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Tag Archives: American

Home Is Where They Let You Live

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Illustration by Anna Bhushan

New York Times article written by Jasmin Darznik.

“WHERE is your home?” the consular officer asked me.

I was 13 years old. My parents and I had left Iran eight years earlier, at the onset of the 1979 revolution. Since then, they had bought a house and a business — a small roadside motel in California. I had gone to school and learned to speak English. Then, on a summer trip to visit my mother’s Iranian relatives in Germany, I made the mistake of calling America my home.

The trouble started when my mother handed me the visa forms. My father had stayed behind to run the motel, and even though my mother had learned enough English to get by, at moments like this, when it was just the two of us, I was still the translator and all-purpose intermediary between “us” and “them.” I took the clipboard and began filling in the papers. My parents and I were in the United States legally, but since we’d traveled outside the country, my mother’s business visa would need to be renewed. It was standard procedure — we wouldn’t have encountered any difficulties if, under the line asking where our home was, I hadn’t written “America.”

“Are you sure about that?” the officer asked me, her pen pointed at my adolescent cursive. When I nodded, she retreated to a back room. A few minutes later, she returned to inform us that our applications had been denied. We would not be able to return to America, because we had expressed an intention to stay in the country permanently.

Looking back, the certainty of my response astonishes me. The Iranian revolution and the vagaries of immigration law had dispersed my relatives all over the world. By the time I faced that consular officer, I had cousins in Wisconsin, Stockholm, Istanbul and all points in between. During our time in Germany, my mother stayed up long into the night, reminiscing with my aunts and uncles about Iran and speculating about the country’s future — and the possibility of returning there someday. (…)

As it happens, I did return, nearly two years later. After several unsuccessful attempts at filing appeals for us on his own, my father was finally able to hire an attorney. Six months after that, my mother and I were free to come back, though with the explicit promise that we’d be staying only temporarily and only for business reasons.

Of course, so much had changed by the time I returned. The first — and in some ways most enduring — shock came at the airport in San Francisco, when I couldn’t recognize my father in the crowd. Two years of running the motel on his own and wrangling with immigration bureaucracy had left their mark. He’d gained a lot of weight, and wrinkles fanned out at the corners of his eyes. He was also much sadder than I remembered, but then I’d left as a child and returned much more grown up, and I could see him differently now.

America, though not wholly strange, was no longer familiar to me. Before, I’d willed myself into looking and sounding as if I belonged. Though I could still pass as American, I now had the sensation of perpetually looking at everything from the outside. Home schooling, paired with exile, had made me more shy and introspective, if also more independent. I was a real immigrant now.

Each year many thousands of children are brought to America by their parents. They come before they have any concept of citizenship, much less of belonging. Like me, they will draw their notions of “home” not only from what is familiar and desirable but also from what is permitted and denied them.

Today, I am a permanent resident. I can go and come easily, but at borders I am still reduced to the girl who once made the mistake of calling America her home. I check and recheck my passport for my green card. It’s always there, right where I put it, along with the uncertainty, the fear and, yes, the anger I’ll never quite outrun.

“Home.” At 13, I had that notion knocked out of me in ways that were useful, or mostly so. But the word still makes me uneasy, and even now, whenever I am given a choice, I leave the answer blank.

Full version of the article on New York Times Sunday Review web site.

Jasmin Darznik is a professor of English at Washington and Lee University and the author of “The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life.”


Racist, Anti-Immigrant Art from the Turn of the 20th Century

In this cartoon, an Irishman and a Chinese man are devouring Uncle Sam. Ultimately, the Chinese man consumes them both and steals the Irishman’s hat.

There was a time in America when the Irish were characterized as apes, Italians as street filth, and Chinese as parasitic locusts. Today, these groups are key tiles in the American mosaic, but their arrival was initially met with fear and opposition. Newspapers and magazine cartoons from the turn of the 20th century illustrate these sentiments.

Many of these images were originally published in humor magazines such as Puck and The Wasp. Though modern-day viewers might see them as racist propaganda, perhaps in their time they functioned more as political satire. Think of Stephen Colbert and his hyperbolic, politically incorrect Chinese caricature, Ching Chong Ding Dong. One hundred years from now, people watching Colbert Report archives might misinterpret the comedy as something more sinister.

But it is safe to say there was a more sinister attitude toward immigrants in the country at the turn of the 20th century. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 made it government policy to restrict an ethnic group’s ability to enter the country. In 1896, an Atlantic author called immigrants”a hopeless burden” that would dilute the industriousness of the nation. In 1917, the Immigration Act barred a whole range of individuals – including the illiterate, the “feeble minded,” and homosexuals – from entering the country. Many of the images in this gallery echo these fears and portray immigrants, particularly the Chinese and the Irish, as parasites devouring what Americans hold dear.

 Regardless of these measures and sentiments, the immigrants saw the America as an ark of refuge, as the last image in this gallery shows. And although these images are hundred years old, a lot of the conversation on immigration remains the same. Today, immigrants – mostly from Latin America – have a similar dream to those who sought refuge in the 1900s. And many Americans have similar fears about what role, if any, these American hopefuls should play.
The article by Brian Resnick (with many examples of images) in The Atlantic.

Larry Sultan – “Homeland”

2.photoireland.org/mb/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Canal-District-San-Rafael-2006-Web.jpg” alt=”A Photo by Larry Sultan- Hispanic migrants in the fields walking” width=”610″ /> Canal District San Rafael, 2006 From the series Homeland, “Katherine Avenue” by Larry Sultan

In his final body of work, completed shortly before he died last year, Larry Sultan photographed migrant Hispanic workers in the Bay Area of San Francisco, near where he lived. Often undocumented migrants, they gather at specific locations in the early morning – builders’ merchants, freeway off-ramps, etc – and stand around, hoping to be hired for the day. Larry would explain his purpose and hire them to act in his tableaux. Always set within a broader landscape, his Hispanic actors would occupy the margins of the American Dream, performing daily tasks outside the village, away from the homes, wandering in a homeland that excludes them.

Katherine Avenue’, by Larry Sultan, is published by Steidl, £45. The book accompanies an exhibition at Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, Germany which runs until 22 August

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/larry-sultan-the-king-of-colour-photography-2043204.html


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