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Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (A Memoir)

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Here We Are is a heart-wrenching memoir about an immigrant family's American Dream, the justice system that took it away, and the daughter who fought to get it back, from NPR correspondent Aarti Namdev Shahani. The Shahanis came to Queens—from India, by way of Casablanca—in the 1980s. They were undocumented for a few unsteady years and then, with the arrival of their green Here We Are is a heart-wrenching memoir about an immigrant family's American Dream, the justice system that took it away, and the daughter who fought to get it back, from NPR correspondent Aarti Namdev Shahani. The Shahanis came to Queens—from India, by way of Casablanca—in the 1980s. They were undocumented for a few unsteady years and then, with the arrival of their green cards, they thought they'd made it. This is the story of how they did, and didn't; the unforeseen obstacles that propelled them into years of disillusionment and heartbreak; and the strength of a family determined to stay together. Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares follows the lives of Aarti, the precocious scholarship kid at one of Manhattan's most elite prep schools, and her dad, the shopkeeper who mistakenly sells watches and calculators to the notorious Cali drug cartel. Together, the two represent the extremes that coexist in our country, even within a single family, and a truth about immigrants that gets lost in the headlines. It isn’t a matter of good or evil; it's complicated. Ultimately, Here We Are is a coming-of-age story, a love letter from an outspoken modern daughter to her soft-spoken Old World father. She never expected they'd become best friends.


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Here We Are is a heart-wrenching memoir about an immigrant family's American Dream, the justice system that took it away, and the daughter who fought to get it back, from NPR correspondent Aarti Namdev Shahani. The Shahanis came to Queens—from India, by way of Casablanca—in the 1980s. They were undocumented for a few unsteady years and then, with the arrival of their green Here We Are is a heart-wrenching memoir about an immigrant family's American Dream, the justice system that took it away, and the daughter who fought to get it back, from NPR correspondent Aarti Namdev Shahani. The Shahanis came to Queens—from India, by way of Casablanca—in the 1980s. They were undocumented for a few unsteady years and then, with the arrival of their green cards, they thought they'd made it. This is the story of how they did, and didn't; the unforeseen obstacles that propelled them into years of disillusionment and heartbreak; and the strength of a family determined to stay together. Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares follows the lives of Aarti, the precocious scholarship kid at one of Manhattan's most elite prep schools, and her dad, the shopkeeper who mistakenly sells watches and calculators to the notorious Cali drug cartel. Together, the two represent the extremes that coexist in our country, even within a single family, and a truth about immigrants that gets lost in the headlines. It isn’t a matter of good or evil; it's complicated. Ultimately, Here We Are is a coming-of-age story, a love letter from an outspoken modern daughter to her soft-spoken Old World father. She never expected they'd become best friends.

30 review for Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (A Memoir)

  1. 5 out of 5

    jv poore

    I want to be Aarti Shahani when I grow up. Not just adult Aarti, author of this exquisite memoir, but the young girl that, after exhausting all other avenues, wrote directly to the judge presiding over her father’s case. So often, in fact, that the judge called her his “pen-pal”. In a way, that sums up her essence. In no way does it encapsulate her whole-hearted determination or accomplishments. Ms. Shahani shares her story, alongside her father’s, generously and honestly. Here We Are: American I want to be Aarti Shahani when I grow up. Not just adult Aarti, author of this exquisite memoir, but the young girl that, after exhausting all other avenues, wrote directly to the judge presiding over her father’s case. So often, in fact, that the judge called her his “pen-pal”. In a way, that sums up her essence. In no way does it encapsulate her whole-hearted determination or accomplishments. Ms. Shahani shares her story, alongside her father’s, generously and honestly. Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares is a courageous and remarkably thoughtful way to illustrate stunning errors, inconsistencies and absolute apathy within the immigration system of the United States. Her self-education started in adolescence when her family’s American-Dream-Life was demolished. The successful electronics store that her father and uncle were so proud of, was ensnared in the criminal investigation of so many cash-based-businesses on Broadway. A Columbian cartel was laundering money. No one within the judicial or legislative system mentioned that it would be highly unusual and unlikely for Indians to be Cali foot-soldiers. At that time, Ms. Shahani did not imagine the volume of mistakes that had been made and ignored throughout her father’s processing. She did know that things were not right. For her family and, to her initial surprise, many of her immigrant neighbors. As she learned, she passed on her knowledge. Her assistance and action created ripples all across the continental U.S. Ms. Shahani’s tone elevates this already compelling narrative. She does not attempt to hide her feelings or opinions, but they are clearly separated from explanations of policies and procedures. The objective, but not unfeeling, telling also shows that other countries have issues as well. It was not the U.S. that errantly issued a new passport to someone…immediately after London’s highest court had revoked all travel papers. I finished this book with a new awareness of the intricacies and gaping holes in the immigration and deportation system. Ms. Shahani’s conversational tone, warmed by her obvious affections and admirations, make reading her memoir like catching up with a cherished friend in the comfiest of coffee shops. I am so glad that I get to take this gem to ‘my’ students next week; I don’t think I could wait any longer. This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books, with huge thanks to Celadon Books for the Advance Review Copy going to my favorite classroom library.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    The author writes about her family, the Shahanis, who moved to Queens from India, stopping in Casablanca on the way. At first they are undocumented, but then they receive green cards. Aarti is attending an elite Manhattan prep school on scholarship, when her dad gets into some legal trouble by mistakenly selling goods to a drug cartel. Gosh. There are so many things about this book I loved. First of all, what it’s all about: the complexity in immigrant families and the stories we don’t hear, alon The author writes about her family, the Shahanis, who moved to Queens from India, stopping in Casablanca on the way. At first they are undocumented, but then they receive green cards. Aarti is attending an elite Manhattan prep school on scholarship, when her dad gets into some legal trouble by mistakenly selling goods to a drug cartel. Gosh. There are so many things about this book I loved. First of all, what it’s all about: the complexity in immigrant families and the stories we don’t hear, along with a daughter’s abiding love her father, even if the two couldn’t be more different. There’s a lot to relate to there. This is a memoir that reads just as well as fiction. It’s well-told and compelling, and I loved every bit. Many of my reviews can also be found on my instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader

  3. 5 out of 5

    MarilynW

    Aarti Namdev Shahani's true story of her family's coming to the USA, is a hard one to read, even knowing that her family was so much "luckier" than many other similar families. The Shahani's were struggling before they came to the US, although it's sort of funny that they were running from her dad's very overbearing family more than from political aspects of their country. Once in the US, undocumented at first and then with green cards, the family member who struggles the most is Shahani's fathe Aarti Namdev Shahani's true story of her family's coming to the USA, is a hard one to read, even knowing that her family was so much "luckier" than many other similar families. The Shahani's were struggling before they came to the US, although it's sort of funny that they were running from her dad's very overbearing family more than from political aspects of their country. Once in the US, undocumented at first and then with green cards, the family member who struggles the most is Shahani's father, who can only find menial, low paying labor, sweeping streets. Tensions are high with her mom able to make decent money by sewing and her mom fitting in well in the tenement area where they first live. Even Aarti and her brother and sister are able to contribute more to the finances than their father, who is not accustomed to this demotion as the family member able to contribute the least to the family's welfare.  Eventually Aarti's dad is able to have his own business with his brother, but they unknowingly sell watches and calculators to the Cali drug cartel and they begin living in legal hell. Both men end up in Rikkers with Aarti's uncle being deported from the country after his release and Aarti fighting to find ways to keep her very ill father from suffering the same fate. What we learn is that "justice" and good endings are for those who are wealthy, in power, and who have access to the best that money can buy. All it can take is the right buzzword from a lawyer who cares or enough money to grease the system and those with the means can keep on doing what they were doing with no repercussions and continuing to haul in the wealth. Instead, poor people, people with no means to defend themselves, can be hauled in to take the blame for any wrongdoing. Aarti and her family are intelligent, hard working people and it hurt to read about their hardships. When Aarti's father was arrested, she was a teenager and it was only through luck, research, digging deep and not giving up, that Aarti was able to help her father so much. Sadly these things happen to many people, not just immigrants but immigrants have the added fear of being deported as soon as they are give the label of troublemakers, with no opportunity to defend themselves. This is Aarti's memoir to her father and also the story of how much of her soul went into taking care of her family in the best way that she could take care of them. In the end, with all that she knows now about how to help immigrants, we are left with the knowledge of how the battle to help her father, wore Aarti down and left her without the energy to continue that type of work. Thank you to Celadon Books for this ARC that I was able to read with the Goodreads Traveling Sisters.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Monika Sadowski

    I loved this book so much and it made me very emotional because I am immigrant myself. I came to this country when I was 24 years old. My parents struggled the same way that Aarti parents did. But because of this whole experience we became stronger people and sky is the limit:) Very well written memoir by #aartinamdevshahani, I could feel the strong connection between Aarti and her father, and other members of the family. Author also talks about how justice system is broken and corrupt specially I loved this book so much and it made me very emotional because I am immigrant myself. I came to this country when I was 24 years old. My parents struggled the same way that Aarti parents did. But because of this whole experience we became stronger people and sky is the limit:) Very well written memoir by #aartinamdevshahani, I could feel the strong connection between Aarti and her father, and other members of the family. Author also talks about how justice system is broken and corrupt specially when dealing with immigrants. Happy 4th of July!!!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares is a compelling, heart-wrenching memoir by NPR Correspondent Aarti Namdev Shahani. It is the story about an immigrant family's American Dream, the justice system that took it away, and the daughter who fought to get it back. The Shahani family arrive in Queens, NY from India through Casablanca in the 1980's. It is the first hand account of an undocumented person and the eye-opening obstacles they must endure. It is difficult to imagine the struggl Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares is a compelling, heart-wrenching memoir by NPR Correspondent Aarti Namdev Shahani. It is the story about an immigrant family's American Dream, the justice system that took it away, and the daughter who fought to get it back. The Shahani family arrive in Queens, NY from India through Casablanca in the 1980's. It is the first hand account of an undocumented person and the eye-opening obstacles they must endure. It is difficult to imagine the struggle they faced against seemingly insurmountable odds. I was deeply moved by the unconditional love between daughter and father as they navigate the complexities of life in America. Highly Recommended! Thank you to NetGalley and Celadon Books for an arc of this novel in exchange for my honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    Aarti Nandev Shahani, a compelling storyteller and a correspondent for NPR, tells about the difficulties and opportunities experienced by her immigrant family. The family traveled from India to Casablanca where she and her siblings were born. They moved to the United States, and soon received their green cards. Aarti was a talented student who received scholarships to a prestigious prep school and university. The Shahani family was full of hope that they were on the way to living the American dr Aarti Nandev Shahani, a compelling storyteller and a correspondent for NPR, tells about the difficulties and opportunities experienced by her immigrant family. The family traveled from India to Casablanca where she and her siblings were born. They moved to the United States, and soon received their green cards. Aarti was a talented student who received scholarships to a prestigious prep school and university. The Shahani family was full of hope that they were on the way to living the American dream. Unfortunately, her father and uncle sold watches in their shop to people who were members of the Cali drug cartel. The cartel used them and other immigrant shopkeepers in a money laundering scheme. Her father was a pawn in the illegal scheme and had poor advice from his lawyer. He was imprisoned and the immigration officials threatened to deport him. Aarti tells how she became a community activist for immigrant families who were caught in the gray areas of immigrant law. These families usually did not have the language skills or the money for good legal representation. Outcomes depended partly on the luck of getting a stay while the legal wheels were grinding. Aarti compares the experiences of her father--who had to work menial jobs at first, and deal with frightening legal and medical issues--with her own opportunities and success. So many immigrant families have stories that are not completely positive or completely negative, but fall into that confusing gray area legally. The author wrote a heartfelt and enlightening memoir that had times of love and laughter as well as times of despair. The Shahanis were pillars of support to each other and the immigrant community on their way to citizenship. Thank you to Celadon Books and the author for the opportunity to read this ARC.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay - Traveling Sisters Book Reviews

    2.5 stars

  8. 4 out of 5

    Viral

    Thanks to MacMillan for the ARC at BEA 2019, and to Aarti Shahani for signing my copy! When my friend and I, who are both South Asian, were getting this book signed at BEA we were kinda stunned. It's rare you see a desi writer, especially in something that isn't in the sciences. Shahani asked both of us where in the homeland we were from (I'll never get tired of the excitement I feel when I say my family is from Gujarat and that actually means something to the person I'm talking to), and she told Thanks to MacMillan for the ARC at BEA 2019, and to Aarti Shahani for signing my copy! When my friend and I, who are both South Asian, were getting this book signed at BEA we were kinda stunned. It's rare you see a desi writer, especially in something that isn't in the sciences. Shahani asked both of us where in the homeland we were from (I'll never get tired of the excitement I feel when I say my family is from Gujarat and that actually means something to the person I'm talking to), and she told us she hoped the book would resonate with us, as fellow desis. I am very glad to report it did, in ways I couldn't have imagined. This book is Aarti Shahani telling her family's whole immigration story: from her parents moving first to Morocco and then to Queens, growing up in poverty, to the defining crisis of her late childhood and early adulthood when her father gets tied up in the criminal legal and immigration system. Shahani doesn't hold back as she shows us her family's struggles with her father serving prison time and dealing with our country's inhumane immigration policies. It's a moving, powerful story and Shahani is an amazing writer. Meanwhile, her struggles to make a difference in the world and desire to change things while battling social circumstances and traditions resonated unbelievably strongly with me. Every single brown person needs to read this book. And you know what, everyone else too. But this is a part of our story our community has shied away from telling. We've been willing to pretend that the immigration debate doesn't pertain to us, but it does. Shahani's story shows how important it is for us to never forget that. Highly reccomend. I'm already forcing my entire family to read this book, and I can't wait till it comes out so I can make every brown person in my life read it. Thank you Shahani. Thank you for telling your story and inspiring more of us to tell ours.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Saloni

    Thank you to MacMillion for providing a copy of this book at BEA 2019 and thank you to Aarti Shahani for signing my copy! I've loved to read ever since I was young. I would look to books and book characters as my form of escapism and have been able to live hundreds of lives that in no way reflect mine. To find myself in stories I would latch on the character traits or other aspects, ignoring how their culture and skin color would never match mine. And especially when it comes to memoirs, I've al Thank you to MacMillion for providing a copy of this book at BEA 2019 and thank you to Aarti Shahani for signing my copy! I've loved to read ever since I was young. I would look to books and book characters as my form of escapism and have been able to live hundreds of lives that in no way reflect mine. To find myself in stories I would latch on the character traits or other aspects, ignoring how their culture and skin color would never match mine. And especially when it comes to memoirs, I've always gotten the feeling that my story isn't worth being told. That in the fight for justice and equality, I'm not at the top...but I'm not at the bottom so I should just stop complaining and appreciate what I've got. But I'm so glad I have finally been able to read a story that resonates with me and my family's experience. Aarti Shahani is a phenomenal writer. She beautifully articulates her and her family's story, highlighting some of the glaring problems with the current immigration system. She talks about her experiences growing up in America, how one scholarship offer to a private school was able to change the trajectory of her life, giving her the tools and connections to help her own family and other families in similar circumstances. Overall, this is a fantastic memoir and I would recommend it to anyone, particularly any desi readers looking to find themselves within the pages.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bookishfolk

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I felt like I was given a front seat at a table that I have never sat at before…and I truly felt honored to be there. This is the story of the Shahani family, who came from India, through Casablanca, to Queens, New York. It’s a first hand, poignant account of what happens when undocumented people land on US soil, how undocumented people are treated, what is at risk for undocumented people, what happens to become documented, what life is like after you are document I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I felt like I was given a front seat at a table that I have never sat at before…and I truly felt honored to be there. This is the story of the Shahani family, who came from India, through Casablanca, to Queens, New York. It’s a first hand, poignant account of what happens when undocumented people land on US soil, how undocumented people are treated, what is at risk for undocumented people, what happens to become documented, what life is like after you are documented, and everything in between. Yes, this is a first and account and is unique from this particular woman, but from what I hear and from what I have read, this story resonates with many families trying who are trying to call the United States home. We see the struggles, the pitfalls, the risks, the desires, the stresses, the intense fears…but we also see the hope, the laughter, the strength and the determination. Here We Are opened my eyes to not only what the process is like and specifically, how this family dealt with the good, the bad and the ugly of coming to America. Here are some of my takeaways about our immigration system: 1. Immigrating to the US is not for the faint of heart and why in the world do we make it so complicated and corrupt?! 2. It seems like the story for every immigrant family is struggle. Struggling in their home country, and then struggling when they get to the US. As a country, we can do better to help with the transition. No one should have to live in cockroach infested homes, or a home that has a water leak causing toxic mold to grow because they are afraid to report it to a landlord who could report them as undocumented. No one should have to live with broken windows or broken heat in the middle of winter because they are nervous to set off someone’s radar and potentially get deported. It’s infuriating and we need a better system to support families that want to come to the US. 3. Our justice system is broken and corrupt and toxic, especially when dealing with immigrants. We can, and need to, do better! 4. In conclusion-WE CAN DO BETTER! There is soooo much more in this memoir to talk about and discuss, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I went in pretty blind and was completely taken by Shahani’s journey. This is an articulate memoir that is sure to infuriate you, make you cry, make you laugh, help you better understand the role of family in many cultures and ultimately…I hope, lead you to talk more about immigration and our role in it all. Our country is intrinsically tied to the immigration experience and I think this book will not only help give a voice to many immigrants who are currently voiceless, but help to shine a brighter light on a highly relevant topic of today. It’s an honor to have read Aarti Namdev Shahani’s story and I’m thankful for her courage to write it. I will definitely be on the lookout for anything else Shahani offers us!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dr. Manu

    In today's America, so many of us have an Immigrant Story. Those of us who identify as "desi" almost always can relate to each other on the stories of our parents arrival to this country and our upbringing. What this book and this author accomplish is a miraculous feat: a first-hand poignant account of what has previously been the untold reality of the Immigrant Story in the US. The struggles, the opportunists that prey on immigrant fear, the desire of immigrants to band together in community, t In today's America, so many of us have an Immigrant Story. Those of us who identify as "desi" almost always can relate to each other on the stories of our parents arrival to this country and our upbringing. What this book and this author accomplish is a miraculous feat: a first-hand poignant account of what has previously been the untold reality of the Immigrant Story in the US. The struggles, the opportunists that prey on immigrant fear, the desire of immigrants to band together in community, the stress that children of immigrants silently bear, the fear of the American gov't that these families must endure. But it is a story of strength above all else. The kind of strength we all believed built this country, but in fact is being threatened each day by the powers-that-be. From start to finish, the reader will be gripped by the words and their hearts will absorb the real-life trials and tribulations of what families go through. Bravo to the Ms. Shahani and her publisher for giving a voice, a beautiful and moving voice, to the immigrant people from so many countries around the world that are come to and are still fighting to make it in America - centuries after it was declared this Nation was for us all.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    i just finished this incredible book in one sitting and i am full on sobbing. i feel so moved and i am so grateful for this book. amazing woman, family, writing, and story. pls read

  13. 5 out of 5

    Roxana Moussavian

    "Here We Are" is one of the most heartfelt, poignant books I have ever read. It is raw. It is human. It is painful. It is funny. It is REAL. I first of all praise the author for her courage in writing this book. For allowing her readers an insider look into what she and her family had to go through - the injustices of the legal system (sometimes, unfortunately, it's not about the truth, it's about working the system), the impact on her family, and how it shaped her life. It was clear in reading "Here We Are" is one of the most heartfelt, poignant books I have ever read. It is raw. It is human. It is painful. It is funny. It is REAL. I first of all praise the author for her courage in writing this book. For allowing her readers an insider look into what she and her family had to go through - the injustices of the legal system (sometimes, unfortunately, it's not about the truth, it's about working the system), the impact on her family, and how it shaped her life. It was clear in reading the book how this unfortunate experience truly shaped so much of who she is. For me, I often rate things by their sticking power/how they impact me. Since reading this, I am - no joke - CONSTANTLY thinking about this book. For so many reasons. One reason is that this book covers so many topics/genres (criminal justice reform, immigration, law, coming of age, family). So no matter what conversation you're having with a co-worker, a friend, a stranger, you will surely be discussing some topic or issue that was written about in this book. I have found myself CONSTANTLY thinking about this book throughout my days and referencing it to so many different people. I cannot tell all of you how much and how deeply this book has permeated my psyche - and my conversations! Especially as a lawyer who works in the world of criminal justice, it was so fascinating . and moving to read her accounts of the ins and outs of the court system - even the mundane day to day, even the seemingly small things of being IN a court room, where people sit. As a litigator, her book has singlehandedly made me question some of my OWN choices in the courtroom. Everybody in court has a story, has a life, has their truth. It was such a treat to read this book. While I was reading it, I couldn't wait until I could finish whatever I was doing so I could pick this book back up. It was poignant, sad, funny, moving, joyful, dark, hopeful - all in less than 300 pages. Sprinkled throughout this remarkably impactful and inspiring book were drops of humor - of comic relief, which really highlights the author's talent as a writer. The anecdotes littered throughout of the different experiences she had (I particularly enjoyed the ones of her sneaking out to go to clubs when she was in high school and of the different people she came across at 401), put such a human face on this important and relevant book about the injustices of seeking justice. Her story will undoubtedly ring true to and connect with so many different people, especially immigrants. This book is coming out at such a relevant time - the American experience is so inextricably and undeniably tied to immigrants - and she demonstrates how it important it is. I can't wait for her next book!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Melissa (LifeFullyBooked)

    This is a fascinating memoir written by Ms Shahani detailing her family's immigration from India to New York. She clearly communicates her personal experiences while also providing a unique view of immigration and the problems with the current system. The entire book was very eye-opening to me, because I'm about as far from this experience as I could possibly be, but the author paints such a vivid picture that I was able to come to an understanding of her life. The part where she is attempting t This is a fascinating memoir written by Ms Shahani detailing her family's immigration from India to New York. She clearly communicates her personal experiences while also providing a unique view of immigration and the problems with the current system. The entire book was very eye-opening to me, because I'm about as far from this experience as I could possibly be, but the author paints such a vivid picture that I was able to come to an understanding of her life. The part where she is attempting to explain the pronunciation and spelling of her name really hit home for me and made me think about my interactions with others for the future. I had my heart broken many times through the course of this book because her family's life has not been easy or painless. Ms. Shahani is very real though, and tells it like it is so that it can't be brushed aside or ignored. I feel that this book should be widely read for those who wish to better understand and come alongside immigrants. It has definitely given me much to think about and I have reconsidered many of my previous biases and prejudices (some that I didn't even realize I had). I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. Thank you to Celadon Books for providing the advance copy. All opinions are my own.

  15. 5 out of 5

    ALH

    Shahani’s book is well-written and thought-provoking, but it works better as a memoir than as a political treatise. Shahani tells us at one point that her defining attitude toward the U.S. is rage— and it shows. For much of the book, Shahani seems angry at everything associated with America: at the criminal justice system, the immigration system, at interviewees who give her their time, and at the rich girls who enjoy elite schooling even though she too is receiving the same elite education. At Shahani’s book is well-written and thought-provoking, but it works better as a memoir than as a political treatise. Shahani tells us at one point that her defining attitude toward the U.S. is rage— and it shows. For much of the book, Shahani seems angry at everything associated with America: at the criminal justice system, the immigration system, at interviewees who give her their time, and at the rich girls who enjoy elite schooling even though she too is receiving the same elite education. At one point her anger even extends to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who she accuses of racism in what is honestly a ridiculous vignette. Curiously, her anger only rarely or briefly centers on her father, the man at the heart of the story. Central to the Shahani family narrative is the arrest of her father and his brother for money laundering. While running a wholesale business together, the men did business under the table with individuals who turned out to be part of the Cali drug cartel. After accepting a bag with about $100K in cash from these contacts, no questions asked, police swooped in and arrested them for money laundering. What happens next is at the heart of the story. Shahani tells us throughout that her father was treated unjustly and that he shouldn’t have been punished. Because he didn’t know the men were cartel members, because he was “doing what everyone else in the neighborhood did,” and because a judge tells her years later that the case was probably weak. The issue for me is that none of these are real excuses. The fact that her father did what he was accused of is never really in dispute. If you commit a crime negligently, isn’t it still a crime? Isn’t that how the law works for anyone, not just immigrants? Obviously, I saw Shahani’s father as a flawed hero of the book. We get hints of this throughout: When he brings the family to the U.S. illegally with almost no money and no plan, when he runs out on the family (for a time) to make fast money with a brother in Dubai, when we are told that he faked his identity documents to get his very first job. At the same time, the author also gives us things to admire about her father: He supported education for the women in the family, he supported them in times of crisis, he was wily and resourceful. The book would have been much stronger if Shahani had engaged with these moral grey areas in her father’s story, but instead, she seems eager to explain away or bury rather than to engage with the complexities of her father’s life. Even the little “reporting” she does on her father’s case seems superficial and perfunctory. In the last 50 pages or so of the book, Shahani hits on what I felt were real and serious issues: The systemic abuses of the immigration system. Her anger crystallizes on advocating for changes to a 1996 law that mandates the deportation of “aggravated felons.” She argues that the law is applied unjustly, sweeping even those with minor offenses into the system for deportation—often without their families even knowing. The stories of people swept into the deportation queue for offenses like personal use quantities of marijuana or small amounts of cocaine are compelling. But this also raises moral dilemmas that Shahani (again) refuses to engage with. Is there a meaningful distinction between deporting someone for minor possession crimes and deporting them for violent offenses? Is there a difference between misdemeanors and, say, laundering $100,000 for a drug cartel? Shahani becomes an advocate to “Fix ’96,” but never really tells us what a “fix” looks like. To me, her argument seemed to be that deportation is a cruel and inhumane punishment that shouldn’t be applied at all, even to criminals. This is a hard sell, at best. [Spoilers follow] In the end, Shahani’s father spends under 1 year in prison for money laundering. He subsequently spends about 4 days in immigration detention until lawyers successfully argue he is not an aggravated felon and can be released. This seems to suggest that, for all of her anger, the system largely worked for her family. (It should be said, it worked for her father but not her uncle—yet another flawed patriarch who seems to be the greater victim in the story.) Shahani has lingering rage that her father’s protracted legal struggles ruined their family financially and ruined her parents’ health through anxiety. But I wrestled with wondering how much of that was the system’s responsibility versus how much her father was himself to blame for making the bad decisions that led them to that point. There is certainly a story to be told and a book (or many) to be written on the abuses of ICE and the immigration system post-9/11, but the Shahani family doesn’t fit well into that narrative, no matter how the author forces it. When she compares herself to a young Dreamer at the end, the false equivalency struck me. Shahani arrived in the country illegally with her family at a time (the 1980s) when it was possible for her parents to make a living as illegal immigrants and attain legal status in about three years. She and her siblings were eventually able to go on to elite schools and build successful careers. Shahani herself attended an elite prep school at no cost to her family. This opened doors for her and made connections that ultimately allowed her father to navigate the criminal and immigration bureaucracies. It allowed her to out-earn her father before even leaving school and fast-tracked her to her current position as an NPR reporter. This sounds, on balance, like an immigrant success story. Contrast this with today, where children who come to the country illegally have no way forward, no hope for a green card, and restricted opportunities to work or support themselves—all because of an act committed by their parents. For Shahani to put herself and her family in the same bucket as today’s Dreamers and to claim equal victimization by the system seems disingenuous, even self-pitying. Shahani’s love for her family is admirable and shines through in this book. For me, I found the material and her political arguments a bit thin, and the tone at times too self-righteous. But the story is well-written and fast-moving, and I think this selection would possibly make a good topic for book club or classroom discussion.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    When it is hot as heck outside and there is nothing cool to do but reading as everything else makes you end up a sweaty mess, it is the perfect day for a speed reader. I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. A heartfelt memoir about the immigrant experience from NPR correspond When it is hot as heck outside and there is nothing cool to do but reading as everything else makes you end up a sweaty mess, it is the perfect day for a speed reader. I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. A heartfelt memoir about the immigrant experience from NPR correspondent Aarti Shahani. Who really belongs in America? That question has chased every newcomer and many native-born since the founding of the republic. In this heart-wrenching, vulnerable and witty memoir, journalist Aarti Shahani digs deep inside herself and her family for an answer—one that she finds in an unlikely place. The Shahanis came to Queens—from India, by way of Casablanca—in the 1980s. They were undocumented for a few years and then, with the arrival of their green cards, they thought they'd made it. This memoir is the story of how they did and didn't. Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares follows the lives of Aarti, the precocious scholarship kid at one of Manhattan's most elite prep schools, and her dad, the shopkeeper who mistakenly sells watches and calculators to the notorious Cali drug cartel. Together, the two represent the extremes that coexist in our country, even within a single family and the truth about immigrants that gets lost in the headlines. It isn’t a matter of good or evil; it's complicated. Ultimately, Here We Are is a coming-of-age story, a love letter from an outspoken modern daughter to her soft-spoken Old World father. She never expected they'd become best friends. This book was fascinating but left me thinking "Does this not apply to EVERY country that accepts and is a goal for immigrants? Canada? The 3.4 million Syrians who are in Turkey?" American is decidedly a main goal of immigrants world-wide but given the headlines in August of 2019 alone regarding racism and a certain POTUS, is this book is MORE than relevant??? I do not have access to NPR where I live unless I go pod-casting about but Miss Namdev Shahani is a force to be reckoned with. She writes from experience and from the heart - the book is gripping and enthralling and IT is a must-read for anyone in social services, book clubs or human beings with a conscience! Everyone belongs in America or any other country that people move to - all countries should be melting pots of all different cultures! (lecture over)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    Thanks to the publisher for sending me a free copy of the book. This book is the epitome of why I love memoirs.It's emotional, honest, eye-opening, and engaging. And while I believe it's a worthwhile read at any time, it's especially timely considering current issues in the news. 
I was blown away by her words and her family's story, and feel incredibly inadequate when it comes to "reviewing" Shahani's book. Because how do you critique someone's existence and reality? And while this may only be on Thanks to the publisher for sending me a free copy of the book. This book is the epitome of why I love memoirs.It's emotional, honest, eye-opening, and engaging. And while I believe it's a worthwhile read at any time, it's especially timely considering current issues in the news. 
I was blown away by her words and her family's story, and feel incredibly inadequate when it comes to "reviewing" Shahani's book. Because how do you critique someone's existence and reality? And while this may only be one family's experience immigrating to the United States and making their way in this country, I think it's so important to read. Becoming aware of and understanding others' experiences are what make us more empathetic people. 
 If you like memoirs, read this book. If you like to learn about the lives of others, read this book. If you want to read a book that's going to get you right in the feels, please read this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elena

    I have to say this book was extremely interesting and heartfelt. You can feel the author's emotions in many parts of the book and tell that it comes out as a story she felt was extremely important for her to tell. It really does a good job of showing you what it's like being involved in the immigration system and the hardships so many families in this country have to go through. The only reason I give it 3 stars and not more is simply because I'm not really a fan of reading memoirs and at times I I have to say this book was extremely interesting and heartfelt. You can feel the author's emotions in many parts of the book and tell that it comes out as a story she felt was extremely important for her to tell. It really does a good job of showing you what it's like being involved in the immigration system and the hardships so many families in this country have to go through. The only reason I give it 3 stars and not more is simply because I'm not really a fan of reading memoirs and at times I felt like it was dragging. I don't actually think this is anything the author did wrong but more so a personal preference of mine for shorter chapters or sections. If I could give it 3.5 stars I probably would do that. It's so well written though and I felt like it was an important book for me (and anyone who doesn't know a lot about immigration issues) to read. It was a very powerful read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarahi

    This book really spoke to me on so many levels -- as a first-generation American, as a first-generation professional, and as someone whose family has also been impacted by the criminal justice and immigration systems. But don’t get me wrong. This is not a wonky policy book. It is a powerful story about one family’s journey, told in an honest, raw, funny, and heartbreaking way. And what a remarkable journey it is! I don’t want to spoil it, but part of what makes this book so great is the way Aart This book really spoke to me on so many levels -- as a first-generation American, as a first-generation professional, and as someone whose family has also been impacted by the criminal justice and immigration systems. But don’t get me wrong. This is not a wonky policy book. It is a powerful story about one family’s journey, told in an honest, raw, funny, and heartbreaking way. And what a remarkable journey it is! I don’t want to spoil it, but part of what makes this book so great is the way Aarti draws the reader into so many different worlds, whether it’s her family’s apartment in Queens in the 80s, the Manhattan prep school she attended, or the visiting room at Rikers jail. You will fall in love with this writer and this family and think about their stories long after you put this book down. The storytelling is that vivid and poignant. Damn good read!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Geetha Vallabhaneni

    "Here We Are" is a poignant, heart wrenching memoir that shines an intelligent and investigative light on how our immigration and justice systems work. The book and the author could not have emerged in a better time than now, when America is taking a sober look at its systems and assessing its identity and values as a nation of immigrants. Her family's story and her compelling and powerful voice will ring through the hallways of American history when future generations walk through them to under "Here We Are" is a poignant, heart wrenching memoir that shines an intelligent and investigative light on how our immigration and justice systems work. The book and the author could not have emerged in a better time than now, when America is taking a sober look at its systems and assessing its identity and values as a nation of immigrants. Her family's story and her compelling and powerful voice will ring through the hallways of American history when future generations walk through them to understand the nature of their country's legacy. I hope everyone reads this deeply beautiful, moving book! We can then have an informed and compassionate conversation as a society. Thank you Aarti for having the courage to tell such an important story and I look forward to reading your future books.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Gatt

    I don’t tend to read non-fiction often, but timing is everything and I’m incredibly grateful that Celadon Books sent me an advanced copy of Here We Are! ⁣ Aarti Shahani is an NPR correspondent who bravely shares her family’s immigration experience from India to Queens, NY. She reveals not just her coming-of-age story, but an insiders view of a first-generation American whose family has been impacted by the criminal justice and immigration systems. Needless to say, this memoir is incredibly powerf I don’t tend to read non-fiction often, but timing is everything and I’m incredibly grateful that Celadon Books sent me an advanced copy of Here We Are! ⁣ Aarti Shahani is an NPR correspondent who bravely shares her family’s immigration experience from India to Queens, NY. She reveals not just her coming-of-age story, but an insiders view of a first-generation American whose family has been impacted by the criminal justice and immigration systems. Needless to say, this memoir is incredibly powerful and raw, written intelligently and eloquently from start to finish. Given the world and country we live in today, I cannot recommend this title enough!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I was fortunate enough to hear the author speak at Library Journal Day of Dialog. She was such an engaging and interesting speaker that I started reading her book the minute I got home. It was really good. REALLY good. So honest and eloquent. I am grateful that she decided to share her family’s story, and thankful that I was able to hear her speak.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ankit Gupta

    This was one of those books that was so excellent but also made my want to throw everything at a wall and scream every few minutes. It's one of those rare books that manages to be personal and intimate, but also wide-ranging in the commentary it offers about the world (or in this case, mostly America) more broadly. Here were a few things I took away from this (spoilers) that I'm still fully processing but that are on my mind 1) The stories about immigration are need to escape the tight narratives This was one of those books that was so excellent but also made my want to throw everything at a wall and scream every few minutes. It's one of those rare books that manages to be personal and intimate, but also wide-ranging in the commentary it offers about the world (or in this case, mostly America) more broadly. Here were a few things I took away from this (spoilers) that I'm still fully processing but that are on my mind 1) The stories about immigration are need to escape the tight narratives that we currently discuss them. It's not just "unskilled" Southern border migration and IT people and doctors from Asia. There are a vast range of stories and experiences, and a variety of factors that I would not have considered relevant to immigration (ex: idiotic drug policies) have trapped a crazy number of families in a mess of conditions. 2) I didn't realize how recently ICE was made. There was no top-level agency with a mandate to deport immigrants until < 20 years ago. 3) I didn't realize how limited the legal protections for non-citizen immigrants are. Even if an immigrant has a green card (!!!!), which I always considered to now mean they were "safe" given that it literally is a "permanent" residency status. Turns out you can still get deported, even for the most minor of crime, or as this has shown for literally nothing. 4) Holy shit there is a lot of crazy shit that happened to this family. Literally international kidnapping what the hell. 5) This is one of the few books I've read that have gotten me thinking about the multi generational effects of the Partition. On top of the immediate pain and suffering to families from the violence of that time, there is intergenerational pain associated with displacement, having to have people restart their lives from scratch, and not having a local support structure of family members and whatnot to support them. There were more takeaways than just that, but those are the immediate ones in mind. Would strongly recommend this for anyone who likes thinking of the immigrant experience, in this case especially from the point of view of a working-class Indian family. Also it was a quite the page turner, read it cover to cover on a cross-country flight trip.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ekta

    A journalist shares the story of her immigrant family’s journey from their birth country to the United States. She speaks with frankness about the double standards in the justice system and reveals telling details about the immigration process. As she works through the normal and unique challenges of growing up, she forms a stronger bond with her father. Author Aarti Namdev Shahani shines a light on many of the problems immigrants face in the fairly solid but overly long memoir Here We Are: Amer A journalist shares the story of her immigrant family’s journey from their birth country to the United States. She speaks with frankness about the double standards in the justice system and reveals telling details about the immigration process. As she works through the normal and unique challenges of growing up, she forms a stronger bond with her father. Author Aarti Namdev Shahani shines a light on many of the problems immigrants face in the fairly solid but overly long memoir Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares. As the child of Indian immigrants, Aarti Shahani lives a life of contradictions. Aside from skin color, her home looks nothing like that of the other kids. When she gets admitted to one of the most elite high schools in Manhattan, her life becomes further divided into two factions. The conversations that challenge her on an intellectual level during the day don’t seem to have any place in her family at night. Her fractious relationship with her father, too, bothers Aarti, despite her efforts to brush off her emotions. He fought for her with his own mother, walking out on Aarti’s grandmother when the “burden” of Aarti’s gender became too much to bear. Yet when he and Aarti’s mother migrate to the United States, it is Aarti’s mother who becomes Aarti’s greatest champion. Her father finds the cracks in Aarti’s veneer; her mother and sister fill them. The irony is not lost on Aarti, then, when she takes up the battle cry after her father’s incarceration in prison on Rikers Island in New York. In a terrible, made-for-movie turn of events, Aarti’s father and her uncle are found guilty of selling electronic items to a prominent drug cartel. After all he does to achieve his American dream, including sweeping streets, Aarti’s father finds himself inside one of the worst nightmares this country has to offer. As if going to prison isn’t enough of an ordeal, Aarti and her family members discover another complication: for immigrants, going to prison often means deportation. After her uncle is sent back to India, Aarti becomes determined not to let the same happen to her father. She begins educating herself on immigration policies, becoming an activist in the process, and finding her way back to her father and her roots. Author Aarti Namdev Shahani tells her story in straightforward prose; she doesn’t mince words in sharing her father’s experiences or her own. Non-South Asian readers may shake their heads in shock or horror at some of the stories Shahani shares. For many South Asian readers, Shahani’s litany of woes will sound familiar. Shahani brings to light revelatory information on the deportation of legitimate green card holders after their release from jail. Like many children born and raised in this country, she’s ignorant, initially, of this loophole in immigration policies. When her father’s future comes into question, however, she plunges into the reality of those policies and fights back as hard as she can. At one point, she begins writing letters to the judge presiding over her father’s case. Anything to find a way to keep her father in the U.S. At some point, though, the book becomes less about her father’s struggle as an immigrant and more about Shahani’s own successes and failures. Her outrage at the treatment her father and so many other immigrants receive is palpable, but that outrage begins to fade into the background as Shahani navigates the struggles of her own life. Readers follow her through her activist days, her exploration of various careers, and her romances. While interesting, these mini stories feel a little like they’re padding the main narrative. The book feels a little too long. It would have worked well at a much shorter length and with some of the less prominent stories summarized or even taken out altogether, particularly when they start with fanfare and then lose some of their principal characters (such as her brother’s wife, who seems to figure largely in the family for a while but then disappears late in the book.) While compelling, Shahani’s story might have packed an even greater dramatic punch at novella length. Readers unfamiliar with the immigration process or its shortcomings will find this book fascinating. I recommend they Borrow Here We Are.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    “Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares” is NPR reporter Aarti Shahani’s memoir about her father’s experiences with the US legal and deportation systems, as well as Shahani’s later advocacy work with immigrants facing imprisonment and deportation. I’ve heard Shahani’s reporting on NPR and that name recognition, coupled with a topic that is more relevant today than ever, compelled me to request this book; I hoped to come away from reading it with a better understanding of the intricaci “Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares” is NPR reporter Aarti Shahani’s memoir about her father’s experiences with the US legal and deportation systems, as well as Shahani’s later advocacy work with immigrants facing imprisonment and deportation. I’ve heard Shahani’s reporting on NPR and that name recognition, coupled with a topic that is more relevant today than ever, compelled me to request this book; I hoped to come away from reading it with a better understanding of the intricacies and issues of the US immigration system from someone with first-hand experience. And I did—Shahani’s father’s story is heartbreaking, and what he endured in prison and then under the threat of deportation that hung over him most of his life in the US is undeniably powerful and enlightening reading. My problem with the book was with Aarti Shahani herself, who I found a rather unlikable narrator. Her father’s experience in the US may have been horrific, but Aarti herself received full scholarships to some of the best schools in the country (Brearley High School, The University of Chicago and Harvard). Yet the book contains lines like these, describing the so-called Desi (slang for someone of South Asian descent) lunch table at UChicago: “In college, the Desi Table was a collection of J.Crew T-shirts who lived off their daddies’ credit cards and breathlessly gossiped about who got into McKinsey and who didn’t. Not my cup of chai.” In a book where one of the main messages is the danger of stereotyping people based on where they come from, how they dress, what their immigration status is, etc, this reduction of her fellow classmates to “a collection of J.Crew T-shirts”—without knowing anything about their individual stories—is hard to swallow. It’s a shame that Shahani felt it necessary, here and elsewhere throughout the book (as when she enters a restaurant and describes “winding through tables of designer clothes feasting on raw carrots that cost sixteen dollars”) to undermine her very powerful story with this sort of snark. Thank you to NetGalley and Celadon Books for providing me with an ARC of this title in exchange for my honest review.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mainlinebooker

    A timely and painfully honest journey of one woman's pilgrimage with her family to the bowels of Queens, New York. Her family could be traced back to the partition in Karachi, then to Mumbai, Morocco and finally the USA, all to capture the American dream. However, the immigrant dream was far from the idealized vision they had in mind. As Aarti transitions through the years, her parents do everything they can to fit into American society but are subjected to the bias and prejudices held by the Am A timely and painfully honest journey of one woman's pilgrimage with her family to the bowels of Queens, New York. Her family could be traced back to the partition in Karachi, then to Mumbai, Morocco and finally the USA, all to capture the American dream. However, the immigrant dream was far from the idealized vision they had in mind. As Aarti transitions through the years, her parents do everything they can to fit into American society but are subjected to the bias and prejudices held by the American public. Through hard work, Aarti gets scholarships to top notch private schools and colleges while trying to help her parents along the way. When her father falls on hard times, she devotes a good majority of her time trying to help him out of very difficult circumstances. She becomes an NPR reporter, exploring the plight of immigrants such as her own family. I didn't give it 5 stars because I felt she jumped around some times where I thought she should have not ended so abruptly. I also wished she had explored more of her teenage years at the Brearley School where the possible difficulties of economic disparities between students were glossed over. However, these are minor quibbles and given our current climate it is an easy important read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    This book is so important--Shahani is a compelling writer and is able to capture the ages and voices at which she was as she writes about being the daughter of ethnic Indian immigrants from Morocco. At this point, she's very educated and aware, but as I read, I experienced the confusion that the family experienced as they tried and failed to navigate the legal and immigration systems. Despite their inherent intelligence and drive, they fall prey to our legal system and suffer greatly and unneces This book is so important--Shahani is a compelling writer and is able to capture the ages and voices at which she was as she writes about being the daughter of ethnic Indian immigrants from Morocco. At this point, she's very educated and aware, but as I read, I experienced the confusion that the family experienced as they tried and failed to navigate the legal and immigration systems. Despite their inherent intelligence and drive, they fall prey to our legal system and suffer greatly and unnecessarily. Unfortunately, with the current anti-immigrant xenophobic policies and sentiments, which Shahani documents are not new--I was unaware of the 1996 laws and had forgotten that ICE was only formed after 2001--the struggles of a first generation immigrant family become almost insurmountable. Only through her advocacy, and she chronicles poignantly how that advocacy cost her in personal way, was the family able to overcome some of those obstacles. The relationship between Shahani and her father is especially poignant. Well written, thoughtful and thought provoking.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Abby Johnson

    In this timely and horrifically relevant memoir, NPR journalist Aarti Shahani looks back at her family's struggle with immigration and the US legal system. When she was a teen, Shahani's father was convicted of money laundering and served time in prison, thus rendering his green card revoked and making him susceptible to deportation at any time. Readers interested in immigrant experiences or viewers heartbroken by the latest season of Orange is the New Black's ICE storyline should pick up this m In this timely and horrifically relevant memoir, NPR journalist Aarti Shahani looks back at her family's struggle with immigration and the US legal system. When she was a teen, Shahani's father was convicted of money laundering and served time in prison, thus rendering his green card revoked and making him susceptible to deportation at any time. Readers interested in immigrant experiences or viewers heartbroken by the latest season of Orange is the New Black's ICE storyline should pick up this moving memoir.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Leslie M.

    This is an interesting and eye-opening memoir about the author and her family and their journey of being undocumented immigrants. The author is now a journalist. she documents her experiences, which show the flaws in the immigration system and the judicial system. Shahani delves into the question of who really belongs in America, which is a poignant question in today's society. This is a well-written and thought-provoking book. Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy, but I wasn't required to This is an interesting and eye-opening memoir about the author and her family and their journey of being undocumented immigrants. The author is now a journalist. she documents her experiences, which show the flaws in the immigration system and the judicial system. Shahani delves into the question of who really belongs in America, which is a poignant question in today's society. This is a well-written and thought-provoking book. Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy, but I wasn't required to leave a positive review.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sayo

    A Heartfelt memoir of a young girls life long fight against judicial injustice. After her father made the mistake of selling merchandise to the wrong people, Aarti finds herself saying goodbye to her father as he starts his sentence on Rikers Island. Using personal experience Aarti exposes the deep flaws in the immigration and judicial system, sharing the struggle in this beautifully written book.

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