoods all across the country, exploring the sociable street life of Chicago’s “Little Village,” a Mexican enclave with extraordinarily low rates of asthma and heart disease; the focused quiet of Korean afterschool tutoring centers; and the loving, controlled chaos of a Jamaican extended-family home. She chronicles the quests of young Indian Americans to find spouses with the close guidance of their parents, revealing the benefits of “assisted marriage,” an American adaptation of arranged marriage. And she dives with gusto into some of the customs herself, experimenting to see how we might all fit them into our lives. She shows us the joy, and excitement, of savoring Vietnamese “monthly rice” meals delivered to her front door, hiring a tutor for her two young girls, and finding a powerful sense of community in a money-lending club she started with friends.
The Immigrant Advantage is an adventurous exploration of little-known traditional wisdom, and how in this nation of immigrants our lives can be enriched by the gifts of our newest arrivals.
"Journalist Kolker investigates the imported traditions and attitudes toward health, hard work, and education that give newcomers an edge over the native-born. In a yearlong experiment, Kolker finds that the Vietnamese money club's enforcement of savings through friendly peer pressure also works for her group of Texan friends, helping them save for taxes and vacations. She discovers how hanging out on the stoop or the corner in barrios fosters social bonds that might explain why some of the poorest immigrant communities have some of the best health outcomes — the so-called 'immigrant paradox' researchers have puzzled over for decades. She test-drives a version of the Mexican cuarantena — a period of postchildbirth rest and companionship that may protect against postpartum depression — and she implements the demanding Korean approach to studying to help her daughter learn math. Other topics explored include Vietnamese monthly rice services that help students and working mothers get dinner on the table; Jamaican multigenerational living and its benefits for home ownership; and the South Asian assisted marriage, with its blend of old-school parental oversight and modern freedom of choice. Kolker's explorations teach and entertain with their curiosity, can-do spirit, and vibrant bouquet of cultures and customs." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From an award-winning journalist comes a fascinating exploration of the life-enhancing customs that immigrant groups have brought with them to the U.S. and of how we can all improve our lives by adapting them.
With the subject of immigration hotly debated across the nation, one journalist offers a unique perspective on the subject. Claudia Kolker takes us into immigrant communities from a range of cultures, from Mexican to Jamaican and South Asian, to introduce us to a set of fascinating customs that enrich the lives of many in those communities and can make life more enjoyable—and even healthier—for us all.
According to “the immigrant paradox,” discovered by social scientists, first generation immigrants in the U.S. tend to be healthier than the average American. As Kolker discovered during her extensive research, the customs they bring with them may be one reason for this. The Immigrant Advantage details seven of these, including Vietnamese money clubs, Mexican cuarentenas (a forty day period of rest for new mothers after childbirth), Vietnamese monthly rice allotments (a service that provides individuals and families with hot meals delivered right to their doors every night), and Jamaican multigenerational households, which offer appealing solutions to issues we all face, whether it’s how to save more money, make time for a home-cooked meal, or afford college.
Taking us into the living rooms, kitchens, restaurants, and neighborhoods of specific communities across the country—from Chicago to Houston to Nashville—and introducing us to an array of diverse and meaningful customs with rich detail and a personal touch, even trying many of them herself, Kolker presents journalism at its best, educating readers with stories that engage their curiosity and enrich their lives.
An exploration of customs that immigrant groups have brought with them to the U.S.
About the Author
Claudia Kolker is an award-winning writer who has written for the Los Angeles Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Slate, among others. She is currently a Contributing Editor to the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board and lives in Houston, Texas.
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