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America for Beginners


A poignant debut that explores unlikely friendships forged in unusual ...
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Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do "illegal immigrants" in America face the same stigma as those Bangladeshis in India?

Created: 07/26/19

Replies: 9

Posted Jul. 26, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 2732

Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do "illegal immigrants" in America face the same stigma as those Bangladeshis in India?

Pival reflects that "at home Bangladeshis had no status. They did the worst jobs, if they had jobs at all. They were illegal immigrants with no rights and no names, just men who melted into the background and women who looked hungry all the time." Because of this stigma, Ronnie Munshi is desperate to ensure that none of his Indian clients know he and his guides are Bangladeshi. Does this distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do "illegal immigrants" in America face the same stigma as those Bangladeshis in India?


Posted Jul. 29, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 304

RE: Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do "illegal immigrants" in America face the same stigma as those Bangladeshis in India?

Pival’s description of Bangladeshis in India (indistinguishable from Indians, to Americans of European descent) sounds exactly like the way some Americans regard immigrants to America today, whether from Latin America or from Islamic countries, and whether legal or not! And it is repugnant to me. I don’t believe most Americans feel this way—but unfortunately our president is encouraging people to view them as a threat. Throughout history, xenophobia has led to horrific results on a grand scale. It grieves and frightens me to see it here, in a country founded by immigrants.


Posted Jul. 30, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
teacher reader

Join Date: 02/14/18

Posts: 47

RE: Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do "illegal immigrants" in America face the same stigma as those Bangladeshis in India?

First of all unless we have lived or have relatives there, none of us knows about Bangladeshis and Indians. The conflict between these cultures was only tangential to this story.

Our country's current immigration situation is not pertinent to this book, and political opinions have no relevance to the discussion.


Posted Jul. 30, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 304

RE: Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do

Teacher reader, I have been a teacher too (now retired). I respectfully disagree with you on both points. I think as Americans we can certainly say that the differences between Bengali Indians and Bangladeshis is not something we would immediately notice, or necessarily have knowledge of (unless of course that was our own background), any more than Rebecca did. But through literature, we can certainly learn a great deal and take steps toward understanding. I’ve been reading fiction set in India and Pakistan and written by natives of those countries for the past 40 years. (And cooking the cuisine as well.) I’d never claim to know all there is to know about such a vast and complex nation, but I certainly understand more than I would from just reading the news.

The conflict between Bangladeshis and Bengalis is part of the author’s purpose in this book: you may dismiss it as political, but in my view it goes to the heart of why reading matters, to help us reflect on our own time and what it means to be human. For Ronnie and Satya and Pival, the ethnic differences are significant and in their home countries, they would never develop the relationships they do in America, where they all appear to be of the same nationality, the same culture. In other words, the author is saying, everywhere people make a big deal about their differences, which looked at from a broader perspective, really don’t matter at all. This is to my mind (as Davina’s discussion question suggests) a message for America about the way we are treating illegal immigrants (and often legal ones). It’s impossible to answer that question or address that theme in the book without referring to what is happening in America today and what has happened in history.


Posted Aug. 02, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
acstrine

Join Date: 02/06/17

Posts: 314

RE: Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do

One of the reasons I specifically requested this book was because I knew very little about the Bangladeshis and Bengalis and wanted to learn and understand more about the people in this part of the world. The distinction between the two doesn't matter in America because, in my opinion, most of us aren't interested in finding out. We see a person who looks different, and then we generalize based on what we think we know. How many darker skinned people were taunted, harassed, or harmed after 9/11 because all some patriotic American saw was the color of skin and assumed they were in cahoots with the terrorists?? I'm reading another book right now. One of the characters, a Korean woman, received a wok from her husband to be's relative as a wedding present. Koreans do not use woks. I think this is another classic example of many of us making a judgement based on appearance. Not every Asian person cooks with a wok.

I don't think we take the time to get to know one another any more. We are becoming more isolated as a society. Instead of calling someone, we text or e-mail. We don't go out to restaurants; we have it delivered. We don't "call" a cab. We make arrangements for a ride via an app. We don't go out to movies, we stream it on Netflix. I don't even need to go to the library or bookstore to get a book to read. The more isolated we become, the less opportunity we have to interact with people who are different from us. They are unknown, and it is easy to believe when someone tells us we should be afraid or that a certain group of people are "bad". This is why people are being yelled at for speaking Spanish in restaurants and why black people are having the cops called on them for being in front of their own homes, in their own dorms, or waiting for a friend. It is why a Native American high school student is questioned about what he is doing with a college tour group.

Immigrants ARE stigmatized (a political campaign was kicked off by feeding fears that people from Mexico and Central America are drug dealers, rapists, murderers, and in gangs). But we pick on a lot of people in the US... Asians, Muslims, women, African Americans, addicted persons, and the poor. Sadly, I could continue to add to this list. We are moving farther and farther away from being proud of the fact that we are a "melting pot". And what bothers me is that while we may not know about the distinction between people in other cultures, our behavior is on full display to the world. The author showed us that IS possible to look past generalizations, stereotypes, and our own beliefs about people who are different than us- -and to have an amazing time while doing so!


Posted Aug. 03, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 304

RE: Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do "illegal immigrants" in America face the same stigma as those Bangladeshis in India?

Bravo, acstrine! Thank you for saying this. To my mind, you have expressed the most important theme in this book, as the title suggests: America is for beginners, and unless you are a native American, we all are descendants of beginners. Everyone belongs. We all have lessons to learn about accepting ourselves, and accepting those others whom some of have been taught to see as inferior, alien, threatening.


Posted Aug. 03, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
reene

Join Date: 02/18/15

Posts: 406

RE: Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do "illegal immigrants" in America face the same stigma as those Bangladeshis in India?

Ronnie, himself an immigrant, continued this practice of alienation. I do not believe that most Americans would know the difference between the two, as Rebecca clearly demonstrated. Thank you teacherreader for your clear comment on political opinion. I do not believe it was the author's intention to make American politics the theme of her book. If I wish to know more about the history of a particular culture, I will pick up a history book, not get my information by, as stated, reading fiction. Yes, American behavior is viewed around the world, just as world behavior is viewed by us. And I happen to think WE look pretty good compared to many.
I read America for Beginners to enjoy a fictional novel and to discuss the fictional characters, NOT to read and participate in America bashing. After all is said, you do have the freedom to move, something that cannot be said for many places.


Posted Aug. 04, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
acstrine

Join Date: 02/06/17

Posts: 314

RE: Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do

Perhaps one can expect better from his/her own country. One can STAY and work within one's community to bring change. One can become involved in politics, community action, or volunteer for a cause that is most meaningful to him or her. Having different opinions about the progress or lack thereof of one's country is not America bashing. It is simply having a different opinion. Sometimes I complain about my husband- -that does not mean I want him to MOVE. We can disagree and still live in the same place.

And even if I did move, I would still take my beliefs and culture with me- -like Ronnie did. Perhaps with more time in the United States, he will learn that it is ok for a man from Bangladesh to lead a group from Bengal on a tour. Or maybe he will never be comfortable with who is is.

The differing opinions shared in this thread reinforce why standardized reading testing is not a good practice. We all read the same book. We all interpreted it differently. We all connected to it differently. Our thinking diverged to different places. If I want to read a fiction book that doesn't make me think, I choose a Grisham, Evanovich, or Baldacci. And quite often that is exactly what I want from my reading. Other times I prefer my fiction to be a little more loaded- -themes a little broader and much deeper, characters more complicated, books that I have to think about, and books that make me think. I have found in my experience as a reader that fiction books are very good teachers of different people, places, and times throughout history.


Posted Aug. 04, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 2732

RE: Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do

A note from your moderator:

This topic has clearly touched a raw nerve with some of our participants. Over the past 8 years we've discussed well over 2000 topics relating to more than 100 books, and I think it is a wonderful reflection on the BookBrowse community that only once before today have I had to remove posts.

I ask you to please remember that disagreement is vital to dialogue, and a discussion would be pretty dull if we all agreed--but please, let's agree to disagree respectfully.

Also, to those who ask whether this is an appropriate topic for this book. All I can say is that it is taken directly from the discussion guide provided by the publisher. Oftentimes the authors write the guides themselves. I don't know in this case who wrote it but I feel confident that the author would have had the opportunity to comment on the discussion guide; and thus, for what it's worth, there is a high likelihood that Leah Franqui felt this to be an appropriate discussion topic in relation to her book.

-- Davina


Posted Aug. 08, 2019 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 304

RE: Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do

I believe if the author didn’t want us to think about immigration in America today, she wouldn’t have written a novel where most of the characters are immigrants, and she would have used a different title. So the question is relevant and appropriate for discussion. Thanks, Davina, for your comments and moderation.


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