Class Notes on Immigration // 6-15-16

Today we all confirmed our pseudonyms for posting online, so I hope more voices than my own chime in on this blog soon!

As a community of open-minded people, in some cases queer, Muslim, and/or of color ourselves, we spent a good portion of class discussing the damage done to our community in Orlando, where the largest mass shooting in our country’s history occurred in a gay nightclub on June 12.

We dwelt on fear-mongering and immigration. A number of us were second-guessing plans to go to Pride with friends in case “something big” happens in New York. Rahat Huda, a Muslim student, shared her own fears of being visibly Muslim as a young woman in hijab.

As one k-scoper, whose pseudonym remains to be determined (or else I’d use it here), so aptly observed, “The very definition of terrorism is striking fear in a population, making it so we’re afraid to go out on the street and be ourselves.”

On one hand, the connections we made across experiences of sexuality and religion highlighted the deep damage created for communities like ours by Omar Mateen’s actions. However, we were also inspired by new avenues for resilience and solidarity across borders.

We ended with the need to root out both Islamophobia and homophobia from our worldviews. Here is the BBC interview with Sohail Ahmed, an advocate for greater LGBTQI visibility in the international Muslim community who almost committed terrorist actions himself, that I recommended in class.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

With less time for our normal routine than usual, we focused on only one of three pieces for prose assigned for this week, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s short story, “The Thing around Your Neck.” Born in Nigeria, Adichie has amassed a number of accomplishments, including a MacArthur Genius Grant, at only thirty-eight years old. For further viewing, I highly recommend two of her very inspiring TED Talks: “The Danger of a Single Story” and “We Should All Be Feminist.”

Adichie is also only one of many brilliant Nigerian writers to rise to worldwide renown in her generation. If you liked her work and want to learn more about contemporary Nigerian literature in English, I would recommend Teju Cole, Chigozie ObiomaChika Unigwe, and Chris Abani (who has more inspiring TED Talks about human rights and storytelling).

M. Evelina Galang

Both Adichie and M. Evelina Galang, a Filipina-American writer whose short story, “Lectures on How You Never Lived Back Home,” was also due this week, write their fictions from a second-person point-of-view. We discussed how this “you” uncomfortably positions the reader as both the subject of the story and the object of the writer’s gaze. To that end, we highlighted women’s agency as a major theme at stake for both these authors.

Although we didn’t get the chance to discuss it before the poet Deborah Paredez arrived for her guest speaker talk, we also read “Westbury Court,” a memoir by Haitian-American

Edwidge Danticat

writer Edwidge Danticat. Danticat recounts a traumatic event that befell her Brooklyn housing complex shortly after her family’s arrival in the U.S. She is especially recognized for her fiction; I would recommend Breath, Eyes, Memory (1998), about a young Haitian girl coming-of-age and battling cultural displacement in Brooklyn, and her young adult novels, Untwine (2015) and Behind the Mountains (2004).

We had two options for writing exercises inspired by these authors:

Adichie & Galang – Fiction

  1. From a second-person point-of-view (ex: “You did this…”), write a coming-of-age story (a.k.a. a bildungsroman) using what you know of the immigrant experience.
  2. Think about which “you” you’re addressing. Who is your audience, and why?

Danticat – Memoir

  1. Think back to a turning point in your immigration experience; it might have to do with violence, xenophobia, assimilation, alienation, etc.
  2. If you are not an immigrant, think about a time when you witnessed these issues affecting a neighbor,  classmate, or stranger. How did you react?
Deborah Paredez

Finally, Ms. Paredez joined us for a conversation about he new book she’s publishing, writing as a commitment to developing one’s own voice, the differences between writing and performing poetry, and the importance of reading everything, from John Donne to spoken word poets at the Nuyorican.

The author of This Side of Skin (2002), Deborah is also a visiting professor of creative writing at Columbia University and founder of CantoMundo, a nonprofit that fosters the literary arts in the Latino/a community. She read aloud her poem, “The Gulf, 1987,” which she referred to affectionately as the “little poem that could” since it was republished in so many prestigious venues. To illustrate the need for honesty and vulnerability in poetry writing, she also shared Lucille Clifton’s poem, “why people be mad at me sometimes.”

Deborah shared a lot of helpful advice for budding writers, which I’m happy to share with you here!

Next week: Religion with poetry from Tarfia Faizullah and M. NourbeSe Philip, plus a short story from Tiphanie Yanique.


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