Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Viet Thanh Nguyen's novel The Symphatizer is an espionage thriller and satire about the struggles of a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy during the final days of the Vietnam War and his resulting exile in the United States. It is told in the form of a forced confession from the conficted spy. It won the 2016 Pulitzer prize and the author additionally won a 2017 MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.
The novel will become a film starring Robert Downey, Jr. Oldboy director Park Chan-wook will be the director. They will co-produce together with Don McKellar, Susan Downey, Amanda Burrell, Niv Fichman, Kim Ly and others. The series is a co-production between HBO, A24 and Rhombus Media in association with Cinetic Media and Moho Film. (Additional coverage here.)
A worldwide search is currently underway for the lead role and the rest of the predominantly Vietnamese ensemble.
The publisher's book description says:
A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. In dialogue with but diametrically opposed to the narratives of the Vietnam War that have preceded it, this novel offers an important and unfamiliar new perspective on the war: that of a conflicted communist sympathizer.
It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s astonishing novel takes us inside the mind of this double agent, a man whose lofty ideals necessitate his betrayal of the people closest to him. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.
Here is a clip of an NPR interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen describing the book and its inspirations in his own life as a Vietnamese refugee growing up in San Jose.
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
On my summer reading list is a series of young adult books about the Asian American experience. Although I began learning about these books in order to lead a book club for Asian American girls, I found myself drawn into some of the stories for my own reading benefit. When I read the Front desk trilogy, for example, I found myself crying with the characters about the hardships they face as immigrants (confronting poverty, discrimination, and exploitation) and cheering for them as they navigated lackluster public schools and health care. These stories made me reminisce about the volatile racial and ethnic politics of California in the 1990s, where I lived and attended public high school.
The Front Desk triology's author, Kelly Yang, writes fiction inspired by her own real life stories as a child immigrating to the US in the 1990s. The books center on protagonist Mia Tang, a 10-year old girl who is reluctantly along for the ride, whose parents migrate to California in search of a better life for their family. They take on work managing the Calavista Hotel in Anaheim, California. The parents work long hours cleaning rooms for low pay and dubious employment conditions (e.g. sleeping in the front room to be awakened all night by customers' bells for checkin/checkout) under a Chinese owner who exploits their labor. Mia helps with the front desk, meeting a parade of colorful hotel guests and weeklies (long-term residents of the hotel who pay on a weekly basis) and learning about American mores along the way. She also learns the stories of the other immigrants they harbor in the hotel, unbeknownst to the heartless hotel owner. Her school experiences are another site of cultural learning where she navigates the usual school yard stresses and the hidden struggles of being poor and immigrant. In addition to surviving a rough California public school, she is on quest to improve the life of her family and immigrant community.
Front Desk, the first book in the series, became a New York Times bestseller and won several awards, including the 2019 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, the Parent's Choice Gold Model, and the 2019 Global Real Aloud. It was also designated the best book of the year by Amazon, Washignton Post, Kirkus, School Library Journal, NPR, and Publisher's Weekly.
Three Keys picks up where Front Desk left off, with Mia's family now owning the Calavista Motel and acquiring three more. In the background of the immigrant family story, California's political scence has turned rampantly anti-immigrant. Proposition 187, the precursor to national intiatiatives to deny public funding for social services to undocumented immigrants, is on the ballot. Mia's best friend, Lupe, who is a Mexican immigrant, becomes a lens for understanding another immigrant journey in the US. It won best book of the year from amazon and the Week Jr, and it was selected as a 2019 Project Lit Middle Grade Book Selection.
A third book will be released in October 2021 titled Room to Dream. (Available for pre-order at Scholastic Books and other booksellers). It broadens the horizon with Mia taking a vacation to China to see her relatives and how the nation has become unexpectedly prosperous during her family's departure. This causes them to reflect on the missed opportunities in China and how they fared in America instead.
Author Kelly Yang lives in California and Hong Kong and became a writer after graduating from Harvard law school at age 17 and working as a journalist. Apart from writing, she is the founder of a youth program to teach children writing and debating (The Kelly Yang Project). Her author website contains reading guides and discussion questions for book clubs, among other interesting items.
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
At the Movies: Soledad (Soledad weaves live action and animation to tell the story of a woman from Central America who fled gang violence to seek asylum in the US)
Soledad (2019) (24 minutes)
The New Day Films' synopsis describes the film as follows:
"Soledad tells the story of a young woman from Central America who was imprisoned in the Eloy Detention Facility when she sought asylum in the United States in 2017. Soledad set out on a perilous journey from her homeland after enduring horrific persecution where she was kidnapped, sex-trafficked, tortured and nearly killed. . . .
Through one woman's story, Soledad illustrates the plight faced by many asylum seekers and refugees arriving at the U.S. border and highlights the incredible work of lawyers and activists who donated their time to fight for another woman's future. Soledad puts a human face to our current immigration system and invites audience members to reflect on what kind of country we want to be and how our stance on immigration impacts real human lives."
For a review on Educational Media Reviews Online, click here.
Saturday, July 10, 2021
The Indian Detective is a short four episode mini-series currently streaming on Netflix. It features Canadian stand-up comic Russell Peters. Here's the trailer:
There are a few particularly tasty bits for immprof watchers.
Let's start with Episode one around 2:25. Police stop a truck and want to search it:
Border Agent: You got a warrant?
Peters: We need one? It's a border crossing.
I seriously wish I had the computer skills to turn that into a clip. It's gold. Even if it's set in Canada.
Also in episode 1 around 16:20, the lead offers this insight: "Look, I just got back from India. I found out I'm not Indian. I mean, in Canada, if you needed to identify me, I'd be Indian. But in India, 100 percent 'You are not Indian.'"
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Podcasts are the rage. Need something for walking the dog? Here is one for ImmigrationProf readers. Migrations: A World on the Move is a podcast from Cornell that "seeks to understand our world through the interconnected movements that shape it.
With each episode, postdoc Eleanor Paynter speaks with experts who highlight how multidisciplinary, multi-species perspectives on migration help us understand key global issues. In season 1, we are broadening our scope of understanding by focusing on highly relevant themes like pandemics, climate, racial justice, and more. Keep an eye out for new episodes, released on the first Monday of every month."
Thursday, June 24, 2021
This UCTV production sheds some light on the realities of life in Central America:
"Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (The Northern Triangle) are experiencing a historic Diaspora to the US southern border. The precipitants of this migration are an unprecedented economic contraction occurring after back-to-back major hurricanes compounded by a pandemic and further complicated by heightened crime, violence and corruption.
Congresswoman Norma Torres (CA-35), Co-Chair of the Congressional Central America Caucus and a native of Guatemala, shares her perspective on the importance of addressing corruption and promoting good governance as key preconditions of future direct foreign assistance by the United States.
Then, Congress members Juan Vargas (CA-51) and Scott Peters (CA-52) discuss the Biden Administration's proposed four-year, $4 billion regional strategy for the Northern Triangle region to address security and economic factors driving migration from Central America to the US."
Saturday, June 19, 2021
Immigrant Mass is a multimedia music film now streaming on Youtube. It features music from composer Carlos Jaquez Gonzalez, performed by the Chicago Composers Orchestra and the Roosevelt University, Chicago College of Performing Arts - Conservatory Chorus, with photos and interviews by Greg Constantine.
Here's the official description:
A plea for understanding. A multi-media Immigrant Mass performance/film reflecting the lives and struggles of those who have sought better lives in America. The goal of the mass is to humanize immigrants and their experiences through real interviews, striking visuals, and music. Through this multi-media lens, this message can be better communicated and understood. The six movement Immigrant Mass is a fusion of the mass ordinary and immigrant experiences (collected by photo-journalist Greg Constantine). The purpose of this exploration is to examine how religion and government affect the lives of those seeking a better life (from war, poverty, and more). The Roosevelt University Conservatory Choir led by Dr. Cheryl Frazes Hill, will be singing the standard Greek/Latin text of the mass ordinary and fulfilling the role of religion and government. Soloists; Corinne Costell, Tori Darnell, David Chavez, and Austin Sanders will be singing and embodying first-hand accounts of immigrants who have been held at border detention camps. The ultimate goal of this mass is to highlight the realities and resilience of humanity, particularly struggling families, and what our role and duty is to help them. Through this melting pot of sounds and visuals by the Chicago Composers Orchestra, Conservatory Choir, soloists, and Greg Constantine, it is my hope that this work - which has brought so many hard working people from different walks of life together - will inspire to aid the immigrant community through various organizations, donations, and change in perspective.
Monday, June 14, 2021
Over 20 years of writing, Sandoval-Strausz says "In the Heights has evolved in an ongoing dialogue with the politics of immigration in America." In response to an exclusionary immigration politics, this latest "In the Heights pulls back the lens, the wider angle transforming what was once a straightforward love story into a sweeping tale about the meaning of an immigrant neighborhood in a nation where an aging citizenry, a shrinking workforce and a declining birthrate put us in desperate need of rejuvenation."
Sandoval-Strausz recounts three rewritings of the play, each aligned to the politics of the time.
At the debut, it was a simple love story among young people. Immigration was gaining importance as the 1990s saw increasing immigrant arrivals that drove economic growth and also an anti-immigrant political outbreak. (These were the times of California Governor's Pete Wilson, "They Keep Coming" television ads, and Proposition 187, a state initiative that would have denied public benefits to undocumented immigrants and that went on to become the template for welfare reform).
The next version of "In the Heights" incorporated a new playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes who worked to enlarge the story from one about young people in love to one about a community. Hudes says they put more emphasis on characters who had come from various countries in Latin America: "The songs that centered immigration and migration the most," Hudes remembers, "were 'Carnaval del Barrio,' 'Paciencia y Fe,' and 'Inútil.' All of those songs were new."
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, ensuing national backlashes to undocumented immigration, and national marches for immigration policy reform (that has still not been delivered), the political climate shifted to one demanding greater rights for the undocumented population. In that context, the Broadway show won 4 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), a Grammy, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. The Broadway version ran for more than three years, followed by tours and international productions on five continents. Sandoval-Straucz says: "This "In the Heights," with its hopeful narrative and depiction of the neighborhood as a metonym for an immigrant-friendly nation, certainly seemed like the perfect theatrical reflection of a diversifying America." A similar vision animated Hamilton, which also won numerous Tony and other awards and was lauded for its multicultural celebration in casting, musical style, and its retelling of history.
And then the pendulum swung again witt the election of Donald Trump. As Sandoval-Strausz tells it:
But the 2016 election shattered the optimistic mood among the liberal-minded fans of Miranda's work. The cast of "Hamilton" expressed the sentiments of many Americans at a late November performance attended by vice president-elect Mike Pence, with a curtain-call speech by actor Brandon Victor Dixon: "We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us . . . or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us." Pence responded with reassurances of good will, but Trump attacked the show on Twitter, calling it "overrated" and demanding that the cast apologize.
The film adaptation of "In the Heights" adapted to this new political landscape "in the shadow of Trump... and of a level of government-backed xenophobia not seen in the United States in nearly a century." The author says that Hudes explained, "When Trump became president, the rhetoric about who belongs here grew more polarized and the family separations tore our communities apart. That fueled my writing, a need to humanize and ground a more compassionate story of who gets to claim this nation." In addition to new plotlines involving "dreamers" and related issues of immigrants' legal status, the political circumstances of the movie enhanced a central tension in the plot: Will Usnavi stay in Washington Heights or return to the Dominican Republic? While past audiences might not have believed an immigrant would want to leave the United States, the doubt was now understandable. The author concludes:
So this cinematic adaptation of "In the Heights" has met its historical moment. Its fidelity to the Broadway musical means that most moviegoers will recognize their own family histories in this portrait of the barrio, with the Latinas and Latinos on the screen the latest in a long line of immigrants who have created and re-created metropolitan neighborhoods. And the new plotlines involving immigrants with uncertain legal status mean audiences will be shown a more realistic portrayal of the threats that still remain: not just to undocumented Americans, but also to the continued existence of the United States as a welcoming, pluralistic, diverse democracy.
IMDb summarizes the 2021 film In the Heights: "A film version of the Broadway musical in which Usnavi, a sympathetic New York bodega owner, saves every penny every day as he imagines and sings about a better life."
In the Heights is based on the stage musical of the same name by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The film stars include Jimmy Smits. The film tells the story of a corner in Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, where each member of the community pursues their dream of a better life. Immigration is one of the themes of the film.
"Granted, the trailer (and film) showcased Black dancers and there were certainly Black women in the hair salon, but where are the dark-skinned Black Latinx folks with a storyline? After all, this film is placed in Washington Heights, N.Y., right?!"
Hmmmm..... not a single Afro Latino??? In the Heights???? In New York???? Sounds about white(washed). https://t.co/iU0O23a2aq— 🥀Lani Del Rey🥀 (@Marlana) December 12, 2019
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
The Army of the Dead, now streaming on Netflix, is a totally solid zombie flick. The first 14 minutes are genuinely fabulous -- totally worth watching on their own merit. The latter hour+ has some pretty wide plot holes but is nonetheless generally enjoyable.
But where's the immigration angle?, you may be asking.
Without spoilers, I can tell you that the zombies are corralled into one quarantine zone. And when our heroes enter that zone, they pass this sign:
It's a super bummer that no single screen shot captures the whole sign. It's panned over so requires more than one still. But it's a fun sign to see and think about as immigration law scholars. (If someone is a super good editor and can get me a .gif or .mp3 of that pan, beer's on me.)
Many of us teach about the border and the vagaries of constitutional rights in that particular locale. The ACLU has gone so far as to call the entire border + 100 miles inland a "constitution free zone" -- a bit of hyperbole though, as you know, less hyperbolic if we restrict our view to ports of entry themselves.
Anyhoo, pop culture enthusiasts might think about making an Army of the Dead reference during their next border-conlaw class. Not to mention the endless hypo possibilities: "Should the Government’s interest in preventing the entry of unwanted persons and effects from a zombie-infested zone be at the same 'zenith' as its interests at the international border, as discussed in Flores-Montano?"
Monday, June 7, 2021
U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), Congressmember Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), journalist Maria Hinojosa, and others will join artists and leaders on Children’s Day, June 14. The Children Thrive Action Network (CTAN) is marking Immigrant Heritage Month and Children’s Day on June 14, 2021 with “I ❤️ My Immigrant Family,” a video celebration of immigrant families, broadcast on multiple social media channels at noon ET. Hosted by Paola Ramos, renowned journalist and author of “Finding Latinx,” the “I ❤️ My Immigrant Family” premier event will feature commentary, performances, and artwork from a list of luminaries.
Saturday, May 29, 2021
White House honors close of Asian American heritage month with celebrity appearances, reauthorizes WHIAANHPI
As Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month comes to a close, the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC), and PBS will be hosting “A Celebration of the AA and NHPI Community: Highlighting Our Diverse Tapestry.” Following a year of immense challenges for AA and NHPI communities, this event will celebrate the diversity of experience and culture across their communities, uplift AA and NHPI voices, acknowledge the harm and suffering anti-Asian violence has caused this year, and look toward a future of continued healing, strength, and solidarity. Guest speakers include President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and several celebrity guests such as Yo-Yo Ma, Lea Salonga, and Auliʻi Cravalho. Click here for full details and line-up. The event premieres Monday May 31, on Facebook and YouTube at 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT/2:00 p.m. HT.
The event comes on the heels of the announcement that the White House will reauthorize the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI). The longer name reflects the addition of Native Hawaiians to the acronym after steady efforts from community advocates.
Friday, May 28, 2021
"Five Years North is the coming-of-age story of 16-year-old Luis, an undocumented Guatemalan boy who just arrived alone in New York City. While Luis balances school, work, and his mental health, Judy, a veteran ICE officer and first-generation Cuban immigrant, navigates new immigration priorities."
The film opens today in New York City.
"That’s perhaps the main takeaway from this intimate tale of urban strife: Luis could be any guy delivering your food — the kind you don’t think twice about after closing the door — while Judy is just another public worker trying to pay the bills, albeit in a profession some would find morally compromising. They’re two out of millions of New Yorkers, but the more we get to know them, the more we see how these opposites — who exist on opposite sides of the law — are bound together by their mutual struggle to make it in the big city."
Saturday, May 22, 2021
As the United States reopens from the pandemic, a film, Limbo, is opening at some theaters. The movie might be of interest to blog readers. The plot is described at IMDB as follows: "Omar is a promising young musician. Separated from his Syrian family, he is stuck on a remote Scottish island awaiting the fate of his asylum request." The title of a film review in TIME offers a description: "Limbo Is a Wry and Tender Comedy About Refugees Searching for the Meaning of 'Home.'"
Sunday, May 16, 2021
U.S./Mexico border outside El Paso/Juarez; photo mine
CNN has done some really interesting reporting of late regarding smugglers working to get migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border. CNN corespondent Matt Rivers went to Mexico, interviewed polleros (smugglers), and, most interestingly, followed smugglers as they worked to get 2 migrants--a young man and woman from Ecuador--up and over the border wall and into the United States.
CNN's online article is filled with excellent still photography documenting the work of these Mexican smugglers. The online story also includes key details -- the thousands of dollars migrants spend on smugglers (as much as smugglers can charge), the likelihood of migrants making it to their final stateside destination without detection (low), and the ties smugglers have to Mexican cartels.
I also encourage you to watch Rivers' video reporting, which captures the smuggler's tools (a rebar ladder), shows the migrants and smugglers creeping up to the U.S. border, and records the migrants as they climb up and over the wall and run into the distance. These are some pretty powerful visuals that has the potential to really open the eyes of students thinking about border crossings.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), RMIAN and AFSC will be screening the award-winning film Welcome Strangers, about people released from the Geo detention facility in Aurora, Colorado, and the organization that receives them, Casa de Paz. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion.
The event will support the Colorado Immigrant Legal Defense Fund, a CIRC campaign to pass a Colorado state law to create a universal representation program for low-income people facing immigration proceedings in Colorado.
Date: Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Time: 5:30 - 7pm MST
Facebook event here.
Cost: free, donations welcome
Saturday, April 24, 2021
Yesterday I commended the film The Infiltrators to you. As I mentioned in that post, one of the protagonists of the film is Claudio Rojas. And he was deported from the United States soon after the film's release.
Claudio recently penned an op-ed for the Daily Beast. His piece opens with this compelling paragraph:
For the immigration debate in the United States to be meaningful, immigrants themselves have to be able to speak up. We only know about family separation at the border, medical abuse in detention, and worksite raids because immigrants told the truth about what they saw. But some paid a heavy price for their speech. Under the Trump administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was routinely used as a political weapon, targeting and deporting immigrant activists and those who spoke to the press. This kind of retribution is terrifying. I know—because it happened to me.
Claudio cites work published by The Intercept identifying "over 1,000 cases of this kind of illegal retribution."
He calls for the return of those immigrants who spoke out about their conditions and were deported in response. After all, he concludes: "The first step toward a more just and humane immigration system is to protect immigrant voices."
Friday, April 23, 2021
I don't know, is that heading too much? It's all I could think of as I watched The Infiltrators today. If you're unfamiliar with this film (I was), it follows the TRUE story of undocumented young people who intentionally get put into immigration detention (Broward in Florida) so that they can better report on the conditions of detainees and better advocate for their release. Like I said, balls of f$%*ing steel.
Check out the trailer:
I received access to the film with my registration/attendance at the UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy’s Immigration Policy in the Biden Administration: The First 100 Days and Beyond. Amazingly, one of the morning speakers, Claudio Rojas, is one of men who inspired the activists to infiltrate Broward. Rojas ends up a major protagonist in the film and appears to have been deported because of his participation in it. (See here & here.)
Anyhoo -- WATCH THIS FILM. You will not regret it. It's awe inspiring in a literal and not metaphorical sense. The utter fearlessness of these DREAMer activists is stunning. I bow before them.
And if you happened to miss today's segment of the UCLA conference, don't worry. The conference continues over the next two Fridays. And upcoming on April 30, you can catch a conversation with DHS Secretary Mayorkas. I'm in.
Sunday, April 18, 2021
The Crate Escape by Brian Robson is available in kindle format on Amazon. Here's the publisher's blurb:
In 1962, when air-travel was in its infancy, a nineteen-year-old boy who felt trapped in Melbourne, Australia, made up his mind that he was going to return to his homeland in the United Kingdom. He was prevented from doing so by both lack of documentation and the funds required.
Putting an idea to work without the thought of losing his life, he became the first person in history to fly for nearly five days in a crate across the Pacific Ocean.
The Washington Post offered a lengthy write-up on Robson's adventures in flying-as-freight a few days ago. Robson told WaPo that the reason he decided to write about his adventure now was because he's interested in tracking down the two Irish lads he convinced to nail him securely into the crate for shipping.
It's an interesting tale for immprofs across multiple dimensions: why the Welshman went to Australia in the first place (work), why he wanted to leave (working conditions), why he couldn't (work commitment/money/visa rules), and how he sought to bypass all of these problems in shipping himself home as freight instead of traveling as a passenger. Robson's plan went unfortunately awry -- he wasn't shipped directly back to Wales but instead detoured to Los Angeles. And, there, the immigration story gets even more interesting. As WaPo writes: "Robson could have faced charges of illegally entering the United States, he said, but officials instead chose to send him home to Wales, where he had wanted to go all along."
In what is undoubtedly a surprise to no one, Robson has already signed a contract to turn his story into a movie.
Friday, April 9, 2021
Lee Isaac Chung is the director of the film Minari, which both Kevin and Ming have discussed on this blog previously. The film is about Korean-American immigrants who move to Arkansas to start a farm growing Korean fruits and vegetables.
Chung recently spoke to Trevor Noah on The Daily Show about his film-making:
“We have to humanize ourselves constantly.”— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) April 9, 2021
Lee Isaac Chung explains the importance of telling simple stories from a minority perspective. pic.twitter.com/ehqWZ5OMSa
In the above clip, Noah notes: "Films like this ... connect people to the humanity of others who they may not have ever met or even known as human beings."
Chung responds that his film, Minari, was "meant to be a story about human beings." This, he notes, is a task many communities, including the Asian-American community, must take on: "we have to humanize ourselves constantly, show, I mean, that we're really human beings."
I was really struck by this exchange and thought it particularly relevant to our work as immprofs. That work is, I think, a big part of our jobs. We must humanize immigrants for our students. Sure, many who are drawn to immigration are immigrants themselves. But I've had numerous students who don't even know their family's immigrant origins; they've been in the U.S. for generations and have no idea where they came from. For this latter category of students, it's our job to humanize noncitizens in a real way. And thoughtful use of film clips can help us do that!