Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

by

Imbolo Mbue

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Behold the Dreamers: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One evening, while Jende and Liomi are having dinner at a restaurant near the 116th Street subway station, Liomi asks if they’re going back to Cameroon. Jende stops eating and puts down his ball of attiéké. Liomi says that he overhead Neni talking about it on the phone to someone. Jende scolds Liomi for listening to his mother’s conversations. Beside them, a bald man eating thiebou djeun pauses to observe their tense exchange. Jende sets his clenched fists on the table and says that the family is never going back to Cameroon.
Liomi’s innocent question infuriates Jende because it seems like an admission of his defeat. Though Jende wants Liomi to feel that he will soon be an American and resents the implication that they’ll be going back home, Jende has maintained the boy’s connection to Cameroon through food. Most of the food that Liomi eats at home and at restaurants is that of his country.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Back at the apartment, Jende calls Neni and scolds her for exposing Liomi to their pain. Neni says that she didn’t know Liomi was listening. Jende tells Neni that all she needs to know is when to shut her mouth. She insists that Liomi should be prepared for the possibility of returning home, but Jende screams that a child shouldn’t know about his father’s possible deportation. He goes on to say that Bubakar has promised that they can be in the country for years and that anything can happen. Neni apologizes for making Jende feel bad. He insists that he will get a green card. Though he’s afraid, he tells her that they have to be strong for Liomi. Neni insists that she won’t talk about it again and asks Jende to end the conversation because of what Bubakar said about “the government listening.”
Jende wants to maintain his dream of staying in the United States and becoming a citizen. The boy’s innocent unawareness of his father’s struggles and immersion into the life of his country give Jende hope that he, too, can experience life as an American as Liomi does. Neni’s choice to break Liomi’s illusion by exposing him to the reality is an affront to Jende’s hope. Later in the novel, there will be a reversal of their positions. In addition to giving Jende bad legal advice, he also seems to be instilling him with conspiracy theories.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
The next evening, Jende and Liomi go to a classical music concert in St. Nicholas Park and listen to a blind pianist play a tune so sad that it makes Jende tear up. The following afternoon, he takes Jende for a swim at the public pool in East Harlem. Jende shows Liomi how he and Winston used to swim at Down Beach back in Limbe. That night, they sleep in the same bed, as usual. Though Jende isn’t a religious man, he says a lengthy prayer that night for his son, that Liomi will live “a long happy life.”
Jende tries to expose his son to as many of New York’s cultural offerings, which are still numerous for those who don’t have a lot of income. Even at the city pool, it conjures nostalgia for his own childhood and tries to bestow some of those experiences to Liomi. Jende wants Liomi to be connected to his heritage but he also wants him to lead a richer life.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
Parental Expectations vs. Personal Ambitions Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon