“In America today, having documents is not enough. Look at how many people with papers are struggling. Look at how even some Americans are suffering. They were born in this country. They have American passports, and yet they are sleeping on the street, going to bed hungry, losing their jobs and houses every day in this…this economic crisis”Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue follows two families – The Jongas and the Edwards. Jende Jonga is a Cameroonian immigrant who gets a job as a personal driver for Clark Edwards, a big boss at Lehman Brothers. He supports his wife, Neni, and their son, Liomi. Clark Edwards is also married. Clark and Cindy Edwards have two sons. The two families soon rely on one another; The Jongas need the steady income provided by the Edwards to afford their modest apartment in Harlem, while the Edwards confide their secrets in Jende and his wife, Neni. From the beginning, the Jongas may not have the financial stability that the Edwards are lucky enough to have, but the Jonga home is filled with love and support that helps them through hard times. The lives of both families are thrown into chaos when Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy. The book demonstrates how money (or lack of money) can impact the fragile dynamics of a home.
Behold the Dreamers is the first book I can remember reading that shows how catastrophic an economic crisis can be for immigrants and people of lower economic classes. When Lehman Brothers collapsed, it initially hurt the upper classes. Wealthy families, such as the Edwards, must make choices to lessen their burden that has consequences for those that work for them. For instance, upper class families might decide that they can no longer afford a cleaner or a cook, the wife might decide that she can’t afford to go to her weekly manicure appointment, or the family might spend less on food or material items; However, these choices impact blue collar workers in a more substantial way. The small choices that upper class families make in the face of economic crisis puts the livelihood and job security for lower class families at a severe risk. Not only does it hurt them financially, but the collapse causes significant stress on their marriage and their battle to get papers to continue living in the United States.
Behold the Dreamers was enlightening for me because I got to see through the eyes of the Jonga family what the process is like to become an American citizen. As the reader, you get a sense of how daunting and frustrating the process is and how it impact the psyche of the immigrant family. I particularly empathized with Neni Jonga who faced a multitude of struggles as an immigrant, as a wife, and as a mother. I would recommend this book to people that have not considered how significant of a struggle it is for the thousands of families seeking a better life in the United States. The author, Imbolo Mbue, exposes the American Dream for what it is – an elusive dream. It may have once held opportunity for those seeking a better life, but if the fictional Jonga family are any indication of what the process is really like, you will see how corrupt the American immigration system is.