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The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness and Hope

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From an award-winning journalist comes a fascinating exploration of the life-enhancing customs that immigrant groups have brought with them to the U.S. and of how we can all improve our lives by adapting them.With the subject of immigration hotly debated across the nation, one journalist offers a unique perspective on the subject. Claudia Kolker takes us into immigrant com From an award-winning journalist comes a fascinating exploration of the life-enhancing customs that immigrant groups have brought with them to the U.S. and of how we can all improve our lives by adapting them.With the subject of immigration hotly debated across the nation, one journalist offers a unique perspective on the subject. Claudia Kolker takes us into immigrant communities from a range of cultures, from Mexican to Jamaican and South Asian, to introduce us to a set of fascinating customs that enrich the lives of many in those communities and can make life more enjoyable;and even healthier;for us all. pAccording to ldquo;the immigrant paradox,rdquo; discovered by social scientists, first generation immigrants in the U.S. tend to be healthier than the average American. As Kolker discovered during her extensive research, the customs they bring with them may be one reason for this. The Immigrant Advantage details seven of these, including Vietnamese money clubs, Mexican cuarentena, (a forty day period of rest for new mothers after childbirth), Vietnamese monthly rice allotments (a service that provides individuals and families with hot meals delivered right to their doors every night), and Jamaican multigenerational households, which offer appealing solutions to issues we all face, whether itrsquo;s how to save more money, make time for a home-cooked meal, or afford college. pTaking us into the living rooms, kitchens, restaurants, and neighborhoods of specific communities across the country; from Chicago to Houston to Nashville;and introducing us to an array of diverse and meaningful customs with rich detail and a personal touch, even trying many of them herself, Kolker presents journalism at its best, educating readers with stories that engage their curiosity and enrich their lives.


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From an award-winning journalist comes a fascinating exploration of the life-enhancing customs that immigrant groups have brought with them to the U.S. and of how we can all improve our lives by adapting them.With the subject of immigration hotly debated across the nation, one journalist offers a unique perspective on the subject. Claudia Kolker takes us into immigrant com From an award-winning journalist comes a fascinating exploration of the life-enhancing customs that immigrant groups have brought with them to the U.S. and of how we can all improve our lives by adapting them.With the subject of immigration hotly debated across the nation, one journalist offers a unique perspective on the subject. Claudia Kolker takes us into immigrant communities from a range of cultures, from Mexican to Jamaican and South Asian, to introduce us to a set of fascinating customs that enrich the lives of many in those communities and can make life more enjoyable;and even healthier;for us all. pAccording to ldquo;the immigrant paradox,rdquo; discovered by social scientists, first generation immigrants in the U.S. tend to be healthier than the average American. As Kolker discovered during her extensive research, the customs they bring with them may be one reason for this. The Immigrant Advantage details seven of these, including Vietnamese money clubs, Mexican cuarentena, (a forty day period of rest for new mothers after childbirth), Vietnamese monthly rice allotments (a service that provides individuals and families with hot meals delivered right to their doors every night), and Jamaican multigenerational households, which offer appealing solutions to issues we all face, whether itrsquo;s how to save more money, make time for a home-cooked meal, or afford college. pTaking us into the living rooms, kitchens, restaurants, and neighborhoods of specific communities across the country; from Chicago to Houston to Nashville;and introducing us to an array of diverse and meaningful customs with rich detail and a personal touch, even trying many of them herself, Kolker presents journalism at its best, educating readers with stories that engage their curiosity and enrich their lives.

30 review for The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness and Hope

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    This is an engaging overview of several immigrant traditions that bolster people's well-being. The author, who comes from European Jewish and Mexican families, summarizes research into medicine and social sciences and then contextualizes it by interviewing people on the ground. The common thread is that newcomers to the US are forced to rely on interpersonal networks instead of purchasing services or going it alone. My personal favorite example is Vietnamese meal delivery, which reminds me of sta This is an engaging overview of several immigrant traditions that bolster people's well-being. The author, who comes from European Jewish and Mexican families, summarizes research into medicine and social sciences and then contextualizes it by interviewing people on the ground. The common thread is that newcomers to the US are forced to rely on interpersonal networks instead of purchasing services or going it alone. My personal favorite example is Vietnamese meal delivery, which reminds me of startups like Josephine (especially in terms of home cooking) and SpoonRocket. This chapter affirms that it's incredibly arduous work for a working adult to cook full meals for themselves every night, let alone cook for other adults or for children. The proposed solution doesn't seem sustainable, since the com thang businesses described in the book don't bring in much money and the owners burn out quickly. But I do think that the principle of outsourcing meal prep is a good one. I've occasionally drank Soylent over the past three years, and based on the number of people who have condescended to me about how easy it would be to cook instead, we have a long way to go in acknowledging just how much work is involved in baseline domestic labor. The book seems a little too starry-eyed overall to me; discussions of reliance on family, especially for sharing mortgages and for identifying potential spouses, ring hollow without acknowledgement of how bonds can break down from abuse. Something relating to conflict resolution would be useful overall.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Susan Wakula

    It seems that we're constantly bombarded with misleading, negative press regarding immigrants. From the crime rate to poaching jobs to inhumane customs like genital mutilation, this book should be required reading for those who choose to believe the negative hype coming from the current administration. In this book we learn about Latina tradition of cuarentena, which involves taking care of a new mother for forty days; how to mother a mother. The Little Village neighborhood in Chicago teaches us It seems that we're constantly bombarded with misleading, negative press regarding immigrants. From the crime rate to poaching jobs to inhumane customs like genital mutilation, this book should be required reading for those who choose to believe the negative hype coming from the current administration. In this book we learn about Latina tradition of cuarentena, which involves taking care of a new mother for forty days; how to mother a mother. The Little Village neighborhood in Chicago teaches us How to Be a Good Neighbor and its numerable benefits to one's physical and emotional health. How the Vietnamese's "com thang" helps families sit down for a home cooked dinner each evening. And the Nigerian tradition of "ogbo" keeps girls and boys rooted in caring for their community so that they evolve into women and men that keep the community thriving. The American version of Capitalism keeps bleeding families dry. There's no time to spend together or take care of each other because most of us are just trying to survive. So many of us spend big chunks of our precious free time driving in a car. We don't know our neighbors and our neighborhood is just a place to live, where it should be a community of caring. This book is a how-to manual to make our lives better by adopting our own versions of worthwhile immigrant traditions.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mckinley

    Enjoyed the contents. Too bad about the title though; it makes it sound like immigrants don't have disadvantages to overcome and thus rely on the contents of the chapter to see them through. They can't get loans, so they have private money clubs. If someone steals or cheats, that money is gone with no recourse. They can't afford child care options after giving birth so they have family and friends (working other jobs) to help out. And so on. It would be nice if these were add-on benefits rather Enjoyed the contents. Too bad about the title though; it makes it sound like immigrants don't have disadvantages to overcome and thus rely on the contents of the chapter to see them through. They can't get loans, so they have private money clubs. If someone steals or cheats, that money is gone with no recourse. They can't afford child care options after giving birth so they have family and friends (working other jobs) to help out. And so on. It would be nice if these were add-on benefits rather than necessities.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marissa

    This book is so needed. Especially right now. I loved it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    I wavered between three and four stars as I rated this book. It contains thought provoking and well researched information. It was an informative read that gives me much to ponder after reading. However, I ultimately feel the book is too intellectually shallow to warrant a rating higher than three stars. It samples and celebrates immigrant traditions with only a passing consideration of the challenges inherent in adapting such traditions to American lifestyles. For example, the chapter about tak I wavered between three and four stars as I rated this book. It contains thought provoking and well researched information. It was an informative read that gives me much to ponder after reading. However, I ultimately feel the book is too intellectually shallow to warrant a rating higher than three stars. It samples and celebrates immigrant traditions with only a passing consideration of the challenges inherent in adapting such traditions to American lifestyles. For example, the chapter about taking care of new mothers after childbirth does acknowledge that most American women do not have the type of familial or friend-based support system in place to experience anything like the 40-day Mexican cuarentena. But the author goes on to blithely narrate how she managed to arrange such an experience for herself after the birth of her children. Most of the chapters include such personal experiments by the author -- and most are at least modestly successful. The traditions she does not directly apply to her own life, such as multigenerational living spaces, are nevertheless lauded more than critically examined. A possible exception is Kolker's treatmeant of the Vietnamese money club. Perhaps this treatment is different because it is the focus of a final wrap-up chapter as well as the standard chapter devoted to each other concept. I purchased this book with higher expectations, wanting more critical analysis and less eager appropriation of other cultures' traditions. If I could travel back in time to when I heard the book discussed on NPR and could erase that expectation, I imagine I either would not have purchased the title or would have a higher opinion of it after reading.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Yvann S

    “As a lot of us do, I’d grown up acutely aware how much I owed to being American. My insouciance about the future. My unhindered education. The chutzpah to go, as a single woman, anywhere that I pleased.” In this very interesting non-fiction exploration/memoir, Kolker examines 8 behaviours and cultural concepts brought to the USA by immigrant groups, and how these behaviours lead to far higher quality of life than would be expected for these groups, taking into account income levels, dislocation “As a lot of us do, I’d grown up acutely aware how much I owed to being American. My insouciance about the future. My unhindered education. The chutzpah to go, as a single woman, anywhere that I pleased.” In this very interesting non-fiction exploration/memoir, Kolker examines 8 behaviours and cultural concepts brought to the USA by immigrant groups, and how these behaviours lead to far higher quality of life than would be expected for these groups, taking into account income levels, dislocation from family and community support networks etc. She also relates her attempts to implement them in her own life. Kolker must be a really interesting person and this comes across straight away in her writing. Part Jewish, part Mexican, and having done stints as a journalist in Haiti and other exotic American locations (and I use American in the North, Central and South sense), she spends time in Houston and Chicago with a young family and her photo-journalist husband. She has also managed to pick 8 very varied cultural ideas, including money clubs, the cuarantena (quarantine) applied to new mothers, com thang (a sort of communal meals-on-wheels business), the benefits of front-stoop-perching – really something from every aspect of life. Kolker moulds her research into her own life, and I found it fascinating to see how she makes the principles work for herself – her founding of a money club, her digging out and patronage of a com thang business (I tried to do the same but it appears there are not enough Vietnamese people in London). I would absolutely advocate this fairly quick, simple read for anyone interested in examining how other people live and picking up a few life tips along the way.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Divya Jain

    I really enjoyed certain chapters of this book: namely Chapters 1, 2, 4, and 8. The remainder I felt were rather superficial and perhaps even dated. For example, the chapter on South Asian mating patterns mentions that women are considered to be past their prime after age 25. These are trends which have been changing for a while, just as mainstream Caucasian marital patterns are trending towards later age in marriage (late 20s to mid 30s). I felt that much of her storytelling in later chapters w I really enjoyed certain chapters of this book: namely Chapters 1, 2, 4, and 8. The remainder I felt were rather superficial and perhaps even dated. For example, the chapter on South Asian mating patterns mentions that women are considered to be past their prime after age 25. These are trends which have been changing for a while, just as mainstream Caucasian marital patterns are trending towards later age in marriage (late 20s to mid 30s). I felt that much of her storytelling in later chapters was repetitious, trying to make the same point multiple times with slightly different wording. While the author's effort to illustrate each chapter with real-life stories is commendable, in several chapters it it bordered on making one-sided generalizations which do not depict a complete story of how immigrants who have settled in different parts of the same host country (USA) may attempt to continue the same cultural practices. One notable example of how the author presented a more complete story of how immigrants adapted the same cultural practice was in Chapter 2 about mothering the mother. Final verdict is that The Immigrant Advantage is a good read, with a strong start that looses steam about half-way through. The final chapter is a strong ending only because it is a continuation of the hui story begun in Chapter 1... In fact, after reading Chapter 1, I simply skipped to the last chapter to complete the hui story, before returning to Chapter 2.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Buike

    Since it was an ARC, I was already expecting editing errors, so the few that remained didn't distract me from the content within. This was a fantastic read! There were very interesting case studies and examples of the diversity that benefits this country, rather than takes away from it. I loved the idea of a hui, or money club, though I'm sure that many Americans would be distinctly uncomfortable with it (and while pondering starting my own, I could only come up with possibly two other couples w Since it was an ARC, I was already expecting editing errors, so the few that remained didn't distract me from the content within. This was a fantastic read! There were very interesting case studies and examples of the diversity that benefits this country, rather than takes away from it. I loved the idea of a hui, or money club, though I'm sure that many Americans would be distinctly uncomfortable with it (and while pondering starting my own, I could only come up with possibly two other couples who even might be interested). The assisted marriage story helped me to better understand my friend Roshani's acceptance of the ritual, which prior to reading this book was so completely foreign and slightly repulsive to me. But now it sounds reasonable and I wish I could suggest it to a few friends of mine who long to marry but haven't had much luck with traditional American dating! It's just a very good book overall that provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of immigrants here in America, and how they manage to survive and thrive while still keeping some of their former traditions. Highly recommended!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    Having heard an interview with Claudia Kolker about this book, I decided to read it, but by the end I was very disappointed! The Immigrant Advantage is a quick read and Claudia Kolker holds your interest by including many stories of recent immigrants and those of her family. The structure of the book is that a different "lesson" is presented in each chapter. I found the first three chapters very interesting, but from there the book deteriorated quickly. As the book progressed, I began to feel th Having heard an interview with Claudia Kolker about this book, I decided to read it, but by the end I was very disappointed! The Immigrant Advantage is a quick read and Claudia Kolker holds your interest by including many stories of recent immigrants and those of her family. The structure of the book is that a different "lesson" is presented in each chapter. I found the first three chapters very interesting, but from there the book deteriorated quickly. As the book progressed, I began to feel that Kolker was really stretching to create enough lessons for a book length piece and her presentation became wordy. Some of the lessons presented were simplistic and I began to doubt the relevance of the stories she was telling. Some of these topics have been previously presented in other formats and I remember a specific New York Times article which did a much better job discussing what was done in her chapter titled "How to Shelter". It also was annoying that these stories were presented completely isolated from the long immigrant history of America. There is not much to learn from this book and I am very disappointed that I read it to the end.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Radhika

    In The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness,and Hope, Claudia Kolker, herself the daughter of an immigrant from Mexico, examines certain practices and customs that are brought to the United States from other, more traditional societies and which are often modified by second-generation immigrants to result in hybrid versions, and ponders their applicability and benefit to American society as a whole. The Immigrant Advantage invites us to be more In The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness,and Hope, Claudia Kolker, herself the daughter of an immigrant from Mexico, examines certain practices and customs that are brought to the United States from other, more traditional societies and which are often modified by second-generation immigrants to result in hybrid versions, and ponders their applicability and benefit to American society as a whole. The Immigrant Advantage invites us to be more accepting of our traditions and be a part of a ‘tossed salad’ culture, instead of wanting to melt into a homogenous, American melting pot. More book thoughts at: http://rrameshv.wordpress.com/2012/01...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    Claudia Kolker, a reporter, talked to many immigrant families from different cultures to find out about the habits they brought with them from their home countries that worked to their advantage in the United States. She devotes chapters to the Vietnamese money clubs, the Indian after school education programs, and the Mexican penchant for living their lives in their front yards. It's a fascinating look at how families who are adapting to life in the US hang on to valuable traditions while tryin Claudia Kolker, a reporter, talked to many immigrant families from different cultures to find out about the habits they brought with them from their home countries that worked to their advantage in the United States. She devotes chapters to the Vietnamese money clubs, the Indian after school education programs, and the Mexican penchant for living their lives in their front yards. It's a fascinating look at how families who are adapting to life in the US hang on to valuable traditions while trying to assimilate into the American culture, which is in many ways deficient to the ones they left behind.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Oana

    By the time I finished this book, I had such a bad craving for pho, I had to sneak off for a bowl of it. The author knows a lot about her Vietnamese neighbours, from their com thang (delivered home-cooked meals) and the hui (money clubs). The info here is a good introduction to Vietnames an other immigrant communities' best features. What would have been even more useful is more information on the originating cultures. I knew a little from having lived in Asia, but I (and other readers) could us By the time I finished this book, I had such a bad craving for pho, I had to sneak off for a bowl of it. The author knows a lot about her Vietnamese neighbours, from their com thang (delivered home-cooked meals) and the hui (money clubs). The info here is a good introduction to Vietnames an other immigrant communities' best features. What would have been even more useful is more information on the originating cultures. I knew a little from having lived in Asia, but I (and other readers) could use a little more, perhaps even a more substantial bibliography. Still I liked this book and I hope more people who know nothing about their newcomer neighbours get a chance to read this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    This was a really thought-provoking book. It would make for a good book club read. The author profiles customs that immigrants continue to practice when they move to America - things like arranged marriages, rallying around new mothers for 40 days after birth, lending clubs for forced savings, multi-generational households and more. She argues that Americans would benefit to emulate these practices as they all have very positive benefits. After reading the book, I admit that I wished I could ben This was a really thought-provoking book. It would make for a good book club read. The author profiles customs that immigrants continue to practice when they move to America - things like arranged marriages, rallying around new mothers for 40 days after birth, lending clubs for forced savings, multi-generational households and more. She argues that Americans would benefit to emulate these practices as they all have very positive benefits. After reading the book, I admit that I wished I could benefit from several of the customs that were discussed as they all have a very cozy, social feel.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    The author, whose mother was an immigrant, began by asking immigrants from many different groups about the best custom or habit of their culture that Americans should adopt. The answers are varied and fascinating, from food to family to finances, and in many cases include modified customs as new generations became more Americanized. A great book to pick up and put down since each chapter tells its own story. Well written, entertaining, and thought provoking. I liked this a lot.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Brown

    This book is so good! The author asked 1st generation immigrants to name one thing about their culture that they think is good. This book explains why many Asian kids tend to do so well in school, why Hispanic women have much lower rates of postpartum depression, how immigrant families work together to save money, etc. I believe there are lots of things we can learn from other cultures. (Some of the ideas are things that were also common in America years ago, but not so much anymore.)

  16. 4 out of 5

    AKS

    Good overview about various immigrant cultural traditions, but a limited, shallow, and sometimes oversimplified overview that merely scratches the surface of nuanced immigrant lives. Personally not a fan of the title’s use of the word “newcomers”. Every American has immigrant roots. No mention of complications and disadvantages of being immigrant.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    I love the idea of the book, but the whole thing came off feeling a little shallow and culturally-appropriative. Still, I agree that we should focus on learning from our immigrant neighbors, and certain chapters resonated with me,

  18. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    I did enjoy this book. I like how with each chapter the reader was presented with a new cultural story/experience; however, I wish she had included a more diverse group. There were quite a few from Asian stories/experiences.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Some interesting information, but not enough different concepts and too much time spent on each one

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sheri

    I enjoyed the content of the book and learning about the positive aspects of immigrant culture. I thought the writing was choppy and simplistic in places.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    A good book that exposes the reader to the customs of immigrants - many ways to create a better life! An interesting read, which made it fly by!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    Interesting ideas

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    I won this book as a free first-read. I can't wait to receive the book! Review to follow. I won this book as a free first-read. I can't wait to receive the book! Review to follow.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Good. I don’t think her view of the Puritans is entirely fair though.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Babs

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ak123j

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dianne Wadler

  29. 4 out of 5

    James A Borsos

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

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