“I hope that America continues to be a beacon of hope for immigrants from all around the world. I hope that the idea of the American Dream—the idea that you can come to a place, work hard, create opportunity for you and your family regardless of background—remains a perpetual part of America’s narrative.”
Our January featured title is Our American Dream by Fiona McEntee! Upon its release, Our American Dream was the #1 New Release in the Children’s Tolerance and the Children’s Books on Immigration categories on Amazon!
We chatted with Fiona about her experiences as a naturalized U.S. citizen and an immigration lawyer, her inspiration behind the book, and her hopes for America’s current and future immigrants. Read our full interview with Fiona below!
1. As a naturalized U.S. citizen yourself, immigration is an issue close to your heart. How has both your personal journey and experience as an immigration lawyer deepened your relationship to immigration?
Immigration is a deeply personal matter for me. Growing up, I was always very interested in social justice. When I came to the U.S. for law school in my early twenties, I was drawn to studying immigration law and doing internships in this field. Almost from day one, I knew that I had found my calling and since then I’ve viewed the practice of immigration law as not just a job but a vocation. I’m also keenly aware that I’ve had a very privileged immigration journey and I believe that I have a duty to fiercely advocate for all immigrants.
2. When did you know you had to write Our American Dream?
I’ve been working as an immigration lawyer for twelve years but, without a doubt, the past two and a half years have been the most challenging years of my career. We have witnessed this Administration implement horrendous anti-immigrant agendas and policies that have directly impacted the most vulnerable of immigrants. It has made the whole country contemplate the very meaning of the American Dream. Immigration issues are constantly in the media and our children are watching and taking note. I have two young kids—Rose (six) and Perry (three and a half)—and they started asking me about some of it. Why is mama on TV at the airport? Why are they separating children from their parents? Why do they want to build a wall? I read to my kids regularly, and I found myself wishing there was a book that touched on some of these concepts in an age appropriate way. I wanted to change this, and I began writing Our American Dream!
3. Some of the characters are based on real clients. How did this influence your writing process?
Our American Dream highlights different immigrant stories and yes, it is inspired by my real-life clients, family, and friends. When I sat down to write the book, I knew exactly what stories I wanted to share with children. I drew direct inspiration from the Dreamers, my Russian artist client Yulia, my sister-in-law Faith, who was adopted as a baby from the Philippines, the families at the border, a tech entrepreneur client, and many more. Our American Dream is the first in my series of books on immigrants and immigration. There are many more stories to tell, and I believe the need to share these stories with our children has never been greater.
4. How has the idea of the “American Dream” changed in recent years, in your opinion?
I do feel like the very idea of the “American Dream” has been shaken to its core over the past few years. However, I really still believe in the American Dream and in the American people. I know we will emerge stronger than ever but now, we need to stand up and speak out. We are in a pivotal time in our nation’s history and we need to think about the country in which we want our children growing up and the values we want to teach them. Our children are watching and listening to us—they need us to share the true story of immigration and of the American Dream.
5. What do you hope that readers, both children and adults, take away from your book?
My hope is that Our American Dream serves as a vehicle to have some conversations around immigration in homes and schools all over the country. I hope that both children and adults see the importance of treating people equally no matter the path of their journey and understand that we all have our own version of the American Dream. No one version of this dream is more important than the next. I also hope that the book becomes a platform for immigrants to share their own stories.
6. Why do you think diversity in children’s literature is so important?
I think it’s important that children read about all kinds of diversity from an early age. Many studies show that when we learn about diversity from a young age, we are less likely to buy into hateful, discriminatory rhetoric, and are more likely to see people as people. Talking to children about diversity increases cultural competence and sensitivity which allows them to be empathetic to the experiences of others. “We look not to build walls but to make tables longer. We gather side by side, because diversity makes us stronger.”
7. What do you hope for America’s current and future immigrants?
I hope that America continues to be a beacon of hope for immigrants from all around the world. I hope that the idea of the American Dream—the idea that you can come to a place, work hard, create opportunity for you and your family regardless of background—remains a perpetual part of America’s narrative. I also hope that Congress can come together to enact some meaningful immigration reform that protects and honors the contributions that immigrants have made, continue to make, and could make if given the opportunity, here in the U.S. on a daily basis. While America’s light may be a little dim right now, the future is most certainly bright as the American Dream is too important to disband.
To learn more about Our American Dream, visit ouramericandreambooks.com and follow Fiona on Instagram and Twitter @USVisaLawyer.
A portion of the proceeds from Our American Dream will be donated to FWD.us I Stand With Immigrants Initiative, and to the American Immigration Council. Get your copy of Fiona’s book here.