Book Review: The Immigrant Advantage

"Do you have a relative or friend who would wait on you, hand and foot, for a full month after you had a baby?"

Why yes, I do.  My grandfather stayed with me (and waited on me) for La Cuarentena when my first two children were born.   In the Mexican culture, La Cuarentena is the 40-day period after a woman gives birth.  It is believed that during this 40-day period, both mother and child are at their most vulnerable and need to be taken care of.  It's usually another woman who looks after the new mother and baby.  But my grandmother was unable to do so because of her Alzheimer's, so my grandpa gladly stepped in and took care of all of us, including Hubby.  When I moved to Mexico, my suegra and sister-in-laws, were the ones to take care of me when I gave birth to my youngest children.

The Mexican Cuarentena is just one many customs and traditions that are covered in The Immigrant Advantage by Claudia Kolker.  

The Immigrant Advantage takes you all over the globe to places like China, Jamaica, West India and South Asia to examine the very customs and traditions immigrants from those countries still practice even though they now live in the United States and what we can learn from them.   Customs such as:

  • The Vietnamese Money Club
  • South Asian Assisted Marriage
  • Korean and Chinese Afterschools
  • West Indian Multigenerational Housholds
  • Barrio Stoops, Sidewalks and Shops
  • Vietnamese Monthly Rice 
As I read the book, I was delighted to discover the similarities between the customs practiced in other parts of the world and the customs practiced here in Mexico.  Like the Vietnamese Money Club covered in Chapter 2.  In Mexico, we call them tandas or cundinas.  

Chapter 6 about How to Be a Good Neighbor, could very well have been written in my barrio.  As neighbors, we watch out for each other and offer a helping hand when needed.  We set out chairs on the sidewalk every afternoon to people watch and/or catch up on local chisme (gossip) with our vecinos, while watching the neighborhood kids all play futbol in the street or get their faces painted for Halloween.  Not to mention the multiple trips to La Tiendita.  Like Camila, the 13 year old Mexican girl, la tiendita was one of the things I missed most during my last visit the U.S. 

What I enjoyed most about this book is that it reminded me how important it is to pass on to my kiddies the customs and traditions of both their Mexican and American cultures.   

Have a question for the author? Feel free to ask it in comments as she’ll be by to answer you!

About the author:
Claudia Kolker has reported extensively from Mexico and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, Japan, India and Pakistan. A former Los Angeles Times bureau chief and member of the Houston Chronicle editorial board, she has also written for The Economist, The Washington PostThe Boston GlobeO: The Oprah Magazine,Slate, and Salon. She lives in Houston with her family.  For The Immigrant Advantage, Kolker visited Korean and Chinese afterschools, West Indian multigenerational households in New Jersey, and Chicago’s “Little Village,” among others. 
Book Tour Dates & Locations:
Monday, October 24, 2011: Juan of Words -, October 25, 2011: Voto Latino -, October 26, 2011: Spanglish Baby -, October 27, 2011: Latinaish -  Friday, October 28, 2011: TikiTiki Blog -, November 1, 2011: Chicano Soul -, November 2, 2011: Motherhood in Mexico -, November 3, 2011: Atzlan Reads -, November 4, 2011: Multicultural Familia -

About the book:
The Immigrant Advantage is a fascinating look into the lives of immigrant enclaves in the United States that we so seldom gain access to, and an inspiring exploration about how these customs can enrich our own lives.  You may purchase a copy of this book at 

FTC Disclosure: Motherhood in Mexico received a free copy of the book from the author as part of a Simon & Schuster Book Tour. Motherhood in Mexico was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own.


  1. I NEED to read this book.  
    And about La Cuarentena, my husband is from El Salvador, but they do kind of the same thing.  He's been pushing the issue so I'll let his Grandma come stay with us when we have our second baby, and I've been really reluctant.  I guess I didn't realize it was such a big deal.

  2. Hi Leslie! The book "sounds" very interesting. Would love to learn more about these cultures - sometimes en el corre del dia we tend to forget about some of these very important and helpful costumbres. Thanks for stopping by my blog :)

  3. One of the great pieces of advice I got for an American-style cuarentena is to surround yourself with people you really trust and with whom you feel relaxed. This is no time to be a dutiful hostess! And as Leslie noted in her lovely post, it doesn't always have to be a mother, grandmother, or for that matter even a woman.

  4. Wow your site upgrade is beautiful. I like it better. I'm popping by as my 2nd year anniversary blog party is tomorrow. Hope to see you there.

  5. When I lived in the New Orleans area, I learned to respect the Vietnamese immigrants who chose to settle there. Many were ostracized, and they left for more accepting places such as California. But I learned that they had a lot to offer out communities, like the value of education, honoring your parents, and working hard. I also find Vietnamese food is better and healthier than the traditional Chinese fare in American restaurants.