Immigration is a topic I’m very much interested in. So, when I saw this nonfiction book up for grabs on NetGalley, I couldn’t stop myself. While it was an enjoyable read, it feels somewhat shallow and lacking.
Title: This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto
Author: Sekutu Mehta
Genre: Nonfiction, current affairs, adult
Published on May 14th, 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
“A timely argument for why the United States and the West would benefit from accepting more immigrants” Suketu Mehta, an Indian writer based in New York, puts to paper a list of reasons why immigration should be seen as a positive thing for Western countries. Drawing from his experience as an immigrant in the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and the United States, Mehta analyses Trump’s immigration politics.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. This has not affected my rating or opinions.
This Land Is Our Land has its strong points and its faults, just like any book. Overall, it’s a very quick and addicting read, even if too superficial at times. If you are interested by contemporary immigration politics, I’m sure you’ll find this book captivating.
🌎 the author’s personal experiences 🌎
This Land Is Our Land starts with a description of the author’s personal experience with immigration when he was a young teenager. As his friend moved from India to the United States, the problems associated with immigrants are made very clear from the moment they arrive at a German airport.
This blending of personal account and of general, broader view adds richness to the book. It’s a great way to get the reader thinking of immigration as not only a hot-button topic in politics, but also as something that affects millions of people all over the world. It’s humanizing, heartwarming, and elegantly done.
🌍 discussing the empire 🌎
No serious book on modern-day immigration can dodge the topic of empire. Mehta uses this as a starting point to explain why immigration is not something outlandish and how it all started.
This is one of the book’s strong suits. The way it discusses the fall of the British and French empires is a great segue into the issue of modern-day immigration. To a reader who doesn’t have a lot of knowledge about these empires, Mehta’s explanations are easy to follow and to understand. In a way, they’re enough to understand to a certain point the flux of migrants from Commonwealth countries to the British Islands and from Africa to Central Europe.
Also, the language used to talk about the empire, the colonizers, and the colonized is surprisingly poetic. Mehta contextualizes the flow of people from former colonies to the heads of the former Empire by calling the former “the creditors.” I wasn’t expecting such strong sentences right at the beginning of a nonfiction book. It reminded me a lot of Salman Rushdie’s “The Empire Writes Back.”
🌏 passports, nationality and feudalism 🌏
A point of view that took me by surprise was the comparison between Middle Ages landowners and passport owners. But he does have a point! From Mehta’s point of view, having a Western passport (and, thus, citizenship) in today’s world is equivalent to being a feudal Lord in the Medieval Ages.
“Citizenship in Western democracies is the modern equivalent of feudal class privilege—an inherited status that greatly enhances one’s life chances.”Mehta, 2019
🌎 obvious research and interviews 🌎
I really appreciate the fact that Mehta went to great lengths to interview migrants from all walks of life based all over the world. It certainly lends a lot of authenticity and credibility to his work.
We get to hear the personal struggles from a first-person perspective of a diverse group of people. Of a mother trying to cross the US southern border while on the run from cartel violence in Honduras. Of an African taxi driver in Abu Dhabi working in inhumane conditions. Of a Guinean woman who embarked on the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing and has settled down in Southern Spain. Of a Nigerian couple who are planning a move to “whiter” counties in New York state.
The reader is also treated in terms of statistical research. The author seems to have a never-ending list of statistical data to support his argument. While it is a curse and a blessing, it makes This Land Is Our Land more scientific than a personal memoir.
🌍 but the data is also bitter 🌍
There is so much research a reader can be faced with, right? At times, the constant mention of numbers and data got too repetitive and boring. My eyes would just skim entire pages because they read like a statistical report. I would have liked to have seen less math and more interpretation of the numbers presented.
🌏 despite all efforts, it is a one-sided view 🌏
This Land Is Our Land is marketed as “a timely argument,” but without any counter arguments being explored, it felt more like a vindictive 1st-person account with scientific data.
The image of anti-immigrants are backwoods rednecks with no world view is a bit outdated. Sure, they make up an important basis of the group, but they’re certainly not the only ones advocating for a closing down of the borders. There is so much more to this issue that I feel like the author didn’t dive into. Had he explored the secondary and less obvious motivations of anti-immigration advocates, this book would have been much more interesting.
There are also no real counter arguments to the benefits of immigration presented. Mehta does explain what some (the most basic) arguments are ‘on the other side,’ but he sweeps them under the rug as being merely white-supremacist points of view. They may be! But should they be simply dismissed with no real attempt at understanding them? I strongly believe this is not the strategy to follow.
The end goal of immigration is also left in the air. It’s clear the author is of the opinion that immigration should be allowed, but he never clarifies in what terms? Should there be radical politics in place that allow anyone into the United States and Europe? Should it be on a case-by-case basis taking into account education and merit? This is never explained, which is a pity. I feel like there is no real solution being put forth, which doesn’t spark any extra (much needed) debate.
🌏 unclear audience 🌏
The weakest point of the book is its inability to cater to a specific audience. On one hand, his “arguments” are too polarizing and ad-hominem for someone who defends the closing of the borders to be convinced to change their mind. On the other hand, everything about this book is simplistic and shallow to add anything to what the people who defend immigration already know. Sure, there are facts, but they are already known by this audience. As there isn’t a good balance of the two, I felt like no one could really benefit much from this book — which is a shame!
Have you ever heard of Sekutu Mehta? What do you think of this book? Do you have any similar recommendations for me? Let’s talk! ☺️