Tag Archives: immigrants

Riz Ahmed, Immigration, Suketu Mehta and me, Identity Politics, and Varun and Sidharth’s “shining future”

21 Sep

riz-ahmedRiz Ahmed is the first man of Asian descent to win an acting Emmy Getty Images

Suketu Mehta’ conclusions in “This Land is Their Land” (see: Suketu Mehta in Foreign Policy addendum, whole text) echo some of my points on immigration in Greece, Britain, U.S. and everywhere (see: It’s immigration, “stupid”: the United States’ best-kept secret…streams of thought on a hot Sunday afternoon).

Me:

“It’s when immigrant/migrants/refugees are leaving that you should worry.

“My often-stated opinion that the West has both the resources and the historical obligation to take in every-body that needs and wants to come still holds.  That the European Union’s migration agreement with Turkey marked people fleeing a country in the condition of Afghanistan’s as “economic migrants” was a scandal.  But when you’ve got a problem with Poles — whit-er, better-educated, harder-working, more Christian, cuter, better-mannered and less binge-drinking than you — then you really do have a problem…

polish-scum

“America’s best-kept secret, despite what trailer trash Donald Trump and his crew tell you, is that immigrants are a self-selecting group of already highly motivated people who are connected and aware enough to have heard that things are better where you are.  And they’re not coming to take that from you; they’re coming to improve it.  They’re the A-list crew that crashes your party because they’ve heard your parties are the ones to crash and in the process makes them even more of the hottest ticket in town.  It’s a self-fufilling, auto-re-perpetuating process.

“New York, in other words.”

“Olympian Zeus, king of the gods, will tear your head off if you’re unwelcoming to the stranger — or worse, for a Greek, make you ugly — so you better watch out. He comes in disguise to test you. Like the angels to Abraham.”

“So…wooops…there they are. Here they come! They’ve arrived. And they’ve instantly made Greece a more interesting place. And interesting is strong. And strength is freedom.”

And Mehta:

“Countries that accept immigrants, like Canada, are doing better than countries that don’t, like Japan. But whether Trump or May or Orban likes it or not, immigrants will keep coming, to pursue happiness and a better life for their children. To the people who voted for them: Do not fear the newcomers. Many are young and will pay the pensions for the elderly, who are living longer than ever before. They will bring energy with them, for no one has more enterprise than someone who has left their distant home to make the difficult journey here, whether they’ve come legally or not. And given basic opportunities, they will be better behaved than the youth in the lands they move to, because immigrants in most countries have lower crime rates than the native-born. They will create jobs. They will cook and dance and write in new and exciting ways. They will make their new countries richer, in all senses of the word. The immigrant armada that is coming to your shores is actually a rescue fleet.[My emphases]

Was that one of the subtexts or even the skeletal structure of “The Night of…”, the brilliant mini-series and incredible ethnographic essay on New York from HBO for which Ahmed won his Emmy: good, criminally uninclined, son of hard-working Pakistani immigrant parents from Jackson Heights, with …a shining shining future
Sadda bright si (see full video at bottom), gets led to his doom by decadent white girl? or is he a good Muslim boy led astray by Hindu seductress disguised as lawyer who then screws herself in the process?  (I have to admit that the sexual scratch-marks on the back of Ahmed’s character, Naz, that come to light in one courtroom scene put me in mind of the Gita Govinda.)  Or more misogynist than that even: that women — period. — are trouble?

‘The Lovers Radha and Krishna in a Palm Grove’; miniature painting from the ‘Tehri Garhwal’ <i>Gita ­Govinda</i> (Song of the Cowherds), Punjab Hills, kingdom of Kangra or Guler, circa 1775–1780

Some of the frustrating contradictions of identity politics in the Washington Post‘s Riz Ahmed makes history as the first South Asian man to win an Emmy acting award.  If Riz Ahmed wants to not be type-cast as a Muslim or South Asian man every time he gets a role, but to eventually just play a character called “Dave”, then he’s going to need his fans’ help and have them not get apoplectically happy because he’s the first “Asian” (whatever that means) to win an Emmy, but because he’s a great actor who won an Emmy.

In the meantime, tabrik.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

[La Guardia] Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation

6 Oct

05COMMUNITY1-articleLargeJake Naughton for The New York Times (click)

A beautiful piece of journalism by Ginia Bellafante from October 3rd’s New York Times on New York’s community colleges and the struggle of their mostly minority and immigrant population to make it through:  “Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation.”:

“LaGuardia was founded in 1971 out of the struggles for a more egalitarian world that had characterized the previous decade. At any time, it has approximately 50,000 students from 150 countries who among them speak 129 languages. [my emphasis]  In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio chose the college as the site of his first State of the City address. Gail O. Mellow, the president of LaGuardia and a community college graduate who went on to get her doctorate, has been an entrepreneurial and enlightened leader, forging relationships with Goldman Sachs, for instance, and the Japanese government. The school recently won a $2.9 million grant from the United States Department of Education for a proposal to enhance student engagement; it was one of 24 colleges to be awarded money, in a competition that drew 500 applicants.

And still its challenges, like those of nearly every other community college, can appear insurmountable. More than 70 percent of LaGuardia students come from families with incomes of less than $25,000 a year. The college reports that 70 percent of its full-time students who graduated after six years transferred to four-year colleges, compared with just 18 percent nationally, but only a quarter of LaGuardia students received an associate degree within six years.”

I taught ESL at La Guardia for over ten years.  At times it was a frustrating experience.  I felt like the administration was not really up-front with students about precisely some of the issues this article covers — like how long it usually takes to graduate — leaving too many to believe that they’d do two years at a community college and then two more at a four-year college and get a Bachelor’s.  I don’t envy the positions of department heads or administrators in these colleges: they have to come up with the funds necessary to keep things running in order to serve their population but at times have to do so in ways that shortchanges or maybe even exploits those students.

In my more specific case as an English teacher, the pedagogical mentality or philosophy of TESOL (Teaching of English as a Second Language) — if it can even be called a real discipline with a philosophy — and that of most of my colleagues’ and my department’s, is stuck with a historic burden of “remedialness” that informed a lot of instruction and that left many of our best students — all immigrants, of usually middle-class and fairly well-educated backgrounds and with full literacy skills in their own languages — often feeling infantilized and bored.  And one program I taught for — a big money-maker for the college — gave any one who registered for a full-time schedule a student visa of seemingly infinite renewableness, with only minimal attendance and academic requirements, and, as you would expect, these classes ended up full of kids from Seoul or Caracas whose daddies were paying for them to hang out in New York for two or three years, often unbearable brats impossible to teach and resentful that they had to be sitting in your class and not hanging out on Bedford Avenue — nothing like the poignant life-struggles of the student that Bellafante describes.  And my often angry clashes with the administration about those conditions — I wanting to maintain some degree of academic integrity and discipline and the department afraid that demanding too much of the students would lead to business at their “visa-mart” dropping off — was what ultimately led to my being fired in 2010.

At the same time, and for the most part, it was perhaps the most rewarding experience of my life and one I miss intensely.  There is still a strong sense at La Guardia of its being born “out of the struggles for a more egalitarian world.”  The neighborhoods of western Queens and northwestern Brooklyn that La Guardia serves are to the 1990s and 2000s what the Lower East Side was to New York at the beginning of the 1900s: the cauldron out of which a new city was and is emerging.  The opportunity to work right in the thick of this momentous historic process and in fact, not just to be able to help students learn a language and literature I love (yes, ESL students are interested in literature…and poetry…and journalism…and politics…and have opinions on all of the above) but also to help them learn or at least understand a little about a country I respect and the city I’m ferociously loyal to, was an amazing privilege.  And while being able to ease, as a teacher and even if only a bit, the pain or frustrations of being an immigrant made me feel like I was giving people like my own parents a tiny bit of support, what the students gave back to me — in terms of knowledge of their cultures, their openness and hospitality, their respect and affection — was incomparably greater.  How many of us get to experience so fully what might just be the very essence of New York? …four hundred years of reciprocal generosity between city and newcomer.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Athens = homogeneity? = racist? = just boring…?

19 May

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere she is, the gigantic poured-grey-cement Balkan village of five million people: who all think alike, look alike, act alike, talk alike and can’t agree on anything.  Απολαύστε την.  (Double-click to take in all the rich architectural detail.)

Sorry, I was just thinking to myself about what parts of my Balkan trip I needed to post next; people who kindly gave me interviews or let me photograph them and how I have to get on it…  And, how I’ve been wasting my time engaged in a running war with everyone in Athens to prove basic things like the fact that Albanians are a tall, extremely attractive people.  People in mono-cultural societies say the most deafeningly racist crap — you can’t imagine.  If one more person smirked at me when I said: “You know, Tirane is actually kind of a nice city…” things would’ve ended badly.  If it weren’t so offensive, it’d be fun to hear ignorance trumpetted with such certainty.  But it is.  Good timing to head to Istanbul.  Where I can’t understand the racist crap people are probably saying.

And I thought to myself, what? is it going on twenty-five years now that Athenians have been freaking out about immigration?  And it doesn’t seem to have crossed the brain of even the most intelligent or open-minded Athenian’s to make that an asset for the city and not a “scary” liability.  Where is this immigrant Athens?  In all these years, malaka, not one person has said to me: “Yo, Niko, there’s apparently this great Pakistani place in Patissia; you wanna go check it out?”  Everyone knows I’m into South Asia.  “Wanna go to the laike (market) on Saturday in Kypsele and see the stuff the Afghans sell?”

Or, all these tens of thousands of single, alone and lonely Albanian men…  There must me some woman somewhere they hire to make them börek or baklavadhes for bayramia and namedays and things.  Like the Mexican women who make tamales for parties in New York.  Where is she?  Where are they?  In New York she’d have a full front-page spread on the “Metro” or the “Food and Wine” sections of the Times and she’d be taking orders from Upper East Side ladies by now and have her own thriving business.

All the cement-cave-dwellers have had sushi though — without exception mediocre and psychotically over-priced…

Provincials, vlachadera, isolationists…μικροαστά, petit bourgeois συχαşιάρεδες…

Taco stand on Roosevelt Avenue in Corona, Queens, about five blocks from where I grew up, where for three to five dollars you can have a full meal of some of the freshest, most complex tastes of any of the world’s cuisines.  I know Athenians who have been coming to New York for years and who I haven’t been able to convince to try one of these places one even once.taco-cart-99th-and-roosevelt

Actually, what I’d really love to do is bring a Kurdish kid home to New York with me from Istanbul with a big tepsi of stuffed mussels and watch him become a millionaire.  I don’t know where I’d set him up first though: Astoria? Sunnyside? or straight to Manhattan? or Long Beach or somewhere?  Or get him a booth at the Italian summer festival circuit…

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Midye2Smstuffedmussel0001

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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