Valeria Luiselli is a Mexican novelist who spent the years of 2013ish-2017ish working and writing in the United States with her husband, fellow novelist Alvaro Enrigue, and their children. As she applied and waited for a work visa and Green Card, she spent her time working as a translator for nonprofit immigrant legal services organizations. Her job was to translate for and conduct interviews with recent immigrant children from Spanish speaking countries who found themselves in a legal nightmarish limbo. She explains that the Obama administration sped up the timeline for the deportation of children by reducing the time within which a person facing deportation must secure legal representation from one year to twenty-one days, a reduction by something like 90%.
This long essay then is the experiences of her and the children she interviews by looking at and exploring the 40 question she would ask the children preparing for their court dates. She then spends the immediate time after exploring the context for that question.
This book is stark and bare, shows how to portray how privilege only protects you so far without subsuming the story of those more deeply oppressed. It’s also a very important reminder that while Trump is truly terrible, he’s merely escalating the policies already in place by previous, especially Obama’s, administrations. And a heads up, it’s a very sad and frustrating experience.
Jorge Ramos is an interesting journalist. I am not sure I entirely trust him, because he sometimes grandstands and becomes personally involved in his journalism in some ways that distract from the important issues he reports on. He’s most recently famous for being the journalist who got kicked out of a Trump rally during the campaign for asking a question. He tells that story in this book and describes how because his question was antagonistic and combative and because he was kicked out, he received both the ire of the entire rally (being told by one attendee “Get out of this country” to which he says “I am a citizen too”….”Well, whatever”). And he received a lot of coverage for that. What was lost was how he was pushing back on the sheer impossibility of the promises being made by Trump during the campaign regarding immigration, deportation, and citizenship and the constitution.
I was spend more time talking about media coverage in the Obama era (including my discomfort with his own administration’s pushback) but Ramos was no fan or friend to that administration either, also being a persistent thorn in the side regarding the administration’s immigration policies. He’s extremely critical of Obama’s failure to take advantage of governmental control in 2008 to pass comprehensive immigration and says as much.
He also spends a lot of time in this book describing how his Mexican background and his new American futures (wife and children, for example) causes him to feel a “stranger” in both countries.
It’s a good, but slight book.
I had hopes for this one going in. It turns out no matter how much knowing research you do about the issue, if your book is based on a fundamentally corrupt, cynical, and immoral choice, I don’t care what you might have to say.
This book is presented as a mediation and distilled vision of the US/Mexican Border and the issues that circulate the place and the sets of events and policies that happen there. But Fransico Cantu, who got an undergraduate degree in International Relations studying border issues join the border patrol, and in a subsequent conversation with his mother, he states that it was because he wanted to better know the issue from an intimate perspective.
I think it’s complete bullshit.
For one, join the border patrol if you want. Even write a book about it if you want. But it’s a fundamentally corrupt choice, to knowingly do harm to people, and then to wring your hands about it. I get why others might do it…some for equally corrupt reasons….others because of opportunities…whatever. They aren’t writing a book.
This reads to me like the military narrative of someone who joined because they knew they wanted to run for office sometime. It’s written like a Vietnam novel or memoir, trying to make sense of the violence inflicted upon people who are mostly trying to exist in a world fundamentally screwed up, but unlike Vietnam novels, Cantu wasn’t drafted and he wasn’t 18. He’s a college grad looking for a book deal.
This is a strange book from a strange time. The book itself is not actually that strange, but when you look at the time itself through this lens, there’s a kind of bizarre dysmorphia compared to today.
There’s never been decency in the world. Any attempt to attach decency to a given time period is at best nostalgic or mythologizing or at worst apologetic of mass murder, racism, or something related.
Ishmael Reed does not make this mistake. He does not mythologize (even though many of his books put mythologies into play as a way to explain how truth is constructed) and he doesn’t pull punches.
This is a rereading of the time period from about 2007-2010 in American presidential politics, and probably a lot of people are thinking about that time through one of a few lenses. One lens might be what 2016 has brought us. And I would argue that what 2016 brought us was the full realization of a Republican vision of realpolitik racist bullshit writ large. 2008 does not have John McCain being a decent person. He is a cynical political operative who unleashed Sarah Palin and the Teaparty on us, and then they picked up steam fueled by their hatred of Barack Obama and Black people in America. And now we have the president they always wanted. None of this milquetoast dog whistling about race, just the real deal white supremacist nonsense they’ve always wanted. The only difference between Trump and the next worse version of him is that he is nothing but a brand. And like all brands, he’s always willing to renegotiate what that brand represents.
Ishmael reminds us that there was never any hiding any of reductive racist sentiment about Barack Obama. He explains in quick terms (but does not dwell) on the fact that he doesn’t fully support Obama’s policies, but focuses instead of the destructive and hateful politics that spent 8 years trying to destroy him and his family and by extension all Black people. I sometimes fall into the category where while I don’t necessarily disagree with Reed’s sentiment, I don’t know what to turn that energy into. But I know tiptoeing around the feelings of racists (about half this country) got us what they fucking wanted. So the fire next time, maybe?
This is an edited collection of essays introduced and presented by novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen. There’s a lot of different short narratives in this collection and many of them are very good. They’re about various people around the world telling their own stories of displacement. Like the Jorge Ramos book, there’s presented here the inherent sad fact that being displaced, meaning suffering, has limits and capacities to them. So someone being conscripted by a drug cartel might not qualify for refugee status. Or simply being so poor to function is not only NOT a refugee situation, but seen as gross and opportunistic.
The world is so bad sometimes. And I don’t know how to feel or what to do about that. This is the kind of collection, that while being beautiful and sad, also makes me feel wasted and useless.
But my favorite among the group was about the “Myth of the Grateful” immigrant. There’s that sense of being told you HAVE appreciate and be thankful for something that many many people get without working for it.
I might read too much of the same internet day in and day out, so for the most part, while there’s nothing particularly wrong with almost this whole collection, I am left wondering what more was achieved by it. Because the analysis here is mostly personal, and because like other essay/memoir collections coming out, it’s presented as a treatise on the world built in research-heavy anecdotal conversation language, it’s book that’s unfairly situated on the personal brand and talent of the writer. Brittney Cooper is a perfectly good writer, and like I said, this is a mostly solid collection of essays.
But this reads like a hit parade of “correct stances” on issues being readily discussed on various media. And so, what this leads to is that the replication of all the correct stances also comes for me with the replication of the incorrect or off-balance stances. This is not the issue with Cooper’s personal politics, which pretty much seem righteous, but the way things are discussed in mostly Left communities. I would dare not disagree here because my one significant push-back, which doesn’t even defend a position I hold, because it’s not a fight worth having over again. So I will just leave it.
Ultimately this memoir is important because it involves the story of a successful Black woman showing through both argument and modeling that this kind of success is comparatively rare and possible, and that her own personal life bucks a lot of cultural molding that seeks to limit. I think what would be really interesting would be to see more of the academic work that this book represents because of necessary ways in which academic work narrows its focus.
(Cover Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BlankMap-Americas.svg)