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When Your Voice Tastes Like Home: Immigrant Women Write
ISBN: 1-896764-71-1
Edited by Prabhjot Parmar and Nila Somaia-Carten
Review by: Moira Richards

5/15/04

I grew up in the last decades of apartheid South Africa, and emigration in those years was a topic often mentioned, hotly debated. Many people left our country because they saw no future in it for their kids, others left because there was no future there for themselves. Some folk packed their families and enough money to live comfortably in another part of the world, others barely managed to leave with their lives and were still not safe once beyond the borders. Yet more often than not, the impression prevailed that those who did leave South Africa had it easier than those of us who stayed. When Your Voice Tastes Like Home: immigrant women write would go a long way towards dispelling that illusion.

The fact is that people the world over rarely embrace with enthusiasm, immigrants into their countries and even if they refrain from being downright antagonistic towards these strange new people, they certainly seem to accept them only if the immigrants will assimilate themselves into the host country's culture as quickly and as completely as possible. Cultural diversity is never embraced, rarely encouraged, often not even respected.

Approximately thirty women from a dozen different African, Asian and European countries contribute to Parmar and Somaia-Carten’s collection their experiences as immigrants to North America and none of those was near as easy as it might have looked to those whom she left behind (or perhaps had hoped for herself). The collection is comprised of a number of short accounts, mostly prose, many of them poems. The women variously tell of the unexpected unbearableness of homesickness, the bewildering extent of cultural and language divides and the pain of seeing your children grow into a set of values different from those that you hold dear.

Nevertheless, the overriding emotion that one reads from the anthology is that of determination. The writers may always mention the unexpected challenges that they encountered when they emigrated from their home countries, but there is never the sense that the decision was the wrong one. They might regret what they have lost, but they never seem to give up on making their choice work for them. Read the short biographies of the contributors at the back of the book and you’ll notice too that many of the women have, in various ways, become activists in their adopted countries on behalf of immigrants and minority cultures. These stories are a testimony to the resilience and determination that we know is such an integral part of the female psyche.


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