When I first met the writer Rahawa Haile in Oakland in 2017, we had a frank conversation about the dearth of non-white writers published in travel publications, including AFAR. Earlier that year Rahawa had written a story for Outside about her experiences as an Eritrean American woman walking the Appalachian Trail on her own from Georgia to Maine. It moved me, and it helped me to see my own shortcomings, blind spots, and naïveté as an editor, especially at a time when historically underrepresented and marginalized voices needed to be heard and listened to—now more than ever.
In a new collection of essays titled The Good Immigrant, 26 U.S.-based writers, actors, artists, comedians, and directors (including Rahawa) share their multifaceted experiences of life in America. Why this book now? Editors Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman write, “The title was a response to the narrative that immigrants are ‘bad’ by default until they prove themselves otherwise. . . . We wanted to humanize the immigrant, let them tell their own stories, and finally be in charge of their own narrative.”
In my opinion, the book should be required reading for anyone trying to better understand our diverse nation. These essays—by first- and second-generation immigrants from Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Jamaica, Haiti, and elsewhere—do not detail the clichéd American Dream of white picket fences and apple pie. Instead, they’re far more interesting, complex, and highly personal treatises from writers (many in their 30s and 40s) about their lives, their identities, and the challenges they face trying to be American.
The book is an excellent companion piece to the March/April 2019 issue of AFAR—our first completely devoted to America. I believe there’s never been a more critical time to turn AFAR’s lens toward our own country. I also believe that what makes America great is also what makes it a great travel destination: It is a country of diverse landscapes, of diverse flavors, and most importantly of people from all over the world who have chosen to make the United States their home. This is the land of bratwurst and burritos and bánh mì. And in our March/April 2019 issue, we celebrate it all.
You will hear from a multitude of voices, including Rahawa. She writes of returning to her home state of Florida. I know we as editors still have a ways to go when it comes to sharing the experiences of people from different backgrounds, and we are continuing to work on it. But I hope you’ll agree Rahawa’s is a different kind of Florida story.
Making this issue reminded me of how lucky we are to live in this incredibly culturally rich and vibrant place. I hope we inspire you to go out and explore our country more deeply.