Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers

by

Imbolo Mbue

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Behold the Dreamers: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
While eating at Red Lobster in Times Square with Neni and Liomi, Jende gets a text message from his brother. When Jende calls back, he learns that Pa Jonga has come down with “an ugly case of malaria” and can barely speak. He needs to go to a hospital in Douala. His brother says that they can borrow money from a businessman in Sokolo if Jende can talk to him and promise to send repayment as soon as possible. Jende’s brother begs him to do something; otherwise, their father could be dead by daybreak.
The Jongas have a ritual, which recurs in the novel, of dining at the Red Lobster in Time Square. The Jongas’ designation of it as their favorite restaurant parallels with a story that Cindy later tells Neni about having been too poor to have shrimp for dinner when she was little. This ability to indulge in a “luxury” also makes Jende feel more responsible for his family back home.
Themes
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
Jende runs to the ATM, while Neni has a waiter wrap up the sautéed shrimp that Jende didn’t have time to finish. He then goes to a bodega with a Western Union logo and sends the money to Cameroon. Jende rushes, pushing aside tourists, though he knows that his urgency will make no difference because his brother won’t receive the money until Monday. Pa Jonga survives, but the news is yet another reminder of how “bad news has a way of slithering into good days and making a mockery of complacent joys.”
Jende rushes to the Western Union, despite knowing that it won’t make a difference to do so, because he wants to prove to himself that he’s capable of addressing and solving problems. The mention of “complacent joys” expresses his yearning for some semblance of the life of ease that people like the Edwardses have.
Themes
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Family and Belonging Theme Icon
On a Tuesday in April 2008, Bubakar calls while Jende’s parked on a street corner, “reading Clark’s discarded Wall Street Journal.” When he answers, Bubakar tells him that his asylum application wasn’t approved. He then assures Jende not to worry; they’ll keep fighting. Jende asks if this means that he has to leave America. Bubakar says yes; they don’t believe the story about him being killed if he goes back to Cameroon. Jende is outraged. Bubakar told him that the story would work and said that the woman at Immigration seemed to believe him. Bubakar recalls that he thought it was a bad sign when the official told them to wait for a decision by mail instead of returning in a couple of weeks to pick up the visa. Bubakar goes on to say that someone people at immigration are “wicked” and don’t want people like him and Jende in the U.S.
Jende’s reading of Clark’s discarded newspaper reveals that, despite his lack of formal education, he’s eager to understand what’s going on in the world. Despite this, he retains a naïve trust in Bubakar, who seems increasingly incapable of managing Jende’s immigration case. To distract from his own inability to read a situation accurately, he blames possible racism for the dismissal of Jende’s asylum application instead of admitting that he advised Jende poorly. He feigns empathy with Jende’s situation by suggesting that they’re joined in an effort to fight against an unjust system.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Bubakar reminds Jende of how far they’ve come in his case and that it was Bubakar who helped Jende petition U.S. Customs and Immigration Services to get a work permit so that he could then get a driver’s license, which allowed him to get a better job. He also reminds him of how he helped Jende apply for Neni’s student visa. He asks Jende to trust him. They’ll go before a judge, win his case, and get him a green card.
Bubakar mentions all of this to avoid the possibility of being fired. He wants to assure Jende that he’s still capable of helping him and reminds him of how much of he’s already helped Jende to achieve. This is designed to create a sense of obligation in Jende and to paint a possible firing as ingratitude.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
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That night, after Jende tells Neni the news, he watches her cry “the first tears of sadness she’d ever cried in America.” She asks him what they’re going to do, and he says he doesn’t know. They agree that they’ll have to use all of the money that they’ve saved—a couple of thousand dollars, which would’ve gone toward the renovation of his parents’ house, “a down payment on a condo in Westchester County, and Liomi’s college education.” All of it is necessary now to help them remain in America and to give Liomi a chance to grow up there. Neni wonders if they should tell Liomi, so that he can be prepared if they have to leave. Jende replies, “No, let him stay happy.”
Neni experiences sadness for the first time in America because she imagines that all that she has gained will be taken away from her. The Jongas become so desperate to realize their American Dream, particularly their wish for Liomi to become American, that they are willing to stake all that they’ve saved in Bubakar’s ability to help them. Like many parents, they want to protect Liomi from hardship, but it also seems that they want him to know no other life than that as an American.
Themes
The Sustainability of the American Dream Theme Icon
The Modern Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Parental Expectations vs. Personal Ambitions Theme Icon