Immigrant and Refugee Stories: The Sun is Also a StarJennifer Epping
From speaking with students I’ve taught over the past ten years and interviews conducted by my student journalists about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), immigration, and being undocumented in the U.S., I've learned that getting to America is one journey—staying is another entirely.
In The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon, one of the main characters is 17-year-old Natasha Kingsley. Natasha’s family immigrated illegally to the United States and has lived unnoticed for nearly a decade in New York City. After her dad gets a DUI (driving under the influence) and the government discovers their status, Natasha and her family learn they’re being deported back to Jamaica. Only 12 hours remain until her family must leave, but Natasha is desperate to find a solution and stay in the only place she’s ever felt at home.
On her mission to stay, she meets another teen named Daniel, whose parents immigrated long ago from South Korea and who has a knack for writing poetry (and falling in love quickly). Daniel is a U.S. born citizen, but throughout the book pieces of his family’s immigration story unfold. Daniel doesn’t know why Natasha has appointments at an attorney’s office, or why she’s so detached and in a hurry, and he starts to fall in love with her in her final hours in America (unless she can figure out a way to stay, of course).
About 100 pages in, Natasha sets out to meet a lawyer whose reference she got from the immigration office advocate that morning. Almost immediately after entering the office, she’s handed a pile of paperwork to fill out to, once again, tell her family’s story. The perspective is impactful and offers a glimpse into the questions that go through the minds of immigrants.
“On the first form, I answer several variations on the questions of whether I’m a communist, a criminal, or a terrorist and whether I would take up arms to defend the United States…
Another form asks for details about what’s happened in the deportation process so far.
The final form is a client questionnaire that asks me to give a full accounting of my time in the United States. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what Attorney Fitzgerald is looking for. Does he want to know how we entered the country? How we hid? How it feels every time I write down my fake social security number on a school form? How every time I do, I picture my mom getting on that bus to Florida?
Does he want to know how it feels to be undocumented? Or how I keep waiting for someone to find out I don’t belong here at all?
Probably not. He’s looking for facts, not philosophy, so I write them down. We traveled to America on a tourist visa. When it came time for us to leave, we stayed. We have not left the country since. We have committed no crime, except for my dad’s DUI.” (111–112)
After Natasha completes the forms, the secretary at the law firm prompts her to expand more on why she wants to stay in America, what America means to her, and how she’ll contribute to make America a better place. She decides it centers on home, on belonging, and how “hardworking, optimistic, and patriotic” she would be. (112)
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Jennifer Epping is a high school English and journalism teacher in Des Moines, Iowa. She has a passion for reading, writing, and making lame jokes to her students just to see them laugh or roll their eyes. She just concluded her ninth year teaching. Epping graduated from Iowa State University with a BS in journalism and mass communication (2010) and BA in English Education (2013). She attended New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute (2010), and spent some time in children’s book publishing in New York.