Welcome to the first edition of this thing here.
So, I want to keep these as short as possible, because we all have lives etc etc. But let me just quickly reiterate why I started this newsletter.
I cover the day-to-day onslaught of U.S. immigration policy news, and I’m intimately familiar with the brokenness of the current immigration system. Despite my familiarity with the subject, I still yearn for a broader, deeper framework to understand what’s happening in our current moment. Doing these readings help me make sense of what is a very chaotic and unjust world — and prepare for a future where it may become even more so. Sometimes — sometimes! — I even find glimmers of hope in the process.
In any case, I thought it would be fun to take interested parties along on the journey as I try to organize, process, and distill key ideas from the texts I’m reading.
NB: It’s an experiment so its structure may evolve. And, I should mention, there may be lulls where you may not see this newsletter in your inboxes. For now, though, I’m going to TRY to keep shooting a couple of these out per month.
With that said,,,,,
I thought it would be auspicious to kick the newsletter off by picking The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison, which I read a few months ago. It’s a slim book, and snaps into focus many of the themes that come up in my work. In the foreword, the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates situates the work in the current zeitgeist:
“The Origin of Others—Morrison’s new book derived from the lecture series she gave at Harvard—is not directly concerned with the rise of Donald Trump. But it is impossible to read her thoughts on belonging, on who fits into the umbrella of society and who does not, without considering our current moment… This is a work about the creation of aliens and the erection of fences, one that employs literary criticism, history and memoir in an attempt to understand how and why we have come to associate those fences with pigment.”
It’s impossible to extricate contemporary notions of citizenship, of belonging, from the history of slavery in the United States, which is why I found this book really helpful in setting the stage for the exploration to come.
Through a series of literary works by William Faulkner, Harrier Beecher Stowe, Flannery O’Conner, and others, Morrison explores how we portray the socially constructed “other” — in this case, the enslaved person, the immigrant.
In doing so, she is able to hone in on the motivation behind the process of Othering, which can happen despite our best intentions or as a result of our worst:
“What is the nature of Othering’s comfort, its allure, its power (social, psychological, or economical)? Is it the thrill of belonging — which implies being part of something bigger than one’s solo self, and therefore stronger? My initial view leans towards the social / psychological need for a “stranger,” an Other in order to define the estranged self (the crowd seeker is always the lonely one).
In the last chapter, The Foreigner’s Home, Morrison pulls us back into the present, describing today as an era of the mass movements of people —
“of workers, intellectuals, refugees, and immigrants, crossing oceans and continents, through customs offices or in flimsy boats, speaking multiple languages of trade, of political intervention, of persecution, war, violence, and poverty.”
Her main argument — that Othering is an “attempt to confirm oneself as normal” — applies to our globalized world, which has given birth to more fears than opportunities.
Other highlighted highlights:
Chapter 2: Being or Becoming a Stranger
Chapter 6: The Foreigner’s Home
Shorter things I’m reading:
The underground lives of immigrants in Queens (New York Times)
When Mexico’s immigration troubles came from Americans crossing the border (Smithsonian Magazine)
Thanks for reading — and let me know if you have thoughts/opinions/recommendations/concerns. Ooh, and and: Happy Diwali to those who celebrated yesterday!
Over and out.