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Graphic Medicine and the Immigrant Experience

Posted by on June 14th, 2019 Posted in: Graphic Medicine
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Graphic Medicine is comic books and graphic novels that cover topics of health and wellness.  The visual format makes the information easier to understand and digest.  By reading a personal, non-fiction story, we can learn about issues we may not have experienced personally.  These stories can also help us feel less alone in our own lives.

Immigrants and refugees are a diverse group of people with a variety of experiences both in their countries of origin and their new homes.  Graphic novels that explore the experiences of immigrants and refugees provide glimpses into people’s lives allowing the reader to connect to and learn about individuals that make up the larger communities.

In honor of Immigrant Heritage Month, here is a selection of graphic novels to learn more about the varied experiences of immigrants and refugees:

  • Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees drawn and recorded by Olivier Kugler. Kugler interviewed and photographed Syrian refugees  in camps and along the road on their journeys, turning these records into a graphic novel that recounts stories of survival. From the publisher, “What emerges is a complicated and intense narrative of loss, sadness, fear, and hope and an indelible impression of the refugees as individual humans with their own stories, rather than a faceless mass.”


  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi recounts her experience of coming of age in Tehran, Iran during the Islamic Revolution and her high school years in Vienna, Austria facing adolescence while also dealing with home sickness, loneliness, and navigating a new culture.


  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Yang tells intersecting stories that illustrate the expectations placed on people by family and society as a new arrival and being first generation, how stereotypes and racism influence immigrants’ lives, and the importance of metaphor and stories for understanding lived experiences.


  • The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. Bui discusses her search to connect with her mother through her own experiences as a first-time parent. To find that connection, she has to better understand the families escape from Vietnam in the 1970’s and the difficulties of building new lives in the United States including sacrifices and hardships, but also love and support.


Immigration status, race and ethnicity can all be factors in health disparities.  To learn more about health disparities, visit the MedlinePlus Health Disparities Topic Page or the National Institute of Minority Health and Health DisparitiesFind more information on how immigration status can impact health and healthcare access with research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

And to learn more about Graphic Medicine visit the NLM’s website for the traveling exhibit Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived, Well-Drawn.  Or request a Graphic Medicine Book Club Kit for your library, school or community group to try.

Image of the author ABOUT Sarah Levin-Lederer

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NNLM Region 7
University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School
55 Lake Avenue North
Worcester, MA 01655
(508) 856-5985

This has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012347 with the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School.

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