The best books about migrant workers

5 authors have picked their favorite books about migrant workers and why they recommend each book.

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Esperanza Rising

By Pam Muñoz Ryan,

Book cover of Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising is a story that takes place after the Mexican Revolution. Esperanza and her mother must flee Mexico, and they go to California. Esperanza and her mother were wealthy in Mexico, so they are not used to the hard work they must now do. She and her mother struggle as farmworkers in California. I recommend it as a great middle-grade read that gives readers an understanding of the difficulties many migrant families faced.

Who am I?

My family came to the United States as undocumented immigrants from Guatemala. There is a lot of negative rhetoric being shared about undocumented immigrants. There are many reasons why people make the impossible decision to leave their native countries and travel to the United States. Reading books about these experiences creates empathy, compassion, and understanding.


I wrote...

Where I Belong

By Marcia Argueta Mickelson,

Book cover of Where I Belong

What is my book about?

Guatemalan American high school senior Milagros “Millie” Vargas has lived in Texas ever since her parents sought asylum there when she was a baby. Millie devotes herself to school and caring for her younger siblings while her mom works as a housekeeper for the wealthy Wheeler family.

Mr. Wheeler, a U.S. Senate candidate, mentions Millie’s achievements in a campaign speech about “deserving” immigrants. It doesn’t take long for people to identify Millie’s family and place them at the center of a statewide immigration debate. Faced with journalists, trolls, anonymous threats, and the Wheelers’ good intentions—especially those of Mr. Wheeler’s son, Charlie—Millie must confront the complexity of her past, the uncertainty of her future, and her place in the country that she believed was home.

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote

By Duncan Tonatiuh,

Book cover of Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant's Tale

I like this book because is written as a fairy tale, but the story describes the real journey at the Mexican/ US border. A young rabbit named Pancho eagerly awaits his papa’s return. Papa Rabbit left two years ago to travel far away north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields to earn money for his family. When Papa does not return home on the designated day, Pancho sets out to find him and heads north.


Who am I?

The topic of immigration is deeply in my heart because I am an immigrant myself. I came from El Salvador to the United States when I was 14 years old. Now, I am a teacher in an elementary school. Most of my students are immigrants or children of immigrants. Children and families immigrate around the world looking for better opportunities. These books were written by immigrant authors or authors who had lived closely with immigrants. The stories are real and describe the authentic journey, and experiences of children and families traveling from their native countries to the United States.


I wrote...

Mamá the Alien / Mamá La Extraterrestre

By Rene Colato Lainez, Laura Lacámara (illustrator),

Book cover of Mamá the Alien / Mamá La Extraterrestre

What is my book about?

When Mamá’s purse falls on the floor, Sofia gets a peek at Mamá’s old Resident Alien card and comes to the conclusion that Mamá might be an alien from outer space. Sofia heads to the library to learn more about aliens. Some are small and some are tall. Some have four fingers on each hand and some have large, round eyes. Their skin can be gray or blue or green. But Mamá looks like a human mother! Could she really be an alien? Filled with imagination and humor, this title is a sweet and timely celebration of family, no matter where that family comes from. Even if it’s outer space!

A Seventh Man

By John Berger,

Book cover of A Seventh Man

Berger published this in 1975 at a time when Turkish, Greek, and Portuguese guest workers were arriving in Western Europe, having been recruited by employers to fill vacancies in factories during the years of sustained economic growth. Berger succeeds in humanising these workers, helped by photos taken by his long-term collaborator, the Swiss photographer Jean Mohr. Berger could not anticipate that these young men would later be joined by their families and put down roots. His book speaks of adventure and opportunity, but also of exploitation and humiliation. Numerous memorable vignettes stick in my mind, including his observation about migrant workers from Portugal, governed by the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar:

Before leaving they had their photographs taken. They tore the photograph in half, giving one half to their ‘guide’ and keeping the other themselves. When they reached France, they sent their half of the photograph back to their…


Who am I?

I am interested in the history of people on the move, and in particular how migrants and refugees negotiated the upheavals of war and revolution in the 20th century. Originally, I turned to these topics as a specialist in Russian history, but I have since broadened my perspective to consider the causes and consequences of mass population displacement in other parts of the world. I have just retired from the History faculty at the University of Manchester, where I taught since 1976. In 2019 I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences.


I wrote...

The Unsettling of Europe: How Migration Reshaped a Continent

By Peter Gatrell,

Book cover of The Unsettling of Europe: How Migration Reshaped a Continent

What is my book about?

Migration is perhaps the most pressing issue of our time, and it has completely decentered European politics in recent years. But as we consider the current refugee crisis, acclaimed historian Peter Gatrell reminds us that the history of Europe has always been one of people on the move. The end of World War II left Europe in a state of confusion with many Europeans virtually stateless. Later, as former colonial states gained national independence, colonists and their supporters migrated to often-unwelcoming metropoles. The collapse of communism in 1989 marked another fundamental turning point. 

Nomadland

By Jessica Bruder,

Book cover of Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

This is the best book on the precarity facing American workers today—especially women. Bruder lived it, first in a tent, then in a van, following the itinerant workers of today, many of them older women. She embedded deeply, working in an Amazon warehouse and at the sugar beet harvest in North Dakota, mainstay jobs for these new itinerants. Two of the powerful women Bruder documented ended up appearing in the Oscar-winning film, Nomadland, which was based on the book. 


Who am I?

How I grew up in Ohio informs my work: my raging war-ravaged father dreams of being his own boss; in our basement he grinds steel tools on massive iron machines, a side business after his day job in a factory; as a teen, I begin grinding with him; Dad is hit by a drunk driver and he cannot work for months; I am not old or skilled enough as a machinist to save the business; our mother who drives a school bus feeds our family with charity food. I fear I will grow up to be a blue-collar worker facing all the precarity that comes with this existence.


I wrote...

Fucked at Birth: Recalibrating the American Dream for the 2020s

By Dale Maharidge,

Book cover of Fucked at Birth: Recalibrating the American Dream for the 2020s

What is my book about?

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Dale Maharidge has spent his career documenting the downward spiral of the working class. Poverty is both reality and destiny for increasing numbers of people in the 2020s and, as Maharidge discovers spray-painted inside an abandoned gas station in the California desert at the height of the pandemic, it is a fate often handed down from birth. Motivated by this haunting graffito—“Fucked at Birth”—Maharidge explores the realities of being poor in America in the coming decade, as economic crisis and social revolution up-end the country. Part raw memoir, part dogged, investigative journalism, Fucked At Birth channels the history of poverty in America to help inform the voices Maharidge encounters as a narrative long-form documentarian. 

Luz

By Debra Thomas,

Book cover of Luz

In Debra Thomas’s compassionately rendered Luz, her protagonist’s (Alma) border crossing from Mexico into the United States is relayed in painful, harrowing, and often shocking detail. It is a powerful and, at times, difficult read. Yet an important one. I often forgot that this is a work of fiction, as the story Thomas so deftly portrays is all too common and all too real, especially for a resident of Southern California, which I am. However, it is one filled with hope and determination and the unwavering spirit of a young, passionate girl in search of answers.


Who am I?

I have always been a seeker, fascinated by all cultures, philosophies, and spiritual perspectives. Although the concept is often different—for some, it’s a place of refuge, feeling safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble; for others, it’s a state of being, an inner peace, I’ve found that the search for sanctuary—safe-haven—elsewhere—has ancient roots and contemporary reverberations. My novel, Guesthouse for Ganesha, further heightened my interest in this subject, for my protagonist, Esther Grünspan, both deeply wounded and unsafe, was compelled to seek sanctuary. As a first-time novelist with an 18-year journey to publication, I fully immersed myself in this topic’s study and comprehension.


I wrote...

Guesthouse for Ganesha

By Judith Teitelman,

Book cover of Guesthouse for Ganesha

What is my book about?

Weaving Eastern beliefs and perspectives with Western realities and pragmatism, Guesthouse for Ganesha is a tale of love, loss, and spirit reclaimed.

In 1923, 17-year-old Esther Grünspan arrives in Köln “with a hardened heart as her sole luggage,” Thus begins a 22-year journey, woven against the backdrops of the European Holocaust and Hindu Kali Yuga (“Age of Darkness”), in search of sanctuary. Throughout her travails, Esther relies on her masterful tailoring skills to help mask her Jewish heritage, navigate war-torn Europe, and emigrate to India. Her traveling companion and the novel’s narrator is Ganesha, the beloved elephant-headed Hindu God. Impressed by Esther’s fortitude and relentless determination, born of her deep―though unconscious―understanding of the meaning of love, Ganesha conveys her journey with compassion, insight, and poetry.

Dolores Huerta

By Sarah Warren, Robert Casilla (illustrator),

Book cover of Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers

I have long been a fan of stories about courageous women and I love it when I discover a book for young readers that brings to life an inspiring story of someone they may not know well (or at all). That’s exactly what Warren does in this book about Delores Huerta. The text works well for even the youngest readers. It promotes empathy by describing the poor living conditions of migrant children and their parents. Its themes are as relevant today as they were in Delores’ time. We need to care, we need to stand up for others, we need to be fair. It’s beautifully illustrated, too.


Who am I?

I am drawn to stories of women who display a fighting spirit, faith in themselves, and the drive to help others. Perhaps this is due to growing up during the women’s rights movement. So many women paved the way for me. Perhaps it was my upbringing. I was raised with six siblings - three brothers and three sisters – and my parents never thought that my sisters and I couldn’t do something just because we were girls. Combine these experiences with the fact that I love history and you can see why I love these stories. Now I get to write and share stories like these with young readers. Lucky me!


I wrote...

Headstrong Hallie!: The Story of Hallie Morse Daggett, the First Female Fire Guard

By Aimee Bissonette, David Hohn (illustrator),

Book cover of Headstrong Hallie!: The Story of Hallie Morse Daggett, the First Female Fire Guard

What is my book about?

Hallie Morse Daggett loved spending time outdoors among the forests in California’s Siskiyou Mountains. She wasn’t afraid of the bears, coyotes, and wildcats. But Hallie was afraid of fire and understood the threat it posed to the forests, wildlife, and people. She wanted to protect her beloved outdoors and decided she would work for the US Forest Service. But in the 1880s the Forest Service didn’t hire women, thinking they couldn’t handle the physical challenges of the work or the isolation. But the Forest Service didn’t know Hallie or how determined she could be.

This picture-book biography tells the story of Hallie Morse Daggett, the first woman “fire guard” hired by the US Forest Service, whose hard work and dedication led the way for other women to join the Forest Service.

Live Camp Work

By Sharee Collier,

Book cover of Live Camp Work: How to Make Money While Living in an RV and Travel Full-Time, Plus 1000+ Employers Who Hire RVers

Finding a way to make money is the biggest hurdle to full-time travel. Most of our RVing friends have tried work camping at some point. It can be a great way to save money or stay in awesome places for extended periods of time, like national parks. In this book, Sharee shares what work camping is, how to find jobs, and 1000+ employers you can contact for work camping gigs. This is a great resource for anyone starting full-time life, but needs to save a little extra money each month by saving on camping fees.


Who am I?

In 2014, Alyssa Padgett convinced her husband Heath to take her to all 50 states for their honeymoon. Somehow he tricked her into doing it all in an RV. They’ve lived and traveled in an RV ever since. With her husband, Alyssa runs The RV Entrepreneur Podcast, a resource for anyone who wants to run a business while RVing.


I wrote...

A Beginner's Guide to Living in an RV: Everything I Wish I Knew Before Full-Time RVing Across America

By Alyssa Padgett,

Book cover of A Beginner's Guide to Living in an RV: Everything I Wish I Knew Before Full-Time RVing Across America

What is my book about?

Both aspirational and practical, Living the RV Life is your ultimate guide to living life on the road—for people of all ages looking to downsize, travel, or work on the go. Learn if life in a motor home is right for you, with insightful details on the experiences of full-time RV-ers, tips for how to choose an RV (how big? new or used?), model costs, sample routes and destinations, basic vehicle maintenance, legal and government considerations—and much more! Written in a light and an easy-to-understand style, Living the RV Life is your bible to living a mobile life.

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