New Book “Far From Their Eyes" Preserves the Histories and Stories of Ohio Immigrants

Anthology of writing and art explores the diversity of immigrants' stories.

Amanda Page
Houleye Thiam’s poem, “My Accent,” is included in “Far From Their Eyes: Ohio Migration Anthology, Volume I."

One reason Hilliard resident Lorena Asadi wanted to contribute to “Far From Their Eyes: Ohio Migration Anthology, Volume I,” was that she felt it was a chance for her and other immigrants to “control the narrative about immigration.” 

That aligns with the goal of editor Lynn Tramonte, a Cleveland-based immigration attorney who also directs the Ohio Immigration Alliance, which published the book in August. “Recounting narratives is how we preserve history, build empathy and teach values to our children,” Tramonte writes in an afterword. “Far From Their Eyes” features work from 16 contributors, three of whom reside in the Columbus area. The essays, poems, paintings and interviews within its covers are each “rooted in at least two worlds,” as Tramonte writes in the preface. 

“Far From Their Eyes: Ohio Migration Anthology, Vol. I” is available from online booksellers. A discussion guide is available at ohioimmigrant.org; book clubs purchasing 10 or more copies may schedule a visit from a contributor. 

Asadi’s poem, titled “1, 2,” begins with an explanation of how her name is often “chopped/mispronounced/misunderstood.” As the poem continues, it explores the ways immigrants often reinvent themselves as a way to grapple with identity shifts that often emerge when one changes locations. Asadi herself is credited in the anthology as Ena Zan, a name she fashioned by shortening her first name, Lorena, and inverting the last syllable of her maiden surname, Vernaz. 

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Asadi struggled with a shifting identity when she moved from Argentina at age 19 to attend college in the United States. When she was living in Argentina, she says, she never thought of herself as Latina or Hispanic because she was part of the majority. When she came to the U.S., she was suddenly in the minority as an immigrant, and was part of a group that “is so diverse, with people who do not look like me. I’m supposed to be a part of this group, but I do not find myself in it.” 

Asadi’s migration story is very different from those of other Columbus-area contributors, who come from the African countries of South Sudan and Mauritania. Immigrants comprise approximately 5 percent of Ohio’s population, and their countries of origin vary as greatly as their reasons for coming to the United States. 

“When we see immigrants on TV or in books, you don’t see the people,” says Houleye Thiam. “You see the headline. You see the problems. In many cases, you don’t see the diversity. They get bulked up in the same story because they are all newcomers.” 

Thiam is a social worker and human rights activist who immigrated from Mauritania and now lives in Blacklick. Her poem, “My Accent,” explores responses to the way she speaks and the dismissiveness she encounters when people tire of trying to understand what she’s saying. She promises those who press on, who ask one more time, that they will get her full story, and that it is a treat worth that effort. 

“I have things that I want Americans to know about me,” Thiam continues. “About what I contribute to this country, about why I’m here, about why I left.”  

This story is from the October 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.