15 Moving Immigration Poems to Read Today

It’s hard to think of the right words to write about the recent political events surrounding refugees and immigrants entering the United States and the moral injustice of families being separated, imprisoned, and inhumanely punished at the U.S. Border. And I don’t have the right words for describing the end of DACA or the demonization of Syrian refugees. Of course, part of me wants to say this isn’t America. Except, I also don’t have the right words to write about the Immigration Act of 1924 and that was almost a hundred years ago. I don’t have the words today, but so many immigrants have used words to share their stories in picture books, young adult books, fiction and nonfiction, and new releases that are coming out this year. And so many writers have used immigration poems to talk about their experiences. These words are more than just right. They are moving, emotional, informative…I don’t have enough words for these poems, so I’ll leave you with the beautiful ones crafted by these fifteen amazing poets.

Great Immigration poems to read

 

1. “Things we carry On The Sea” by wang ping

We carry tears in our eyes: good-bye father, good-bye mother

We carry soil in small bags: may home never fade in our hearts

We carry names, stories, memories of our villages, fields, boats

We carry scars from proxy wars of greed

We carry carnage of mining, droughts, floods, genocides

We carry dust of our families and neighbors incinerated in mushroom clouds

We carry our islands sinking under the sea

We carry our hands, feet, bones, hearts and best minds for a new life

We carry diplomas: medicine, engineer, nurse, education, math, poetry, even if they mean nothing to the other shore

We carry railroads, plantations, laundromats, bodegas, taco trucks, farms, factories, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, temples…built on our ancestors’ backs

We carry old homes along the spine, new dreams in our chests

We carry yesterday, today and tomorrow

We’re orphans of the wars forced upon us

We’re refugees of the sea rising from industrial wastes

And we carry our mother tongues
爱(ai),حب  (hubb), ליבע (libe), amor, love

平安 (ping’an), سلام ( salaam), shalom, paz, peace

希望(xi’wang), أمل (’amal), hofenung, esperanza, hope, hope, hope

As we drift…in our rubber boats…from shore…to shore…to shore…

2. “The Unwritten Letter from my Immigrant Parent” by Muna Abdulahi

3. “Citizenship” by Javier Zamora

it was clear they were hungry
with their carts empty the clothes inside their empty hands

they were hungry because their hands
were empty their hands in trashcans

the trashcans on the street
the asphalt street on the red dirt the dirt taxpayers pay for

up to that invisible line visible thick white paint
visible booths visible with the fence starting from the booths

booth road booth road booth road office building then the fence
fence fence fence

it started from a corner with an iron pole
always an iron pole at the beginning

those men those women could walk between booths
say hi to white or brown officers no problem

the problem I think were carts belts jackets
we didn’t have any

or maybe not the problem
our skin sunburned all of us spoke Spanish

we didn’t know how they had ended up that way
on that side

we didn’t know how we had ended up here
we didn’t know but we understood why they walk

4. “Things That Shine in the Night” by Rigoberto González

—from “The Bordercrosser’s Pillowbook”

Fulgencio’s silver crown—when he snores
the moon, coin of Judas, glaring
at the smaller metals we call stars
my buckle
the tips of my boots
the stones in my kidneys
an earring
a tear on the cheek
the forked paths of a zipper
the blade of the pocketknife triggering open
the blade of the pocketknife seducing the orange
the blade of the pocketknife salivating
the blade of the pocketknife
the word México
the word migra

5. “Everyday we get more illegal” by juan Felipe Herrera

6. “We Are Americans Now, We Live in the Tundra” by Marilyn Chin

Today in hazy San Francisco, I face seaward
Toward China, a giant begonia—

Pink, fragrant, bitten
By verdigris and insects. I sing her

A blues song; even a Chinese girl gets the blues,
Her reticence is black and blue.

Let’s sing about the extinct
Bengal tigers, about giant Pandas—

“Ling Ling loves Xing Xing…yet,
We will not mate. We are

Not impotent, we are important.
We blame the environment, we blame the zoo!”

What shall we plant for the future?
Bamboo, sassafras, coconut palms? No!

Legumes, wheat, maize, old swine
To milk the new.

We are Americans now, we live in the tundra
Of the logical, a sea of cities, a wood of cars.

Farewell my ancestors:
Hirsute Taoists, failed scholars, farewell

My wetnurse who feared and loathed the Catholics,
Who called out

Now that half-men have occupied Canton
Hide your daughters, lock your doors!

7. “Immigrant” by Wyclef Jean

8. “Translation for Mamá” by Richard Blanco

What I’ve written for you, I have always written
in English, my language of silent vowel endings
never translated into your language of silent h’s.
Lo que he escrito para ti, siempre lo he escrito
en inglés, en mi lengua llena de vocales mudas
nunca traducidas a tu idioma de haches mudas.
I’ve transcribed all your old letters into poems
that reconcile your exile from Cuba, but always
in English. I’ve given you back the guajiro roads
you left behind, stretched them into sentences
punctuated with palms, but only in English.
He transcrito todas tus cartas viejas en poemas
que reconcilian tu exilio de Cuba, pero siempre
en inglés. Te he devuelto los caminos guajiros
que dejastes atrás, transformados en oraciones
puntuadas por palmas, pero solamente en inglés.
I have recreated the pueblecito you had to forget,
forced your green mountains up again, grown
valleys of sugarcane, stars for you in English.
He reconstruido el pueblecito que tuvistes que olvidar,
he levantado de nuevo tus montañas verdes, cultivado
la caña, las estrellas de tus valles, para ti, en inglés.
In English I have told you how I love you cutting
gladiolas, crushing ajo, setting cups of dulce de leche
on the counter to cool, or hanging up the laundry
at night under our suburban moon. In English,
En inglés te he dicho cómo te amo cuando cortas
gladiolas, machacas ajo, enfrías tacitas de dulce de leche
encima del mostrador, o cuando tiendes la ropa
de noche bajo nuestra luna en suburbia. En inglés
I have imagined you surviving by transforming
yards of taffeta into dresses you never wear,
keeping Papá’s photo hinged in your mirror,
and leaving the porch light on, all night long.
He imaginado como sobrevives transformando
yardas de tafetán en vestidos que nunca estrenas,
la foto de papá que guardas en el espejo de tu cómoda,
la luz del portal que dejas encendida, toda la noche.
Te he captado en inglés en la mesa de la cocina
esperando que cuele el café, que hierva la leche
y que tu vida acostumbre a tu vida. En inglés
has aprendido a adorer tus pérdidas igual que yo.
I have captured you in English at the kitchen table
waiting for the café to brew, the milk to froth,
and your life to adjust to your life. In English
you’ve learned to adore your losses the way I do.

9. “Migrant Earth” by Deema K. Shehabi

So tell me what you think of when the sky is ashen?
Mahmoud Darwish

I could tell you that listening is made for the ashen sky,
and instead of the muezzin’s voice, which lingers
like weeping at dawn,
I hear my own desire, as I lay my lips against my mother’s cheek.

I kneel down beside her, recalling her pleas
the day she flung open the gates of her house
for children fleeing from tanks.

My mother is from Gaza, but what do I know of the migrant earth,
as I enter a Gazan rooftop and perform ablutions in the ashen
     forehead of sky? As my soul journeys and wrinkles with homeland?

I could tell you that I parted with my mother at the country
of skin. In the dream,
my lips were bruised, her body was whole again, and we danced
naked in the street.

And no child understands absence past the softness
of palms.

As though it is praise in my father’s palms
as he washes my mother’s body in the final ritual.

As though it is God’s pulse that comes across
her face and disappears

10.

11. “A Simple Trajectory” by May Yang

by HAUNTIE
Some time ago pale bodies slipped into Indochina and harvested
slave bodies to sow opium and mine silver. These slaves developed a
dependency on this unsustainable and temporary economy, becoming
heavily addicted to this intoxicating flower. Some no longer planted their
own food or raised their own livestock. A body from this time was that
of my grandmother’s. Impoverished—she was—mind, body and soul. 
Strung out on the tar of this little flower, forgetting how and when to love
her children. A body that came to life through hers was my father’s. And
so it was that this boy would walk miles to school with maybe, sometimes
hardly ever, a palm-full of rice and a single chili pepper to sustain his body
for the duration of the day.
                           Night would fall,
                           and day would rise.
Then a secret war crept up so loud white minds shut it out
and all of humanity hushed it from the West to its East
and my grandfather went to war on the side that would win
doing these things, they couldn’t believe in
and maybe it was that they won, maybe
but the shackles of this flower brought my mother to my father
and the shackles of this flower brought my body to America
“Here I am,” i’ll say.
Here I am and I have to stay.
What are you? Where are you from? What did you come from?
i am a potent flower
stringing out your mind on the line after line
from the womb of a history birthed from white memory
i am American
i am good at forgetting

12. “At the Wall, US/Mexico Border, Texas 2020” by Paola Gonzalez and Karla Guitierrez

13. “Why Whales Are Back in New York City” by Rajiv Mohabir

After a century, humpbacks migrate
again to Queens. They left
due to sewage and white froth

banking the shores from polychlorinated-
biphenyl-dumping into the Hudson
and winnowing menhaden schools.

But now grace, dark bodies of song
return. Go to the seaside—

Hold your breath. Submerge.
A black fluke silhouetted
against the Manhattan skyline.

Now ICE beats doors
down on Liberty Avenue
to deport. I sit alone on orange

A train seats, mouth sparkling
from Singh’s, no matter how
white supremacy gathers

at the sidewalks, flows down
the streets, we still beat our drums
wild. Watch their false-god statues

prostrate to black and brown hands.
They won’t keep us out
though they send us back.

Our songs will pierce the dark
fathoms. Behold the miracle:

what was once lost
now leaps before you.

14. “Before Your Arrival” by Ellen Hagan

the ones who brought your father here, come. Bring
with them whole almonds, dried berries & clementines
wrapped in cloth. Their clothes & smart shoes too.

They come looking for the place I’ve taken your father.
Looking for the New York City that could rival home.
Your Abba loves the East Village, its graffiti, trash
& all the languages on all the streets.  On 14th & 1st,
we visit the Phillipines. Elvie’s Turo Turo.

But this trip, he wants to see more. So,
we travel to Little Philippines, Queens, 69th
off the 7 train, off the 7 the whole of Queens
opens wide for us. Travel agents & whole-
sale, send anything back for cheap, travel
for cheap, return, return. We buy OK
magazines by the handful for gossip
Tagalog with English subtitles, glossy
photos, Pacquiao, his chiseled grin, everywhere.

And we eat. Krystal’s where they serve
marinated pork belly, sinigang na baboy,
kare-kare, pancit bihon, & lumpiang sariwa,
I listen close to it all. Deep fried ruffle fat,
poolee noodles with shrimp, milkfish.
Your Abba fake orders pork blood stew
but I am sure I would eat anything here
because this is how much I trust the two
who brought your father up in the world.

We eat sing-sing & pork in tamarind soup.
This is how to say snack in Tagalog: Merienda,
Merienda is snack. This is how to say ice-cream
in Tagalog: halo-halo, halo-halo
is ice-cream. This is how to leave your country.
Don’t look back. You will only see the islands
melting away. Halo-halo.  This is how to say snack in tagalog.
Merienda. This is how to feel of one place & of one more.

Back home, we sit, get caught up. I read
about mansions in Manila, how to make millions,
facelifts & silken hair, red lips, muscles & beauty.
In Tagalog, I muddle through, while your Abba
laughs, translates, translations get muddled too.
This is how to raise a baby in two places at once, & how
it feels to live and move in two worlds. At once.

15. “Lessons on being an African Immigrant in America” by Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa


What other immigration poems do you recommend?

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