Trisha Collopy Star Tribune
“Our Stories Have Taken Us Here,” edited by Julie Vang, Tea Rozman and Tom Kaczynski, Green Card Voices, 201 pages, $24.99.
The American Dream comes alive, with a twist, in “Our Stories Took Us Here,” which features 10 stories of young people crossing cultural barriers to make a new life in the Midwest.
The anthology includes a range of stories – the narrators come from familiar points of immigration such as Mexico, Liberia, Guatemala and Vietnam, and less familiar destinations such as Chad, Kazakhstan and Pakistan – and an unexpected range of immigrant experiences.
We are introduced to Craig Moodie, a gifted student who emigrated from Jamaica to study at Macalester, the University of Minnesota, and later launch a career in neurogenetics, despite microaggressions along the way.
And Ruth Mekoulom, whose parents moved from Chad and Cameroon to North Dakota, to give her more educational opportunities as a Deaf student.
Teenager Alex Tsipenyuk leaves Kazakhstan when his parents win the Green Card Lottery, and Amara Solomon Kamara follows her heart to Minneapolis after meeting an American in Guinea.
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The experience of two Dreamers, Sergio Cenoch from Mexico and Mary Anne Quiroz from the Philippines, encapsulates the layered approach of the anthology of immigrant stories.
Brought to the United States by single mothers at a young age, they met at a St. Paul school in seventh grade and began organizing dance and cultural activities in response to bullying by white students. Their work evolved into the Mexican dance and drum group Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli.
The couple, who later married, helped launch the Indigenous Roots cultural space in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood after battling for funding and fending off a major developer.
Colombian-born artist Camilo Aguirre, now based in Minneapolis, illustrates their story in fluid ink drawings with a color palette of blue for Mary Anne and orange-brown for Sergio. The colors blend into shades of brown and purple as their stories come together.
Each of the narrators in the anthology is paired with an artist or artists from a similar cultural background, adding a documentary and emotional dimension to the stories.
Minneapolis-based artist Sunshine Gao evokes a dreamy sense of memory with her watercolor illustrations of Aziz Kamal’s childhood in a Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar; the black, red and orange wall when Buddhists attack and burn the lands of his village as a stunning act of violence.
Polish-born illustrator Tom Kaczynski, who teaches at MCAD, captures the landscape of Soviet-era Kazakhstan in stripped-down line drawings on an orange-on-beige background that evoke the muted color palette of “Pyongyang.” by Guy Delisle.
And Cameroonian-American artist collective HOP captures the bustle of the market in N’Djamena, Chad, and the playfulness of Ruth and her friends picking flowers in the woods, before her family begins their journey to a new country.
The narrators and illustrators of “Our Stories Have Taken Us Here” take the reader on journeys, across cultures, and into an often-overlooked Midwestern experience. They also showcase the depth of storytelling talent in the region, thanks to those who have chosen to make it their home.