Not-so-American Dream: New book illustrates the reality of being an immigrant

For generations, many have dreamed of immigrating to first world countries, believing that with relocating, comes a better life and a better future. That is, until their wish comes true. This is the idea that author Dina Nayeri, explores in her new autobiography ‘The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You,’ published in May.  

The narrative is told through the author’s contemporary perspective, reflecting on the most impactful memories of her childhood as a refugee. 

Nayeri, at the age of 6, her mother and brother were forced to flee Iran during the height of the Iranian revolution due to their conversion to Christianity from Islam. Although escaping a world of shame placed upon her family for this conversion, the author says that her life in Iran had been a fairytale in comparison to the life her family led in the United States as immigrants. 

Before settling down in Oklahoma, Nayeri and her family led lives in Dubai and Rome, each for only short spans of time. The author writes about her experiences in each place with great nostalgia and appreciation for making her the person she is today. However, the stories of her neighbors in both of those places shine a different light on how some refugees will never find a home. She believed herself lucky to be granted access to the United States while many of her peers were forced to remain undocumented, hiding in Rome. 

After finally moving to Oklahoma, Nayeri wanted to have everything the westernised media had promised her of an American lifestyle. However, upon arriving in the United States, she discovered that this image of American perfection required her to forget her past experiences and how they defined her differences. She worked to become a “true-American,” trying to get rid of her Iranian accent. Nayeri even dreamed, like many other Americans, of acceptance to an Ivy League college.  

A point brought up by Nayeri multiple times is that even though her family had been granted full access to this country, they have still been targeted and unaccepted. This sense of unacceptance has acted as a theme throughout the story. She writes about how immigrants have been pressured their entire lives living as a refugee to be grateful for all that has been done for them. 

Nayeri’s story is especially impactful in accordance to America’s current heightened discourse towards immigrants. Nayeri says that she is “ungrateful” to America because of the anti-immigrant rhetoric President Trump has instilled with his followers.  

About the Author

Dina Nayeri, an Ameircan-Iranian writer, has dedicated her life to sharing stories of refugees. As well as “The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You,” Nayeri is most commonly known for her works of fiction such as “A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea” (2013) and “Refuge” (2017). Nayeri has also written articles, all relating to immigration, for The New Yorker and The Guardian. 

After graduating from Princeton with a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Education from Harvard, Nayeri spent time living in Amsterdam before settling down in London. 

For her writing, Nayeri became the 2018 Paul Engle Prize Winner, and won the 2018 Best American Short Stories award for “A Big True”  from The Southern Review, among others.