Tens of thousands of undocumented women have made the journey across the southern border of the United States. The trip is expensive. Some migrants are raped by guides or fellow travelers. That was Soli’s story in the novel "Lucky Boy," by author Shanthi Sekaran.
Soli arrives in the U.S. pregnant and tries to juggle motherhood and work as a nanny in Berkeley, California. When immigration agents find out about her, she’s faced with deportation and possibly being forced to relinquish her child to adoption. That’s when her path crosses with an Indian-American couple wanting to adopt. Soli may have to accept that someone else could love her child.
Through the story of one "Lucky Boy," Sekaran explores the complexities of U.S. immigration and adoption policies. She sat down with CapRadio's Donna Apidone to talk about it.
Why is this boy "lucky"?
He's lucky in a very sincere way because he is loved very much by these two mothers and by Rishi [his foster mother's husband]. So, in that he's lucky, you know, he's wanted. But also there's some irony in that. [He’s] lucky because he doesn't know — people don't know where he's going to end up. His fate is sort of thrown to the wind because of this love, because of these people who have had him and who want him.
The book is named for the child. How do you get from these people who are very integrated into each other's lives and still keep that focus on the child at all times? How do you get all that on paper?
It's all about the child really. It's about an unborn child. It's about Ignacio, the son of Soli. Rishi has a line where he says, "That's all people want. They just want healthy babies." So that's what the people in the novel all kind of center around, whether they know it or not. They're distracted by all these other things but I think the core of the book is Ignacio.
You wrote a piece for The New York Times late last year called "The Privileged Immigrant" and you said that Indians are different in coming to the U.S. because they have a path. Can you talk about that?
Yeah. So this piece I wrote for The New York Times talked a little about my parents and the fact that they were brought over. They came over to the U.S. in the mid ‘60s because the U.S. was recruiting foreign medical graduates. And so it was very hard for them. They were up in Albany, New York. You know I think around 1960 there were like a total of 12,000 Indians in the entire United States. So it was a lonely experience and it was physically cold and it was probably emotionally very isolated.
My point was that my parents and South Asians of their generation, especially who were brought over on things like the foreign medical graduate program, were given a visa. They were given a training program to be in here. My father and mother were given an apartment in Albany. It was very hard but they had these little steps put in place for them that allowed them to have a job, earn money, save money, create credit history. It allowed them to take the steps that they needed to take to establish a stable life in this country.
And now we have a lot of people in America who were not given this path. They work here. They make money. There are technically legal ways for an undocumented immigrant to start something like a bank account. But it's terrifying to walk into a bank, you know, if you're undocumented and you could be picked up at any moment, to walk into a bank and give them your name and be officially then on the record. So that has ramifications for generations. They don't save the money. They don't establish credit history. They cannot integrate themselves into the economy and into the system of succeeding the way that maybe my parents could.
Donna Apidone interviewed Shanthi Sekaran on Feb. 7, 2017.