SFRA 2010, Saturday, Roundtable on Immigration, Alienation, and Arizona SB 1070

The second session for Yufang and I was the roundtable on Immigration, Alienation, and Arizona SB 1070. We volunteered to be a part of the roundtable, because we had strong opinions about Arizona’s recent immigration and anti-ethnic studies legislations. Also as the SFRA Publicity Director, I had drafted the organization’s statement, in consultation and approval by the Executive Committee, in response to SB 1070 and our holding the conference in Arizona. You can read that statement on the official website here.

The Immigration Roundtable was initiated by SFRA President Lisa Yaszek and her husband Doug Davis as a way to discuss the effects of SB 1070, think about it as a science fictional text, and to talk about other works in SF that deal with immigration. The roundtable was moderated by Doug and included in order of initial statements: Patrick Sharp, Rob Latham, me, Yufang, and Mack Hassler.

Patrick expanded on his earlier work on the ‘Yellow Peril’ and Science Fiction and the irrational fear of immigration as a form of warfare. Rob talked about the root influences of alien and alienation from immigration law into science fiction, and the problems with 1) the ambiguity of immigration law (seen also in Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) and 2) bad faith is essential to the enforcement of the law (thinking of the V-K test in Do Androids). I talked about how the law was like the drug that Alys Buckman takes in Dick’s Flow My Tears the Policeman Said that also alters Jason Taverner’s reality–the drug someone else takes alters his reality. Yufang spoke about her own experiences as an immigrant to the United States and the unwelcoming aspects of what she calls the ‘shadow of racism’. Mack took a different stance in thinking about irony and tone in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers, borders and citizenship, and how self-conscious comic tone can be useful and sinister/protects against the horror while reinforcing it. Doug tied the roundtable together by talking about immigration films and the tension between immigration and invasion (a reinscription of the earlier narratives that Patrick talked about), and in particular, he focused on Alien Nation, District 9, and Brother from Another Planet.

Some other films/television shows that got discussed in this context included Coneheads, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Sleep Dealer, Independence Day (Will Smith’s welcoming punch in the face for the crash landed alien), Solaris, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Men in Black (essentially an immigration service for extraterrestrials on Earth). Other issues discussed included the relationship between economic contraction and expansion and immigration, the racial and economic dimensions of immigration, illegal immigrant informants in the war on drugs, and Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild.

I believe that the roundtable did generate a lot of positive discussion, but there was not enough time to turn the conversation to the issue of holding the conference in Arizona. It could be that the audience and panel members accepted the pragmatics of the situation, and they may also have been glad that we did not turn away from meeting in such a beautiful place with many good people. The engagement of the issues of immigration and alienation through science fiction was wonderfully informative and engaging for many members of the audience.

After the roundtable, I prepared for moderating the next panel in the same room on SF and Colonialism with Jason Embry and Joshua Ramsey.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.