Current Affairs

World Day against Trafficking in Persons

trafficking-logoToday is World Day against Trafficking in Persons, a day to bring awareness to and encourage action against human trafficking. In honor of this international day, we’re featuring some of our recent journal articles (all available free for six months) and books that explore this global issue.

In the Trail of the Ship: Narrating the Archives of Illegal Slavery,” featured in the March 2019 issue of Social Text, delves into the strange, contradictory archives of the illegal transatlantic slave trade that flourished between Angola and Brazil in the mid-nineteenth century. The article’s author, Yuko Miki, follows the documentary trail of notorious slave ship Mary E. Smith, focusing on the list of the ship’s Africans who were “liberated” from captivity, most of whom were already deceased.

m_ddpos_25_4.coverAuthor Elena Shih explores why and how Thailand functions as a pivotal destination for US human-trafficking rescue projects in “Freedom Markets: Consumption and Commerce across Human-Trafficking Rescue in Thailand,” featured in the November 2017 issue of positions: asia critique. Basing her research on the global anti-trafficking movement in Thailand, China, and the United States between 2008 and 2014, Shih juxtaposes two distinct tourist encounters: a human-trafficking reality tour hosted by a US nonprofit organization, and a separate study-abroad gathering of US university students hosted at the office of a Thai sex worker rights organization.

m_ddglq_22_3_coverIn the run-up to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, the Brazilian government engaged in a militarized campaign to clean up favelas, blighted areas, and red-light districts so that it could “develop” them. In his article “Evangelical Ecstasy Meets Feminist Fury: Sex Trafficking, Moral Panics, and Homonationalism during Global Sporting Events,” featured in the June 2016 issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Gregory Mitchell argues that by destroying safe and legal venues for sex work, host cities of such events create the very exploitation they purport to prevent.

You may also be interested in these books about human trafficking:

Street Corner Secrets

Street Corner Secrets is an ethnography of women in the city of Mumbai who look for  work at nakas, street corners where day laborers congregate and wait to be hired for construction jobs. Often chosen last, after male workers, or not at all, some women turn to sex work in order to make money, at the nakas, on the street, or in brothels. Svati P. Shah argues that sex work should be seen in relation to other structural inequities affecting these women’s lives, such as threats from the police and lack of access to clean water.

Having spent nearly a decade following the lives of formerly trafficked men and women, Denise Brennan recounts in close detail their flight from their abusers and their courageous efforts to rebuild their lives. Life Interrupted is a riveting account of life in and after trafficking and a forceful call for meaningful immigration and labor reform.

Q&A with Charles Piot, author of The Fixer

153417_piot_charles001Charles Piot is Professor of Cultural Anthropology and African and African American Studies at Duke University where he does research on the political economy and history of rural West Africa. His new book The Fixer: Visa Lottery Chronicles, follows a visa broker—known as a “fixer”—in the West African nation of Togo as he helps his clients apply for the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery program.

Briefly, what is the Diversity Visa lottery and why does it attract so many Togolese applicants annually? What drew you to tell this story of borders and migration?

The US Diversity Visa (DV) lottery, also referred to as the green card lottery, allocates 50,000 visas annually to those from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the US. Up to twenty million people from around the world apply each year, with winners selected by raffle. The DV program came into being in the mid-1990s, thanks to a powerful Irish lobby in Congress led by Teddy Kennedy—but that’s another (albeit fascinating and bizarre) story. Today, in a sweetly ironic postcolonial twist, Africans have become the DV’s main beneficiaries.

The FixerTogo’s unusually high number of annual applicants owes to its ongoing political and economic crisis, a crisis which dates to the 1990s when privation at home pushed many to search for a better life abroad. When the visa lottery—referred to locally as loto visa—first appeared and word of it spread to the streets of Lomé, Togo’s capital, it became all the rage and Togo quickly shot to the top of the list of per capita applications for the African continent.

I first became aware of Togolese enthusiasm for the DV during the early 2000s, when large banners began appearing outside cyber cafés in Lomé (where applicants went to complete the online registration), urging them to “get your USA visas here.” When I asked a friend about the DV’s infectious spread, he announced that he too was an enthusiast and yearly applicant, and that since he had never been selected he had begun signing up female friends, hoping that one might win and enable him to acquire a visa as trailing spouse. The following year, one of his enlistees was selected and he spent weeks chasing down the required documents (birth/marriage/work certificates) and preparing her for the embassy interview. Sadly, she failed the interview but along the way Kodjo became well-versed in the nuances of DV protocol and decided to go into the business—helping others apply online, assemble their documents, prepare for the embassy interview, and arrange financing. I was impressed not only with his success in getting visas for clients but also his ingenuity—and that of the street more generally—in gaming the process, and asked Kodjo if he would mind if I wrote about the DV, using stories he had shared with me. Surprisingly, he accepted and opened his archive to me. That article has now morphed into this co-authored book.

Kodjo Nicolas Batema is what the US embassy identifies as a “Fixer.” What does this term mean for those in the embassy and for the Togolese?

In Lomé, they call visa brokers like Kodjo traiteurs (those who “treat” identity documents); in Ghana they refer to them as connection men (hustlers who have the connections to get anything done); at the US embassy in Lomé, they refer to such brokers as fixers, because they operate in the shadows of the law, sometimes engaging in identity games to get visas for clients. Togolese, not only those on the street but also those in high places, see traiteurs like Kodjo quite differently from those at the embassy. They celebrate them as clever business men and entrepreneurs, even Robin Hood figures, engaged in making life better for compatriots overseas in a moment of privation at home.

What did you find was the biggest source of contention between the embassy and visa lottery hopefuls?

The embassy assumes that many who come for the interview are engaging in fraud, especially when a spouse appears on the dossier after winners have been announced. Consuls refer to such add-ons as “pop-ups” and seek to ferret out real from fake by separating spouses and putting them through the paces— “When were you married?” “Who attended?” “What were the marriage gifts?” “When did you first meet?” “What side of the bed do you sleep on?” “What’s your spouse’s favorite color?” —with inconsistent responses dooming a couple. But interviewees are coached by fixers before the interview – a Kodjo specialty—and usually know what questions to anticipate. Couples who marry for the visa also spend time together in the months leading up to the embassy interview—to better present as legitimate spouses—and sometimes fall for each other. I’m fascinated with such cases (and track several of them in the book), as they rebut consular assumptions that visa marriages are strictly expedient. As Kodjo once put it, “What’s the difference between meeting your spouse at the beach, at the shopping mall, or through the lottery?”

You compare Kodjo to familiar trickster gods, such as Anansi. What is it about Kodjo’s role that makes this comparison meaningful for you?

In West African folklore, the trickster is often an animal or insect who plays tricks on and outwits his enemies, usually someone more powerful—a chief, a deity, a colonial master. Kodjo strikes me as exemplifying many characteristics of the trickster – of someone using his smarts to get the best of those in authority—here, embassy gatekeepers who would block the movement of Togolese to greener pastures abroad. A trickster for postcolonial times.

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The Fixer is full of Kodjo’s cases, and his clients’ successes and failures. Which cases did you find the most exciting or interesting?

Always the ones that surprise, those with unexpected outcomes: the ones in which arranged marriages become real, or when consular suspicions go awry. Here’s one of the latter. A DV couple in the US petitioned to bring over their three children, but DNA tests (standard protocol in such cases) revealed that only two were positive for both parents while the third was positive for the wife alone. The consul assumed this indicated the couple was trying to cheat—to smuggle the child of another onto the dossier – and denied their petition. After a flurry of follow-up emails with the petitioning couple, however, he discovered that it was the woman’s infidelity (of which the husband was apparently unaware), not the couple’s deliberate attempt to add someone else’s child, that explained the discrepancy—and, in a nice gesture, he asked the woman to reapply alone for all three children. Salutary news for the couple, of course, but how they weathered the revelation that the wife had engaged in an extra-marital liaison, I do not know.

Here’s another case that caused a stir on the streets of Lomé. A male interviewee’s doctor’s report—it is mandatory to have a physical exam before the interview—noted that there was a scar on one of his legs. When the consular official conducting the interview read the report, he asked the man’s “wife” which leg her husband’s scar was on. When she guessed incorrectly, they failed the interview. The next day, all on the street knew why they had failed and began exploring the intimacies of their visa-spouses’ bodies.

And another, also with a disappointing outcome. During the interview, a pop-up couple was separated and aggressively interrogated by a Togolese member of the embassy’s fraud unit who had a reputation as a bully and fierce embassy loyalist. This questioner told the man—the “husband” —that when they turned up the heat on his wife, she spilled the beans and admitted that theirs was not a real marriage. “But,” the interrogator continued, “since you were the winner, we’ll give you a visa [while denying her] —if you tell the truth.” The man fell into the trap, and when the couple was called before the consul, they were confronted with their differing accounts—the woman had stuck to the story that they were real spouses—and both were denied. When the young man visited Kodjo the next day to complain, he was met with little sympathy. Kodjo told him he’d warned him of exactly this possibility and that he had no one to blame but himself.

Here’s a similar case with a more upbeat outcome. During the embassy interview, the consul challenged a DV selectee by telling her that she didn’t believe she was really married to the man on her dossier—but that she would give her the visa while denying him. Without missing a beat, the woman responded that the man was indeed her husband (though in fact he was not) and that if he was not granted a visa, she would refuse hers. This seemed proof enough for the consul, and both were granted visas. Kodjo’s commentary: “It takes this type of courage to pass the interview.”

In The Fixer you highlight laughter and its presence in the face of precarity as important threads throughout your book. WHY? Were there any particularly funny moments for you? Were there any moments of laughter that particularly surprised you?

A first impression of many who visit West Africa is the pervasiveness of laughter—on city streets, in the markets and villages. Togolese love repartee and banter, and relish making fun of those who misstep or are dim-witted, while the vernacular comedian who comes with the quick one-liner is the envy of all. And yet this is the poorest, most economically-deprived region in the world today. How to make sense of this antinomy, the side-by-side presence/entanglement of humor and precarious life? I wanted to write a book that would acknowledge this conjuncture and unsettle the commonplace view that poverty and a dour everyday disposition necessarily accompany one another. But more, critical theory in anthropology today, with its preoccupation with suffering and trauma— “suffering slot” anthropology, Joel Robbins has called it—inhabits an often-dismal, humorless space of critique. I wanted to use the Togolese material to disturb that goes-without-saying reflex and make room for pleasure alongside precarity in my analysis.

Do you see The Fixer shifting existing conversations about migration and immigration practices? How so?

With seventy million migrant-refugees on the move today worldwide, mobility has become the issue of our time. As have mobility’s travails—especially at a moment when border walls and biometric tracking have become the order of the day. Today’s world is one of enclosures and fences, one in which security has replaced freedom as core value.

Neither celebratory nor tragic, my account aims to humanize the West African migrant by giving agency and voice to migrant experience, and by situating these sojourners within precarious West African times, while also putting border practice and consular decision-making under the microscope.

One of the grave injustices in today’s world is that metropolitan border policy means that most on the African continent will never be able to travel and will remain enclaved/incarcerated at home. As such, they are denied access to a world they helped create—through the wealth produced by the Atlantic slave economies, through colonial systems that accumulated raw materials for European industry, through the contemporary extraction of oil and minerals—including the coltan that powers the world’s cell phones and laptops. Why should this continent be denied its due, especially when its denizens are the best of workers and citizens wherever they land?

Read the introduction to The Fixer free online and save 30% on the paperback edition using coupon code E19PIOT.

New Books in June

Looking for some compelling reads this summer? Check out these new titles coming out in June!

Presenting ethnographic case studies from across the globe, the contributors to Anthropos and the Material, edited by Penny Harvey, Christian Krohn-Hansen and Knut G. Nustad, question and complicate long-held understandings of the divide between humans and things by examining encounters between the human and the nonhuman in numerous social, cultural, technological, and geographical contexts.

In Anti-Japan Leo T. S. Ching traces the complex dynamics that shape persisting negative attitudes toward Japan throughout East Asia, showing how anti-Japanism stems from the failed efforts at decolonization and reconciliation, the U.S. military presence, and shifting geopolitical and economic conditions in the region.

The contributors to Captivating Technology, edited by Ruha Benjamin, examine how carceral technologies such as electronic ankle monitors and predictive-policing algorithms are being deployed to classify and coerce specific populations and whether these innovations can be appropriated and reimagined for more liberatory ends.

Focusing on Costa Rica and Brazil, Andrea Ballestero’s A Future History of Water examines the legal, political, economic, and bureaucratic history of water in the context of the efforts to classify it as a human right, showing how seemingly small scale devices such as formulas and lists play large role in determining water’s status.

In Making the World Global, Isaac A. Komola examines how the relationships between universities, the American state, philanthropic organizations, and international financial institutions inform the academic understanding of the world as global in ways that frame higher education as a commodity, private good, and source of human capital.

Therí Alyce Pickens examines the speculative and science fiction of Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tananarive Due in Black Madness :: Mad Blackness to rethink the relationship between race and disability, thereby unsettling the common theorization that they are mutually constitutive.

In Entre Nous, Grant Farred examines the careers of international soccer stars Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, along with his own experience playing for an amateur township team in apartheid South Africa, to theorize the relationship between sports and the intertwined experiences of relation, separation, and belonging.

In The Fixer, Charles Piot follows Kodjo Nicolas Batema, a visa broker in the West African nation of Togo as he helps his clients apply for the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery program. The lively stories shed light on current immigration debates.

In The African Roots of Marijuana, an authoritative history of cannabis in Africa, Chris S. Duvall challenges what readers thought they knew about cannabis by correcting widespread myths, outlining its relationship to slavery and colonialism, and highlighting Africa’s centrality to knowledge about and the consumption of one of the world’s most ubiquitous plants.

In Experiments with Empire, Justin Izzo examines how twentieth-century writers, artists, and anthropologists from France, West Africa, and the Caribbean experimented with ethnography and fiction in order to explore new ways of making sense of the complicated legacy of imperialism and to imagine new democratic futures.

Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey traces how indigenous and postcolonial peoples in the Caribbean and Pacific Islands grapple with the enormity of colonialism and anthropogenic climate change through art, poetry, and literature by using allegorical narratives in Allegories of the Anthropocene.

The Romare Bearden Reader, edited by Robert G. O’Meally, brings together a collection of newly written essays and canonical writings by novelists, poets, historians, critics, and playwrights, as well as Bearden’s most important writing, making it an indispensable volume on one of the giants of twentieth-century American art.

Terry Adkins: Infinity is Less Than One, which we are distributing for ICA Miami, accompanies the first institutional posthumous exhibition of the sculptural work of Terry Adkins (1953–2014), one of the great conceptual artists of the twenty-first century renowned for his pioneering work across numerous mediums. The catalogue is edited by Gean Moreno and Alex Gartenfeld.

The contributors to Racism Postrace, edited by Roopali Mukherjee, Sarah Banet-Weiser, and Herman Gray, theorize and examine the persistent concept of post-race in examples ranging from Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” to public policy debates, showing how proclamations of a post-racial society can normalize modes of racism and obscure structural antiblackness.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Q&A with Beth C. Caldwell, Author of Deported Americans

Beth Caldwell PhotoBeth C. Caldwell is Professor of Legal Analysis, Writing, and Skills at Southwestern Law School and was formerly an attorney in the Los Angeles County Office of the Public Defender. Caldwell’s experiences as a public defender led her to her new book, Deported Americans, in which she tells the story of dozens of immigrants who were deported from the United States—the only country they have ever known—to Mexico, tracking the harmful consequences of deportation for those on both sides of the border.

Who are the deported Americans about whom you write? What are the most common problems they face that result in their deportation?

I use the term deported Americans primarily to refer to people who migrated to the United States when they were children (often at a very young age), who have now been deported. These are people who were primarily socialized in the United States, who grew up attending American schools, and who are more comfortable speaking English than Spanish. They’re not U.S. citizens, but they identify as Americans culturally, and others perceive them as Americans too.

The term is also broad enough to encompass U.S. citizen family members of people who have been deported—particularly the children and spouses of deportees. Although not technically deported under the law, they often feel like they too have been deported because the only option to keep their families together is to leave the United States.

Both groups refer to their experiences as “banishment” or “exile” from their homes, and they experience a range of problems that are not surprising if you imagine how it would feel to be uprooted from all that is familiar to you—from your home, your career, your family and friends. This can trigger a sense of hopelessness that can fuel mental health issues, most often depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and thoughts of suicide. It can also push some to turn to drugs to numb their pain. Family relationships often erode in the years following deportation, which contributes to these problems.

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In Mexico, deported Americans are stigmatized and are not accepted by the dominant culture. They report feeling marginalized by their American accents and ties to the United States. This can trigger profound questions about one’s identity because people feel a sense of double rejection, by both the United States and Mexico.

You mention in your introduction that you did not set out deliberately to write this book, but rather stumbled upon it through your work and informal conversations with deported people living in Mexico. Can you speak more to how these experiences and relationships shaped your approach?

Since I didn’t deliberately set out to research this issue, I didn’t set out with any preconceived notions or expectations as a researcher who is testing a hypothesis might do. Instead, the project was shaped by listening to people and, in some cases, by observing people’s day-to-day interactions as they adjusted to the reality of being deported. Common themes emerged in people’s narratives. When I would speak with people in the U.S. about what I was hearing, people were often surprised. And I realized that it was important to document and share the other side of deportation, so that people in the U.S. would have to confront, or at least be more aware of, the very real harms that flow from the country’s deportation policies.

How does activism—yours and others’—shape the narrative in Deported Americans?

I consider the negative rhetoric that depicts immigrants as others—as invaders or as dangerous—to be the biggest obstacle to creating more humane immigration policies in the U.S. No amount of activism can bring about just immigration reforms as long as some immigrants are characterized as “good” and “deserving” while others are cast aside as “bad” or “criminal,” and therefore disposable.

One of the primary goals of the narrative in Deported Americans is to highlight the nuances and complexities in people’s lives in order to help readers to see that even people who would commonly be depicted as “bad” or “undeserving” have compelling stories and are deserving of humane treatment under the law. By telling people’s stories, I try to strip away the dehumanizing labels that are often applied to immigrants with criminal convictions in order to help readers to see people more holistically.

What do you think is the most surprising aspect of immigration law as it affects deported Americans?

Often, stories about immigrants focus on recent arrivals to the U.S., but many deportees are members of American families. The U.S. deported over 250,000 parents of U.S. citizen children between 2011 and 2017, in addition to many spouses of U.S. citizens. People are always surprised when I talk about U.S. citizens whose spouses have been deported. There seems to be a pervasive belief that marriage to a U.S. citizen protects people from deportation, but this is not the case. I’ve interviewed many U.S. citizens who now live in Mexico because their spouses have been deported, and others who are struggling with family separation because they have stayed in the U.S. after a spouse’s deportation.

People are also surprised by the lack of proportionality in these cases. There is a major disconnect between sentences in criminal court and the sanctions people experience in the immigration system, even though both systems are often imposing penalties on the basis of the same conduct. For example, a lawful permanent resident (otherwise known as a green card holder) could be convicted of a crime for which they are sentenced with minimal jail time and probation in the criminal justice system. But in immigration court, they could face virtually automatic, permanent deportation—with no realistic hope of ever lawfully returning to the U.S.—because of the same conviction.

Many news stories paint pictures of immigrants and deportees. What is the most important way that you think Deported Americans changes or contradicts these narratives?

I deliberately focus on sharing the stories of immigrants with criminal convictions to disrupt the pervasive representation of some immigrants as “good” and others as “bad.” A lot of people are framed as “dangerous” due to criminal convictions that really have nothing to do with whether they are in fact dangerous. And in many cases, it seems more dangerous to deport them—to separate them from their families, or to force their U.S. citizen family members to leave the United States if they want to stay together.

Harsh immigration policies that apply to immigrants with criminal convictions emerged alongside the tough-on-crime movement of the 1980s and 1990s. In many cases, the same laws that created drug sentencing policies that are now widely criticized also created draconian immigration policies. Although there is an emerging consensus that the War on Drugs was problematic, and there has been some progress to roll back some of its policies, very little attention has focused on the parallel problems in the immigration system. I hope to draw people’s attention to this issue.

In the context of arguments over the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and the news about the child detention centers, how do you see conversations about deportation changing? Staying the same?

People are certainly more interested in the topic of deportation now than in the recent past. This is an interesting shift because numerically, more people were actually being deported a few years ago. I think that the more that the consequences of U.S. immigration policy come to light, the more the average American is concerned about the issues, especially when it comes to family separation. Although more attention has focused on family separation affecting people upon their entry to the United States, family separation brought about by deportation fits into the overall problem that the U.S. immigration system regularly separates children from their parents.

The issue of family separation is also directly tied to the wall. When I was first starting out my research in Tijuana, I interviewed a social worker who runs a shelter for women and children. Her shelter houses a lot of recent deportees. She was convinced that no barrier—no fence, no wall, no punishments—would stop mothers from trying to return to the United States because the instinct to reunite with their children was stronger than anything. It’s a primal instinct. Due to a long history of migration from Mexico to the U.S., which the U.S. has welcomed at many times because of a desire for Mexican labor, families are deeply interconnected across the border, and across immigration statuses. The rhetoric framing migration as an “invasion” by foreigners misses this important reality.

What do you hope readers will take away from Deported Americans?

Deportation causes a lot of harm—to both the deportees and their families, who are often U.S. citizens. It has become a normalized aspect of our society, but we should really think about whether it should be. Deportation has always been used as a tool for excluding and removing marginalized people from societies, so its roots are suspect. I hope readers will walk away from the book with lingering questions about how we might better approach the social problems deportation is currently used to address, but in a more humane way.

Read the introduction to Deported Americans free online and purchase the paperback for 30% off using coupon code E19CALDW.

 

Orin Starn on Tiger Woods’s Masters Victory

978-0-8223-5210-5_prOrin Starn, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, watched the Masters Tournament along with the rest of the world on April 14 and offers his thoughts on Tiger’s victory here. His 2011 book The Passion of Tiger Woods brought an anthropologist’s perspective to the scandals and struggles that made yesterday’s victory such a triumph.

It was an amazing moment in America sports history yesterday.  Tiger Woods won the Masters Tournament, one of golf’s four major championships, capping a remarkable comeback from deep troubles on and off the course.  Most pundits had written off the great champion after an ugly divorce, four back surgeries, and, less than two years ago, an arrest for driving under the influence of pain-killers.  His vacant mug shot eyes were those of a man who seemed to have lost his way altogether.

That Woods would rise again felt almost foreordained and even biblical in its way.  He’d once been acclaimed as golf’s black messiah, redeeming the sport from its whites-only past, and becoming its greatest player with an astonishing knack for drama and the clutch shot.  Then, after self-destructive serial cheating destroyed his marriage, Woods was crucified to the cross of public opinion and media frenzy.   He resurrected his career with a public apology and double fusion back operation.   Now, with his Masters win, Woods has been transubstantiated, rising into celestial new heights of fan adoration at least among the golfing public.  At 43, balding, having sinned and suffered so much, Woods is more human than he had been as an invincible young superstar.   His powers of concentration and genius skill remain altogether otherworldly beyond even the imagination of us mortal weekend players.

I could not help shedding a few tears as Woods raised his arms in triumph on the 18th green yesterday.  Anyone of a certain age who has learned how hard life can be could identify with his struggle and take pleasure in his victory. There is always new drama in the Woods story, and perhaps he will now go on to reach his childhood goal of overtaking Jack Nicklaus for the most major tournament titles.  It felt yesterday, as the thunderstorms rolled across Georgia, that this Masters victory will remain as the greatest moment of all in his extraordinary story.

New Books in April

We’ve got great new reads in April in anthropology, religious studies, sociology, feminism and women’s studies, and much more.

978-1-4780-0390-8_prIn Deported Americans legal scholar and former public defender Beth C. Caldwell tells the story of dozens of immigrants who were deported from the United States—the only country they have ever known—to Mexico, tracking the harmful consequences of deportation for those on both sides of the border.

In Makers of Democracy A. Ricardo López-Pedreros traces the ways in which a thriving middle class was understood to be a foundational marker of democracy in Colombia in the second half of the twentieth century, showing democracy to be a historically unstable and contentious practice.

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Maura Finkelstein examines what it means for textile mill workers in Mumbai—who are assumed to not exist—to live during a period of deindustrialization, showing in The Archive of Loss how mills and workers’ bodies constitute an archive of Mumbai’s history that challenge common thinking about the city’s past, present, and future.

Hester Blum examines the rich, offbeat collection of printed ephemera created by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century polar explorers, showing in The News at the Ends of the Earth how ship newspapers and other writing shows how explores wrestled with questions of time, space, and community while providing them with habits to survive the extreme polar climate.

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In Autonomy Nicholas Brown theorizes the historical and theoretical conditions for the persistence of art’s autonomy from the realm of the commodity by showing how an artist’s commitment to form and by demanding interpretive attention elude the logic of capital.

In a revised and expanded edition of Medicine Stories, Aurora Levins Morales weaves together the insights and lessons learned over a lifetime of activism to offer a new theory of social justice, bringing clarity and hope to tangled, emotionally charged social issues in beautiful and accessible language.

Exploring a wide range of sonic practices, from birdsong in the Marshall Islands to Zulu ululation, the contributors to Remapping Sound Studies, edited by Gavin Steingo and Jim Sykes, reorient the field of sound studies toward the global South in order to rethink and decolonize modes of understanding and listening to sound.

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In Dance for Me When I Die—first published in Argentina in 2004 and appearing here in English for the first time—Cristian Alarcón tells the story and legacy of seventeen year old Víctor Manuel Vital, aka Frente, who was killed by police in the slums of Buenos Aires.

The contributors to Spirit on the Move, edited by Judith Casselberry and Elizabeth A. Pritchard, examine Pentecostalism’s appeal to black women worldwide and the ways it provides them with a source of community, access to power, and way to challenge social inequalities.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Q&A with John Lindsay-Poland, Author of Plan Colombia

photoJohn Lindsay-Poland is Healing Justice Associate at the American Friends Service Committee. He is the author of numerous articles, reports, and books, including Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama and The Rise and Fall of “False Positive” Killings in Colombia and the Role of U.S. Military Assistance, 2000-2010. In his new book, Plan Colombia: U.S. Ally Atrocities and Community Activism, Lindsay-Poland draws upon his human rights activism and interviews with military officers, community members, and human rights defenders to describe grassroots initiatives in Colombia and the United States that resisted militarized policy and created alternatives to war.

What initially drew you to this project? How did the 2005 massacre in the San José de Apartadó Peace Community become the focus of your inquiry?

In the late 1990s, Colombia was experiencing 14 political murders a day, and Washington was ratcheting up its military involvement, which already had a long history, yet very few people in the United States were talking about it. When I visited San José de Apartadó in 2000, the war was all around them, they were determined to resist it, and I was moved by their commitment to each other—the “community” part of being a Peace Community. So the organization I worked for, Fellowship of Reconciliation, started a project to accompany the community to strengthen their security.

The massacre of two families, including three children, in 2005 during an Army-paramilitary operation, followed by the military’s cover-up, caused indignation among many people, and it deeply affected the community and our band of accompaniers. It was an example of how the U.S. narrative of fighting a war on drugs in Colombia was both untrue and wrong. And our presence in the community gave us an intimate and privileged view of that. The community’s and accompaniers’ versions of the atrocity had to be told.

How does human rights activism inform your approach to historical research and writing? In the same vein, how has historical inquiry influenced your activism?

My activist work led me first to seek out and hear the stories of people impacted by the policies of the United States, my country, then to meet with the policy-makers and military officers who are enacting these policies, and to do both of these over a long enough time that I began to see the patterns as well as the blind spots in the narratives, especially of people in government. So many of these folks believe that anything the United States does will have a positive effect, but don’t stick around to see their impact.

I also saw how valuable both testimony and quantitative data are for policy advocacy, and worked with human rights groups to assemble data in ways that could be used in policy discussions—for example, by identifying military units responsible for civilian killings in order to deny aid to them, under U.S. law.

Your book features striking testimony of victims of armed conflict. What tribute did you wish to pay to these figures?

I was moved by the determination of women and men in communities in the midst of war, such as the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, who denounced its violence and took an independent path. For many of them, “victim” was not a term of passivity.

If from the outside you perceive only violent actors, as is often portrayed in media accounts, then it’s easy to believe that the only way for outsiders to engage the conflict is to support the violent group that is least objectionable. But in Colombia—as elsewhere —communities resist displacement to farm their lands, organize local power to hold armed groups accountable, develop nonviolent guard cells, and resist war and injustice from their identities as feminist, labor, indigenous, Afro, youth, campesino, religious, and international communities. If people facing such overwhelming circumstances can create and resist, what can we—readers in our own circumstances—do in solidarity with these communities, and in our own communities that also face structural violence?

What resources does Plan Colombia provide for activist readers interested in creating peace in the region? How can readers get involved in peace activism in Colombia?

While much of Plan Colombia analyzes U.S. policy at the macro level and narrates the Peace Community, the massacre that took place there, and its aftermath, there is an important chapter on projects of life. One of the most important things readers can do is to visit Colombia, especially in human rights delegations like those organized by Witness for Peace and Global Youth Connect. Groups like Peace Brigades International, Colombia Support Network, and the Latin America Working Group also publish useful resources and actions people can take.

What do you see as the political and ethical consequences of your intervention?

International accompaniment of campesino communties in Colombia and elsewhere establishes a different relationship between those who’ve been harmed by empire and war, on one hand, and those who—like it or not—have benefitted from them. It places accompaniers in a role of support for people who’ve historically faced structural violence, while also using our position to reduce the risk of attack. This book grew from that relationship. Besides the precedent set by accompaniment, we worked to change U.S. policies from above that were wreaking havoc on many levels.

What contentious or controversial material can readers find in your book?

Although the normalization of war can make it seem ordinary, armed conflict is by its nature contentious, and what is accepted truth for some provokes anger and indignation in others. The book presents stories and analysis of the Colombian army’s “false positive” killings—murders of civilians later claimed as combat deaths. I also examined what role the United States played in both the forces that fed the “false positive” murders and the pressures that led to their decline as a systematic army practice. I think the evidence is strong, but it contradicts the dominant conclusion that Plan Colombia is a model that the United States should replicate in other conflicts.

What is the central lesson you want readers to take away from Plan Colombia?

Plan Colombia serves as a template for Washington’s military interventions all over the world, from Syria to the Philippines to Mexico, with few U.S. boots on the ground and a heavy investment in client military forces. U.S. intervention has become normalized in many forms, but its impacts on violence and on communities are rarely scrutinized. They should be.

How do you foresee U.S.-Colombian relations evolving in the coming decade?

The two countries remain strong military allies. U.S. military aid actually increased in the wake of the 2016 peace accord between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas, supposedly to fill a vacuum created by guerrilla demobilization. The Trump administration is reigniting the drug war, and the land issues at the root of the conflict are also heating up, leading to more killings of social leaders. Unless people in the United States examine and prioritize the impacts on the ground of Plan Colombia, I am concerned that the cycle of hubris and violence will continue to repeat itself. The people-to-people relationships like those recounted in Plan Colombia will still be critical.

Read the introduction to Plan Colombia free online, and purchase the paperback for 30% off using coupon code E18PLAN.

Engaging in Today’s Political Climate

As voters head to the polls for the November 6 midterm elections, we look back on past issues from two of our politically engaged journals, Tikkun and World Policy Journal, for advice on how to engage in today’s political climate.

Embrace and celebrate multiculturalism.

An increasingly diverse United States requires a multiethnic approach to governance that prioritizes social welfare, argues political science professor Terri E. Givens in “How the Left Can Right Itself” (World Policy Journal 34:1). “The focus must be on addressing inequality, strengthening unions, and developing immigration policies that include burden-sharing agreements and support for those caught in conflict areas,” writes Givens.

Uphold values with grace and vision.WPJ_34_1_cover

The editorial “Trump’s Evil Policies, Democrats Aligning with the Deep State, and the Left in Shaming and Blaming” (Tikkun 32:3) advocates using a forward-looking visionary approach to left-versus-right discourse instead of a reactionary approach that assumes “a posture of fighting off the bad instead of building the good.” This reactionary strategy, the editorial reads, “will do little to transform the dynamics at play and support the emergence of a just, compassionate, environmentally sensitive and love-supporting society that is badly needed.”

Consider all of the earth’s residents.

“We must push for nothing less than a transformation in the legal systems that govern humankind’s relationship with the earth,” writes Mari Margil in “The Standing of Trees: Why Nature Needs Legal Rights” (World Policy Journal 34:2). “Right now, a growing global movement is trying to shift both law and culture to recognize the legal rights of nature. . . . This is essential to get us away from systems that treat the natural world as if it exists solely for human exploitation,” writes Margil.

Transcend fear.

“We are at our best when we embody [a] message of love and resist fear. By contrast, governing by fear is deeply antithetical to our sacred call,” writes President of Pacific School of Religion Rev. Dr. David Vàsquez-Levy in “No Hate, No Fear” (Tikkun 32:3). “Through his barrage of executive orders, impacting thousands of immigrants and refugees, President Donald Trump has framed his leadership of the world’s most powerful nation by means of fear,” writes Vàsquez-Levy, calling upon us “as individuals and communities [to] show our creative strength, intellectual capacity, deep faith, and courage as we join angels and protestors proclaiming, ‘No hate, no fear! Refugees are welcome here!’”

“Stay outraged.”

World Policy Journal 34:1, “Stay Outraged: A Conversation with Masha Gessen”

In an interview with World Policy Journal, journalist Masha Gessen points out that, as moral authority degrades within the current administration, the way that society fights that degradation is by “maintaining a sense of outrage.” She urges us to recalibrate the moral compass by speaking out in the public sphere, pointing out abnormalities, extending beyond the liberal or conservative bubble, and aspiring to a glorious future. “Stay outraged,” Gessen writes, for by “protesting, by maintaining healthy public debates in the media and other public spaces,” we maintain a “sense of moral authority.”

Sanford Levinson on Public Monuments and 20th Anniversary Edition of Written in Stone

Sanford V. LevinsonSanford Levinson is Professor of Law at the University of Texas Law School. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today (with Cynthia Levinson). The 20th anniversary edition of his book Written in Stone addresses debates and conflicts over the memorialization of Confederate “heroes,” with a new preface and afterward that take account of recent events. In this guest post, Levinson meditates on some of the newest controversies, including protests surrounding UNC-Chapel Hill’s “Silent Sam” and sports team mascots.

I am immensely grateful to the Duke University Press for giving me the opportunity to publish a 20th anniversary edition of Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies, with a greatly augmented afterword (and new preface as well).  As I noted in the preface, my original suggestion in 2016, when I floated the idea of a new edition, was to prepare about 5000 words that could be submitted in August 2017, with publication taking place in late winter or early spring.  Instead, in part because of what happened in Charlottesville and afterward, the additional material totals around 20,000 words, taking into account events that occurred as late as the summer of 2018, just before the book went to press. As John Lennon is said to have said, life is what happens when you’re busy making plans!

But, already, I have sent emails to my editor, Miriam Angress, suggesting, only half-jokingly, that we begin thinking of a 25th anniversary edition in 2023, for the simple reason that the central topic—how do sometimes drastically changing societies come to terms with monuments, building names, and other such efforts by previous ruling elites to shape a certain view of the society that reflected their own hegemony?—constantly generates brand new, and challenging, examples.

So even in the relatively brief period between the time the book went to press and its publication in October, new examples have arisen from around the world.  Consider the response in Lithuania to a book written by the American granddaughter of a Lithuanian “hero” who had valiantly opposed Soviet hegemony; indeed, he was executed by the Soviets.  In the course of her research, she discovered that he had also been a vigorous anti-Semite and collaborator with Nazis during World War II. An almost full-page story in the New York Times detailed the anguish these discoveries caused the granddaughter, who had expected to write a hagiographic biography of her esteemed grandfather, but who believed that historical facts had priority.  As one might imagine, many present-day Lithuanians do not want to be told that their hero, suitably commemorated in statuary and the names of schoolhouses, might have had feet (at least) of clay. Older readers might remember the great film Who Shot Liberty Valence?, the most memorable line of which is a newspaper editor’s saying that when faced with a choice between reinforcing the legend or writing about the perhaps disillusioning truth, “print the legend.”  Memorialization is quintessentially about myth-making and preservation; suggestions to tear down, or even supply more nuance, to monuments is to attack myths that are important to lots of people. It is not surprising that they resist having their illusions (or outright delusions) shattered.  

Within the United States, students at the University of North Carolina tore down the statue of “Silent Sam,” the anonymous figure commemorating soldiers in the Confederate Army that fought to secure North Carolina’s independence from the United States (and also, of course, to maintain the system of chattel slavery).  This triggered a strong response from the conservative Republican legislature, and it remains to be seen what the ultimate outcome will be with regard to a possible restoration of the statue. The University of Mississippi quickly announced that it would change the name of one of its buildings when it was discovered that the generous benefactor who contributed to its construction (perhaps on condition that it would be named after him) had sent out racist tweets.  A California state college that memorialized “Prospector Pete” as a quintessential participant in the great California Gold Rush of 1849 decided to remove the statute (and change the name of some sports teams from the “Forty Niners”) when informed by a number of Native American students that from their perspective these invading miners were basically imperialists who had destroyed the existing Indian culture and, therefore, deserved no public honor. One might wonder if San Francisco’s professional football team will now receive any of the criticisms that have been long directed at the Washington football team’s use of a racist term as its name.  And Stanford University announced that it would change the name of the street on which it is officially located from Junipero Serra Way to Jane Stanford Way. Father Serra, the most important force behind the settlement of California by Catholic missionaries (and the missions they built throughout the state), is also now regarded by many in California as an agent of imperialism and cultural destruction.

As suggested in the new materials for the Second Edition, the rise of the #MeToo Movement has also called into question a number of namings of buildings at universities and elsewhere.  One can be confident that that many more examples will emerge in the future. One suspects that the reports discussed in the text by the New York Mayor’s commission on public monuments, or by select committees at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton will be avidly read elsewhere, as will former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s truly great speech explaining the removal of  Robert E. Lee from his pedestal atop Lee Circle in that city. The physical removal provides the truly wonderful cover of the new edition of Written in Stone.

There have even been suggestions that Austin, Texas consider changing its name, given that Stephen F. Austin held slaves and that one impetus for the secession from Mexico that created the Republic of Texas over which Austin presided was to assure the maintenance of chattel slavery.  One can doubt that Austin will in fact change its name, any more than Ohio will seek a more anodyne name for its state capital honoring Columbus, the subject of significant and ambivalent discussion by the New York Mayor’s committee. The only thing one can be confident of is that the problems posed by monuments and namings will not be going away in the foreseeable future anywhere in the world.  

Read the introduction to Written in Stone free online, and purchase the paperback for 30% off using coupon code E18STONE.

A View from the Ivy Gates: Christine Yano on Privilege and Affirmative Action

yanoChristine Yano is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawai’i and co-editor (with Neal K. Adolph Akatsuka) of the new book Straight A’s: Asian American College Students in Their Own Words. This guest post offers her reflections on current and recent lawsuits on affirmative action in higher education.

Privilege is an ugly word.  And any pedestal of privilege holds a fraught position that draws critics and wannabes.  Given these elements, the possibilities for manipulation of privilege and its pedestals run high.  In my mind, this is part of the backdrop of the current lawsuit against Harvard University’s admissions policy by the so-called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) led by conservative activist Edward Blum.  The lawsuit charges that Harvard’s undergraduate admissions policy discriminates against Asian American applicants, by holding them to a higher bar than others, based on their numerical test scores and rates of admission.  The lawsuit on surface carries commonsense momentum, because it feeds upon a history of rumor and innuendo, in part driven by similar lawsuits levelled at other places of privilege, such as University of California, Berkeley.  It feeds upon stereotypes of Asian Americans as a model minority that is high-achieving and low maintenance, ignoring the diversity of national origins, culture, education levels, and social class.  The model minority stereotype thrust upon Asian Americans by white media during the racially volatile 1960s categorized them as the so-called “good minority” in contrast with other persons of color as the “bad minority.”  The lawsuit feeds upon the creation and manipulation of such divisiveness, pitting minority against minority in the most insidious ways.  The lawsuit generates its own hype.

978-1-4780-0024-2I come to these thoughts on the impending lawsuit through perusing related documents in the news media, but also through my experiences as a Visiting Professor of Anthropology at Harvard in 2014-2015, teaching an experimental and temporary undergraduate course entitled Being Asian American: Representations and Realities (Anth1606).  My students were primarily Asian American undergraduates, who were excited and enthusiastic to find a class that dealt with their own experiences.  The students’ energies coalesced as Straight A’s:  Asian American College Students in Their Own Words.  Straight A’s consists of first-person narratives of Harvard Asian American undergraduates, gathered by the students (dubbed “Asian American Collective”) through personal writings and interviews.  As their instructor and fellow Asian American, I was moved by their tales, which were direct, unblinking, and intimate.  They helped me learn the pitfalls of the public pedestal of Harvard and the constant scrutiny that such a position entails, which includes families (sometimes arcing back to extended families in Asia), friends, high schools, communities, and more.  These students live under tremendous pressure, and a lawsuit such as Blum’s only adds to the confusion and complexity of their college years.

I admit that I, too, did not know exactly what to make of the lawsuit without having done some background reading.  Because the lawsuit feeds into so many pre-existing assumptions, stereotypes, and histories, those who hear news of it may find themselves hard put to examine its context more closely.  After all, prejudice against Asian Americans is a very real thing.  Shutting out minorities (here Asian Americans; in the past, Jews) from institutions of privilege is well documented and an ugly part of history, including that of Harvard.  These kinds of historical encounters with the allegations set forth by the lawsuit give a kind of common-sense, superficial acceptance of its premises. This is a dangerous thing, especially given an age of right-wing conservatism with calls for dismantling affirmative action programs.  The lawsuit implies that the admissions process at a place of privilege such as Harvard follows affirmative action practices—that is, racial and ethnic quotas—that in this case have worked against one minority that has proven too successful for their own good.  Proponents of the lawsuit suggest that the answer is to abandon all affirmative action that might give any particular group an advantage (or here, disadvantage) over any other group.  Thus Blum and his followers (including some recruited Asian Americans, such as Yukong Zhao, president of the Asian American Coalition for Education) have found a circuitous means to argue against affirmative action in general.  It’s a neat and cynical trick.

But in fact, the trick is not quite so neat.  For example, the lawsuit mischaracterizes Harvard’s current admissions process.  In fact, many institutions, including Harvard, utilize holistic review—that is, a widespread, multi-factored review process that aims to assess the context of the whole person, rather than simply relying on test scores.  That context includes family background, life circumstances, and unusual achievement, assessed through letters of recommendation, personal essays, and interviews.  Holistic review allows institutions to deliberately and purposefully look beyond numerical test scores to recognize future value to careers and communities.  This is not about a “positive personality” score to which Asian Americans have been ranked lower—what Blum labels the “Asian Penalty.”  Rather, holistic review provides admissions offices with a range of factors that might predict fit and function, including in some cases recognition of educational barriers that certain Asian American applicants may face, such as low-income families, refugee status, or lack of English as a primary language.  The lawsuit, in fact, relies upon disaggregated data that takes Asian Americans as a monolithic group, ignoring those who might fall outside the model minority category.  Blum’s trick only works if we uncritically accept the methods of his fact-gathering and the ideological basis of his argument.  The key element to understanding the issues involved lies in contextualizing Blum and the motivations behind SFFA.

And a number of groups have done just that.  Foremost among these is the Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance (H4A), an organization of 7000 Asian American and Asian alumni around the globe and founded in 2008.  If anything, their voice should be heard as persons directly concerned with the lawsuit issues.  In an extensive June 29, 2018 message to members, the H4A Board and Executive Committee emphasized two main points:  1) they support the inclusive, whole-person admissions process that Harvard uses; and 2) they oppose any form of racial discrimination in the process.  The message also notes Blum’s history of conservative activism, of which this lawsuit is only one.  Blum, for example, was at the forefront in bringing down civil rights protections in the Voting Rights Act.  He twice went unsuccessfully to the Supreme Court on behalf of a white plaintiff in Fisher vs University of Texas to end the consideration of race in admissions.  Realizing that he needed Asian American plaintiffs to further his generalized case to dismantle affirmative action, he sought and found them in his newly created “Students for Fair Admissions.”  The Harvard lawsuit is the result.

One of the most comprehensive documents that I have read is that issued by the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard of June 26, 2018, entitled “Admissions Lawsuit Update: A Look Behind the Hype.”  The Coalition, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic organization of nearly 1100 Harvard and Radcliffe alumni and students, includes more than 200 Asian Americans and was founded in 2016.  Its steering committee spent hundreds of hours reviewing the lawsuit documents, and comparing the statistical evaluations in a “battle of the experts”—Dr. Peter Arcidiacono (Professor of Economics, Duke University) representing SFFA versus Dr. David Card (Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley) representing Harvard.  Because the lawsuit is ongoing, its conclusions are as well.  However, the Coalition importantly identifies the overarching aim of Blum and SFFA as seeking to ban holistic review admissions processes nationwide through a court ruling that any use of race or ethnicity in an evaluative educational setting is unconstitutional.  If successful, the injunction would prevent all educational institutions from conducting their screening with knowledge of the applicant’s race, including surnames, mention of family background in personal essays, or in-person interviews.  SFFA seeks an admissions process that elevates (or returns) the importance of numerical test scores, while disregarding, among other things, life histories, special skills and talents, and individual passions.  This flies in the face of longstanding acknowledgment of the very limitations and biases of standardized testing.

The key here is not only that the Blum-SFFA position on admissions is wrong-headed.  It is, of course.  But there is more to it than that.  Rather, Blum-SFFA seeks to dismantle the very goals of diversity in access to higher education by “fracturing communities of color” (the words of the Coalition).  And he is using Asian Americans as his bulwark.  Those goals of diversity have been long served by affirmative action, widespread programs that recognize that students do not arrive from the same starting line.  Harvard’s admissions process may not be considered strictly “affirmative action,” but in prioritizing the whole person over a test score, and by upholding a goal of a diverse student body not because of a statistical mandate, but because of the richness to be gained and curated and advanced by difference, the ipso facto result takes race as one part of the context of all students.  The experience of race says something about the student, not as an assumption, but as one element in a particularized context of culture, family, educational expectations, stereotypes, and more.

Because the lawsuit plays so easily into sneering comments about privilege, as well as widespread rumors about access to pedestals of privilege, such as Harvard, the general public may too easily fail to look beyond the accusations.  They’ve heard this before; they’ve felt this before.  Asian Americans as almost-whites, subject to the same kinds of reverse discrimination that whites might face.  Model-minority privilege.  Focused on the easy predictability of the accusation, the general public may too easily ignore the goals of the accusers, and rely too easily on their own intentional and unintentional stereotypes of Asian Americans and other domestic communities of color.

Thus it is important to re-focus and re-calibrate our attention.  In this case, the true news story lies in the accusers’ ideology of exclusion and political conservatism.  The accusers’ world view has no room for affirmative action.  Ultimately targeting and dismantling those practices that seek to rectify social conditions of inequality, the accusers would have us believe in the holy grail of test-score objectivity.  This is why Blum advocates eliminating any and all references to race in the admissions evaluation.  The accusers would have us rush to the defense of poor Asian Americans, whose only crime was doing too well.  They would have us ignore the educational richness of a diverse campus, as well as the steps that an institution might take to achieve that balance. They would have us ignore the many ways that an individual might excel and contribute to a variety greater goods.  Using the public spotlight upon privilege and its pedestal, the accusers manipulate a quasi-minority position to do battle in the courts.  In many ways, it is a battle of world views.  But that characterization sounds far too neutral.  Indeed, this is a human rights issue.  The Harvard lawsuit represents a struggle for the very concept of what higher education and its access in the United States might mean.  The stakes run high as Blum threatens the ongoing work of affirmative action aimed at extending privilege and pedestal to a broader swath.  Asian Americans are but a pawn in his game.  This fall the courts will decide whose world view prevails.

Read more about the Asian American experience at Harvard in Straight A’s: Asian American College Students in Their Own Words. Check out the introduction, and save 30% when you purchase a copy from Duke University Press by using coupon code E18STRA at checkout.