“Absolutely extraordinary...A landmark in the contemporary literature of the diaspora.” —Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror
“If Concepcion were only about Samaha’s mother, it would already be wholly worthwhile. But she was one of eight children in the Concepcion family, whose ancestry Samaha traces in this. . . powerful book.” –The New York Times
A journalist's powerful and incisive account reframes how we comprehend the immigrant experience
Nearing the age at which his mother had migrated to the US, part of the wave of non-Europeans who arrived after immigration quotas were relaxed in 1965, Albert Samaha began to question the ironclad belief in a better future that had inspired her family to uproot themselves from their birthplace. As she, her brother Spanky—a rising pop star back in Manila, now working as a luggage handler at San Francisco airport—and others of their generation struggled with setbacks amid mounting instability that seemed to keep prosperity ever out of reach, he wondered whether their decision to abandon a middle-class existence in the Philippines had been worth the cost.
Tracing his family’s history through the region’s unique geopolitical roots in Spanish colonialism, American intervention, and Japanese occupation, Samaha fits their arc into the wider story of global migration as determined by chess moves among superpowers. Ambitious, intimate, and incisive, Concepcion explores what it might mean to reckon with the unjust legacy of imperialism, to live with contradiction and hope, to fight for the unrealized ideals of an inherited homeland.
In this extraordinary memoir from BuzzFeed News editor Samaha (Never Ran, Never Will), the history of his Filipino forebears serves as an evocative window into global issues of immigration and American imperialism. The Concepcion family's three-decade effort starting in the late 1940s to bring relatives from the Philippines to San Francisco as part of the United States' "fourth largest diaspora" meant abandoning lives of privilege and even fame to live "eleven people packed into... five rooms." Their motivations are revealed through family anecdotes, extensive reportage, and historical records, skillfully mined by Samaha, of the subjugation of the islands, first under Spanish rule, and later as an American territory. "To be conquered is to shrink from existence," Samaha states, yet larger-than-life characters emerge from the narrative including his great aunt Caridad, a WWII veteran; Uncle Spanky, a rock star turned SFO airport baggage handler; and great uncle Tomas, whose appearance in Fellini films launched an art career. As Samaha explores "the cost of my comfort," he reckons with a legacy that's both benefited and burdened him and other first-generation immigrants, who've been tasked to navigate structures of "American injustice" while ensuring their parents' "sacrifice isn't wasted." The result renders an extraordinary look at the freedoms and perils of making a new life in America. Agent: David Patterson, Stuart Krichevsky Literary.