“In America, violence and the threat of lethal force are the ways we communicate. Violence—the preferred form of control by the state—is an expression of our hatred, self-loathing and lust for vengeance. And this bloodletting will increasingly mark a nation in terminal decline.”—The Rhetoric of Violence (via azspot)
Full text: “That awkward moment when you run away from your home country due to discrimination for being queer…Only to be locked up in the land of the free with a lot of machista, and sexist, homophobic, transphobic ICE officers.” – Alejandro Aldana
Yesterday, I received this bittersweet postcard from my dear friend, Alex Aldana, who is currently detained at the Otay Detention Facility in San Diego.
Alex lived with his family in California for ten years, where he graduated from high school and worked hard to make his community a better place. He left the U.S. to go back to Mexico five months ago to care for his sick grandmother.
Over these past few months, Alex discovered how crime and corruption made life particularly difficult for the LGBTQ community in Mexico. In Guadalajara alone, 128 gay and lesbian people have been killed, and none were reported as hate crimes. Now, Alex wants to return to California, where his mother and sibling reside so that he can continue to take care of them, and lead a life that does not entail the amount of violence he would face if he remained in Mexico.
Even with the heightened standard for credible fear instituted by the new Lafferty memo in light of the numerous claims for asylum from Mexico and Central America, Alex has already passed his credible fear interview. This means that according to Immigration and Customs officials, Alex has established a clear and convincing chance of winning asylum before an Immigration Judge based on his fear of persecution in Mexico. According to ICE guidelines, Alex should be released from detention to pursue his asylum case as he is neither a threat nor a flight risk. However, he has been detained at Otay for more than a month for no real reason, and subjected to abuse inside the facility.
“Collectively [Bengali immigrants to the US in the 1900s-1940s] used Americans’ confusion over their “race” to their advantage, developing a fluid and contextual approach to their identity. They were “white” when they attempted to claim citizenship, “Hindoo” when selling exotic goods, “black” or “Porto Rican” when disappearing into U.S. cities or actively attempting to evade the immigration authorities. They were “Indios” on the streets of Spanish Harlem, and their Puerto Rican and African American wives were “East Indian” when they ran their Oriental gift shops or greeted customers in their restaurants.”—
The book documents the first wave of migration for South Asians into the US, from the late 1800s up till around the 1940s. They were predominantly Bengali and tended to be based in two main hubs: New Orleans (clothesmakers and purveyors of related goods) and New York (sailors and shipworkers). They built families and communities with the local African-American and Latin@ communities, with a lot of intermarriages. During that time there was a huge fad for all things “Oriental”, which they capitalised on.
One thing that really fascinated me about the book was how the existence of these immigrants really confounded US race relations, especially during the heights of the Jim Crow era. They weren’t black, but they weren’t really white either - what the fuck were they? Their race was recorded as all sorts of things: White, Black, Coloured, Hindoo, Turkish, Malay (that last one makes me laugh out of personal irony).
As the quote demonstrates, they - and not just them either, but the communities around them - used that racial ambiguity for various means. At one point some South Asian activists tried to use the fact that they were Caucasian (the Caucus regions also covered a lot of South Asia) to prove that they were White and therefore should have citizenship/residency reinstated (this was during a time where the US gov was taking away citizenship from particular groups of people). Some others worked in solidarity with Black activists to assert their own rights. Some Black people called themselves “Hindoo” and appropriated South Asian culture, reinventing their identities as being from some “exotic Oriental land” peddling carpets and garments as a way to protect themselves from anti-Black laws.
The children of these immigrants, almost all of whom are part Black or part Latin@, talked about how their racial identities are similarly ambiguous depending on context. One of the interviewees, whose dad is Bengali and whose mum is Puerto Rican, talked about how he’d be Puerto Rican through and through when hanging out with his maternal cousins, but then he’d go to meet his dad’s friends and be totally Bengali.
There’s a lot in there about managing multiple cultures, involvements in activism, how the immigrants built support networks for future waves of immigration, how they coped with Partition and the Liberation War (making a lot of them effectively “stateless” since their origin city had changed hands multiple times), how they were integrated, assimilated, and eventually forgotten - until now.
I really really recommend reading the book if you want to know more about race relations in the US from a perspective that doesn’t get heard about much, and how diasporas create their own supports.
Being Bengali myself I sometimes wonder if migration, liminality, and transience are things that exist in our blood - generations of people moving around, having our own borders constantly rebuilt and destroyed and redefined, confounding others wherever we go. My entire family tree are all migrants and travellers, probably for generations, even before any of them reached the Subcontinent. I’m probably related to some of these US immigrants. It’s interesting and ironic how it’s taken me 29 years and moving across the world to find anyone who has a connection to that amorphous concept of home.
1.Bitter Sweetsby Roopa Farooki - A spellbinding first novel about the destructive lies that three immigrant generations of a Pakistani/Bangladeshi family tell each other. Henna Rub is a precocious teenager whose wheeler-dealer father never misses a business opportunity and whose sumptuous Calcutta marriage to wealthy romantic Ricky-Rashid Karim is achieved by an audacious network of lies. Even as a child, their daughter Shona, herself conceived on a lie and born in a liar’s house, finds telling fibs as easy as ABC. But years later, living above a sweatshop in South London’s Tooting Bec, it is Shona who is forced to discover unspeakable truths about her loved ones and come to terms with what superficially holds her family together—and also keeps them apart—across geographical, emotional and cultural distance.
2.Swami and Friendsby R.K. Narayan - Swami and Friends introduces us to Narayan’s beloved fictional town of Malgudi, where ten-year-old Swaminathan’s excitement about his country’s initial stirrings for independence competes with his ardor for cricket and all other things British.
3.Malgudi Daysby R.K. Narayan - In this collection of stories composed of powerful, magical portraits of all kinds of people, and comprising stories written over almost forty years, Malgudi Days presents Narayan’s imaginary city in full color, revealing the essence of India and of human experience.
4.A Fine Balanceby Rohinton Mistry - The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers—a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village—will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future.
5.A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth - Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find — through love or through exacting maternal appraisal — a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves.
6.Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra - A policeman, a criminal overlord, a Bollywood film star, beggars, cultists, spies, and terrorists—the lives of the privileged, the famous, the wretched, and the bloodthirsty interweave with cataclysmic consequences amid the chaos of modern-day Mumbai, in this soaring, uncompromising, and unforgettable epic masterwork of literary art.
7.Animal’s Peopleby Indra Sinha - Ever since he can remember, Animal has gone on all fours, his back twisted beyond repair by the catastrophic events of “that night” when a burning fog of poison smoke from the local factory blazed out over the town of Khaufpur, and the Apocalypse visited his slums. Now just turned seventeen and well schooled in street work, he lives by his wits, spending his days spying on town officials and looking after the elderly nun who raised him, Ma Franci. When Elli Barber, a young American doctor, arrives in Khaufpur to open a free clinic for the still suffering townsfolk — only to find herself struggling to convince them that she isn’t there to do the dirty work of the Kampani — Animal gets caught up in a web of intrigues, scams, and plots with the unabashed aim of turning events to his own advantage.
8.Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam - Jugnu and Chanda have disappeared. Like thousands of people all over England, they were lovers and living together out of wedlock. To Chanda’s family, however, the disgrace was unforgivable. Perhaps enough so as to warrant murder. As he explores the disappearance and its aftermath through the eyes of Jugnu’s worldly older brother, Shamas, and his devout wife, Kaukab, Nadeem Aslam creates a closely observed and affecting portrait of people whose traditions threaten to bury them alive.
9.The Kite Runnerby Khaled Hosseini - The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy, Amir, and the son of his father’s servant, Hassan, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.
10.Running in the Familyby Michael Ondaatje - In the late 1970s Ondaatje returned to his native island of Sri Lanka. As he records his journey through the drug-like heat and intoxicating fragrances of that “pendant off the ear of India, ” Ondaatje simultaneously retraces the baroque mythology of his Dutch-Ceylonese family.
11.The Blood of Flowersby Anita Amirrezvani - A mesmerizing historical novel of an ill-fated young woman whose gift as a rug designer transforms her life. Illuminated with glorious detail of persian rug-making, and brilliantly bringing to life the sights sounds and life of 17th-century Isfahan.
1. Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok - 22-year old Charlie Wong is the daughter of a Beijing ballerina and noodlemaker from Chinatown. When Charlie begins work as a receptionist in one of New York’s finest dance studios, she starts to follow in the footsteps of her late ballerina mother, and quickly discovers her talent to teach ballroom dancing. But her new found happiness is soon to fall apart as the two worlds are in danger of colliding. When her younger sister Lisa falls ill, Charlie ultimately has to make a decision where her heart belongs.
2. The Partner Track by Helen Wan - Chinese-American lawyer, Ingrid Yung, must choose between the prestige of partnership and the American Dream that she—and her immigrant parents—have come so close to achieving.
3. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok - Emigrating with her mother from Hong Kong to Brooklyn, Kimberly Chang begins a double life as a schoolgirl by day and sweatshop worker at night, an existence also marked by her first crush and the pressure to save her family from poverty.
4. Wrack and Ruin by Don Lee - Lyndon Song is a renowned sculptor who fled New York City to become a Brussels sprouts farmer in the small California town of Rosarita Bay. Lyndon has a brother, Woody, an indicted financier turned movie producer, and Woody has a plan involving a golf course on Lyndon’s land and an aging kung-fu diva from Hong Kong with a mean kick and an even meaner drinking problem. Over one madcap Labor Day weekend, this plan wreaks havoc on Lyndon’s bucolic and carefully managed life—leading to various crises, adventures, and literature’s first-ever windsurfing chase scene.
5. The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim - In early-twentieth-century Korea, Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher, longs to choose her own destiny. Smart and headstrong, she is encouraged by her mother—but her stern father is determined to maintain tradition, especially as the Japanese steadily gain control of his beloved country.
6. Drifting House by Krys Lee - Set in Korea and the United States, from the postwar era to contemporary times, Krys Lee’s stunning fiction debut illuminates a people struggling to reconcile the turmoil of their collective past with the rewards and challenges of their present.
7. The Ghost Bride by Yangze Choo - Part 19th century novel, part magical journey to the Chinese world of the dead set in colonial Malaysia, Yangsze Choo’s debut novel is a startlingly original historical fantasy infused with Chinese folklore, romantic intrigue, and unexpected supernatural twists.
8. Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford - Confined to Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage during the Great Depression, Chinese-American boy William Eng becomes convinced that a certain movie actress is actually the mother he has not seen since he was seven years old, a belief that compels a determined search for answers.
9. Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap - Set in contemporary Thailand, these are generous, radiant tales of family bonds, youthful romance, generational conflicts and cultural shiftings beneath the glossy surface of a warm, Edenic setting.
10. Moon Cakes by Andrea Louie - The second daughter of successful Chinese parents, Maya Li grew up in Ohio raised on equal measures of steamed rice and sliced white bread. Now, working in New York City in a series of dead-end jobs, she finds herself heartbroken and in search of the sense of self. Then, almost accidentally, she is drawn to the country of her parents’ youth and embarks on a trip to China.
“She recognized in Kelsey the nationalism of liberal Americans who copiously criticized America but did not like you to do so; they expected you to be silent and grateful, and always reminded you of how much better than wherever you had come from America was.”—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
“The problem with English is this: You usually can’t open your mouth and it comes out just like that—first you have to think what you want to say. Then you have to find the words. Then you have to carefully arrange those words in your head. Then you have to say the words quietly to yourself, to make sure you got them okay. And finally, the last step, which is to say the words out loud and have them sound just right.
But then because you have to do all this, when you get to the final step, something strange has happened to you and you speak the way a drunk walks. And, because you are speaking like falling, it’s as if you are an idiot, when the truth is that it’s the language and the whole process that’s messed up. And then the problem with those who speak only English is this: they don’t know how to listen; they are busy looking at your falling instead of paying attention to what you are saying.”—
In a way, immigration is already a queer experience. Immigration creates ruptures of time, place, homeland, family. It creates scattering, and forces a breakdown and rearrangement of identity. Immigrants are made to reformulate their communities and support systems. Detention centers are harmful for everyone. Our solidarity is with all immigrants and undocumented people, not just those whose genders and sexualities fit under ‘queer’. Our commitment is to detention abolition broadly.
For us, #queeringimmigration means challenging immigration dialogues to include an analysis of gender and sexuality-based violence, and challenging queers to show up for immigrants of all genders and sexualities. To support immigrants constantly and materially. To show up.
Juan Carlos Romero seems like a typical New York City college student. He has a shy smile featuring wire braces, and he lives with his parents and sister in the melting pot neighborhood of Jackson Heights in the borough of Queens. But he shrinks from talking with friends at school about spring break plans or summer vacations.
“It’s disheartening, I don’t know too many undocumented people, so when they talk about traveling and doing all sorts of fun stuff, I just have to stay away and avoid those conversations,” said Romero, 20.
He and his sister, Denise Romero, arrived in New York from Mexico with their parents when they were 8 and 10 years old, respectively. Like many of the other estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, the Romeros knew life in New York could be tenuous. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Department of Homeland Security, more than 1.8 million people have been deported since President Barack Obama took office. That number is expected to reach 2 million this month.
“Americans define racism as individual, overt and intentional. But modern forms of racial discrimination are often unintentional, systemic and hidden. The tropes and images of the civil rights era reinforce the old definition. People taking on new forms constantly look for our own Bull Connor to make the case. We can find these kinds of figures. But there’s inevitably debate about whether they truly hit the Bull Connor standard, as we can see in popular defenses of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Rick Scott. Politicians, employers and public administrators have all learned to use codes for the groups they target. The notion that all racism is intentional and overt is a fundamental building block of the false solution of colorblindness.”—Rinku Sen, at ColorLines (via thesmithian)
“If someone calls you out on your white privilege, they are not marginalizing you. Plain and simple. They are asking (or telling) you to be aware that you were not born in a vacuum and that your skin color and ancestry have a very specific meaning in this country, a meaning that affords you and your ancestors certain advantages, perks, or benefits that a large portion of this country do not experience and are prevented from accessing, simply because of their skin color, nationality, ethnic and/or cultural practices, sexuality, and so on. You can deny it all you want, but that doesn’t mean the system will cease to exist with your denial. Your denial means that you are individually choosing to continue to support a system that has, I’d argue, the most far-reaching and damaging effects on communities of color in this country. Your denial of white privilege doesn’t mean that less Blacks and Latinos will be incarcerated in their lifetime; it doesn’t mean that Black, Latino, and American Indian women will no longer be making the lowest income among all groups in this country; it also doesn’t mean that queer youth of color will suddenly no longer experience disturbing rates of homelessness in Los Angeles County. Your denial of your privilege perpetuates inequality and is offensive to us folks of color who have to fight uphill against a system that devalues (and sometimes exploits) our cultural practices, our languages, our countries, our his/herstories, and our unique experiences and struggles in this country.”—Affirmative Action Is Not Reverse Racism: Check Your Privilege (via musaafer)
Migration is beautiful mostly for the colonizer, who gets to dabble in “exotic” foods, be enriched by our “exotic” tongues, obtain a cheap labor force, and benefit from the innovation that new migrants bring. But migration can also devastating and disruptive for the vast majority of us—who are uprooted from our homelands, live without seeing close family members for years, continuously traumatized by assimilation efforts, and virtually imprisoned within the walls of the U.S.
“You know what’s really, powerfully sexy? A sense of humor. A taste for adventure. A healthy glow. Hips to grab on to. Openness. Confidence. Humility. Appetite. Intuition. Smart-ass comebacks. Presence. A quick wit. Dirty jokes told by an innocent-looking lady. A storyteller. A genius. A doctor. A new mother. A woman who realizes how beautiful she is.”—Courtney E. Martin. (via youremyconsolation)
“A woman of color’s self-love is political and radical, and it is unsettling for the status quo because she is choosing bravely to dismantle the narratives of racist aesthetics against her. So when people bully a girl of color for being content and satisfied with her appearance - a reality that is subjected to racist, sexist slurs in cosmetic industries - and when they tell her to be “humble” which is normative code for “Nah, you’re not special, you’re not light and delicate in a Eurocentric way” then she has every right to chew their hearts and spit them out. A non-white girl’s self-love is revolutionary and anyone trying to water it down needs to back right off.”—
The revolution will not be cited. It will not have a bibliography, or a title page. The revolution will never happen in the seclusion of the ivory tower built by racist, sexist, and classist institutions. Professional academic researchers in the social sciences of many colleges and universities exploit the struggles of oppressed peoples. Oppressed peoples are left stranded with little to no resources after researchers leave their communities high and dry.
Researchers steal value from oppressed peoples by making them the subjects of theoretical research without lending them access to information that could better help their communities. Articles, books, and dissertations written about marginalized populations are written for academics, not working people, and as such have little impact on the people whose lives are the subject of this research. Liberal academics and social scientists are more concerned about developing the wealth of academic literature than addressing the immediate material concerns of the communities they research.
So, there’s a post by Michelle Goldberg being shared and re-tweeted that talks about the Toxic Twitter Wars of Online Feminism. This post a classic example of how white supremacy functions as an online phenomenon.
“I spent much of those first few years in the States watching Nightline* with my parents,” Roben says, “and witnessing Dad freak out women at the supermarket. You see, he liked holding hands of complete strangers to get his heavily accented point across: ‘Hi. Would you geeve to me a date?’ He was trying to buy pitted dates.”—Roben Farzad in this NPR story on Iranian-American Jews. (via fesenjoon)