Monthly Archives: November 2010

Edwidge Danticat Interview (Americas, ContCult)

26 Callaloo 30.1  (2007)  26–39

Dyasporic appetites and Longings

an interview with Edwidge Danticat

by Nancy Raquel Mirabal

. . . every meal is a reminder that we’re not home.

—Edwidge Danticat

With a few words the author Edwidge Danticat captures the complicated and multiple

connections among food, memory, and home. Food is home, regardless of whether we

are there or not. It travels with us as seamlessly as does language, personal histories, and

the faded photographs of the houses, people, and lives we leave behind. How we pre-

pare food, the ingredients we find and cannot find, the spices we covet and the ones we

use instead, the smells we remember and the recipes we forget, are all part of what we

take with us and what we leave behind. It reveals who we are and what we care about.

It can even speak for us when words fail. And yet, we often underestimate the power of

food. Studies and research on immigration, globalization, colonization, and space rarely

consider how food eases our diasporic transitions, how it facilitates cultural imaginings

and translations.

In this interview Danticat recounts how her father’s ritual of cooking for people when

they first came from Haiti, was his way of providing comfort and familiarity to friends and

family who felt lost and lonely upon arriving to New York. Similar to many immigrants,

Danticat’s father recognized the healing power of food, of its ability to immediately connect

us to our roots through taste, smell and memory. Well aware of how food could assuage, if

only for a moment, what she terms our dyasporic longings, Danticat’s father was convinced

that we could all return home simply by raising a fork to our lips.

At the same time, as Danticat recounts, this is only part of the meanings we attach to

food, only part of its complicity. When sick, people lose their appetite for food, for life.

When poor, it signals poverty and class in the most obvious and cruel ways. It can, as

Danticat conveys, be a source of both celebration and shame. The truth about food is that

it can both heal and wound. For many, there is no guarantee of a next meal. Edwidge

Danticat’s refusal to take the easy way out, to give simple answers, underscores the power

of food, the power of nostalgia, and how our continual and effortless ability to render it

meaning can both comfort and haunt us.

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Here’s the link to wikileaks’ cache of 250,000 diplomatic cables which it just released. Establishment pundits and politicans in the US are going bananas, as Glenn Greenwald has documented, not only calling for the assassination of wikileaks founder Julian Assange but for the designation of wikileaks as a terrorist entity.

Notably the press– whose role in a democracy is usually touted as one of speaking truth to power– has amplified and embroidered upon the US government’s own rhetoric. Attorney General Eric Holder is currently examining ways to prosecute wikileaks staff while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has used revelations that Saudi Arabian despot/monarch King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz called upon the US to attack Iran as a means of pressing the diplomatic and economic isolation of the latter. Of particular interest for students of The Americas is a cable sent by the US Honduran ambassador which indicates that, contrary to its public position, the US understood clearly that the removal of Honduran president Zelaya constituted a coup.

Haiti, music, politics (Americas, ContCult)

A clip from Al-Jazeera in advance of today’s election in Haiti:

Famni Lavalas, the party once led by deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has been banned from the election. Many Haitians– though notably not the wealthiest of them– called for the postponement of polling, and today 12 of the 19 presidential candidates united to say that the elections were compromised by severe irregularities including ballot-box stuffing, including Sweet Micky. See the article at Christian Science Monitor:

Angry voters flood streets as several candidates reject Haiti election

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Justin Bieber’s Pop Apotheosis

Dick Clark isn’t rich enough yet so he pulled the footage of JB’s acceptance for artist of the year. We’ll see how long this one lasts:

Within the confines of the study of culture– i.e., Humanities– no text, practice, or value is too degraded, superficial, or banal to be ignored. Even here, at the American Music Awards, ideology is working quietly– sometimes explicitly– performing its functions, signifying, confirming and denying. The “text” in question might be the awards ceremony itself, the song “Pray”, Justin Bieber (his persona), the youtube clip and its accompanying below-the-line remarks of adoration and disgust.

If human life were obliterated tomorrow and then a thousand years later alien archeologists arrived on Earth to try to assemble an accurate picture of global culture, what would they have to say about Justin Bieber? What would his enormous celebrity– and the contempt he inspires– signify about our present?

Chalmers Johnson RIP

Chalmers Johnson, anti-imperialist scholar and author of the Blowback trilogy on American Empire (Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, Nemesis) died on Saturday.

“Imperialism is a form of tyranny. It never rules through consent of the governed. It doesn’t ask for the consent of the governed. We talk about the spread of democracy, but we’re talking about the spread of democracy at the point of an assault rifle. That’s a contradiction in terms. It doesn’t work. Any self-respecting person being democratized in this manner starts thinking of retaliation.”

A tribute on Democracy Now:

From Why We Fight:

Speaking Freely:

Read This (ContCult, Americas)

Students of Contemporary Culture and the Americas:

Here’s a short historical essay on Haiti that brings the difficulties of Haitian society to the forefront. Note the two competing narratives which attempt to explain Haiti’s current predicament. A great thumbnail sketch of the issues.

Father 1 (VIAL)

The Father from China (Pt. 1)

The first section of China Men begins with two short narratives: a piece of what appears to be folklore, which clearly possesses an allegorical dimension in the context of Chinese American history, and a story about the narrator’s childhood titled “On Fathers.” This latter story also beckons us to read beyond its merely literal level, to “uncover” the significance of what at first glance seems like an odd but inconsequential account of children mistaking a man for their father. In relation to the text as a whole, in other words, “On Fathers” resonates with themes of identity and history. Once we ask an obvious question– who is the man the children mistook for their father?– another follows: who is their father? The moment of misrecognition described here opens up not only the issue of how children come to know their fathers– not just as fathers but as people, a process that we only fully initiate with our own entry into adulthood– but more specifically of how Chinese Americans relate to their older relatives and ancestors in a situation in which history has been elided and circumstances have compelled people– ie., Chinese in the Era of Chinese Exclusion– to obscure their pasts. “On Fathers,” then, signals the larger project of the book: to narrate various histories– of the family, of Chinese immigrants, of America– in order to understand their relationship to one another.

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Character and National Identity (VIAL)

Germans are cold-blooded but always on time. The Irish are prone to sentimentality and violence. And Mexicans are lazy.

If the above seem like stereotypes based on national culture that’s because they are. We know logically that there are tardy Germans, industrious Mexicans and pacific Irish. We know that the diversity of people in any given nation far exceeds the reductive traits often ascribed to various national identities. Yet while stereotyping inevitably fails to nail down the nuances of our multiplicity it serves a minimal social function: it enables us to sort through the cascade of social actors we encounter in person (or in the news, in film– i.e., in the realm of representation) by slotting people into categories. When France refused to countenance the US invasion of Iraq a wave of Francophobe rhetoric sloshed through public discourse: of course the French won’t back us up! They’re “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”! Cue a river of French wine draining into the sewer and the rechristening of the French Fry as the Freedom Fry. Such cowardice and treachery could be explained only by some core constituent of the French national character.

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