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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Book Review: Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares by Aarti Shahani

Aarti Shahani is an NPR reporter in Silicon Valley, who I've heard on the radio and podcasts dozens of times. I had no idea about her fascinating backstory.

Her family emigrated to the United States when she was quite small. They lived in a crappy, small, bug-ridden apartment in Queens. Her father, who had been a successful movie importer before, had trouble finding even menial physical jobs in the US. Her mother, a whiz of a seamstress, quickly became the family breadwinner working at a bridal shop. But after an accident, she could no longer work. Aarti's father had left but he came back at that point. Eventually, he and a cousin went into business together, opening an electronics store in Manhattan.

Life improves considerably. The family moves to a large house in New Jersey. Aarti's older brother gets married and has a baby. Her sister goes to college. And as Aarti is herself starting college, her father is arrested. It turns out that a lot of his business was mail-order, and when he was receiving large sums of cash and shipping thousands of electronics in return, he was unwittingly laundering money for the Cali cartel. And her brother's wife disappears with the baby.

Aarti puts college on hold to move home and help out. The lawyer she finds tells them their best bet is for him to plead guilty. Her uncle serves his terms first, and then is deported. Horrified, as Aarti and her father are the sole members of their family who hadn't yet applied for citizenship, she fears the worst as her own father's prison term looms. Meanwhile she works with her brother and sister to try to recover her kidnapped nephew.

This is the story of one immigrant family. Granted, the Shahanis have more ups and downs than most. But it's the story of America. This could have happened to any of us. And it's happened to an NPR reporter who you hear on the radio regularly. It's the story of hopes and dreams, of dreams dashed, of new dreams, of fighting for your rights, and of fighting for a better future. The stories of immigrants are often portrayed as "others" and yet, they truly are all around, everywhere, including in your car radio. In this country of immigrants, we need to know and understand and empathize with the more recent immigrant stories, and Ms. Shahani is in a unique position to personalize one family's story.

This book is published by Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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