America has never been a white country, despite what some steely-eyed country club types might tell you. Sure, all of its founding fathers were white, as were its captains of industry and its first 43 presidents, but just because white people have owned and controlled most of America for all of its history, that doesn’t make it a white country. After all, the African slaves owned and controlled by white slave masters were no more white because of it.

It seems almost redundant to state at this point, but the United States is a multicultural nation of immigrants. While we can argue over what kind of country the founders believed they were founding over 200 years ago, one thing appears certain: Franklin, Jefferson, Adams and Madison envisioned a cosmopolitan nation which pales in comparison to the one we’re living in now, one that’ll become more and more diverse in the following decades.

A black president isn’t even the half of it.

For the non-immigrant and umpteenth-generation American, Immigrant Voices, a new collection of short stories compiled and edited by Achy Obejas and Megan Bayles, offers a rare peek into the world of the newcomer. For immigrants and second- or third-generation Americans, the book acts as a mirror, or at least a glimpse into the recent past.

The anthology is divided in three parts — “Coming Over,” “Being Here” and “Coming Back” — and features works from some of the leading storytellers of the past few decades, people like Edwidge Danticat, Daniel Alarcón, Yiyun Li and Junot Díaz. It also showcases a few relatively unknown authors, whose works nonetheless demonstrate as much depth and vividness as anything presented by the more established writers.

In the end, what you get is an appreciation of each voice and each story, in community with the others, as one expression of a manifold immigrant experience.

Initially I thought a collection of immigrant stories compiled by a well-known writer of Latino descent, as Obejas is, would present Latino immigrant stories almost exclusively, if not completely so. Obejas herself is a habanera émigré, and given the increasing attention directed toward America’s Latino immigrant population, you could expect a short story collection on Latino immigrant stories to do very well.

I’m glad Obejas and Bayles opted to use the broader, more accurate definition for the word immigrant.

Immigrant narratives essentially deal with the interplay between the outside and the inside, between over there and over here. In this collection you’ll of course find stories dealing with the two great -tions of the immigrant experience — marginalization and assimilation — but you’ll also discover much more. At the heart of Immigrant Voices is a discussion on what it means to be in America and how not being from America gives one unique insight on the issue.

Despite how politicized the word immigrant has become in contemporary America — or maybe it’s always been that way — the stories presented are not political as much as they are social. It’s not that immigration and the people who engage in it are good or bad; immigration is an American reality, and immigrants are typical human beings.

Yet, if anything, Immigrant Voices offers a set of testimonials on what it means to be American, and, notwithstanding its black-and-white cover, the stories contained within these pages attest to the gray ambiguity attending an American life.

For me the standout contributions come from the Iranian-American Porochista Khakpour, the Dominican-American Junot Díaz (whose story I’d first read in This Is How You Lose Her), the Nigerian Sefi Atta, the Chinese-American Yiyun Li, the Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat, the Puerto Rican Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes and the Mexican-American Pablo Helguera.

Each story, however, is well worth a read, as each has something to offer our understanding of this country, of being here, of memory, of learning and of transformation.

I’m indescribably grateful to Obejas and Bayles for putting together such a book, filled with such important stories written by so many masterful authors, authors whose works I’ll be seeking out for months and years to come. Immigrant Voices will sit proudly on my bookshelf in the meantime — when I’m not revisiting it or lending it out, of course.

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