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The Book of Unknown Americans



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Essay Contest


Previous College Books

Nomination Form
nominations for
2020-21 are now OPEN


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2019-20 Essay Contest
[printable pdf]

In 1978, at the age of three, Thi Bui arrived in the US with her parents and siblings after an arduous journey as refugees from Vietnam. Almost thirty years later, on the cusp of motherhood, Bui embarks on a new quest: to explore her family history so that she can better understand the struggles her parents faced and the difficult choices they made in search of a better life for their kids. With gorgeous illustrations and hypnotic prose, The Best We Could Do tells the story of a nation’s history and a family’s history while also providing insight into the immigrant experience and examining the legacies we inherit and bequeath from one generation to the next.

Chaffey’s One Book, One College committee invites you to reflect on your own past and present by sharing an experience that relates to The Best We Could Do. You might write an essay about . . .

    • Understanding or accepting a family member

    • Reuniting with or becoming estranged from a loved one

    • Surviving a dangerous journey

    • Your experience as an immigrant or international student

    • Feeling nurtured or neglected by a guardian

    • Experiencing the joy or pain of parenthood

    • Receiving or providing valuable assistance

    • Encountering xenophobia or intolerance

    • Visiting a place from your or your parents’ past

    • Trying to live up to your family’s expectations

    • Being damaged by or damaging a loved one

    • The migration of your parents or family

    • Moving to a new place or undergoing some other life-changing transformation

    • Meeting your significant other

    • A significant event in a parent’s life

    • An obstacle that you or a relative overcame

    • Witnessing or exhibiting heroism

    • Reinventing yourself

    • Adapting to a new academic environment

    • Learning a life lesson

In fact, you are welcome to submit any original nonfiction writing that clearly connects with this year’s College Book.

Visit to submit your own work now through Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Please remove your name from your essay before uploading it. Entries up to 1,500 words in length will be judged on originality, compelling content, and the quality of written expression.

Up to ten finalists will receive a cash prize and will read their essays at an awards ceremony from 6-8 pm in Student Life (CCE) on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

For more information, contact Professor Neil Watkins (909) 652-6952, or Professor Deckard Hodge (909) 652-6924,

Rev. 10/02/19

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