It may seem like the topic of immigrants and immigration is in the news a lot lately, but really, there’s nothing new about it. People of all backgrounds have been coming to America for centuries. More often than not, these immigrants face pushback from those already here. It’s always the same old tune: they will take our jobs! They will bring crime! They won’t fit in and will contaminate the gene pool! You’d think the xenophobes would learn, and yet…
Book Riot has done several lists featuring the best books about immigration, the best YA books about immigration, and even the best poems about immigration. As a comic book nerd and the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants, I would be remiss if I did not add my own contribution: the best comic books about immigration!
Here, you’ll find a diverse array of comics about immigration: fiction and nonfiction, contemporary and historical, for young readers and for mature ones. Most of these comics are written by immigrants or the children of immigrants themselves. Most are about immigration to the United States, but there are a couple of noteworthy exceptions. Even with this level of diversity, no list of comic books about immigration can hope to capture the full spectrum of immigrant experiences. People leave their homelands in many ways and for many reasons. The ultimate goal, however, is the same: to create the best life possible for themselves and their families.
Fiction Comics About Immigrants
The Battle of Churubusco: American Rebels in the Mexican-American War by Andrea Ferraris
This comic uses fictional characters to tell a tragically real story that is little remembered in America today. The San Patricios, a group of mostly Irish immigrant soldiers, deserted the U.S. Army to fight for Mexico in the Mexican-American War. The main character, an Italian-born soldier named Gaetano Rizzo, agreed to join the U.S. Army in exchange for land and citizenship. But when he sees the true extent of American aggression and xenophobia, he must decide which country deserves his loyalty. Ferraris’s rough yet beautiful artwork brings deep emotion to this story of courage in the face of defeat.
Intertwined: Coming to America by Fabrice Sapolsky and Fred Pham Chuong
In some ways, this is an old-school-style superhero comic: after his uncle Da Wei’s murder, young Jin Juan inherits both his money and, unbeknownst to him, his superhero identity: the Spirit of the Earth, one of five protector spirits whose existence maintains balance. With Da Wei dead and his killer on the loose, the resulting imbalance may threaten the entire world.
But there’s more going on here than (excellent and exciting) superhero stuff: Juan is from Hong Kong, and he receives a less than friendly welcome when he arrives in New York to settle Da Wei’s estate. He and his fellow immigrants will have to work together to find their place in America and save the world.
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Pashmina is a lively, award-winning comic about a teenage girl named Priyanka. The only thing she knows about her family history is that her mother left India years ago and now refuses to talk about it, no matter how curious her daughter is. One day, Priyanka finds a magical pashmina that transports her to her mother’s native land — or does it? Will the pashmina’s powers finally give Priyanka the answers she has long searched for?
Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru
When Roberta Lee and her family move from Chinatown into Metropolis proper, not everyone is as welcoming as they should be. Roberta’s brother Tommy has no trouble fitting in and making friends; Roberta is awkward but determined not to let the bigots win. Meanwhile, Superman is dealing with his own identity crisis: he can pass for human and has assimilated into American culture, but does he truly belong here? Both he and Roberta must learn to embrace the things that make them unique if they are to save the day!
Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight by Duncan Tonatiuh
Despite his young age, Juan’s entire family depends on him to scratch out a living. He makes the dangerous decision to sneak into the United States in the hopes of earning more money to send home to Mexico. But when his employers refuse to pay him fairly, Juan resolves to stand up and fight for his rights, no matter the risk. Juan’s bravery, Tonatiuh’s distinctive art style, and the book’s creative formatting (it folds out like an accordion-style, pre-Colombian codex) make Undocumented an unforgettable reading experience.
Nonfiction Comics About Immigrants
Almost American Girl by Robin Ha
This charming, award-winning young adult comic is the autobiographical tale of Robin Ha, whose quiet life with her mother in Korea is upended when her mother abruptly decides to marry and move to America. Angry and isolated, Robin wonders if she will ever be able to fit in with her new family and new country. Ultimately, it is her love for comic books that gives her the chance to find a place that she can truly call home.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
Thi Bui’s family was forced to leave Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War in the mid 1970s. Being in America meant they were out of immediate danger, and yet the experience of being newcomers to a very foreign land presented formidable challenges. The Best We Could Do is a difficult but richly rewarding story about the impossible decisions one immigrant family made to survive.
Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees by Olivier Kugler
Over a period of four years, Kugler visited refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan and various European countries, collecting stories from Syrians who had fled civil war in search of safety and security. The final result of his efforts is Escaping Wars and Waves, an award-winning comic book about the harrowing, extraordinary circumstances these ordinary people have experienced. Each page is a riot of detail that shows the chaos of the camps and the humanity of the people in them.
Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution by Julia Alekseyeva
This is the story of two immigrants: Lola, a self-educated Jewish woman who survived the many calamities that hit what is now Ukraine throughout the 20th century, and her great-granddaughter, Julia. The entire family left for the U.S. in the early 1990s. After her beloved great-grandmother’s death, Julia turned Lola’s story into this fascinating comic. The main narrative is interspersed with Julia’s own experiences as a Jewish immigrant to America, how her family’s history affected her, and how her relationship with Lola provided solace during her lonely childhood.
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
Omar and Hassan have only each other to rely on: they have been separated from their mother and fled war-torn Somalia. Now they live in a drab Kenyan refugee camp where there are never enough resources to go around. As the older brother, Omar feels it is his duty to do everything he can to take care of Hassan. But does that duty extend to leaving the camp — and his brother — behind to attend school? This acclaimed graphic novel is perfect for readers of all ages.