This is a weird time to be in America. People who weren’t born here are being treated like criminals, and I can’t imagine that they’ve felt any comfort at all in their adopted home since last November. Those of us lucky enough to be born here have been granted an immense privilege, but that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. Many native-born Americans are people whose parents are immigrants, and they’re now being affected by the current American government’s agendas. I’ll let other people express my feelings about that because I don’t currently have the confidence or knowledge-base to do it, myself.*
What I am confident about is the power of independent media and the role it plays in today’s world. While some big news organizations are toeing the line between hard-hitting journalism and “fake news,” I know I can count on one group of people to keep things moving forward:
Truly, comedians have managed to merge politics with levity in a way that not only informs the public, but delivers difficult information in a totally digestible way. Oftentimes, their content is so enjoyable that you don’t even realize that difficult information is being given to you.
Ireland-born comedian Maeve Higgins employs this in her new-ish podcast, Maeve in America: Immigration IRL.
As an immigrant, herself, Maeve has a fascination with people who leave their homeland to live thousands of miles away in a foreign place. She travels around the United States visiting American citizens who began their lives as American immigrants, listening to them recall the story of their journey.
Her first episode features a visit with 90-year-old Ros, aka Rosalyn Koo, a Chinese-American living in California.
Ros has been living in America since 1947, and the story of her life is anything but boring. First of all, she gained citizenship because of a fluke in the system. Prior to WWII, the US had its first immigration control law placed in 1886 banning Chinese immigrants, The Chinese Exclusion Act. But when the war came along, China became an ally of the USA, and the President ended the ban just four years before Ros came to America.
Ros visited her home country 37 times since she originally left at 18. Her trips home included projects like bringing education to rural areas, humanitarian efforts, providing for her family, and dodging a nasty civil war that lasted nearly 25 years and ended in 1950. She then went on to become an activist, architect, economist, and working mother to two children.
Listening to the stories of the people who faced great adversity is a humbling experience to someone who was simply born in “The Land of the Free.” Immigrants had to stack up accomplishment after accomplishment in order to get here, and after they got here, there was even more work to be done.
On top of facing social adversity, creating a whole new life in a place where the language was foreign and most people didn’t trust you seems insurmountable. But there’s never any somberness or bitterness in the voices of the people Maeve interviews, just contentment. It happened, they’re here now, and what else is there?
Best of all, these stories are encouraging first-generation Americans to share the stories of their family’s journey to America.
— michelle truong (@MCHLLT) March 30, 2017
I'm the child of immigrants & grew up w/my grandparents. Common for immigrants to live w/extended family and I ??my lola ?? pic.twitter.com/0pb2LAXbSR
— Amanda Panda (@JeSuisPanda) March 30, 2017
Maeve doesn’t brave this path alone, though. In order to add some context to the rich, historical stories of her guests, Maeve invites data illustrator Mona Chalabi to fill in the history blanks and explain the environment around the time of immigration. She also invites other experts and commentators to chime in about their experiences throughout the episode, all of which contribute to a larger conceptual theme.
Maeve in America closed their second season earlier this year, but not before expanding their roster of noteworthy guests. It shouldn’t be surprising that there are about a bazillion first-generation American in show business. Diversity is everywhere, despite filmmakers having a penchant for whiteness, and out of those bazillion diverse and beautiful humans in Hollywood, nearly all have ties outside of the country. After all, anything who isn’t Native American is a ___-generation immigrant!
The podcast closed out its second season with strength, featuring an episode dedicated to the children of immigrants which included Alex Karpovsky of HBO’s Girls, Aparna Nancherla who is a hilarious comedian, comedy writer Charla Lauriston, and “Dapwell” aka Ashok Kondabolu talks to his dad about his life in NYC during the 1970s. Mona als interviews her Iraq-born mother about her immigration, and becoming a doctor in the UK.
— Maeve in America (@MaeveInAmerica) March 23, 2017
The final episode of the second season brings together a quartet of brilliance as Maeve interviews satirist (and apparent surgeon!?) Bassem Youssef about his Egyptian roots, W Kamau Bell talks about using comedy to speak about difficult topics, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson explains the science of immigration and global migration… to Mars, where we’ll all be immigrants from the same place.
— Maeve in America (@MaeveInAmerica) March 30, 2017
The people on this podcast are incredible, regardless of their Hollywood pedigree. Each person Maeve speaks to brings such a real, soulful voice to the issue of immigration in America. It’s nearly impossible to be a cynic when hearing of people overcoming immense hurdles in search of a better life, safety, and/or freedom.
The Maeve in America podcast weaves in and out of political commentary, acknowledging that the immigration stories are “primarily personal, not political, but of course, sometimes they are bound together.” Nothing is ever too heavy, and Maeve’s comedic skills and intense Irish charm are a perfect fit for such a tender topic. She is a genuine listener, and truly wants to hear the stories of triumph, loss, failure, success – whatever it is, it’s important, and Maeve wants to share it.
This podcast is on the up and up, and I’m kicking myself for not writing about it sooner. You can expect to hear more from Maeve, as she is an exceptional voice navigating a very grave and distraught topic that affects millions of people, and Maeve in America somehow leave us smiling every time.
Listen to Maeve in America on iTunes
*Life is no fun without asterisks addendums.
Here are some resources that explain kind of what’s going on in America regarding immigration: