The Color of Water is James McBride's autobiographical story. It is told in alternating chapters, first by his mother Ruth and then by James himself. The story is a result of the author's quest to find his place in the world after growing up with a lot of ambiguity regarding his mother's life and heritage.
James's father was a black man, and the family lived in every way as a black family in Brooklyn; however, his mother was clearly not a black woman. She did not talk about race or answer any questions about her family or the heritage which came to James and his many brothers and sisters from her side of the family. When he finally gets Ruth to talk to him, she starts her story from the beginning.
In chapter three of the book, Ruth explains to her son that her father used his wife's connections to come to America. He eventually sent for his family, but he was a cruel man and told them all that he was the only true American citizen in the family and the rest of them could be deported back to Poland any time. because of that, Ruth kept her transport papers with her at all times for the next twenty years--out of fear created by her own father that she could be sent back to her home country