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The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness and Hope [Kindle Edition]

Claudia Kolker
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Do you have a relative or friend who would gladly wait on you, hand and foot, for a full month after you had a baby? How about someone to deliver a delicious, piping hot home-cooked meal, just like your mother’s, right to your front door after work? Do you know people you’d trust enough to give several hundred dollars a month to, with no receipt, on the simple promise that the accumulated wealth will come back to you a year later?

Not many of us can answer “yes” to these questions. But as award-winning journalist Claudia Kolker has discovered, each of these is one of a wide variety of cherished customs brought to the United States by immigrant groups, often adapted to American life by the second generation in a distinctive blending of old and new. Taken together, these extraordinary traditions may well contribute to what’s known as “the immigrant paradox,” the growing evidence that immigrants, even those from poor or violence-wracked countries, tend to be both physically and mentally healthier than most native-born Americans.

These customs are unfamiliar to most Americans, but they shouldn’t be. Honed over centuries, they provide ingenious solutions to daily challenges most of us face and provide both social support and comfort. They range from Vietnamese money clubs that help people save and Mexican cuarentenas—a forty-day period of rest for new mothers—to Korean afterschools that offer highly effective tutoring at low cost and Jamaican multigenerational households that help younger family members pay for college and, eventually, their own homes.

Fascinated by the success of immigrant friends, Claudia Kolker embarked on a journey to uncover how these customs are being carried on and adapted by the second and third generations, and how they can enrich all of our lives. In a beautifully written narrative, she takes readers into the living rooms, kitchens, and restaurants of immigrant families and neighborhoods all across the country, exploring the sociable street life of Chicago’s “Little Village,” a Mexican enclave with extraordinarily low rates of asthma and heart disease; the focused quiet of Korean afterschool tutoring centers; and the loving, controlled chaos of a Jamaican extended-family home. She chronicles the quests of young Indian Americans to find spouses with the close guidance of their parents, revealing the benefits of “assisted marriage,” an American adaptation of arranged marriage. And she dives with gusto into some of the customs herself, experimenting to see how we might all fit them into our lives. She shows us the joy, and excitement, of savoring Vietnamese “monthly rice” meals delivered to her front door, hiring a tutor for her two young girls, and finding a powerful sense of community in a money-lending club she started with friends.

The Immigrant Advantage is an adventurous exploration of little-known traditional wisdom, and how in this nation of immigrants our lives can be enriched by the gifts of our newest arrivals.

Editorial Reviews


"[A] sparkling debut [and] a welcome reminder that America was built by immigrants in search of a better future for their children."

"Kolker’s explorations teach and entertain with their curiosity, can-do spirit, and vibrant bouquet of cultures and customs."

“What a fabulous, fun, eye-opening read: Colorful writing with a flair is not incompatible with deep insight and wisdom!”

“Live like an immigrant...How rare to find an intelligent, engrossing book that doubles as a dispensary! The Immigrant Advantage is chock-full of novel, useful prescriptions for a happy, healthy life.”

“Such a smart and thrilling ride. I had no idea I was surrounded by daily exotic adventures until I opened The Immigrant Advantage. Now that I've read it, I can't wait to live it.”

“A wonderful positive portrayal of immigrant customs and contributions much needed and much welcome at a time of so much confusion about the foreign-born who live among us.”

Named one of O Magazine’s 10 Titles to Pick Up Now

About the Author

Claudia Kolker is an award-winning journalist who has reported from Mexico, El Salvador, the Caribbean, Japan and India. A former Los Angeles Times bureau chief and former member of The Houston Chronicle editorial board, she has also written for The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Economist, O: The Oprah Magazine, Slate, and Salon. She lives in Houston with her family.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2485 KB
  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B00AZQER94
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (October 18, 2011)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004IK98CO
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,068 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, Insightful, and Thought-Provoking December 8, 2011
By Kris
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not only does the author discover and report on many best practices immigrants bring with them to the United States (Vietnamese, Korean, Mexican, Jamaican, and more), she tries them out on herself, her family, and her friends to see how they translate for the rest of us. The result is a hilarious, insightful, thought-provoking, and not-at-all dry or academic book. It made me what to ditch many of my American-centric ways and "live like an immigrant." I loved it from start to finish (Reader, I did!)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immigrant Advantage: NOT an Oxymoron February 13, 2012
By Peggy P
In The Immigrant Advantage author Claudia Kolker offers a fresh, jaunty narrative that informs and delights. She deftly mixes sound research with personal experience, having been raised by parents who were immigrants--her mother from Mexico and her father from Ukraine. In her many interviews with immigrants about customs in their native lands, Kolker asks a few guiding questions then steps out of the way, allowing the flow of cultural wisdom. She watches reverently, as do we.

I felt that this book opened my eyes and ears to the valuable stories told by the newcomers around me. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially those who might never think to put "immigrant" and "advantage" together in the same sentence.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars wonderful approach! February 29, 2012
This is a book that many people can benefit from. But what is even more appreciable is Claudia Kolker's approach - what can we learn from others? A perspective that readers can take with them long after they finish this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Using As A Self-Help Book. And It's Working... January 3, 2012
The first attraction of this book for me was the word "Advantage" in the title.
Perhaps I'm not reading this book with the full cultural depth that the author intended because I'm looking as much for quick life lessons as for compelling stories and human drama. My logic is that when it comes to suggestions on the craft of living a well led life evidence and history of success are important. Practices and ideas that result in improved money management, improved diet, improved social skills, etc. are a little suspect if they were only invented yesterday. They might work, they might not. But if you tell me about something that's worked for hundreds of years and is still working today and on different continents... Well, suddenly I'm interested...
Self-help books have become associated with with fly-by-night fashion- fad diets, pop psychology, how to beat Wall Street, etc. This book is not like that. It's the antithesis of a top-down book with an infomercial doctor telling you about his latest solution to whatever problem you may have (conveniently for sale from him). This is a bottom-up book with the author investigating grass roots customs which have actually, statistically, proven successful over the long haul...
Some ideas I like.
- The Vietnamese Money Club. How do you measure your friendships? A real friend for me is someone I would trust as my banker. That idea from Immigrant Advantage was a revelation because it's so obviously true. I would trust some friends more with my money than I would an actual professional banker. And why not? Friends are people you know inside and out. I don't even know the name of my banker. Vietnamese go one step further and actually act on the idea. Their friends really are their bankers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Upper! July 29, 2012
I loved this book! Claudia Kolker's THE IMMIGRANT ADVANTAGE: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness, and Hope cheered me no end about our multicultural American milieu. Kolker writes with warm intelligence about Vietnamese money clubs, how Mexican families take care of their new mothers, how assisted marriage works for South Asians, the benefits of afterschools for Korean and Chinese children, the joy of multigenerational West Indian households, the relief of subscribing to home-cooked Vietnamese meals, and the safety and vitality in neighborhood camaraderie. I learned a great deal, and was enormously entertained by the very human stories Kolker shared of immigrants and her own life. I especially liked the way the book is structured, beginning with her curiosity about how the money club worked, through deepening understanding of immigrant customs of caring for one another through food, shelter, education, and marriage, and finally coming full circle to the formation of her own money club. It's a very satisfying read--heartwarming, inspiring, and a treasure for the psyche of the larger community. I'll recommend it widely.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book September 28, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Claudia was my neighbor in Houston. Her twin daughters are probably my own daughter's "very best friends in the entire world." That's why I bought the book. I read the book because I wanted to know what Claudia had written when she was secreted away all those months in far-away locations. I was utterly impressed. I envied the women who had family members/friends with them during those first months of motherhood. I loved reading about Mike and the girls. The ways that other cultures rely on their families fascinated me, probably because I don't live it myself. My own immediate family members are at least 500 miles away and although I can see how coming together into one home is beneficial for all generations, I would have to undergo a complete paradigm shift to make it work for me. I confess, the book made me more than a little homesick for my miniature townhouse in the fourth ward (I'm now a Denver suburbanite and have to travel for what seems like forever to find pho!). Thank you Claudia for this book. It opened my mind and my heart to potential within my own family, especially as we enter a time when the "elders" in my family need the help of the next generation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars High school Junior class work!!!!
My daughter read it for class work!!!!
Published 28 days ago by keith b. brossette
4.0 out of 5 stars intresting
Interesting book but a little boring. Learned a lot about different traditions but didn't personally catch my attention. If you like learning of cultures its a good book.
Published 3 months ago by Marielena
2.0 out of 5 stars this book was something of a disappointment. A lot of anecdotes about...
Speaking as an immigrant myself, this book was something of a disappointment. A lot of anecdotes about immigrants that the author knows are tied together with a few common themes... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Bruce Lilley
2.0 out of 5 stars Fluff
This book had potential but needs more research and depth. No more words are not needed because it is so shallow. However, some members of my book club did enjoy the stories.
Published 8 months ago by JBeuchler
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally!!
Finally a book voicing the triumphs of immigrants with solid research and general application. This is a book that I would recommend to natural born Americans, immigrant parents... Read more
Published 11 months ago by helia forouzan
3.0 out of 5 stars We are all a nation of immigrants
This is a matter of controversy where spanish has become a virtual second language lenguage segundo.I speak and understand spanish . Read more
Published 11 months ago by rh
5.0 out of 5 stars The Immigrant advantage
I love this book. I am learning so much about the different traditions that Houston's immigrants adhere to in order to maintain social cohesion and attain prosperity. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Hadia S Mawlawi
5.0 out of 5 stars Confirms what I suspected
I am a Houston native, and when I heard Ms. Kolker talking about this book on the local NPR station, I immediately wrote the title down in anticipation of reading it. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Lindsay Meyer
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful to other cultural ways
Interesting insights into immigrant culture. Readers could learn from the ways of these immigrant groups. I will pass this book around to my friends to read.
Published 15 months ago by Jayne Pivovar
4.0 out of 5 stars What more could we need than to see value in others?
As America continues to be the world's immigrant nation, we seem to have forgot about the positive influence that immigrants can have on a culture and have rested solely on... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Caleb Carter
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