Good Reading: Lucky Boy
Shanthi Sekaran's novel Lucky Boy came out last year, making a great contribution to the literature of migration, and tackling head on the issue of family separation. For the month of July 2018, all proceeds from sales will be donated to RAICES, the organization that provides legal aid to separated families. Buy the book right now (or several) and do a bit more to support the fight against family separation and endless detention. It's also a great read, so this is one of those non sacrifices.
The novel features two protagonists. Soli wants out of her little village in Mexico, where there is no work, “only the growing and eating of few stalks of sugar.” Indian American Kavya, well, she wants a baby, to the point of obsession. Soli's father puts her in the hands of a coyote, telling her that she owes the man nothing more, but her harrowing journey across the border is marked by sexual assault and the disappearance of the lover she found along the way. Soli arrives in the Bay Area pregnant and starts cleaning houses. Kavya becomes a foster mother, while her husband worries that he doesn't know her anymore. When Soli's luck runs out and she is picked up by the police, her son is taken into the child welfare system, while she lands in immigrant detention a thousand miles away. Soli’s child winds up with Kavya and her husband, and Soli is faced with the challenge of getting him back with no access to attorneys or phones or social workers. Sekaran writes with deep compassion for both women. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that it wasn’t exactly what I expected.
Sekaran wrote a piece for Salon comparing the obsessive “fastidiousness” with which liberal parents raise the next generation against the reality of unfathomable abuse of children. The notion that we can’t understand, therefore can’t resist or change, will be the undoing of our compassion. She writes,
“It’s in the cloud of the unfathomable that people grow invisible. When we lose count of them, we shut out their voices and faces. But this is not the time to click away. It seems impossible that a parent like me — better versed in lunch-packing than legal advocacy, more chauffeur than activist — could impact the situation at the border, but one thing I’ve learned from parenting is that a step taken, however small, is a mark of progress; that when it feels like I can do nothing, it becomes crucial that I do something.”
In recent books about women’s migration (see also The Leavers), I’ve been struck by the notion that even women who are desperate to leave bad situations are looking for more than safety out of migration. Being undocumented, of course, is hardly a safe condition, but these fictional women, like the real immigrant women I know, are also seeking the right to define themselves, seeking independence and happiness as well as security. Sekaran has written Soli as an agent of her own fate rather than only as a victim, although she endures terrible loss.
This book is based on the way family separation happened during the Obama Administration’s deportation policy, largely as a failure of communication and respect between the immigration, child welfare and criminal justice systems. For more information on that problem, check out Race Forward’s Shattered Families report from 2011.