Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

by

Imbolo Mbue

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Behold the Dreamers: Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Three days before Christmas, Natasha sends Neni an email, asking her to stop by Judson Memorial Church so that Natasha can get to know her better. Neni schedules a meeting for the next day and tells Jende nothing about it. In private, Natasha seems more subdued than the fiery preacher who stood at the pulpit a little while before, speaking about revolution. Over tea, they talk about motherhood and marriage. Neni also tells Natasha about Jende’s deportation case. She talks about their argument on Sunday and the shame she would feel if she had to return to Limbe and face a sense of failure that she might never escape. Natasha listens and nods, while Neni cries.
Neni doesn’t tell Jende about the meeting because she suspects, rightly, that he’ll disapprove. It’ll be yet another sign that Neni is learning to manage without him. Natasha is the only female friend Neni has who can offer her a perspective outside of what she knows as a Cameroonian wife and as an immigrant who’s desperate to become a legitimate part of American life. Furthermore, Natasha listens without judgment.
Themes
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Natasha tells Neni that the American immigration system can be cruel, but the church will stand and fight with her until the end. Neni walks out of Judson and into Washington Square Park “with the lightness of a beautifully crafted kite.” Across the park, young people are holding up placards, “chanting and protesting the bailout.” Neni stands beside the empty fountain and watches them, admiring their passion for their country. She thinks that, if Judson can help the Jongas stay in America, she can one day “protest like that, too.” She could say anything she wanted without “fear of being thrown into prison the way dissidents were being thrown into prisons in some African countries for speaking out against abominable authoritarian regimes.”
Neni feels lighter because she feels that there are Americans who are on her side. If there are more people like Natasha, and if the church can successfully offer its support, then Neni can become an American. She imagines herself being so secure in her freedom and so thoroughly assimilated that she would take place in protests as an expression of a right that she never imagined having in Cameroon. She contrasts the “passion” of the protestors with the apathy that characterizes life at home.
Themes
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
When Jende comes home from work around midnight, Neni quickly serves him dinner and tells him about going to Judson. She says that Natasha told her that the church will help them to remain in the U.S.; however, Jende is outraged that Neni would discuss his situation with strangers. When he berates her, she offers no excuse. She knows that Bubakar warned them to guard their immigration status and not to share it with anyone because they could be reported. Despite this, she insists that she told Natasha about their plight because she believes that there are some Americans who want to keep hardworking immigrants in the country. Kindhearted people like Natasha would never betray them. However, it’s futile to reason with a raging man, who now “stand[s] above her vomiting a parade of insults.” For the first time, she’s afraid that he may beat her.
Jende, who’s spent months living in fear, worries that Neni has exposed him. He fears the fulfillment of his dream in which men in uniform show up at his door and take him away. She doesn’t know this because he hasn’t shared this dream with her, and he also isn’t telling her that he’s increasingly losing faith in his ability to hold out for asylum. Afraid of appearing vulnerable, Jende chooses anger instead—an emotion that gives him some semblance of power, even if it’s only over his helpless wife. Neni notices that Jende’s character is changing in ways that make him frightening and unpredictable.
Themes
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon