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Concepcion: An Immigrant Family's Fortunes

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"Absolutely extraordinary...A landmark in the contemporary literature of the diaspora." --Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror A journalist's powerful and incisive account of the forces steering the fate of his sprawling Filipino American family reframes how we comprehend the immigrant experience Nearing the age at which his mother had migrated to the US, part of the w "Absolutely extraordinary...A landmark in the contemporary literature of the diaspora." --Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror A journalist's powerful and incisive account of the forces steering the fate of his sprawling Filipino American family 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.


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"Absolutely extraordinary...A landmark in the contemporary literature of the diaspora." --Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror A journalist's powerful and incisive account of the forces steering the fate of his sprawling Filipino American family reframes how we comprehend the immigrant experience Nearing the age at which his mother had migrated to the US, part of the w "Absolutely extraordinary...A landmark in the contemporary literature of the diaspora." --Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror A journalist's powerful and incisive account of the forces steering the fate of his sprawling Filipino American family 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.

30 review for Concepcion: An Immigrant Family's Fortunes

  1. 5 out of 5

    Umar Lee

    You can really separate this book into three parts. Part one The story about Samaha's Filipino family and their triumphs and struggles in the Bay Area and Sacramento. In America they've given up a privileged existence in the Phillipines for a shot at something greater like millions of others from around the globe since the immigration reform of the 1960's. Like many in his generation, and most in the future, this is largely a suburban tale. This part of the book I found very interesting and wish You can really separate this book into three parts. Part one The story about Samaha's Filipino family and their triumphs and struggles in the Bay Area and Sacramento. In America they've given up a privileged existence in the Phillipines for a shot at something greater like millions of others from around the globe since the immigration reform of the 1960's. Like many in his generation, and most in the future, this is largely a suburban tale. This part of the book I found very interesting and wish there would've been more of it. I was particularly interested in his Trump-supporting devoutly Catholic mother and his uncle who was a rock star in the Phillipines, but now a seasoned baggage handler in San Francisco. This book was written for the white progressive gaze and if nothing else gives some insight into Filipino history, the struggles of Filipino immigrants, the politics and economy of the Phillipines, and the dilemma of contract workers in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other places (where, along with Indonesians, many Filipinos toil in slave-like conditions). Samaha didn't discuss his largely absentee, but financially supportive, Lebanese father, much until he gives us a very superficial account of meeting his half-sisters on a New England road trip. These are the children of a wealthy man who owns American power plants which is a super woke profession and I'm sure he is heavily invested in minimizing the carbon footprint of the family. His sisters, who come from a country dominated by Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Christian and other clan militias, and the foreign influence of Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran, are positively mortified to see Trump signs. It must've been triggering to see MAGA hats instead of the giant banners of Hasan Nasrallah, Ayatollah Khamenei, and Bashar al-Asad, that can be found in Beirut. Part Two The second part of this book is history and basically read like the Wiki version of a Howard Zinn book. Instead of a sophisticated outlook of the world in which there are numerous bad actors with sinister motivations, the US being only one of them, this is a telling of history of the 20th Century in which all bad emanates from the US. Glossed over, or not mentioned at all, are the Cambodian Genocide of the Khmer Rouge, the massacare of Muslim minorities in communist Vietnam, and the campaign of violence against rural Muslims in Indonesia by communist rebels, and many more things. This is the kind of logic that led much of progressive Twitter to go into mourning after the killing of Qasim Soleimani, despite his direct role in the creation of death squads that have terrorized civilians in Iraq and Syria including Palestinian refugees. I was happy to see near the end of the book the author traveled to the Phillipines and discovered many miss the dictatorship of Marcos just as many in Indonesia miss the rule of Suharto. In both cases liberal democracy hasn't delivered what people really want- economic stability and mobility, safety, and a rising standard of living. Instead, in both countries, you've seen the rise of a corrupt and rigged economy favoring the few and heavily dependent on foreign loans. Part three The third part of this book is political and deals heavily with racial and identity politics. When I read these parts I immediately knew Samaha was living in Brooklyn. Brooklyn- where the children of white millionaires meet in coffee shops to discuss abolitionism while the NYPD is harassing Black males outside, where newer white residents move into buildings Black and Latino residents have been priced out of, and then put a Black Lives Matter sign up in the window. This is where modern popular progressive racial dogma runs deep. With his presence in Brooklyn Samaha performs a needed role. While gentrification is an overwhelmingly white phenomenon they are often self conscious about this so are eager to welcome a sprinkling of non whites who can give these settings an appearance of diversity. To fulfill this role the non-white person must be of the same high educational and economic class as the white majority and share their brand of progressive politics. People such as Samaha are actually ideal political candidates for these urban political groups to get behind. In Brooklyn, or the Bay, Samaha can be part of a "POC" or "BIPOC" coalition that is presented as monolithic. The daughter of the deposed Afghan president, who strolled out of the country with $145 million in cash, is living in Brooklyn and in her own words is "Brooklyn cliche" pursuing an "artistic bohemian lifestyle" There she is joined by the children of wealthy American Suburbs and other international rich kids who have sent Black residents packing to the suburbs of Atlanta and Charlotte and Latino residents packing to the suburbs of Miami and Orlando. The Afghan bohemian, under this popular narrative, is one with the Central American migrant working for cash and the Colombian sex worker. It's fitting this week a video in Canada went viral of a wealthy Iranian woman going on a racist tirade against Filipina workers. As a guy who grew-up in working-class California neighborhoods, Samaha knows damn well this is a more accurate glimpse of relations between groups than anything some trust fund hipster is yapping about at a craft brewery. Samaha dedicates an entire chapter to his playing football. I also played football (and wrestled, boxed, and played baseball) so I was interested in this chapter even though I knew it would probably be awful. It was. Samaha told some familiar football tales before going into a woke diatribe about how football is uniquely American because you fight for and defend territory. I'm not sure what history Samaha studied, but that's pretty much what everyone has been doing since the beginning of recorded history. The real reason for this chapter was an origin story and coming of age. He was saying I once played and enjoyed football like the filthy suburban breeders driving their SUV's and former Black Brooklyn residents, but now I've seen the light, I apologize for my sins, and please baptize me with soy latte and let me eat from thine holy bread oh Brooklyn hipsters (avocado toast). After reading the football part I said to myself- "this guy is not cool". Samaha redeemed himself in my eyes after acknowledging he was a huge fan of Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao and it was this interest that rekindled his search for roots and a trip back to the homeland. I'm also a huge Pacquiao fan. After further research I discovered that Samaha began his writing career in my hometown of St. Louis writing for a publication I have a couple of bylines in. When I looked up an article he'd written on boxing I was in the background of a photo at a local gym. Small world. Samaha closes with his mother upset that she'd thought her American flag had been torn down in California. He tells her that, although she is proud to be an American, now isn't a good time to be hanging a flag because of the political climate and the fact the flag is hateful to many people given its symbolism. I'm not a flag waiver or a fan of flags; but I think we all know, especially after ample video evidence from the summer of 2020, if that flag would've been torn down it wouldn't have been by Black or Latino kids- it would've been the actions of young white hipsters on a mission of performative adventure. Conclusion This book is a 3.5. I think this could've been a great book had he stuck to the family story and tales of the Filipino diaspora. Samaha is a very strong and talented writer. In this book he both tried to do too much and when it came to history and politics was cliche and generic not challenging the reader. I often ask myself why are people still coming to America? This appears to be an empire in decline with the best days behind us. The rights for the working-class are minimal and the level of violence in our cities is akin to that of war zones. Then I talk to immigrants, I see their children prosper, and talk to people overseas whose dream it is to come to America. They tell me their problems and I see why they want to come to this very flawed land. In the end Samaha came to the basic conclusion I have- every place pretty much sucks for some reason or another, but for many people, aspiring immigrants included, America may be the place that sucks the least. These new waves of immigrants are eroding old racial lines and creating a complicated, but dynamic and sometimes beautiful new America.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    Related so much to the frustration of being the kid of immigrants watching one of your parents wholeheartedly get sucked into the world of Trump worship and conspiracy theories.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lina Fernandez

    Really interesting book. I found the writing style uneven and lacking in a larger narrative structure, and often felt like the author got caught up in random retellings that didn’t add to the story, but his exploration of the difference between what America means for immigrants and their American-born kids hit home for me. I related to his ambivalence about the U.S. and whether his family made the right choice in moving here, and found his mom’s incredible, unfailing belief in the U.S. familiar i Really interesting book. I found the writing style uneven and lacking in a larger narrative structure, and often felt like the author got caught up in random retellings that didn’t add to the story, but his exploration of the difference between what America means for immigrants and their American-born kids hit home for me. I related to his ambivalence about the U.S. and whether his family made the right choice in moving here, and found his mom’s incredible, unfailing belief in the U.S. familiar in my own immigrant family. What does it mean to critique the place your family sacrificed to reach, believing it to be the promise of a bright future for you? What must it feel like to dedicate your life to providing something for your child that they never asked for and perhaps would not have wanted? I know from experience what it is to be the skeptical, unpatriotic daughter of an all-in-for-America immigrant family, but this book allowed me the room to try to see things from my parents’ and grandparents’ perspectives, even as I continue to disagree with them about the merits of this place we’ve all ended up. I wish he had spent more time exploring his mother’s devolution into conservatism, as this is something I’ve seen in my dad and heard from friend’s is also common with their immigrant parents. This book left me with a lot to think about.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mam

    Parts of this book were fascinating; parts of this book were not. I was very interested in the subject, because I had a dear friend whose father was Filipino. She had some experiences with racial prejudice, some questions about her identity (which box to check?!), and the ability to fit in no matter what the setting. I'm glad I had the chance to read the book. It did bring some understanding about a population about which I had read very little. Parts of this book were fascinating; parts of this book were not. I was very interested in the subject, because I had a dear friend whose father was Filipino. She had some experiences with racial prejudice, some questions about her identity (which box to check?!), and the ability to fit in no matter what the setting. I'm glad I had the chance to read the book. It did bring some understanding about a population about which I had read very little.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Don't get me wrong, at times this novel can get lengthy and the family tree is a large one to follow. And yet, it feels natural to call this one of the best reads I've ever experienced. Albert Samaha boldly shares his family's long-history of adaptation to colonial powers throughout Philippine history. Samaha places you in his shoes; readers come to understand history through the primal focus of Filipino culture: family. Is there no better way to truly root yourself in the history of the world, Don't get me wrong, at times this novel can get lengthy and the family tree is a large one to follow. And yet, it feels natural to call this one of the best reads I've ever experienced. Albert Samaha boldly shares his family's long-history of adaptation to colonial powers throughout Philippine history. Samaha places you in his shoes; readers come to understand history through the primal focus of Filipino culture: family. Is there no better way to truly root yourself in the history of the world, other than by seeing it through the eyes of those who've come before you? History is always told by its victors. But in this case, history is told by a mother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and a massive extended family spanning across multiple continents and oceans. This is such a special tale that not only belongs in ethnic studies courses, but should become a classic staple in American Literature classes. To apply investigative journalism skills to one's own family is a special ability; and this novel can serve as a guide for those interested in doing the same.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Czarina Ramos

    It's hard to convey how much I'm grateful that this book exists, in the way that it brings a little more clarity to my own existence. It's hard to convey how much I'm grateful that this book exists, in the way that it brings a little more clarity to my own existence.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This is the kind of book I love, but I understand why it wouldn't be five stars for everyone. For me, super interesting content, plus a writing style that I really admire. I loved learning about history that I was completely unaware of. About the Philippines. About Vallejo, CA. Etc. I loved this family, even when I had a hard time keeping track of who was whose sibling and whose cousin, etc. He describes early arrivals in the US as establishing beachheads or outposts; big multi-generational family This is the kind of book I love, but I understand why it wouldn't be five stars for everyone. For me, super interesting content, plus a writing style that I really admire. I loved learning about history that I was completely unaware of. About the Philippines. About Vallejo, CA. Etc. I loved this family, even when I had a hard time keeping track of who was whose sibling and whose cousin, etc. He describes early arrivals in the US as establishing beachheads or outposts; big multi-generational family gatherings with the grown-ups standing around the rice cooker talking about their next moves; all the different jobs and commutes relatives had in the San Francisco area and how they helped each other out with living arrangements, etc. It's a team effort, which ties in so well with his reflections on US football. In particular, I enjoyed his portrayal of his mother, even though the two of them see the United States and all that it promises so differently. At the same time that he raises concerns about her drift into MAGA world, he obviously loves and respects her. A lot of his inner struggle is figuring out whether his family fully appreciated what they were facing when they left the Philippines for the US, what life would have been like if they hadn't, what his identity as half-Filipino American means. Lots of politics in this book. If you liked Wilkerson's approach in Caste, you'll like his similar approach. At one point, he brilliantly analyzes football, the kind that isn't played anywhere except the US, and how it displays some of the best and worst of the US mindset.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jea Canizares

    The heart of “Concepcion” is the story of Samaha’s mother (Concepcion is the family’s surname on his maternal side), who came to the U.S. and raised the author in relative middle-class privilege in Vallejo, only to have the financial meltdown of 2008 trigger an economic backslide from which she hasn’t recovered. By 2020, she’s pawning off her jewelry and drifting from one itinerant job to the next. But her faith in the American dream never wavers, nor does her support for Trump and her belief in The heart of “Concepcion” is the story of Samaha’s mother (Concepcion is the family’s surname on his maternal side), who came to the U.S. and raised the author in relative middle-class privilege in Vallejo, only to have the financial meltdown of 2008 trigger an economic backslide from which she hasn’t recovered. By 2020, she’s pawning off her jewelry and drifting from one itinerant job to the next. But her faith in the American dream never wavers, nor does her support for Trump and her belief in the assorted right-wing conspiracies associated with him. Samaha’s narrative jumps in time and between family members; at times, it’s disorienting, but it serves well his greater storytelling purposes. The narrative shines when Samaha details the life of his grandmother, who stayed with various relatives at different points in time, redefining the meaning of home. The beauty of memoir is not so much in the author's revelation of universal emotions and sentiments, but in the locality of instances with which the reader can associate his own memories. For us Filipinos in the Diaspora, these memories are part of a cultural archive. Names and places are particularly relevant and carry a lot of weight. The archive is a tool box for survival in foreign lands.  I was relieved that Concepcion is neither a make-me-feel-good memoir or a self-promotion of a prominent family.  Samaha maintains a tone of humility, positivity, possibilities, and wonderment even though in the immigration game, a bad hand had been dealt to his family, and by extension, the Filipino people.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    More than a personal memoir, this is an insightful and informative look at the Filipino diaspora in the US through the stories of Samaha's relatives and friends. His family was privileged in the Philippines but not so in the US. They began to immigrate in the 1960s but the rise of Ferdinand Marcos escalated their departures. Samaha, who moved to the US with his mother in the mid 1990s, found life not only vastly different but also confusing as he struggled with racial identity, among other thing More than a personal memoir, this is an insightful and informative look at the Filipino diaspora in the US through the stories of Samaha's relatives and friends. His family was privileged in the Philippines but not so in the US. They began to immigrate in the 1960s but the rise of Ferdinand Marcos escalated their departures. Samaha, who moved to the US with his mother in the mid 1990s, found life not only vastly different but also confusing as he struggled with racial identity, among other things. While the stories of his relatives are fascinating, equally interesting is his look at the how the colonization of the Philippines by a series of countries - Spain, the US, Japan- has impacted its people and their view of their place in the world. While incredibly well researched, more importantly, it's a uniquely personal look at a big issue. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. Great read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Richard Snow

    Traces the Filipino diaspora through the life of the author's family, with occasional glimpses of the history that begat today's Philippines. A bit of a coming of age story, mixed with social criticism and a framing of the American business interests in the country, and how that has affected the nation today. The book is well written overall, though I found myself dragging a bit in the last few chapters. Traces the Filipino diaspora through the life of the author's family, with occasional glimpses of the history that begat today's Philippines. A bit of a coming of age story, mixed with social criticism and a framing of the American business interests in the country, and how that has affected the nation today. The book is well written overall, though I found myself dragging a bit in the last few chapters.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bruin Mccon

    This book was full of both personal stories and history most Americans didn’t learn in school—that of the Philippines. It helped me to understand many things that I’d heard about in different ways but had never been able to connect. The author’s story of the dreams of his mother for his life—and how she has changed in the United States—was fascinating.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Carly Thompson

    Memoir/biography about the author's mother's family as well as a history of the Phillippines. Very interesting and informative. I liked learning about the history and the struggles of the generation that immigrated. I was less interested in the author's teenage years and his football playing. Readers who like immigrant stories and initmate histories will enjoy this. Memoir/biography about the author's mother's family as well as a history of the Phillippines. Very interesting and informative. I liked learning about the history and the struggles of the generation that immigrated. I was less interested in the author's teenage years and his football playing. Readers who like immigrant stories and initmate histories will enjoy this.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amethyst

    This is one of my favorite books of the year so far because I feel emotionally connected to it. It explores identity, family, immigration, and the intersecting legacies of global colonization and America’s racial caste system. Albert Samaha has said, “It’s a story about immigrant optimism crashing into American reality through the journey of my family”. In Concepcion, he tackles questions I have been wrestling with more in the past few years: Were the sacrifices of our elders to live in the US w This is one of my favorite books of the year so far because I feel emotionally connected to it. It explores identity, family, immigration, and the intersecting legacies of global colonization and America’s racial caste system. Albert Samaha has said, “It’s a story about immigrant optimism crashing into American reality through the journey of my family”. In Concepcion, he tackles questions I have been wrestling with more in the past few years: Were the sacrifices of our elders to live in the US worth it? How would my life look if I were raised in the Philippines? Why is Duterte so popular amongst Filipinos? How will our decisions shape the next generation? This is a book that will stay with me and I plan to pass it on to my daughter to read one day. I can tell a lot of research, time, love, and care went into it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Bair

    A fascinating story, tracing the Concepcion family, Philippine and Filipino-American history.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rose Brooks

    Not an easy book to read. While ostensibly a family biography, it is densely filled with historical facts about the Philippines, and the effects of both Spanish and American colonialism.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Y’all, I wanted so much to love this book. Based on the synopsis it sounded right up my alley. But I found the writing really all over the place and the pacing was way too slow.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    A Filipino family.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Abby Pajar

    This story felt like my own. Loved it

  19. 5 out of 5

    Juliet

    Comprehensive and a delight.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    The writing is good and I liked the interaction of family memoir with political world history but ultimately it was far too long and I skimmed over huge sections of this almost-400 page tome.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Shelly

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bob Mcmullen

  23. 5 out of 5

    Candy

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dan Thalkar

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Bautista

  26. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ciara

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lea

  29. 4 out of 5

    Julia Indivero

  30. 5 out of 5

    Liza Ly

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