The Chosen Shore: Stories of Immigrants

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The Chosen Shore By Ellen Alexander Conley

“This is a thoughtful, engaging, and well-written manuscript, replete with often fascinating vignettes, aptly chosen and full of irony and paradox, about the immigrant experience in the United States today as lived and reported by informants who hail from nearly a score of countries from around the world.”–Rubén G. Rumbaut, co-author of Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation

“Ellen Conley does more than record the personal stories of new immigrants to our shores. By including testaments from people close to her family and in her workplace, she illuminates the positive ways these eager, industrious new populations have weaved themselves into the fabric of our lives.”–Susan Brownmiller, author of In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution

“This is a superb and moving book, filled with beautiful, sometimes painfully honest voices, addressing perhaps the most important question of our day – ‘What is the real America?'”–Amy Chua, author of World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability

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A Korean street child is adopted into an upper-middle-class suburban home. A Vietnamese monk dishes up fast food to fund a spiritual center. A woman saves for a home back in Ghana, where she will never live. All are immigrants to the United States, known to most of their fellow Americans only as statistics. The stories that statistics can’t tell unfold in this book, in which twenty-three recent immigrants recall navigating the paradoxes, pitfalls, and triumphs of becoming Americans. Candid, evocative, and richly detailed, their oral histories comprise a compelling portrait of the changing face of the American population.
In venues from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times, Ellen Alexander Conley’s fiction has been hailed as “wonderful,” “impassioned,” and “memorable.” Conley brings the same passion and skill to her depiction of our nation’s most recent arrivals. These personal histories, along with Conley’s thoughtful overview of literature on immigration, give us a firsthand sense of what it means to become an American.

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After writing so much about my life, it was definitely interesting having someone else write my life story after an interview.  Ellen was lovely.  We had the interview over gandana boolanee with my (now estranged) mother there.  Sometimes my mother’s narration makes its way into my narration making it a rather surreal piece to reread.  This is only because I do not agree with my mother’s perspective and in this piece both contradicting voices are intermingled.  The collection itself is wonderful and Ellen’s addition of Afghan Americans into the mix of immigrant America is important.  Our rather anonymous community was outed after 9/11 and for the first time people began using Afghan-American to refer to us.  This was an important American moment to document.  My only issue with it is that I wasn’t shown the interview for clarifications during the editing process.  When it was finally published, I received a copy with a line that horrified me because I would never say such a thing.  It was a line saying it was done by Arabs and not by Afghans.  For this reason, I was gravely disappointed with the interview and I stopped agreeing to be interviewed after seeing this in print.  I realize the importance of telling one’s own story without the filter of someone else.  Regardless of how small the carelessness or unintentional on the part of the oral historian, it altered my story of that time and stained what story I had to tell.

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