Mark Keppel High School

Immigration & literature

Literature has an amazing ability to portray all sorts of ideas in precise, captivating words. The stories that are told through literature have the ability to motivate and inform in a way readers could not have fathomed. Writers bring together their opinions and the minds of readers at all extents, and stories of immigration are no different.

With the topic of immigration being increasingly pressing, authors have been producing works inspired by their own experiences with it. Janine Joseph is one of these authors. In 2016, Joseph published Driving without a License, a collection of poems that explain how immigration affects modern life.

“When I set out in 2001 to write the book that became Driving without a License, I wanted to write the story about immigration that hadn’t yet been written.” said Joseph. “I wanted to add another story, another point of view and experience. I wanted, in some way, to disrupt the (still) dominant narratives about the lives and geographic origins of undocumented immigrants in America. I wanted, too, for what I wrote to dare to have moments of humor and joy.”

Joseph chosen to express herself through poetry so that she could truly focus on the details of how immigration affects her. “I first set out to write a novel informed by my experiences as an undocumented person, but quickly realized that it was impossible for me to tell a straightforward, linear immigration narrative in which I easily immigrated, overcame adversity, assimilated, and then achieved the American Dream.” said Joseph, “Poetry became a voice and vocation that, at the time I learned I was undocumented, required no one’s permission or authorization but mine.”

The thing about literature is that it is often very universal. Readers, in some aspect, can always find a way to relate to the story being told. “It is up to the reader to decide how they want to live within and beyond the pages of the collection.” said Joseph.

Due to this, immigration and literature can go hand in hand while effectively conveying a message to all readers. “The portrayal of immigration in literature is constantly changing and the presence of even more rich and varied narratives, I think, only encourages others to make their own contributions.” said Joseph. And literature and immigration are even more relative, said Joseph, when they are speaking from experience.

“They are in control of their own narrative.” said Joseph.