Behold the Dreamers is one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. I am beyond grateful I visited Semicolon Bookstore and discovered so many amazing and underrated books. There is so much that readers can take away from this book and it’s hard to even put into words how relevant and important it is for everyone, regardless of race and ethnicity or citizenship status. The themes of this book are circular, addressing important issues and woven together to provide readers with the full picture of what it’s like to be an immigrant in New York City – issues like immigration, Cameroonian culture, gender roles in African culture, racial biases, poverty, the ‘American Dream’, education prejudices, and so much more.
Jende Jonga and his wife Neni are Cameroonian immigrants living in Harlem, determined to find the American Dream and live out its praised hype. When Jende lands a job as a chauffeur to Clark, one of Wall Street’s wealthiest men and his family, he feels like he hit the lottery. Making more than enough money to support his wife and son in New York City while sending money to his family in Cameroon, Jende finally understands why people love America so much. Even better, Clark’s wife offers Neni the opportunity to care for their Hamptons home over the summer, meaning their salary is increasing by the day.
Like everything wonderful and great, there are flaws and obstacles to overcome and things like privilege, race and power threaten the seemingly perfect facade of Jende’s job as Clark’s chauffeur. Relationships are tested and true colors are shown in this remarkably eye opening novel, proving that money isn’t the solution to every problem and even the American Dream isn’t as it appears.
You will fall in love with Jende, a traditional and kindhearted African man who is polite, gentle, observant and determined to provide for his family at all costs. I was interested to learn about a man’s role in Cameroonian culture and how nothing can stand in the way of the man of the household, just as a wife is expected to be subservient to her husband at all times, even when she disagrees.
Behold the Dreamers is extremely thought-provoking, beautiful, sad, unfair, and an experience everyone should encounter. This book helped me realize a lot about myself, like the privilege I have each and every day on so many levels and how even some of the most kind and hardworking individuals will be overlooked and undervalued, a sad reality for many ‘dreamers’ who come to America hoping to escape the poverty stricken lives of their past.
I encourage you to read this book with an open mind and allow yourself to wipe away any and all biases you may have formed or heard when it comes to immigrants. While I certainly can’t speak for everyone, my time with Jende Jonga was a time I will never forget and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn his story – a story of so many others in this country simply trying to find happiness and success in the land of opportunities.