Announcing the new issue of Kalfou

This week in North Philly Notes, we feature the new issue of Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies

One highlight from Vol. 7 No. 2 (2020) is that the issue contains a special collection of articles dedicated to the impact of Lorgia García-Peña‘s work on scholarship and civic life. Harvard’s denial of tenure to her in 2019 sparked an intense nationwide discussion of how ethnic studies is devalued in the academy, and this issue mounts a defense of both her pioneering intersectional work in theorizing Blackness, Afrolatinidad, and dominicanidad as well as of the contemporary necessity of the field of ethnic studies more broadly.

Table of Contents:

Kalfou: A JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE AND RELATIONAL ETHNIC STUDIES

VOLUME 7, ISSUE 2 • FALL 2020

SYMPOSIUM ON THE SCHOLARSHIP AND TEACHING OF LORGIA GARCÍA-PEÑA

THE PRESENT CRISIS

Ethnic Studies Matters • Lourdes Torres

Shattering Silences: Dictions, Contradictions, and Ethnic Studies at the Crossroads • George Lipsitz

When Your Mentee Is Denied Tenure: Reflections on Lorgia García-Peña’s Work • Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández

Three Essays toward Care in and beyond Academia • Camara Brown, Eun-Jin Keish Kim, and Massiel Torres Ulloa

Your Mirada. Gracias. Siempre: Afro-Asia, Intimacies, and Women-of-Color Feminisms • Catherine R. Peters

DOMINICANIDAD AS A CRUCIBLE OF NEW KNOWLEDGE

Latinidad, Dominicanidad, and Anti-Blackness: Two Nations under U.S. Empire • Laura Briggs

Bringing Dominican History from the Footnote to the Center of the Page • Elizabeth S. Manley

FEATURE ARTICLES

Susto, Sugar, and Song: ire’ne lara silva’s Chicana Diabetic Poetics • Amanda Ellis

“The Blackness That Incriminated Me”: Stigma and Normalization in Brothers and KeepersAdam Burston, Jesse S. G. Wozniak, Jacqueline Roebuck Sakho, and Norman Conti

Contesting Legal Borderlands: Policing Insubordinate Spaces in Imperial County’s Farm Worker Communities, 1933–1940 • Stevie Ruiz

IDEAS, ART, AND ACTIVISM

TALKATIVE ANCESTORS

Gloria E. Anzaldúa on the Illusion of “Safe Spaces”

KEYWORDS

The Knowledge of Justice in America • Julie J. Miller

LA MESA POPULAR

Discovering Dominga: Indigenous Migration and the Logics of Indigenous Displacement • Floridalma Boj Lopez

ART AND SOCIAL ACTION

Three Films of Yehuda Sharim • John T. Caldwell

Songs That Never End: A Film by Yehuda Sharim • George Lipsitz

TEACHING AND TRUTH

Situating Blackness and Antiracism in a Global Frame: Key Works for a Study of the Dominican Republic • Elizabeth S. Manley and April J. Mayes

About the journal:

Kalfou is published bi-annually by Temple University Press on behalf of the University of California, Santa Barbara. It is focused on social movements, social institutions, and social relations. Kalfou seeks to build links among intellectuals, artists, and activists in shared struggles for social justice. The journal seeks to promote the development of community-based scholarship in ethnic studies among humanists and social scientists and to connect the specialized knowledge produced in academe to the situated knowledge generated in aggrieved communities.

Why We Turn to Intersectionality to Confront Anti-Asian Violence

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost, with permission from Northern California Grantmakers, an essay by Alice Y. Hom, coeditor of the forthcoming Q & A, about the recent anti-Asian violence.

This has been a hard week of swirling emotions since I learned six Asian women and two other people were shot in Atlanta amidst the rise of anti-Asian violence here and nationwide. The names identified so far are: Soon Chung Park (74), Suncha Kim (69), Yong Ae Yue (63),Hyun Jung Grant (51), Xiaojie Tan (49), Daoyou Feng (44), Paul Andre Michels (54), and Dalaina Ashley Yaun (33). I am sending my deep condolences to their loved ones, families, and communities. Rage, grief, and sadness course through me as I wake up and tend to my work, check in with kin and kindred, read the news, and skim social media. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed.  

I am not surprised the shooter, a white man, denied that race motivated his attacks against three massage parlors and spas. But I’m angry at the denial and the shortsightedness of law enforcement, the media, and others who relay the shooter’s explanation and enable the claim that racism doesn’t play a role in his actions.  

Instead, let this be a moment to challenge the idea that anyone might ever be entitled to inflict violence on the pretext that they are driven by “sexual addiction.” This violence should be understood as the deadly expression of racialized and sexualized stereotypes of Asian women, specifically migrants who work at massage parlors and spas whose low income and status as immigrants expose them to risk. Our country’s wars and military operations throughout Asia and the Pacific Rim have, over many years, reinforced sex trades and racialized sexual violence toward Asian women.  

Here we must challenge ourselves to consider race, gender, heterosexuality, and class not as separate forms of identity, but interacting together, to deepen our understanding of the deaths of these women and our Asian elders here in the Bay Area. This concept of interlocking identities is not new and comes from Black lesbian feminists organizing in the 1970s under the Combahee River Collective.  

The term intersectionality was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, who explains, “It’s basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these.”  

This approach helps us make sense of the violence against Asian women and the way it’s connected to violence faced by women of color, Black and Indigenous women, in particular.  I hope the following articles, statements, and interviews provide some insight and support you taking action to strengthen our collective fight against the intersecting oppressions of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism.  

In these moments, we draw strength by calling upon the rich connections of our movements, the power of our voice, and the resources for social justice over which we have influence.   

Celebrating Women’s History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Women’s History Month. Use promo code TWHM21 for 30% off all our Women’s Studies titles. Sale ends April 15, 2021.

Anna May Wong: Performing the Modern, by Shirley Jennifer Lim, shows how Anna May Wong’s work shaped racial modernity and made her one of the most significant actresses of the twentieth century.

The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap, by Yasemin Besen-Cassino, traces the origins of the gender wage gap to part-time teenage work, which sets up a dynamic that persists into adulthood.

Feminist Post-Liberalism, by Judith Baer, reconciles liberalism and feminist theory.

Feminist Reflections on Childhood: A History and Call to Action, by Penny A. Weiss, recovers a history of feminist thought and activism that demands greater voice and respect for young people.

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, how and why women run for office.

Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness: A Notorious Divorce in Early Twentieth-Century America, by Jean Elson, a fascinating story of the troubled marriage and acrimonious divorce of Nina and James Walker elucidates early twentieth-century gender and family mores.

Motherlands: How States Push Mothers Out of Employment, by Leah Ruppanner challenges preconceived notions of the states that support working mothers.

Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara, edited by Linda Janet Holmes and Cheryl A. Wall, an anthology that celebrates the life and work of a major African American writer.

Their Day in the Sun: Women in the Manhattan Project, by Ruth H. Howes and Caroline C. Herzenberg, tells the hidden story of the contribution of women in the effort to develop the atomic bomb.

Undermining Intersectionality: The Perils of Powerblind Feminism, by Barbara Tomlinson, a sustained critique of the ways in which scholars have engaged with and deployed intersectionality.

Women Take Their Place in State Legislature: The Creation of Women’s Caucuses, by Anna Mitchell Mahoney, investigates the opportunities, resources, and frames that women utilize to create legislative caucuses.

Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil: The Rise and Fall of President Dilma Rousseff, by Pedro A.G. dos Santos and Farida Jalalzai, explains what the rise and fall of Brazil’s first and only female president can teach us about women’s empowerment.

Celebrating Black History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Black History Month with an entry highlighting some of our African American Studies and Understanding Racism titles, which are available at 30% off by using promo code TBHM2021 through 3/31/2021.

Black Identity Viewed from a Barber’s Chair: Nigrescence and Eudaimonia, by William E. Cross Jr., revisits the author’s ground-breaking model on Black identity awakening known as Nigrescence, connects W. E. B. DuBois’s concept of double consciousness to an analysis of how Black identity is performed in everyday life, and traces the origins of the deficit perspective on Black culture to scholarship dating back to the 1930s. He follows with a critique showing such deficit and Black self-hatred tropes were always based on extremely weak evidence.

Do Right by Me: Learning to Raise Black Children in White Spaces, by Valerie I. Harrison and Kathryn Peach D’Angelo, invites readers into a conversation on how best to raise black children in white families and white communities. For decades, Katie D’Angelo and Valerie Harrison engaged in conversations about race and racism. However, when Katie and her husband, who are white, adopted Gabriel, a biracial child, Katie’s conversations with Val, who is black, were no longer theoretical and academic. The stakes grew from the two friends trying to understand each other’s perspectives to a mother navigating, with input from her friend, how to equip a child with the tools that will best serve him as he grows up in a white family.

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate: The Story of the Negro League Star and Hall of Fame Catcher, by Rich Westcott, is the first biography of arguably the greatest catcher in the Negro Leagues. A celebrated ballplayer before African Americans were permitted to join Major League Baseball, Biz Mackey ranks as one of the top catchers ever to play the game. Using archival materials and interviews with former Negro League players, baseball historian Rich Westcott chronicles the catcher’s life and remarkable career in Biz Mackey as well as providing an in-depth look at Philadelphia Negro League history.

Civic Intimacies: Black Queer Improvisations on Citizenship, by Niels van Doorn, maps the political and personal stakes of Black queer lives in Baltimore. Because members of the Black queer community often exist outside conventional civic institutions, they must explore alternative intimacies to experience a sense of belonging. Civic Intimacies examines how—and to what extent—these different forms of intimacy catalyze the values, aspirations, and collective flourishing of Black queer denizens of Baltimore.

God Is Change: Religious Practices and Ideologies in the Works of Octavia Butler, Edited by Aparajita Nanda and Shelby L. Crosby (forthcoming in June) explores Octavia Butler’s religious imagination and its potential for healing and liberation. The editors of and contributors to God Is Change heighten our appreciation for the range and depth of Butler’s thinking about spirituality and religion, as well as how Butler’s work—especially the Parable and Xenogenesis series—offers resources for healing and community building. God Is Change meditates on alternate religious possibilities that open different political and cultural futures to illustrate humanity’s ability to endure change and thrive.

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century, by Keneshia N. Grant frames the Great Migration as an important economic and social event that also had serious political consequences. Keneshia Grant created one of the first listings of Black elected officials that classifies them based on their status as participants in the Great Migration. She also describes some of the policy/political concerns of the migrants. The Great Migration and the Democratic Party lays the groundwork for ways of thinking about the contemporary impact of Black migration on American politics.

The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood, by Tommy J. Curry, is a justification for Black Male Studies. He posits that we should conceptualize the Black male as a victim, oppressed by his sex. The Man-Not, therefore, is a corrective of sorts, offering a concept of Black males that could challenge the existing accounts of Black men and boys desiring the power of white men who oppress them that has been proliferated throughout academic research across disciplines. Curry challenges how we think of and perceive the conditions that actually affect all Black males.

Mediating America: Black and Irish Press and the Struggle for Citizenship, 1870-1914, by Brian Shott, explores the life and work of T. Thomas Fortune and J. Samuel Stemons as well as Rev. Peter C. Yorke and Patrick Ford—respectively two African American and two Irish American editor/activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Historian Brian Shott shows how each of these “race men” (the parlance of the time) understood and advocated for his group’s interests through their newspapers.

Celebrating National Coming Out Week

This week in North Philly Notes, we proudly present ten of our LGBTQ+ titles!

Action = Vie: A History of AIDS Activism and Gay Politics in France, by Christophe Broqua
Chronicling the history and accomplishments of Act Up-Paris

Civic Intimacies: Black Queer Improvisations on Citizenship, by Niels van Doorn
Mapping the political and personal stakes of Black queer lives in Baltimore

Disruptive Situations: Fractal Orientalism and Queer Strategies in Beirut, by Ghassan Moussawi
The first comprehensive study to employ the lens of queer lives in the Arab World to understand everyday life disruptions, conflicts, and violence

In a Queer Voice: Journeys of Resilience from Adolescence to Adulthood, by Michael Sadowski
In-depth interviews over six years show us how LGBTQ youth survive adolescence, thrive as adults, and find a voice that is uniquely their own

Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America, by Colin R. Johnson
Uncovering the history of gender and sexual nonconformity in rural America, with a focus on the Midwest during the first half of the twentieth century

Officially Gay: The Political Construction of Sexuality by the U.S. Military, by Gary L. Lehring
How the military defined homosexuality and the ways that shaped the gay and lesbian identity and movements

Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America, by Miriam Frank
A groundbreaking history of queer activists who advanced the causes of labor organizing and LGBT rights

Public City/Public Sex: Homosexuality, Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris, by Andrew Israel Ross
How female prostitutes and men who sought sex with other men shaped the history and emergence of modern Paris in the nineteenth century

Sticky Rice: A Politics of Intraracial Desire, by Cynthia Wu
Creating a queer genealogy of Asian American literary criticism

Vulnerable Constitutions: Queerness, Disability, and the Remaking of American Manhood, by Cynthia Barounis
Presents an alternative queer-crip genealogy of American masculinity in the twentieth century

Living amidst constant disruptions that keep on taking new forms.

This week in North Philly Notes, Ghassan Moussawi, author of Disruptive Situations asks, What kind of everyday life strategies can we use in these times?

Since March 2020, we have been living in uncertain and troubling times due to COVID-19, where our lives, everyday routines, and sense of safety have been heavily impacted. However, as we have witnessed, the global pandemic has and continues to affect peoples’ lives differently, where the most precarious people have most been affected by the pandemic. For example, there are higher death rate among communities of color, especially Black, Indigenous, undocumented, queer and trans people of color and communities in the U.S.

What came as a shock to many is the sudden interruption of everyday life as we know it. People are lost, confused, and mourning the loss of their routines and the stability in their lives. While some might say, we are living in “a new normal;” the definition of “new” and “normal” keep changing to the extent that the term “new normal” fails to account for the moment we are living in. The majority of people living in the U.S. today have not encountered such sudden shifts and disruptions in their everyday lives. For queer people and communities of color, however, pandemic and government neglect are familiar; the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s wiped out an entire generation while the Reagan and Bush administrations looked the other way.

We think of these as exceptional times, however, how do scholars account for people’s lives in places where everyday life disruptions and uncertainties about the present and future are normal and normalized? What kind of everyday life strategies can we use in these times?

Disruptive Situations_smMy book Disruptive Situations answers the question above, by looking at the everyday life strategies of LGBT people living in post-civil war Beirut. I ask readers to take a step back and think about what it means to live amidst constant everyday life disruptions that keep on taking new forms. Disruptive Situations comes at a time when we are all experiencing a sense of loss and disorientation, and my hope is that the book might shed light on how people survive constant and imminent disruptions, caused by wars, civil unrest, and everyday violence.

The idea for the book started in 2009, when I found many Euro-American media outlets advertising Beirut as a new destination for gay tourism. Though life in Beirut remains highly precarious, such representations downplayed such realities. My book looks at the period 2005-2016, which was marked by a series of assassinations, an Israeli war in 2006, suicide bombings, a shortage of basic services (such as electricity and clean water), and a garbage crisis. Drawing on fieldwork I conducted in Beirut among LGBT people between 2009-15—during the height of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s suicide bombings in Beirut and Lebanon—I ask how we can account for people’s everyday lives amid uncertainty and violence that has no beginning and no end. People in Beirut have devised the term al-wad’ or “the situation” to capture the complexity of these everyday violence and disruptions.

Using the concept of al-wad’, or “the situation,” I raise questions about spaces beyond Beirut, by asking what it has to say about queer life in contexts where precarity and disruptions are the conditions of everyday social and cultural life. Though the book draws on LGBT people’s strategies, these queer strategies are not necessarily enacted only by LGBT people.

Disruptive Situation highlights these and other issues:

  • How and in what ways has Beirut been marketed as a “gay friendly” destination? For whom, is it “gay friendly? It is class and race—and not gay friendliness—that determines who is able to experience Beirut as “gay friendly;” In Beirut—as now amid the COVID pandemic—race and class primarily determine who gets to experience safety and precarity
  • LGBT individuals’ various negotiations or “queer strategies” in navigating everyday disruptions, with a focus on mobilities and access to space. These includes movements within and across the city, to crossing neighborhood borders, and access to “gay-friendly” spaces and communities of organizing
  • Queer strategies that people use, like accepting contradictions, and creating bubbles as both metaphorical and physical spaces of respite to negotiate life
  • What can everyday queer tactics tell us about the local and regional politics, and everyday life violence and uncertainty? This current pandemic also illustrates how it affects LGBT communities differently based on race, class, gender, and documentation status. Similarly, State and interpersonal violence in the U.S. remain heavily determined by marginalization, with Indigenous and Black communities particularly targeted even in the midst of the pandemic
  • What does it mean to conduct ethnographic research at times of violence and disruption? What does it mean when one’s research gets constantly interrupted and one has to leave their research site due to violence and bombings?

I hope Disruptive Situations will help us better understand both how people negotiate constant major life disruptions and how we can come up with creative ways to conduct research when we live in uncertain times, such as the ones we are currently experiencing.

Books that can start the conversation about race

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase a selection of Temple University Press titles about understanding racism. Get 30% off these and other books about race on our website: tupress.temple.edu/subjects/1092 (Use Promo Code T30P at checkout) 

Silent Gesture
The Autobiography of Tommie Smith
Tommie Smith and David Steele
Sporting series
The story behind an image of protest that will always stand as an iconic representation of the complicated conflations of race, politics, and sports.

The Possessive Investment of Whiteness
How White People Profit from Identity Politics
Twentieth Anniversary Edition
By George Lipsitz
An unflinching but necessary look at white supremacy, updated to address racial privilege in the age of Trump

The Man-Not
Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood
Tommy J. Curry
Black Male Studies Series
“[A] provocative discussion of black masculinity by critiquing both the social and academic treatment of killings of black men and boys in the US….”—Choice  

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party
Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century
Keneshia N. Grant
Frames the Great Migration as an important economic and social event that also changed the way Democratic Party elites interacted with Black communities in northern cities

Invisible People
Stories of Lives at the Margins
Alex Tizon, Edited by Sam Howe Verhovek
Foreword by Jose Antonio Vargas
Epic stories of marginalized people—from lonely immigrants struggling to forge a new American identity to a high school custodian who penned a New Yorker short story. 

Look, a White!
Philosophical Essays on Whiteness
George Yancy
Returning the problem of whiteness to white people, Yancy identifies the embedded and opaque ways white power and privilege operate

Resurrecting Slavery
Racial Legacies and White Supremacy in France

Crystal Marie Fleming
Bringing a critical race perspective to the study of French racism, Fleming provides a nuanced way of thinking about the global dimensions of slavery, anti-blackness, and white supremacy

FORTHCOMING IN NOVEMBER

Do Right by Me
Learning to Raise Black Children in White Spaces
Valerie I. Harrison and Kathryn Peach D’Angelo
A conversation between two friends—about how best to raise black children in white families and white communities—after one adopts a biracial son 

ALSO OF INTEREST

Tasting Freedom
Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America
Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin
The life and times of Octavius Catto, a civil rights pioneer [felled by a bullet] fighting for social justice issues and voting rights more than a century ago

 

A Q&A with Temple University Press’s newest Acquisitions Editor, Shaun Vigil

This week in North Philly Notes, we get to learn more about Temple University Press’s newest acquisitions editor, Shaun Vigil. 

Shaun Vigil joined Temple University Press’s editorial team in late March, just as the press started working remotely. He will be acquiring titles in Asian American studies, gender and sexuality studies, disability studies, literary studies, African American Studies, Latinx Studies, as well as regional interest. So we wanted to get a better sense of his reading habits, likes, and obsessions.

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What were your past publishing jobs?
I started my publishing career as an Editorial Intern at Columbia University Press. From there, I spent my Editorial Assistant/Assistant Editor years at Cambridge University Press supporting university press publishing legend Lewis Bateman on the Political Science, History, and Jewish Studies lists. I made the leap to Editor when joining Palgrave Macmillan, where I served in the Humanities as Editor for Cultural and Media Studies as well as, for a period, Literature. I was fortunate enough to commission a myriad of titles from across the spectrum of my scholarly interests in American Studies, Asian Studies, Comics Studies, Critical Race Studies, Games Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Latin American Studies, and Music Studies.

What book(s) are you currently reading?
My preference is to dive headfirst into a book and read it cover to cover without interruption, but the current state of quarantine has allowed me a bit more space to juggle multiple books. First, I’ve been dipping into Don J. Unser’s Chasing Dichos through Chimayó (University of New Mexico, 2014) a little bit every day to keep my mind connected with my roots in New Mexico while sitting in my East Coast apartment. Second, I’ve finally begun reading Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin, 2019). Needless to say, I can only echo all of the praise the book has rightfully received.

What’s the last great book you read?
Without question, Eve Ensler’s The Apology (Bloomsbury, 2019) has reached into my core more deeply than any other book I’ve read in years. Ensler did more in just over 100 pages than do many tomes, and I’ve found new depths to Ensler’s processing of her experience with every phrase and paragraph I’ve revisited.

Shaun VigilWhat book made the greatest impact on you?
My spouse and I first bonded over a shared love of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens (Workman, 1990/HarperTorch, 2006). As such, I would be remiss to name anything else!

Which writers do you love (or hate) the most?
A few writers whose works I could never tire of include Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, Matt Kindt, Marjane Satrapi, and Kurt Vonnegut. While I hesitate to say that there are many widely recognized authors whose writing I truly hate, I would be just fine if I never came across a Bret Easton Ellis or Jonathan Franzen book ever again.

When and how do you read?
Under normal circumstances, I tend to read during my commute and on the weekends. Given quarantine, I’m reading intermittently throughout the day when not working. It’s rare for me to read anything other than unpublished manuscripts or some comics on an e-reader, so I’ve honed a few methods in avoiding tipping over in a crowded train while still keeping my book open. In the warmer months, nothing beats sitting in the sun.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
It wouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone that has spent more than a couple of days around me, but Ian Christe’s Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal (HarperEntertainment, 2003) might shock a few. I am totally and unironically a metalhead, so my bookshelf really wouldn’t be complete without it. Of course, what kind of metalhead would I be if I didn’t mention that there are a number of highly esoteric details I feel could have been corrected or better addressed before publication?

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine?
I wrote my undergraduate thesis on The Amazing Spider-Man comics of the 1960s-80s, so I’d really be lying if I answered with anyone other than the web-slinger himself.

What Temple University Press book has particular meaning to you?
Paul Lopes’ Demanding Respect: The Evolution of the American Comic Book was a vital resource when writing the aforementioned thesis, and to this day remains one of the books I recommend most to people seeking an entrypoint to the area.

What Temple University Press book would you recommend to someone?

Milo W. Obourn’s Disabled Futures: A Framework for Radical Inclusion, is not only one of the most important interventions to the field in recent memory, but also a lucid read. Further, I’d just learned of the book’s publication when I saw the opening of the Temple role. I thought to myself, “That’s exactly the kind of text I want to help find its audience.” Simply put, it helped to confirm that Temple would be the right place for me.

What book will you read next?
I’ve just placed an order via IndieBound for Cherríe Moraga’s Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019). I’ve long admired Moraga’s writing, and from all accounts I’ve seen it looks to be especially powerful. Naturally, it doesn’t hurt that Obourn’s book engages with Moraga’s work. I also added J.J. Anselmi’s Doomed to Fail: The Incredibly Loud History of Doom, Sludge, and Post-Metal (Rare Bird Books, 2020) to the IndieBound order, so I’ll definitely be blasting a soundtrack with appropriately downtuned guitars while reading that one.

What three writers would you invite to a dinner party?
I tend to err on the “don’t meet your heroes” side of things, but one author I would love to share a few bowls of New Mexican red chile with is Rudolfo Anaya. Synonymous with New Mexican literature, I would relish the opportunity to thank him for his gorgeous, poignant depictions of New Mexico that have captured its essence and brought it to the rest of the world so many times over.

Unorthodox Captures Many Truths of Leaving Hasidic Communities

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost Degrees of Separation author Schneur Zalman Newfield’s recent article from The Society Pages that considers the Netflix series, Unorthodox, about exiting ultra-Orthodox communities, the subject of his new book.

Like many who left ultra-Orthodox communities in which they were raised, I eagerly awaited the release of the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox, loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s first memoir by the same title that chronicles her journey out of her Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and her efforts to join the broader secular society. I was curious to see in what ways the narrative of the miniseries would reflect the experiences of the 74 ex-Hasidic men and women I interviewed for my PhD dissertation and forthcoming book, Degrees of SeparationIdentity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Hasidic communities adhere strictly to Orthodox Jewish law, members tend to marry young and have large families, and generally shun non-Jewish culture and outsiders.

Degrees of Separation_smThe miniseries revolves around the attempt of Esty Shapiro—brilliantly portrayed by Shira Haas—to leave her socially and culturally isolated Williamsburg community and start a new life in Berlin, Germany. The miniseries is deeply compelling and captures many truths about the lives of the people I interviewed as well as many others who make the complex journey out of ultra-Orthodoxy.

The miniseries highlights Esty’s traumatic experiences inside her Hasidic marriage. Although Esty rejects the term “escaped” to describe her journey and protests that her community was not “a prison,” she did suffer a lot. As Esty reflects at one point about her life in Brooklyn to her new friends in Berlin, “God expected too much from me.” She is perplexed when informed just before her wedding of the basic mechanics of sex and the complex details of the “family purity” laws that require her to chart when she is menstruating and to abstain from sex during those times and for a week afterwards. Esty cries through the sheering off of all her lush hair the morning after her wedding and is terrified and alienated when she visits the ritual bath (mikvah) and immerses herself in order to make herself “pure” and available to have sex with her husband. She also suffers extreme physical pain when having sex with her husband and after months of trying, they are only able to engage fully in intercourse a single time. The physical pain is only heightened and given an added sting by her nosy and insensitive mother-in-law’s intrusions into her sex life aimed at securing her another grandchild. Ultimately, her mother-in-law encourages her son to divorce Esty because it is believed she will never be able to get pregnant.

I will focus on three themes of the exit process from religion that are significant in my own research and are all dramatized in Unorthodox: the dire warnings from community members to potential exiters; the maintenance of religious beliefs and practices by exiters even after they exit; and the hybrid technique of integrating aspects of an exiters’ past into their present and future.

While still in Williamsburg, Esty secretly took piano lessons for several years from a non-Jewish woman who rented an apartment from her grandfather. Before Esty leaves Brooklyn, the music teacher gives her student a small compass to help her find her way once she exits her community. Indeed, it is an extremely difficult task for exiters to create a new life for themselves once all the rules, norms, expectations that they grew up with are discarded. These communities tell those contemplating or suspected of contemplating leaving that it is impossible to do so, that all who leave are crazy and end up with ruined and dysfunctional lives. It is clearly a lie, but for those inside the community lacking information about the outside world and those who make it out, this can be a very compelling argument to stay.

One of the most powerful scenes occurs shortly after Esty clandestinely travels from Brooklyn to Berlin and finds herself on a beach, surrounded by scantily clad carefree swimmers splashing around and enjoying their time in the sun. Esty is still wearing her Hasidic garb, including her conservative long skirt, thick opaque brown tights, and wig (sheitel). We feel Esty’s internal struggle, her desire to be “normal” and join in the fun, while being simultaneously horrified that people could expose so much of their bodies to total strangers. She has internalized the teachings of her community that stipulate that the body, especially a woman’s body, must always be covered up in order to protect its sanctity and the purity of those around her. Esty wavers for a moment, but then gathers her courage. She takes off her opaque tights and walks into the lake fully clothed. As she enters the shallow waters, she pulls off her wig and releases it. It floats away. This emersion is a sort of reverse mikvah, a ritual cleansing of her former life and a symbolic rebirth into her new secular identity.

Esty’s internal struggle mirrors what many of my interviewees grapple with once they leave their community but still hold onto numerous religious practices and beliefs from their old community, such as an aversion to eating pork—which is strictly forbidden by Jewish law—and the persistence of belief in God, and conservative views of gender and race. These practices and beliefs can prove difficult, if not impossible, to jettison.

One of the best techniques that Hasidic exiters have found for integrating into the broader secular society is taking a hybrid approach to their life. That is, to find a way to incorporate elements of their past into their present and future. This approach is powerfully exemplified in the final scene of the miniseries when Esty auditions for entrance to a prestigious Berlin music institute. Esty first sings a short piece from Schubert entitled “An die Musik,” and does a competent job. Then she is asked to sing another song and chooses a Hasidic one with Hebrew words that was chanted at her wedding. She sways (shuckles) just as Hasidic Jews typically do when lost in a melody.  Her rendition is soul stirring. The viewer is mesmerized by Esty’s blending of classic European and Hasidic music. In that moment she has decided not to ghettoize her past but to allow it to blend into her present and future. In my book I call this “embracing a hybrid identity.” It’s not a brief transitional phase, but a long term strategy for pursuing a life that is deeply different from the life one was raised and trained in. Examples of hybridity include schuckling, like Esty in Unorthodox, while engaging in secular activities such as studying American law, or occasionally taking the time to study a passage of Talmud while pursuing a doctorate in French literature.

The main weakness of the miniseries is its inclusion of a spy-like theme that distracts from its beauty and authenticity. This theme begins in the opening scene of the miniseries with Esty surreptitiously collecting hidden items from around her bedroom—a wad of cash from inside a foam wig holder—in preparation of her departure. The covert ops continue with a scene where Esty is taken by an aunt to a kosher supermarket so that her prospective mother-in-law can furtively inspect her, like a piece of meat at a butcher shop, to see if she passes muster. This entire scene makes no sense. The mother-in-law doesn’t know her from around the small and close-knit neighborhood?  She can’t ask a friend? The espionage intensifies when the Rebbe, the spiritual leader of the Hasidic community, orders Esty’s sheepish husband Yanky, accompanied by his cousin Moshe, a thuggish character and former renegade himself, to travel to Berlin to track down and bring back Esty. Moshe even receives the obligatory box with a pistol when he checks into his Berlin hotel. Who does he get the gun from and what exactly is he supposed to do with it once he meets up with Esty?

This espionage subplot seems truly absurd. It makes Hasidic Jews and those who leave their community seem entirely foreign to the viewers who are finally coming to know this “exotic” community through shows like this one and to see them for the normal human beings they are, albeit living a wildly different lifestyle.

Sociologically speaking, exiting from strict religious communities is an example of the broader phenomenon of personal transformation and resocialization, similar to the processes people experience after a divorce and when immigrating to a new country. Leaving a religion is traumatic and complex, but not unrelated to other kinds of social experiences. It is helpful to think of religious exiters in relation to other forms of exiting. This helps humanize religious exiters and helps us realize that the process of resocialization is a more common one than we might otherwise imagine. People from all walks of life may need to engage in resocialization at some point or another.

Ironically, the actress who plays Esty, Shira Haas, starred in the international hit show on Netflix Shtisel, which was a huge success because it made the ultra-Orthodox appear normal, or more accurately, as troubled and complex as everyone else. They have distinct religious dress, beliefs, and rituals, but they too have romantic problems, marital disharmony, financial woes, struggles to find a career, and disappointments from their children.

Notwithstanding the distraction from the spy element, Unorthodox is a powerful series that celebrates the human capacity for personal transformation. It affirms that birth is not destiny, and gives voice to a group of survivors that are often marginalized in mainstream culture.

Schneur Zalman Newfield is an Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Department of Social Sciences, Human Services, and Criminal Justice at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. Visit him online at zalmannewfield.com.

What the Temple University Press staff are reading while sheltering at home

This week in North Philly Notes, we ask the staff what they are reading while self-quarantined.

Shaun Vigil, Acquisitions Editor

While acclimating myself to the Press’s frontlist, it was a special pleasure to discover Kimberly Kattari’s Psychobilly, due for publication this spring. As a longtime fan of the genre — as well as a voracious reader of books on musical subcultures — nothing could have better signaled that my arrival at Temple. This book is truly a perfect match. Kattari’s in-depth accounts have not only helped to launch me into a world outside of my apartment during quarantine, but have also inspired me to pick up my Gretsch guitar and start brushing up on my picking!”

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

I just finished the design/layout of the first pass pages for Amy Finstein’s Modern Mobility Aloft: Elevated Highways, Architecture, and Urban Change in Pre-Interstate America, forthcoming in October. The book focuses on New York, Chicago and Boston and includes 103 halftones and 12 maps. I read a bit as I work, but I primarily focused on the images. Having spent a lot of time living in both New York and Boston, I was very interested in the historic photographs. Once published, I will give this book to my brother who is an architect in Boston.

As for a non-Temple book, I just began reading The Overstory by Richard Powers.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

I didn’t bring any recent TUP books home. It was too short notice, so along with new book projects, I’m reading and relaxing with James McBride’s Deacon King Kong. Luckily, I bought it before the pandemic hit and since the book is new, there are loads of reviews of it online. Being a former Brooklynite I’m enjoying an escape into a hilarious sixties Brooklyn neighborhood, told in McBride’s usually captivating way.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

I’m reading Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, which is just the right kind of escapism for me right now — a voice from another world, in which records and relationships somehow managed to command center stage. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back?

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

I just finished The Clockmaker’s Daughter, by Kate Morton. I’m a big fan of how she interweaves the past and present around a transformative event, usually a death.  I’ve started an older book of hers, The Secret Keeper. 

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Before our offices closed, I grabbed a copy of our recently published book, Action = Vie, by Christophe Broqua about the history and accomplishments of Act Up-Paris. It is an interesting title to read during the pandemic. I had read (and seen) and been inspired by David France’s How to Survive a Plague, so I am seeking similar inspiration from Broqua’s Action = Vie.

 

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