The Migration Museum last night hosted a discussion based on the new book The Good Immigrant USA. Co-editor Chimene Suleyman was joined on a panel by two contributors to the UK edition of the book, Inua Ellams and Darren Chetty. A packed audience heard selected extracts and engaging conversation on topics ranging from immigration to identity.
The Good Immigrant USA has been inspired by the UK edition edited by Nikesh Shuklah and published in 2017. That collection of essays by black, Asian and ethnic minority writers living in Britain was seen as a vital contribution to the UK’s debate about the hot-button topic of immigration. As America goes through its own contestation over immigration under President Trump, Good Immigrant USA is a timely dispatch on a country with many parallels to Brexit Britain.
Suleyman said that whilst editing The Good Immigrant USA (in tandem with Shuklah), she was overwhelmed by the sense of fear running through the 26 essays. Since Trump was elected in 2016, she believes America has become a less understanding and welcoming place to live. Essentially however, she praised the hope, strength and resilience present throughout the book.
The night fitted well with the museum’s aim to shine a light on migration stories and narratives absent from the mainstream. Chetty read aloud a fascinating extract written by a London-born filmmaker with French-Algerian parents who feels disillusioned in the Hollywood bubble. Ellams choice of essay, The Naked Man by Chigozie Obioma, led to an insightful discussion about how many Nigerians hold an almost mythic view of the American Dream. Ellams’ anecdote of being told by a falafel seller in Harlem that people from Nigeria have no culture, led to shocked laughter.
Whilst the event was taking place, parliament were voting on the latest Brexit deal less than a mile away. An issue wholly intertwined with immigration, the night had a real sense of pertinence. It meant Britain was never far from discussion, even more so with all three panellists being Londoners. Chetty declared the capital to be a collection of tribes and Ellams confirmed it is the city in which he is happiest. Suleyman, who currently lives in New York, said she is more of a Londoner than she realised. Despite her best efforts, she mixes mainly with Brits in New York, proclaiming the city to be a highly segregated place where different migrant groups rarely interact.
As the floor opened for questions the panel were quizzed by a diverse crowd. It was asked if the first two instalments of The Good Immigrant series could be followed by further books, such as The Good Immigrant Australia. Suleyman didn’t give too much away but smiled and informed us to watch this space!
Head of Public Engagement at the Migration Museum, Robin Kasozi, introduced the night and confirmed the museum is still looking for a permanent location. After setting up in 2013 the museum has had various homes across the UK and has been based on Lambeth High Street since 2017.
You can find out what’s on at The Migration Museum by visiting their website.
The Good Immigrant USA is available to purchase online and in stores now.