Monthly Archives: March 2008

Death: The Price to Pay for U.S. Citizenship

Not a day goes by in the media without horrendous and tragic stories about the consequences of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. By the title of this post you are probably wondering where “citizenship” comes into the entire debacle of the Afghanistan and Iraq War? Well, apparently in the Washington Post, there is an excellent article on how the U.S. military is offering an incentive, by way of citizenship to thousands of foreign-born, and often poor, immigrants. Essentially, “Jose” is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for the U.S. in the hopes that his “patriotic” services will be returned in kind with full U.S. citizenship. Well of course, “Jose” does get U.S. citizenship, but only after he is six feet underground in a coffin! These “green card” soldiers are part of “tens of thousands of foreign-born members in the U.S. armed forces. Many have been naturalized, but more than 20,000 are not U.S. citizens.”

As the article mentions, the U.S. has a history of using immigrants to fight wars. During the Mexican-American War, many Irishmen, escaping the Potato Famine, were recruited to fight, lured by the promise of salaries and land. The Saint Patrick’s Battalion, largely made up of Irish immigrants to the U.S. fought and were instrumental in helping the U.S. army during the start of the war. However, things began to change for the battalion and many of them deserted to fight with the Mexican army. Possible theories for this large scaled desertion are many: mistreatment towards them by other nativist soldiers and senior officers, not being allowed to attend Sunday Mass or to practice their own religion freely, among other motivations. However, the main reasons for the battalion’s desertion was because of shared religious sympathy with the Mexicans (also Catholic) and recognizing the similarities between the situation in Ireland and Mexico.

Bringing up the history of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion is not to say that immigrants cannot be trusted and are not loyal, but to show how the U.S. army manipulated citizenship so that Irish Catholics would be fighting Mexican Catholics, i.e Catholic vs Catholic fighting. Yet again, citizenship is being manipulated so that disinfranchized ethnics and would-be citizens of the U.S. are having to prove their patriotism by fighting Bush’s (and Blair’s) corporate, unjust, and dirty war. Case in point, the article mentions a father of a deceased immigrant soldier-

Fernando Suarez del Solar just feels angry- angry at what he considers the futility of a war that claimed his only son, angry at the military recruiters he says courted young Jesus relentlessly even when the family still lived in Tijuana.

His son was just 13, Suarez del Solar said, when he was first dazzled by Marine recruiters in a California mall. For the next two years Jesus begged the family to emigrate and eventually they did, settling in Escondido, Calif., where the teen signed up for the Marines before he left high school.

Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez Del Solar was 20 when he was killed by a bomb in the first week of the war. He left behind a wife and baby and parents so bitter about his death that they eventually divorced.

Today, his 52-year-old father has become an outspoken peace activist who travels the country organizing anti-war marches, giving speeches and working with counter-recruitment groups to dissuade young Latinos from joining the U.S. military.

Fernando has a valid point to be extremely upset at the U.S.military. Most of those recruited during the early days of the Iraq War came from disadvantaged or ethnic backgrounds. I never saw the U.S. army recruiters in posh or upper middle class neighborhoods, which are of course largely white. Most of the recruitment I witnessed was in lower middle class, largely ethnic neighborhoods. I believe Michael Moore made a point about this in film Fahrenheit 9/11.

As the Washington Post articled mentioned, “Immigrants are lured into service and then used as political pawns or cannon fodder, said Dan Kesselbrenner, executive director of the National Immigration Project, a program of the National Lawyers Guild. It is sad thing to see people so desperate to get status in this country that they are prepared to die for it.

Yes, indeed it is sad, but it makes me outraged to see immigration manipulated in such a tragic manner.

Sanaz

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Filed under anti-war, diasporas, U.S.A.

Norooz a la 1988!

norooz2.jpg

Well, the time is fast approaching for Norooz, otherwise known as Persian New Year’s, which begins on the first day of Spring. If you are in London, be prepared to celebrate at 5:48 am, as this is when the New Year’s changes to 1387.

As with most celebrations, Norooz brings out the party mood among all Iranians. Most diasporic Iranians will celebrate Norooz with family and friends at home, and/or paint the town red later on by attending a Norooz Gala party thrown by some diasporic Iranian organization at an expensive hotel/hall, paying an excess of $50-200 for a single ticket. In London, the Iran Heritage Foundation charged between £80-120 for a single ticket. If you convert that into US dollars, that would be between $160-240! With such a steep price for a single ticket, I’d expect a meal as tasty as the food at Behesht with Vigen resurrected from the dead for entertainment!

I utterly detest at how formulaic Norooz parties are in the diaspora. Every Iranian cultural organization rents out the same, tired hotel/hall, hiring some no-name, no-talent band, and forcing us to consume what is a very pale imitation of Persian/Middle Eastern cuisine. I can’t tell you how many Iranian Norooz parties that I have attended where the hotel food was fit for cockroaches. Yet, despite all the complaining, we still attend these uninspired, expensive parties.

I wish all Norooz parties were like the one I experienced as a young girl in Pittsburgh, circa 1988! I don’t know who were the organizers of the first Norooz party in the ‘burgh, but I gather it was a few Iranian families with the help and coordination of a some Iranian students at the University of Pittsburgh. This clever and inspired group rented out the Irish Centre in Squirrel Hill. I vividly remember entering on the day of the festivities and looking up at the stage, realizing that someone had replaced the words “Irish Centre” and the flag of Ireland, with the words “Iran Centre” and a non-political (i.e., nothing in the center) flag of Iran. At least for one day, we diasporic Iranians had a place to call our own!

What a marvelous evening it was– there was delicious Persian food cooked by volunteers, a traditional dance skit done by a group of young ladies that was so popular with the crowd that they were asked to do a repeat performance! Afterwards, the crowd (about 100-200) got to boogie to the beats of mix-taped Iranian pop music via Tehrangeles, California. Back in the ’80s-early ’90s, no Iranian party was complete without music from three popular diasporic artist of that decade: Fataneh, Andy & Korous, and towards the end, Susan Roshan (click on the links to hear those golden oldies). At the time, because Googoosh, Iran’s pop diva, was still living in Iran, many diasporic Iranian female singer tried to copy or create an illusion of the Googoosh legacy. Among these “Googoosh wannabes”, Susan Roshan was the closest in singing and being a trend setter like her predecessor. I remember that Tanin use to sell VHS tapes of their Norooz programing. For every Iranian residing in backwater places where being Iranian was like being an extinct species, no matter how cheesy those Tanin programs where, they provided much Norooz cheer and joy. It was through those Tanin videos that I became acquainted with Susan Roshan and Andy & Korous. I remember for the “Rooh-e-sheytoon” video, Susan was rockin’ a PVC black bondage cat-suit. Tre risque!

Music made during the ’80s reflected the limbo state that many in the nascent Iranian diaspora faced. Prof. Hamid Naficy, has written extensively and is the foremost expert on Iranian diasporic culture, especially focusing on transnational media and music. Naficy wrote in “Popular Culture of Iranian Exiles in Los Angeles” in Irangeles: Iranians in Los Angeles, that

Exile pop music is often performed at concerts, where thousands of Iranian teenagers and adults bask in the tumult and, sometimes, the nostalgia and allure of the music…By staging indigenous rituals and performances in a foreign country, the exile play their private, ethnic, and national symbolic forms of culture against those of the host society. Moreover, these cultural events not only reduce isolation and loneliness but also promote ethnic solidarity and integration, helping the exiles find new friends, companions, lovers, and especially future spouses.

Very true, Prof. Naficy– I remember the budding romances that began on the dance floor of the Iran Centre/Irish Centre that night. What was most memorable was the organic essence that evening- nothing was predictable, but everyone seemed happy to be together to celebrate the New Year. When I say “everyone”, I mean Iranians of all backgrounds: doctors, businessmen/women, dentists, engineers, students, refugees, rich, poor, etc. However, this sort of solidarity has ended; now some Iranians can weed out what they consider “undesirable elements” by electing to go to a Norooz party sponsored by a professional body/organization. Iranian physicians can go to an all-physician only Norooz party. The same is true for dentists, engineers and the like. This fragmentation along class and educational backgrounds is probably why Norooz parties are so stale now.

I long to go back to that magical Norooz celebration in 1988. Since fashion is recycling from the ’80s, perhaps this Norooz, I’ll make a play list of all those cheesy 80’s Iranian songs that I learned to speak Farsi from.

From me to all of you: Eid-e shoma Mobarak: Happy Norooz!

Sanaz

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Filed under festival, Iranian diaspora, music

Stuff That **** Like

One of the most popular blogs on WordPress currently takes a satirical look inside white, liberal, Yuppie, and/or Hipster culture- Stuff White People Like. In less than three months since the blog was established, it has already garnished more than 12 million hits. The posts in Stuff White People Like are intended to point out how to deal with these “white” people in a humorous fashion. Again, remember that this blog satirizes affluent white culture, and most certainly not all whites would agree to each post. Most interesting segment of each post is to read the “comments” section- you’ll find that those who respond as being non-white exclaiming that they felt themselves to be part of “affluent white culture” because like their Yuppie/Hipster white counterparts, they shopped at American Apperal, ate organic fruit and veg, and love indie films. Some come on the site to test there “whiteness”- with Rudi who commented on the first post in Stuff White People Like, exclaiming:

Some of you haven’t understood the concept of “whiteness”. It’s about trends, activities and behavior that only white people enjoy (liking diversity as such) or can enjoy (feeling superior to other whites). Of course, most of the subjects are of the lame progressive kind which are whiter than white. If you are one of these progressive minded idiots, we are here to mock you! If you are white and don’t enjoy the trends, activities and behavior on this site, we don’t care!

Again, as I have mentioned, many white people disagree with the caricature of white people on the blog, and Suze, explains in the comment section of the first post that:

This blog is brilliant, though it should be called ‘Stuff White Liberal Americans like’. It all fits my flaming liberal sister in San Fransisco perfectly, but doesn’t fit us white people on the other end of the spectrum, commonly referred to as ‘white trash’ by said flaming liberals. To get you started, we like stuff like football, nascar, cowboy boots, trucks, guns, beer, our mommas and Jesus. Although we do like coffee too.

I liken Stuff White People Like as a  humorous anthropological examination of white Yuppie/Hipster culture. Therefore, while the title might imply that the majority of whites engage in certain actions, truthfully, the blog is analyzing a certain subgroup within white culture.

It seems that the operators of Stuff Asian People Like have taken the cue from Stuff White People Like, with the same witty comments about Asian culture from China, Vietnam, Korea, etc. The inspiration for this blog is to “blog about the good and not so good things [of] Asian people.Stuff Asian People Like is already a month old and although it hasn’t generated as much publicity as Stuff White People Like, it nevertheless has provided interesting and hilarious commentary from rice to arriving late.

What are your views regarding these two blogs?

Sanaz

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Filed under Asian, blog, Class, community, cultural policy, Humor, identity, Stuff That Asian People Like, Stuff That White People Like, the concept of "whiteness"

What’s Wrong with White Girl?

I’ve been recently following the White Season on the BBC, designed to examine the white working class Britain. There has been much criticism of the program content on the White Season, especially from Sarah Mukherjee, environment correspondent for the beeb, who is herself British-Asian and grew up in a all white council estate. Mukherjee stated in Ariel, the in-house magazine of the beeb, that “…listening to the patronising conversations in some newsrooms you’d think white, working-class Britain is one step away from anarchy, drinking themselves senseless and pausing only to draw benefits and beat up a few Asian and black people.”

Sunny Hundal wrote in the Guardian, Comments is Free (CiF) and takes issue with the fact that the term “working class” is not only a white matter, but that the series woefully neglects Asian and Black working class groups. Hundal also mentions that:

The White season is a tokenistic effort after which the middle class commissioners, pleased that they’ve done their bit for the proles, will go back to their usual habits, as they do with ethnic minorities. Except, there the lives of working class minorities are ignored while shiny happy middle class Asians making music or becoming successful entrepreneurs are lapped up.

But even worse is the patronising attitude that underlies it all. Here, I can’t really do better than quote Justin McKeating: “Going by the website, the season reduces working class people to exhibits in a zoo, to reality television show freaks, to anthropological curiosities in National Geographic. Here’s some knobbly-faced salts of the earth in a Bradford working men’s club. Here’s every little-brained, little Englanders’ worst nightmare, a white girl in a hijab.” It’s spot on.

I have to agree that the White Season on the beeb has done little to represent the complete working class environment in today’s Britain. Which brings me to White Girl (you only have 5 days to view on on iPlayer), a drama written by Abi Morgan in which Leah, an 11 year old white working class girl relocates to a Muslim neighborhood in Bradford. Leah’s parents are both portrayed in the drama in the stereotypical view associated with the white working class chav— as being “brutish, racist, alcoholic, and benefit scum.” Well, Morgan didn’t veer too off from the present, equally racist view of the white, working class. Because Leah’s parents are so dysfunction in every sense of the word, she becomes interested in Islam. And, you might ask, how is Islam viewed in White Girl? Muslims are portrayed in the other stereotypical image: as being peaceful and benevolent. In fact, it seems that the drama is expressly stating that for the white working class to achieve success it needs to become Muslim. The one dimensional image of both white working class and Muslims in Bradford does an incredible disservice to both groups.

I had a difficult and uncomfortable time watching the rest of White Girl, because it presented a cookie-cutter view to very complex socio-economic issues with the white and working class in Britain. Furthermore, the simplistic notions that Islam will save the day and help rehabilitate the white working class is just patronising smugness on the part of the middle class beeb commissioners. I’m a Muslim and I found it distasteful that Islam was being elevated and being placed on a pedestal (no religion or cultural tradition should be priviledged as the better path over another)- and that specifically divorce the “Muslim” way was presented in such an easy manner, almost like snapping your fingers and va la, it is done! If this is truly the case, then most Muslim women wouldn’t find divorce such a hellish experience. This romananticized version of Islam shown in White Girl versus the often violent and criminal version protrayed on t.v. and film again only confines Muslims to the stereotypical views often presented today.  Yes, Ms. Morgan– Muslims can be racist too, just like Jewish people can be racist, Sikh, etc.– working class white people aren’t the only racists in the world. 

To conclude, the White Season has little to do with exploring the dimensions of being white and/or working class. The BBC has again perpetuated the common stereotypes regarding class, race, and religion. The neighborhood that I live in is working class and very mixed in terms of race and religion. From my perspective working class people whether White, Asian, or Black get along and are far more diversified than those in the middle class- and despite being from the U.S., I have noticed that middle class folks can be highly racist, abet in a indirect manner. The White Season shows us more about bigotry and class bullying in the beeb than about the current state of the white and/or working class in Britain.

Sanaz

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Filed under BBC, Class, cultural policy, identity, Islam, racism

Identity Within Politics

As the election season kicked-off throughout the U.S., more than ever issues over identity and gender are being commented in the media on both sides of the pond. An article in the Canadian Globe and Mail highlights the obvious sexism that Hillary Clinton seems to be facing by both male and female commentators in the election race. After 24 years since the last female to play a prominent position in a presidential election, Geraldine Ferraro, it seems that traditional views on gender are unfortunately still strong. Much like experience that Clinton has received by the press recently, Ferraro also had to endure sexist treatment from the media and fellow politicans, most notably when after the vice-presidential debate, George Bush Sr. declared that he “kicked a little ass”. No longer can a female candidate be just that- she now has to be yummy mummy and/or MILF, a fashion plate, a caring and understand wife, a professional- you name it and the list goes on.

Futhermore, if you are a woman in control, the media plays the lesbian card to imply that because of her supposed sexuality as a lesbian, this allows one to assume masculine modes of success. In addition, by dallying with the lesbian card, the media, both liberal and conservative can play one off as being somewhat anti-male, anti-family, and anti-femininity. There is much speculation that Hillary Clinton has been deceiving the media for years- that her marriage to Bill is a sham and that she is a closed lesbian.Whatever the case may be, why are female candidates presented by denigrating them sexually? I don’t know if Hillary is a lesbian or not, but at this point I don’t care- it should be about the issues and not about what goes on behind the sheets.

However, it isn’t Hillary Clinton that has been questioned and criticized for about her identity-specifically gender related. Likewise, Barack Obama has also had to content with Islamophobia within his presidential bid. Obama represents an emerging segment of the U.S. population- diasporic, bi-racial and one exposed to different religious traditions, namely Islam. Although Obama has stated repeatedly that he is a practicing Christian, there are those who feel that he is still a threat to the American people because of his Islamic middle name, Hussein, and because he spent his early years in Indonesia- a predominately Muslim country. In light of 9/11 and anti-Muslim feelings (on both sides of the pond), it seems that Obama is having to constantly reiterate his Christian faith, by down playing his obvious Muslim background. Naomi Klein, has recently written a good piece on this issue, and one that I agree with: for Obama the best thing to do to tackle the Islamophoic feelings within the media and with political rivals is to simply acknowledge that there is no shame in being or coming from a Muslim background.

The politics of identity within the U.S. elections has much to do with the evolutionary ideas of what it is to be American these days. Exactly, what is American these days? The ethnic and religious make-up of the U.S. is transforming in addition to the fact that women have a powerful role politically and economically in today’s society. The rise of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama point towards this. Especially in light of Obama, I have always said to friends that it won’t be his race that will be dissected as much as his multi-cultural background. Unlike Clinton, Obama does not hail from a predominately white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon background that for the most part has been the standard in becoming president of the U.S.

Meanwhile the push and pull of identity and politics are not tied to the U.S. alone. The 20th of April will mark 40 years since the Rivers of Blood speech given by Enoch Powell. Sarfraz Manzoor has investigated the affects of Powell’s speech in Birmingham in a piece written in the Guardian. It is odd that someone like Powell, who encouraged immigration during his period as Health Minister would warn in the Rivers of Blood speech of the impending doom and the eventuality that “In this country in 15 or 20 years time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.

Remember, when Powell encouraged greater immigration, the National Health Service was woefully understaffed. I don’t doubt that Powell came from the colonial mind-set that those employed from the immigrant, and largely from the former colonies would “know their place” within society and behave accordingly. The main fear for those like Powell was that these immigrants would gain and have a higher position than the native white population. Coupled with this, was the greater fear that these new immigrants, coming from the all parts of the British Empire, namely South Asian and Black, would change the racial landscape so much that it would cease to be British.

Much like the U.S., as seen with the presidential election, the main issue is again, what is British? Like the U.S., the U.K. is coping with coming to terms with a changing ethnic and religious landscape, while trying reconcile and put together elements of what is considered British identity. The themes of the River of Blood speech are still echoed today especially with regards to the new Polish immigrants and with the general mood of xenophobia in the Daily Mail as represented in Zrinka Bralo‘s article on her experiences as a refugee in the UK.

Of course, the easiest people to dissect are those who are immigrant, refugee, and diasporic. Nevermind the fact that the economic infrastructure of both U.S. and U.K. are less American and British these days and no one is up in arms over that. However, it is pathetic that in this day and age being an immigrant or having bi-cultural status still makes one seem “dodgy” and deserve more scrutiny.

Sanaz

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Filed under diasporas, gender, identity, Islamophobia, refugee