The News of New York City’s Death is Greatly Exaggerated

This week in North Philly Notes, Francois Pierre-Louis Jr. and Michael Alan Krasner, two of the coauthors of Immigrant Crossroads, write about immigrant groups in Queens, New York.

Since the advent of COVID-19 and the exodus of affluent New Yorkers to the suburbs, some people have predicted that New York will no longer be the city that never sleeps. Our book Immigrant Crossroads has shown the contrary, documenting and analyzing the many fascinating dynamics of community and political activism in this unique borough.

For immigrant families that had endured the four years of the Trump administration living away from their loved ones, the Biden presidency brings new hope and renewed optimism that what Queens was already showing to America will continue. That the vibrant growth exemplified by the borough of Queens and temporarily impeded will flourish again.

Since the 1990s Queens has become the urban epicenter for contemporary immigration—a place that boasts immigrants from 140 countries. While Manhattan drew millions of tourists and mega-rich condo buyers, the city’s four other Boroughs saw the influx of working- and middle-class newcomers from every continent. Places that used to be unattractive to developers and commercial interests suddenly became prime real estate and desired places for immigrants and the middle class to live. Queens led the way in this transformation from being an enclave dominated by the white working class to being perhaps the most diverse aggregation of human beings on the planet. Queens has become an epicenter of  immigrant striving, and activism, presenting an alternative to the nativist vision pursued by Trump’s  propagandists and enforcers.

Hollowed out by white flight, in the 1980s and 90s, New York City’s outer Boroughs have been revitalized with the influx of new immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Caribbean and Africa. Neighborhoods such as Flushing, Bayside, and Laurelton have emerged as the epicenter of New York City’s Asian American community. Within a decade, Flushing has become one of the city’s major commercial and banking center for the Asian community. Corona and Jackson Heights became destinations for those from Latin America, and Astoria became the home for Russians and Eastern Europeans and those from the Middle East. All across the borough of Queens, immigrants remade blighted neighborhoods into thriving communities.

As major economic developments took place, new forms of immigrant activism emerged in Queens’ other neighborhoods, a process that is remaking the social, cultural, economic, and political fabric of the city. Take the case of Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Flushing where seventy-five percent of the residents are people of color. When the City announced in 2012, that it would give away portions of Flushing Meadows Park to private developers as a way to revitalize the local economy, a coalition of community-based groups and faith-based organizations created the Fairness Coalition of Queens to fight the Bloomberg administration’s economic development agenda. Forcing the cancellation of a sterile soccer stadium and other mega projects, the Fairness Coalition asserted its own power and priorities to call attention to the need for affordable housing and the checking of rampant  gentrification.

A similar pattern has developed in national immigration politics. Drawing on a heavily foreign-born population (One-in-two residents in Queens are foreign-born, ranking it second in the nation for percentage of foreign-born residents), activist Dreamer organizations have lobbied successfully for state legislation and led the fight for similar action from the federal government. Among the first set of actions by the Biden Administration are a rash of executive orders and a far-reaching legislative proposal to not only undo Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant policies but to usher in human pathways to immigrant inclusion.

Pioneering efforts on health care accessibility, an issue made salient by the Covid crisis also began in Queens where two city-wide immigrant advocacy organizations successfully organized to pass the Language Access in Pharmacies Act in 2009 and in 2012 mandating pharmacies provide comprehensive translation and interpretation services to patients with limited English proficiency.

As these examples suggest, the true impact of the recent surge of new immigrant groups is complex, contradicting partisan stereotypes and xenophobic pandering. Serious scholarship from varied disciplines reveals the richly textured contributions that resurgent nativism has sought to obliterate. Our volume demonstrates that being an Immigrant Crossroads has led New York City to flourish and suggests a path that the entire country would do well to consider following to revive the national motto, “Out of many, one.”

Books for the Inauguration

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase a half dozen of our political science titles in honor of the inauguration.

We recommend Good Reasons to Run, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, about women and political candidacy, because Kamala Harris became the first female vice president.

The editors and contributors to Good Reasons to Run, a mix of scholars and practitioners, examine the reasons why women run—and do not run—for political office. They focus on the opportunities, policies, and structures that promote women’s candidacies. How do nonprofits help recruit and finance women as candidates? And what role does money play in women’s campaigns?

We recommend The Great Migration and the Democratic Party, by Keneshia Grant, because it shows the political impact of Black migration on politics. (Grant focuses on three northern cities from 1915 to 1965)

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party 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. Grant lays the groundwork for ways of thinking about the contemporary impact of Black migration on American politics.

We recommend We Decide! by Michael Menser for its investigation of and insights regarding participatory democracy.

We Decide! draws on liberal, feminist, anarchist, and environmental justice philosophies as well as in-depth case studies of Spanish factory workers, Japanese housewives, and Brazilian socialists to show that participatory democracy actually works. Menser concludes his study by presenting a reconstructed version of the state that is shaped not by corporations but by inclusive communities driven by municipal workers, elected officials, and ordinary citizens working together. In this era of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, the participatory democracy proposed in We Decide! is more significant than ever.

We recommend Democratic Theorizing from the Margins, by Marla Brettschneider, for its clear account of the lessons and theories of democratic culture

Democratic Theorizing from the Margins lays out the basic parameters of diversity-based politics as a still emerging form of democratic theory. Students, activists, and scholars engage in diversity politics on the ground, but generally remain unable to conceptualize a broad understanding of how “politics from the margins”—that is, political thinking and action that comes from groups often left on the outside of mainstream organizing and action—operate effectively in different contexts and environments. Brettschneider offers concrete lessons from many movements to see what they tell us about a new sort of democratic politics. She also addresses traditional democratic theories and draws on the myriad discerning practices employed by marginalized groups in their political activism to enhance the critical capacities of potential movements committed both to social change and democratic action.

We recommend Rude Democracy, by Susan Herbst, about how civility and incivility are strategic weapons on the state of American democracy, given how polarized our country has become.

Democracy is, by its very nature, often rude. But there are limits to how uncivil we should be. In the 2010 edition of Rude Democracy, Susan Herbst explored the ways we discuss public policy, how we treat each other as we do, and how we can create a more civil national culture. She used the examples of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama to illustrate her case. She also examined how young people come to form their own attitudes about civility and political argument. In a new preface for this 2020 paperback edition, the author connects her book to our current highly contentious politics and what it means for the future of democratic argument.

And we encourage readers to look for our forthcoming (in March) title, Furthering Fair Housing, edited by Justin P. Steil, Nicholas F. Kelly, Lawrence J. Vale, and Maia S. Woluchem. This book analyzes federal policy to advance racial equity in housing and neighborhoods.

Furthering Fair Housing analyzes multiple dimensions of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, which was the most significant federal effort to increase equality of access to place-based resources and opportunities, such as high-performing schools or access to jobs, since the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The editors and contributors to this volume identify failures of past efforts to increase housing choice, explore how the AFFH Rule was crafted, measure the initial effects of the rule before its rescission, and examine its interaction with other contemporary housing issues, such as affordability, gentrification, anti-displacement, and zoning policies.

Behind the scenes with Chia Youyee Vang and Pao Yang

This week in North Philly Notes, we post a Q&A, conducted in December 2020, between author Chia Youyee Vang and Pao Yang, the subject of her book Prisoner of Wars, which chronicles the Hmong Fighter Pilot’s experiences during the Secret War in Laos.

Chia: Many people have asked me how I came to work with you on this book. I usually tell them that as a historian who relies on oral history to tell stories of ordinary people, I found your life experiences to be unique and that what you and your family went through contributes to the larger history of the Vietnam War and the Secret War of Laos. Why did you decide to share your story after all these years?

Pao: Well, I should first say thank you for the seven years that you spent on it. If I had not been on this journey with you, I never would have understood how much work goes into making something like this happen. I’m really pleased that you didn’t give up, and I’m most pleased that I’m still here to have this conversation with you. I’m getting older so there have been a few times since we first met in 2013 that I wasn’t sure I’d live to see this book.

To answer your question, some people in the Hmong community and other Americans have heard about my POW experience. As a matter of fact, students and a few American writers have wanted to write my story but they didn’t follow through. When you came to interview me, and then returned a few more times to listen to what I had to say, I felt that you were different. You asked me a lot of questions and you listened to what I had to say. In trying to answer your questions, I started to reflect more about what happened to me. For so long, I felt that war is not good because nobody really wins. I survived, so I just need to keep living. You helped me to better understand not just what happened, but why some things turned out the way they did. That’s what motivated me to share my life experiences.

Chia: I have interviewed many veterans and I have certainly heard a lot of compelling stories. One of the reasons why I found your story so important to share is that you are the only Hmong pilot veteran from the Vietnam War era who was shot down, survived, and spent time in a prison camp. What was the hardest part for you?

Pao: I have to say that even today there are times when I still have dreams about the time that I was imprisoned: the torture, hunger, and seeing fellow prisoners die from disease or from trying to escape. I would wake up from the dreams sweating, or my heart would be pounding so fast. There have been times when it felt as though I was still in that place. Family, friends, and strangers have asked me about what it was like in the prison camp. I usually just tell them basic information without details. That is because I have tried to forget. So the hardest part for me during our work together is that I had to remember. I can’t describe it but it’s like I’m reliving those moments when I’m telling them to you.

Chia: I remember quite a few times during the first interview when I could tell it was difficult for you. We had to stop the first interview when we got to the part where you held the hand of a fellow prisoner as he slowly died.

Pao: Yes. The next day when we continued the interview, I was able to discuss it without choking up.

Chia: Can you discuss what the last seven years have been like for you? And, what does having this book mean to you?

Pao: Like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t sure it would happen. I felt like I told you so many things about my entire life. I’m really proud of the fact that you helped to make my life story coherent. It was, and is, to some extent, still a little chaotic. I don’t have a magical answer for how to overcome difficult experiences. My life and that of my loved ones are not perfect. We still have issues to resolve. To answer your question, the last seven years have actually been hopeful for me. Working with you and knowing that someone believes my lived experiences are worth remembering gives me hope, that it is OK that I don’t have all the answers. I feel honored that during wartime I was forgotten, but with this book, my story will be known to others today and future generations.

Chia: Well, I’ve certainly learned a lot collaborating with you. Thank you for trusting me to help tell your story, which I know is reflective of the lasting impact of the war on Hmong lives. Through your story, I’ve tried to reveal the scars that never heal and the experiences that are difficult for people who did not go through similar experiences to understand. It’s a story about war and survival and the struggle to make sense of life.

Pao: Indeed, the struggle continues but being able to hold this book in my hand has brought great joy to me. Thanks again for believing that my ordinary story is worth documenting.

Temple University Press’s Annual Holiday Give and Get

This week in North Philly Notes, we cap off this unusual year with the staff at Temple University Press suggesting the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to receive and read this holiday season. 

We wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Give: This year, in hope for and anticipation of a time when we can once again roam freely, I’m giving City in a Park: A History of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System, by James McClelland and Lynn Miller. Pick an area of the park, learn its history, and set out to experience the beauty of a big part of what makes Philadelphia special.
Get: When I saw Black Hole Survival Guide, by Janna Levin, on one of those “best books of 2020” lists I was immediately intrigued. Rather than a how-to for 2020 and 2021, it’s a fun and accessible description of what black holes are and what they mean for the universe. 

Karen Baker, Associate Director/Financial Manager

Give: I would like to give Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City by Joseph E.B. Elliott, Nathaniel Popkin, and Peter Woodall because my son-in-law has discovered their website and is very interested in touring all the hidden locations in the book.
Get: I would like to receive The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish because I love her humor and find her story to be inspiring.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

Give: Philadelphians know our city boasts a number of French influences in our arts and built environment, but Salut! France Meets Philadelphia will tell you the full story, from early Huguenot settlers seeking religious freedom, to the Ben Franklin Parkway, to Philly’s French restaurant scene which has been among the best in the country. It’s also an absolutely gorgeous book filled with beautiful color illustrations, making Salut! a can’t-miss gift. 

Get: I’m curious about The Blind Light, but Stuart Evers. A novel of Cold War fear, paranoia, and class inequality in England, it might not sound like the uplifting escape one would wish for this year. But as the Times review points out, historical fiction can offer a reorienting perspective on our current struggles, and it’s — what, reassuring? bracing? — to recall that 2020 is certainly not the first time we’ve stared global destruction in the eye. 

Shaun Vigil, Editor

Give: Chia Youyee Vang and Pao Yang’s Prisoner of Wars : A Hmong Fighter Pilot’s Story of Escaping Death and Confronting Life is at the top of my “to give” list. A book that is truly vital, Prisoner of Wars is both accessible and essential to the wide reading public outside of scholarly writing, making every single page count in telling its deeply impactful oral history.

Get: I am hoping to see Hannah Eaton’s most recent graphic novel, Blackwood, under my tree this season. Eaton’s debut graphic novel, On Monsters, was equal parts hauntingly human and fantastic, so I can’t wait to see how her second work utilizes her singular illustration style in a new story.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

Give: The Defender: The Battle to Protect the Rights of the Accused in Philadelphia tells the story of one of the country’s leading public defender offices. Unlike most states, Pennsylvania leaves it to its counties to fund its public defender offices, leaving Philadelphia’s public defenders to fight for the life of their office alongside the lives of its clients, achieving breakthroughs on both fronts that pioneered the future of justice reform across the country. It’s perfect for readers interested in how law and order has arrived at this point, what we have overcome, and what remains.
Get: Thanks to the dystopian overtones of the past year and the trouble of making meaning and enjoyment after so many sources of both have been shut off have had me thinking often of the traveling artists of Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven. She has a new novel, titled The Glass Hotel, that I’d love to check out.

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

GiveModern Mobility Aloft: Elevated Highways, Architecture, and Urban Change in Pre-Interstate America by Amy D. Finstein. Having formerly lived in both New York and Boston for extended periods of time, I loved seeing the photographs and reading the text as I worked on the book.
Get: The Overstory by Richard Powers. (Although in full disclosure, this has been in my possession for some time. My reduced attention span over the last few months has me reading mystery thrillers. Any recommendations….?)

Ashley Petrucci, Senior Production Editor

Give: Health the Commonwealth because it is historical but relevant to the current moment.
Get: Henry James Turn of the Screw because I watched The Haunting of Bly Manor and liked it.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Give: I’m chocolate, you’re vanilla.  I’m black and you’re white.  As children, we learn distinctions based upon what we look like. As adults, we sometimes act upon those distinctions subconsciously and judge people, even children, by what they look like. To help parents, teachers, or anyone interacting with black children, I’d give Do Right By Me, a book that reads like a primer on raising black children in white spaces.  The resources the authors provide in their thoughtful exchange will guide in the development of potentially healthy life outcomes and provide some necessary tools to help black children and their caretakers navigate this biased society.
Get: I hope someone gives me Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok. I’ve heard it’s a gripping portrait of a Chinese immigrant family, filled with mystery and secrets—just what I need to fill the time. 

Nikki Gallant, Marketing Assistant

Give: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right, by Michael Smerconish, because my family is a huge fan of CNN. When I found out Michael Smerconish had a book with the press, I immediately ran to my dad to tell him. He is also from Doylestown, PA, which is a short drive away from my hometown.
Get: I love classic British Literature and believe that you can never go wrong with a classic for the holidays. I want to read Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Wuthering Heights and Mansfield Park. I would also love the rest of Patti Smith’s books that I have not read. 

Irene Imperio, Advertising and Promotions Manager

Give: With lively photos and club histories, Life, Liberty, and the Mummers feels like the perfect gift this year for transplanted Philadelphians and for those missing the parade this year. 
Get: I’m hoping to get Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream to supplement my mom’s “add a little ___ if you like” or “just add ____ to taste!”

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Give: Given that we all want to getaway this year, Getting Away from It All, Karen Stein’s book about vacations and identity seems most appropriate. It explains how we are who we want to be when we don’t have much responsibility other than to ourselves. And that can’t be any timelier in these stressful days.

Get: I just received Bryan Washington’s novel, Memorial, which I am planning to read over break having enjoyed his short story collection Lot earlier this year. So if someone wants to get me Swimming in the Dark, by Thomasz Jedrowski, I’m anxious to read it next!

The Making of SALUT!

This week in North Philly Notes, Lynn Miller and Therese Dolan discuss their collaboration on Salut! France Meets Philadelphia.

We have both had a life-long love affair with France. We first became acquainted years ago as colleagues on the Temple faculty. Once we discovered our shared Gallic infatuation, we began to chat about those things in the Philadelphia area that had a French flavor. Some wonderful restaurants were part of it, naturellement, but we soon began to discover an amazing variety of French flavors, figuratively speaking, throughout our region’s history. And as we tasted, the hungrier we grew for more.

Early on, there was Philadelphia’s most famous citizen, Benjamin Franklin, who spent the Revolutionary War years in Paris persuading the government of Louis XVI to support the American cause. That support almost certainly was decisive in securing the nation’s independence. French philosophes, meanwhile, were the chief inspiration for the nation’s two great founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—both of which were signed in Independence Hall. That building’s name, by the way, was bestowed on the Pennsylvania Statehouse by our first great foreign hero, the Marquis de Lafayette, when he returned to Philadelphia in 1824 as part of his triumphal tour of the nation he’d helped create.

The American Revolution provided copious dramatic events and distinguished heroes along with prime opportunities for artists to create a distinctive American imagery and style in art. When the nation emerged as an independent entity it needed visual symbols to define its purpose and forge its new identity at home and abroad. In 1779, the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania deemed that those who rendered distinguished services to their country should have their resemblances in statues and paintings. This was what “the wisest, freest and bravest nations” do “in their most virtuous times.” The development of an image of the American national character between the Colonial, Revolutionary, and Federal periods largely depended on portraiture. Charles Willson Peale and his son Rembrandt, along with Gilbert Stuart, were inundated with requests for replicas of their portraits of Washington. Thomas Jefferson brought sculpted busts from France to install in his gallery of worthies at Monticello and purchased sixty-three paintings during his stay in Paris in the hopes of stimulating his American citizens to appreciate the visual and intellectual effectiveness of the fine arts as an intellectual tool for the betterment of the nation.

Philadelphia is obviously not a “French” city like New Orleans or Montreal. Larger numbers of German, Irish, and Italian immigrants settled here than did those of French origin. But the French connections in some respects stand out because they were often made by specific individuals who left important legacies here. That of Stephen Girard, the richest man in the United States early in the 19th century, includes a school for orphans and many blocks of real estate in Center City. Napoleon LeBrun designed both the Academy of Music and the Basilica Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul. Two Frenchmen, Paul Philippe Cret and Jacques Gréber, created our very own Champs-Elysées, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Georges Perrier emigrated here from France as a young man to establish Le Bec-Fin, which would soon be regarded as one of the finest restaurants in America.

Not only have the French immigrated to Philadelphia, France became the training ground for a number of our region’s—and America’s—greatest artists. They include Rembrandt Peale, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt and Henry Ossawa Tanner. Paris remained primarily a city visited as a stopover in the education of an American artist on the Grand Tour of European cities in the first decades of the nineteenth century. However, what had been a trickle of artists seeking artistic education in the early years became a veritable torrent of aspiring practitioners by the end of the century. Paris eventually replaced London and Rome as a destination to study art, to the point where the twentieth-century philosopher and cultural critic, Walter Benjamin, dubbed it the capital of the nineteenth century.

Early in the 20th century, the New Hope school of Pennsylvania Impressionists all took their inspiration from their older French counterparts. Art institutions in Philadelphia, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Barnes Foundation, are home to some of the most important collections of French art in the world. The city’s Rodin Museum holds the largest collection of that French master’s sculptures outside France.

Just as we learned from the research we did in the course of writing Salut!, we also learned from each other. And we thoroughly enjoyed exploring this subject together. That’s what good collaboration should always be about. We hope readers enjoy Salut! as well.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by showcasing our Latino/a Studies and Latin American/Caribbean Studies titles as well as books in our Studies in Latin American and Caribbean Music series. (And EVERY Temple University Press book is 40% off until October 31. Use the code FALL4TUP at checkout.

Accessible Citizenships How disability provides a new perspective on our understanding of the nation and the citizen

Afro-Caribbean Religions A comprehensive introduction to the Caribbean’s African-based religions

Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music The life and times of one of Cuba’s most important musicians

The Brazilian Sound An encyclopedia survey of Brazilian popular music—now updated and expanded

Caribbean Currents The classic introduction to the Caribbean’s popular music brought up to date

Chilean New Song An examination of the Chilean New Song movement as an organic part of the struggles for progressive social change, deeper democracy, and social justice in Chile in the 1960s and early 1970s

The Coolie Speaks A remarkable examination of bondage in Cuba that probes questions of slavery, freedom, and race

Daily Labors Examining the vulnerabilities, discrimination, and exploitation—as well as the sense of belonging and community—that day laborers experience on an NYC street corner

Democratizing Urban Development Examining how community organizations fight to prevent displacement and secure affordable housing across cities in the U.S. and Brazil

Dominican Baseball From the author of Sugarball, a look at the important and contested relationship between Major League Baseball and Dominican player development

Fernando Ortiz on Music Selections from the influential Fernando Ortiz’s publications on Afro-diasporic music and dance—now available in English

From Puerto Rico to Philadelphia A history of Puerto Rican immigration to Philadelphia

Globalizing the Caribbean Now in Paperback—how global capitalism finds new ways to mutate and grow in the Caribbean

How Did You Get to Be Mexican? A readable account of a life spent in the borderlands between racial identity

The International Monetary Fund and Latin America Chronicling the sometimes questionable relationship between the International Monetary Fund and Latin America from 1944 to the present

Latino Mayors The first book to examine the rise of Latino mayors in the United States

Latinos and the U.S. Political System An analysis of American politics from the vantage point of the Latino political condition

Latinx Environmentalisms Putting the environmental humanities into dialogue with Latinx literary and cultural studies Read a blog entry by the editors

Liberation Theology How does the church function in Latin America on an everyday, practical, and political level?

Merengue A fascinating examination of the social history of merengue dance music and its importance as a social and cultural symbol

Música Norteña The first history of the music that binds together Mexican immigrant communities

New Immigrants, Old Unions A case study of a successful effort to unionize undocumented immigrant workers

The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation A landmark history of the New York Young Lords, and what their activism tells us about contemporary Latino/a politics

Not from Here, Not from There/No Soy de Aquí ni de Allá A lively autobiography by a community activist, judge, and public advocate who blazed a trail for Latinos in Philadelphia

Revolution Around the Corner The first book-length story of the radical social movement, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party

Selecting Women, Electing Women Offers an analytic framework to show how the process of candidate selection often limits the participation of women in various Latin American countries.

The Sorcery of Color An examination of how racial and gender hierarchies are intertwined in Brazil

Sounding Salsa Inside New York City’s vibrant salsa scene

Terrorizing Latina/o Immigrants A comprehensive analysis of changes in immigration policy, politics, and enforcement since 9/11

Observations on the anniversary of the Partition of India

This week in North Philly Notes, Kavita Daiya, author of the forthcoming Graphic Migrationswrites about global media representations of migration on the 73rd anniversary of the Partition of India.

What do the Google commercial “Reunion,” the Bollywood film Raazi (Agree), Shauna Singh Baldwin’s award-winning novel What The Body Remembers  and the oral history project 1947 Partition Archive all have in common? They all do transnational memory work and remember the mass migrations of the 1947 Partition of India.

This past weekend marked the 73rd anniversary of the decolonization and division of India, and the end of British colonialism. It also marked the creation of two independent nations: Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947, and India became a new secular democratic nation on August 15, 1947. The partitioning of India in 1947 generated the world’s largest mass migration in under nine months: between 12 and 16 million people migrated across the newly etched borders.

Graphic MigrationsIn my forthcoming book Graphic Migrations, I describe the legacies of this pivotal moment in British and South Asian history, with a focus on migrant and refugee experiences. As such, this book uncovers the effects of this Partition on both India and the South Asian diaspora in North America. I am especially interested in how different media represent the precarity of migrants’ and refugees’ lives, as well as their descendants. I map how this precarity is memorialized across media, in ways that create empathy and solidarity for the shared humanity of migrants and citizens.

For example, I analyze South Asian American fiction by writers including Shauna Singh Baldwin and Bapsi Sidhwa as well as Hindi art films like Shyam Benegal’s Mammo; Bollywood cinema, as well as the new genre I call “border-crossing” advertising. In addition, I discuss graphic narratives from Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition, the Digital Humanities oral history project 1947 Partition Archive as well as photography by Margaret Bourke-White and Annu Palakunnathu Matthew. This book’s archive is thus eclectic and cross-media, capturing how the Partition migrations are inscribed or erased in public culture in India and its diaspora.

Graphic Migrations is poised at the intersection of Asian American Studies and Postcolonial Studies. It draws upon and extends new directions in Asian American Studies, especially Critical Refugee Studies.  These new directions take a transnational lens to understand how twentieth century conflicts and displacement in Asia have shaped Asian American history. My book’s feminist orientation means that gender is a central part of the story I tell. Talal Asad’s influential theory of the secular in Formations of the Secular is also central here, given that the Partition focalized religious difference. Central to this book’s story is the inspiration of the noted political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s brilliant analysis of statelessness, which, as she argued in The Origins of Totalitarianism, was the defining feature and product of the twentieth century.

My book considers several issues that emerge out of the 1947 Partition and its transnational impact. It explores the complexities of statelessness in India as well as South Asia, and asks: Why has this momentous displacement not been widely memorialized, until recently? How did refugees’ stories, labor, and losses shape ideas about religion, secularism, and belonging in public culture? How were female refugees’ experiences different, and with what consequences? What alternative modes of imagining community and planetary cohabitation, including ‘the secular,’ do stories about statelessness offer us today?

Graphic Migrations is timely and relevant now. More people than even before are migrating or displaced because of war, conflict, poverty, environmental devastation, and other reasons. By one estimate, there are 10 million stateless people, and there are 272 million migrants in the world today. This raises urgent issues about human rights and social justice for nations around the world, who must work together to end statelessness.

My book is a profound reminder of the contemporary stakes of studying the experiences and impact of decolonization and nation-formation in 1947 South Asia, in a transnational feminist mode.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil, and COVID-19

This week in North Philly Notes, Philip Evanson, coauthor of Living in the Crossfire, provides an interim report about Brazil during the pandemic.

Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on July 8. It marked López Obrador’s long overdue debut as a statesman in need of establishing international credentials. During nearly two years as president, his whereabouts did not include any trips, official or otherwise, outside of Mexico. He had consistently soft-pedaled Trump’s anti-immigrant insults and truculence, but there was an official agenda celebrating the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement that went into effect July 1. The meeting became an exchange of compliments, and a state dinner followed. There was no reference to common views held by the two chiefs of state on the COVID-19 pandemic. Had COVID-19 been on the agenda, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro might well have been invited. The three presidents stand out as world leaders opting for “life must go on as usual” (López Obrador’s quietly expressed view) in spite of COVID-19.

JAIR BOLSONARO AND COVID-19

Jair Bolsonaro’s efforts to lead Brazil in the COVID-19 pandemic have shown mixed results. Numbers of deaths were high, but not everywhere in Brazil, and well below the U.S. as numbers per 100,000 (ca. 29 per 100,000 in Brazil [comparable to Brazil’s homicide rate] compared to ca. 39 per 100,000 in US). Then a new surge in numbers of deaths largely closed the gap with 44.7 deaths per 100,000 for Brazil, and 46.8 deaths per 100,000 for the US. These figures placed Brazil 5th and the United States 4th in COVID-19 mortality rates as calculated around the world with only Sweden (57.4), Italy (67.5), and the United Kingdom (69) showing higher rates. Eight state governors in Brazil have been or are ill with coronavirus. Governor Carlos Moises of Santa Catarina announced July 1 that he was ill. Santa Catarina had 26,341 cases but only 341 deaths. Official Brazilian statistics unlike in the U.S. give equal emphasis to number of cases, number of deaths, and number of people who become ill and recover. A Johns Hopkins study had Brazil with the largest number of people who recovered from COVID-19. In the U.S., preference is for a dichotomy: the number of new cases and number of deaths, and very little about the large number of people who recover.

Brazilians are very open about expressing fears of dying. The feeling seems shared equally by men and women. Summoning courage to face threats or problems, Brazilians will identify the enemy as in the expression: “Ou ele ou eu,” “It’s either him or me.” (Portuguese nouns are either masculine or feminine. Ending in a consonant, the Portuguese word virus is masculine.) Bolsonaro has made himself the face in identifying COVID-19 as a threat to Brazil, its people and economy. It has been an uncovered face when he appeared in large public gatherings without a mask. But the message was clear: “It’s the virus or us.” Bolsonaro brought an unusual personal history having been nearly fatally knifed at a presidential election campaign rally in 2018. Subsequently, he underwent three serious operations to resize his slashed intestines. The experience seems to have spiked an “I’m not afraid of anything” attitude with displays of over the top virility. Also reignited has been his presumed homophobia. He joked with a group of visitors that wearing a mask was “a thing for queers.”*

Bolsonaro’s aim is to move Brazil out of its erratically applied COVID-19 lockdown which he thinks further shrinks a national economy mired in recession since 2014. Even as recently as July 6th, he continued down this path and vetoed parts of a new law sent to him by Congress. Struck out were provisions that masks must be worn in prison, and that instructions for social distancing must be posted on churches or certain other places where people gather. In the vetoes, he remembered federalism: laws already exist that assign responsibility to the municipal and state in these matters, not the national government.

Layout 1Bolsonaro’s bravura public appearances in mixing with his followers have not won universal approval. Critical and outspoken Brazilians may be found among groups with high and low incomes. The upper middle class and upper class elites voted for him for president in large numbers, but many have lost their enthusiasm, and some now despise him. Low income Brazilians living packed together in dense communities in large urban agglomerations such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have been unable to practice social distancing, and have little good to say about the government, authorities in general, or presidential antics. The coronavirus is with them, and infection and illness are widespread. Reports in the large circulation daily A Folha de São Paulo (which low income Brazilian cannot afford to buy) record widespread, growing levels of infection in low income neighborhoods, but tend to provide little information about numbers of deaths.

PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO HAS CORONAVIRUS

On July 7, a test confirmed that Brazilian President Bolsonaro had coronavirus. He took the test with symptoms of low fever and cough. Though insisting he felt “perfectly well,” people were instructed to keep a suitable distance from the president. A prominent Brazilian journalist welcomed the news in his column: “I’m cheering for his condition to worsen and that he may die.” His editors wrote to the contrary that they were cheering for recovery, and that the experience would change the president’s attitude about the “greatest public health crisis that Brazil has faced in many generations.” Eighteen days later on July 25, Bolsonaro announced that he had tested negative and was free of the virus. The president celebrated driving a motorbike to a store where he spoke with various people. He wore a mask and only removed it briefly to put on a biking helmet.

Despite being ill, Bolsonaro has not abandoned the positions he took at the beginning on the COVID-19 pandemic: that coronavirus is flu, that many people will be infected, some will become ill and recover, but very few will die. An exception are the elderly, the age group with a far higher incidence of mortality than any other who must do social distancing, wear masks, etc. A vaccine is not available, but several available drugs are that speed recovery. Bolsonaro himself announced he was taking repeated doses of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as recommended by his doctor. While science had not verified that hydroxychloroquine works as a cure, “it’s a matter of observation” he declared, “that many people seem cured, and it works for me.”

Lockdowns are wrong because they stop or slow economic activity and can lead to more business failures, and to more unemployment in Brazil whose economy has been long stagnant and is still contracting. These have been Bolsonaro’s positions during the coronavirus pandemic—he hasn’t wavered, and it seems certain he will stand by them. As for masking, while Bolsonaro had appeared prominently in public without a mask as at mass rallies of his supporters, at other times was seen wearing a mask. Since the diagnosis of coronavirus, he has been using a mask.

Bolsonaro’s hard core supporters elevated him to mythic status, and like to chant “mito” (myth) at rallies. Their reasons include that he survived near death following knifing by a would be assassin, that he easily won the presidential election after having been completely discounted at the outset, and that he served 28 years as a federal deputy without enriching himself. Elected politicians in Brazil are widely seen as corrupt, but Bolsonaro apparently isn’t, an important fact for his supporters. That he is now apparently recovering from coronavirus can only strengthen the mythic status conferred by chanting followers. Masked and recovering, he is in a position to provide constructive leadership and policy making. Of course, he has never been able to act or speak in a manner that suggests attributes of a statesman.

Surgeons at a public hospital successfully sutured his slashed intestines and saved his life in a delicate emergency procedure following the knife attack. This might have prompted a statement strongly in support of Brazil’s often maligned SUS (United Health System) public health system, but did not. Articles 196-200 of the 1988 Constitution require the state to make health care available to all Brazilians, though a private system is allowed to complement SUS, and excellent private hospitals are available to serve the elite, usually paid for by high cost private health insurance. SUS meanwhile has been chronically underfunded and suffers from various shortages. A minister of health in the Michel Temer government (2016-2018) which immediately preceded Bolsonaro’s recognized the limitations with the dismal declaration that it might be necessary to forget about certain social rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Nevertheless, SUS has carried the burden assigned it, and treated 75% of Brazil’s COVID-19 patients. Bolsonaro himself only expressed gratitude to the members of the staff who saved his life, and later offered the hospital some left over campaign funds which it turned out was illegal. His entrenched positions on coronavirus, like other positions Bolsonaro has taken though often supported by his followers also allow numerous critics to continue to believe and assert that the president is something akin to a moronic know nothing, or a clown which leads them into name calling such as Bozo or Bozonaro.

*In November, 2019 before the arrival of COVID-19, Bolsonaro declared he was no longer homophobic. He met with Diego Hypolito, Brazil’s multi-medal winning gymnast shortly after Hypolito came out as gay. The meeting included a photo op with Bolsonaro’s arm around the athlete’s shoulder. According to São Paulo state deputy and Bolsonaro defender Douglas Garcia who is a gay, black, and hails from a favela, Bolsonaro’s homophobia is the result of spending half his life as a soldier—he retired with the rank of captain—in an environment of virility. Garcia added this didn’t mean Bolsonaro would go into the streets ready to shoot at all that’s gay. 

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.

What the American Irish faced in the nineteenth century

This week in North Philly Notes, Howard Lune, author of Transnational Nationalism and Collective Identity among the American Irish, writes about Irish immigrants in America.

Before I got too far into my early research on Irish nationalism, and before I had recognized the nature of transnational organizing efforts in supporting the long campaign for Irish independence, I was curious about the surprising success of the American Irish in public service fields such as police and firefighting squads. The answer to that puzzle turned out to center on fairly straightforward jobs-for-votes deals with the Democratic Party. But looking into widespread anti-Irish, anti-Catholic activism in the United States in the nineteenth century I was stuck by two patterns. The first was that the language and tactics of “othering” the Irish strongly resembled the tactics used to deny African Americans freedoms and citizenship rights at the same time. The second was that the same ideas have been resurrected with only slightly different language to attack other immigrant groups and African Americans under the present American regime. The continuing existence of discrimination is not surprising. I guess I just expected that we would develop more sophisticated forms of it.

The essential starting point for all of these organized acts of hostility is to present an unquestionable assumption that whenever we say “we” in America we all know that “we” are white, Christian men. Of course, in the 1800s, Christian meant Protestant while Catholic was part of the other, but they still preferred the term Christian. Few nativists ever argued that America was supposed to be white. They simply argued that the non-whites were “invading,” “taking over,” and “replacing” us. They never had to say “our kind” is supposed to dominate in all social, economic, and political institutions. They only had to say that “those people” would be infiltrating all of our spaces if we didn’t stop them. This business of the unexamined “we” sounded like a call to community, solidarity, and fellow-feeling while actually building walls, mobilizing violent mobs, and, especially, preventing others from voting.

Transitional Nationalism_smOther familiar patterns followed. “We” destroyed their schools and claimed that we couldn’t help them when they were so ignorant. We denied them jobs and claimed that we didn’t want such poor people bringing down the quality of life in our cities. We held up the example of the most successful of the whole (in this case, the wealthy Irish Protestants) in order to claim that the rest could obviously succeed too if they weren’t so lazy, or criminal, or whatever frightened us at the moment. We relegated them to slums and then said that no one who lived like that should be trusted with civic responsibility. We passed new laws about labor, vagrancy, and debt to target them, and then declared that they were mostly criminals and scofflaws. Our people raise families. Their people “breed.” And, in the more extreme publications that were commonly read but rarely acknowledged, we lamented the threat to the sexual purity of our white women if those people were allowed to run free.

In the 1800s we depicted the undesirable other as drunks. Today we describe them as probably using drugs.

These patterns, and so many others, demonstrate that the white, Protestant, male center of American life hasn’t really got any tangible complaint with any particular other group. If it did, then we would focus on different supposed attributes of each group pertinent to any given time period. Rather, it seems that the privileged core of the nation desperately fears having to share with others. This fear seems to be just as strong among those who have too much and those who have too little. Either way, the smallest excuse, the least supportable claim, and the most minor differences are enough for members of the culturally dominant group to band together to collectively degrade anyone and anything that could threaten the idea of their dominance. We are willing to allow anyone into college now, as long as they don’t get to be our bosses. We feign shock at each and every obvious example of racist violence but we hate it when people try to address “systemic” inequalities. We admit that the justice system isn’t always just, but we built it up that way in order to keep other people in their place, and we’re not planning to change that. We don’t hang signs that say “no Irish need apply” anymore, but try getting a corporate job interview without a white-sounding name. The Irish are accepted as white now, which almost implies that we have improved as a culture. Yet, with increasing globalization, we have no shortage of “other” people to casually disregard or openly hate. As a people, we are remarkably similar to our forebears, in the worst sense of the comparison.

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