Immigration and Science Fiction Panel at SFRA 2010, Review by Karen Hellekson

Over at the Official Blog of the Western Literature Association, Karen Hellekson wrote a wonderful review and commentary of the Immigration and Science Fiction Panel that Y and I participated in at the Science Fiction Research Association meeting in Carefree, Arizona this past Summer. You can read her response to the panel here.

I wrote about the panel on here, and you can read my full coverage of the conference on this link gathering post here.

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.

Our USCIS Interviewer Recommended AOS for Yufang!

Yufang and I just got back from our mini-trip to Cleveland for Yufang’s AOS interview, and the USCIS interviewer recommended her change of status! The only problem was with the medical documents, which were filled out incorrectly by the doctor in Stow. The interviewer told us that another couple interviewing today went to the same doctor and have the same problem with their forms. He told us that he would contact the doctor to have the paperwork corrected. If the doctor for whatever reason doesn’t release the information to the interviewer, then we will have to get the information for USCIS. Nevertheless, the big hurdle has been passed, and Yufang should receive her temporary green card in a month or so!

We stayed in the Crowne Plaza City Center Hotel last night, because it is right next to the Federal Building where we were scheduled for Yufang’s AOS interview at 8:00am this morning. I walked around last night taking pictures near the hotel:

And behind the hotel is the Federal Building:

And the city at night:

It was rainy this morning, so I didn’t get to take any pictures around Cleveland as I had hoped. Maybe next time . . .

Tomorrow’s USCIS Interview for Yufang’s AOS

Tomorrow, Yufang and I will go to the Cleveland United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices for her adjustment of status (AOS) interview. In the picture above, you can see our primary evidence. It is weird looking at these three folders/scrapbooks and thinking that our lives together can be consolidated and condensed into such a small space–it makes me wonder just how far can a marriage be reduced–one scrapbook, one DVD, a single picture, etc. We have included photographs, letters, bank statements, and other evidence that prove we have a bona fide marriage. Certainly, we could take more things with us to the interview, but from reading other folks’ experiences with the AOS interview, you can bring too much. You have to find the right balance of evidences that show to a stranger and government official that you have a dedicated and loving marriage. I certainty don’t know yet if we have struck the right balance, but I hope that we have. We have gone through the checklist, and we feel that we have accumulated the right documents for our case. However, there are more things that we could have done had we thought to do them more in advance. We have taken on a Herculean task on top of other challenging professional events–PhD exams, conferences, and publications. There will be more of this in the future with renewing the AOS and eventually applying for Yufang’s citizenship, but we will take those things as they come. For now, our focus is on tomorrow and its important hurdle that we will be very happy to have behind us.

Carol Swain’s Presentation on Immigration at Kent State

Dr. Carol Swain, professor of Political Science and Law at Vanderbilt University, gave a talk this afternoon at the Kent State University library on, “Immigration, Identity Politics, and the Decline of America: A Challenge for President Obama.”  I was interested in hearing Dr. Swain speak, because I thought her ideas, which are in large part diametrically opposed to my own, might instigate some new ideas of my own regarding immigrants and their Othered status in the United States.

At the beginning of her talk, she described herself as “an accidental college professor.”  Consider some of Dr. Swain’s bits of personal information:  one of 12 children, didn’t graduate from high school (completed her GED), married by age 16, had 2 children while she was in community college, an African immigrant from Sierra Leone encouraged her to go to community college, she chose to pursue criminal justice because it had the most lax math requirement, she was told by her professors that she had a moral duty to teach in the university due to a “critical shortage of role models,” and she said that she “had come so far from where I started, I didn’t consider failure a possibility.”

She began her presentation by saying that “she doesn’t want to start trouble.”  However, she adds, “but if someone doesn’t say something, then I feel I have to.”  The trouble that she doesn’t want to start has to do with what she terms “the immigration problem.”  In her largely impromptu and very lucid presentation, she aligned a more open borders approach to immigration to an “elite” position (elite in her sense has to do with business and I think the academic left as well), and a “rank and file” position (the average American voter divorced from race).  She went on to argue that the average American citizen, especially low wage earners without a high school diploma, are hurt by legal and illegal immigration wage depression.  Furthermore, she argues that voting initiatives, such as the English-only amendment in Nashville, reveal that people are threatened by immigration and want to take action.  However, the real problem for Dr. Swain lies in the federal government’s lack of enforcement of existing laws, and the creation of new law to deal with immigrants.  

As if that weren’t provocative enough, she rounded out her presentation with a brief critique of identity politics and the decline of America.  As Dr. Swain sees it, there is growing tension between white identity, and racial and ethnic diversity.  She noted that the founding fathers lost the battle for an Anglo-America, and now there is a growing fear among whites about the expanding minority demographics.

For Dr. Swain, the solution is assimilation, which she considers a good word.  She believes that we (US citizens) should see ourselves as Americans and nothing else. Instead of separate identity groups vying for a small piece of the pie (power?), we should give up some of that identity and have a single, unified American identity.  Denouncing cultural relativism, she invoked a few anecdotal examples of immigrants breaking US laws (violently).  Sure, these things may happen among a few, but to classify all immigrants as law breaking cultural snobs is a logical fallacy.  Furthermore, her saying “they have to come up to our level” implies a cultural superiority over other peoples, which is not something that I can do except in the most extreme circumstances of crimes against the person (e.g., female circumcision).  Even in those cases, I do not consider it an American standard, but a rational argument against the harming of the minds and bodies of others.  

Her conservative provocativeness reminds me of the right wing academic Monty Kipps from Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.  However, I don’t think Kipps would have ended his presentation in the same way as Dr. Swain when she said, “And as Forrest Gump would say, ‘That’s all I have to say about that.'”

An afterthought:  As Professor Babacar M’Baye and I were talking about after class, we must talk about race without fear.  It is only through talking about race and the other things that we can move forward.  To be fair to Dr. Swain, I do heartily agree with her about the necessity and importance of talking about immigration, race, and identity in the open.  Also, it is vital that a variety of opinions be invited to share in the conversation.  Ignoring these issues and what these things mean to people will not some how make them go away.