Weekend Links – April 2nd

As could probably be guessed about someone who writes posts online about books, and effuses regularly on twitter about books and other things (cats! baking! Buffy! etc!), I spend a fair amount of time on the Internet. Through the course of a week I come across interesting articles, and I thought I’d share a few with you, dear readers.

I’m going to share by re-posting something I posted on Facebook earlier this week, as I think it is important:

Disgusted today by a combination of two news stories.

The first is about officers in Ottawa wearing “solidarity” bracelets to show their support of Const. Daniel Montsion, who was charged with manslaughter in the death of Abdirahman Abdi last July. The second is about City of Toronto ONCE AGAIN doing their yearly push to ban funding for Pride. This year their excuse is because police were banned from having an official float (though of course are still welcome to attend). 

Seriously people, both of these simultaneously. Do you see the hypocrisy? They are not allowed an official float in Pride this year because there have been YEARS LONG attempts to resolve issues around police brutality and lack of accountability which have gone nowhere. And now they are showing their lack of respect and care in Ottawa by literally wearing arm bands to support the officer charged in the death of a man of color.

Police have very clearly shown, numerous times, that they are not willing to hold themselves, their organization, or their fellow officers accountable so the LGBTQ* community has to center their own members.

The other thing I’d like to share is an article that came my way from a friend. The Establishment has an article titled Why I’m Done Being a ‘Good’ Mentally Ill Person. It’s a really great take down of respectability politics as it applies to mental illness, and the ways in which existing power structures and privileges play into mental health treatment and care. Highly recommended reading,

That moment will stand out in my mind forever. It was the moment when I realized that as long as we divide mentally ill people up into “good” and “bad” — or with coded language like “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” — we replicate the oppressive hierarchies that harm all of us.

The internalized stigma that compelled me to “perform” sanity was the same stigma that can lead to neglect and abuse in psychiatric settings, and further marginalize the most vulnerable mentally ill people.

And, one from the vault (because it’s always good to revisit good articles):

If you’re curious as to why I’m so into immigration policies lately, here is an article from The Nation from 2011 on Why Immigration is a Feminist Issue.

ALSO a bit more good stuff.

WATCH: There is a documentary called Kedi, by director Ceyda Torun, about street cats in Istanbul and it is actually the best thing ever. If you’re feeling down, try to find a screening of this movie. I guarantee you won’t regret it. I went twice, and the theater was sold out the second time. My local documentary theater (how cool is that right?) keeps extending it’s run because it is so popular! (They’ve now extended it into May and there is a good chance I’ll be going again, let’s be real it makes me so happy and we can always use more happy in our lives.)

What are you reading / watching / listening to this weekend? Share your good stuff with me please! 😀

Thoughts on Targeted by Deepa Fernandes

Targeted: Homeland Security and the Business of Immigration by Deepa Fernandes provides an in-depth exploration of immigration policies, filled with personal stories, of the United States before and after 9/11. Written in 2007, the book is out-of-date but is still, I would argue, fascinating and important reading. Any facts throughout this post will refer to what is in the book – changes could have been made to policies since it was printed and I haven’t noted any changes unless I’ve been certain of them.

In Targeted, award-winning radio journalist Deepa Fernandes weaves together original research with history, political analysis, and powerful first-person narratives. From the deadly desert crossing to the jail cells holding detainees, she documents the hidden human struggle behind the immigration debate. Herself an immigrant twice over, she is uniquely positioned to share a perspective rarely understood by the pundits from either party. She arms readers with the facts and takes them on the harrowing journey that is everyday life for the hundreds of thousands who’ve dreamed of America – then follows the shocking corporate profits won in the business of Homeland Security.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part contains five chapters which discuss the various immigration tracks, the way they have changed from the early 1990’s to mid-2000’s, and talks about the costs of these changes on lives. The second part examines the industrial complex and big business surrounding the creation of and maintenance of homeland security and detention, and the rise in white nationalist hate groups and anti-immigration sentiment in the US and the concomitant effect on national and state laws. Fernandes provides personal stories throughout the book to highlight the ways in which the policies affect real people and humanize the issue. As she says in the prologue:

As I delved into past and present immigration policy, I learned that one cannot divorce real people and their stories from policy. I have therefore documented the actual experiences of immigrants, noncitizens, and immigration workers to illustrate the impact of the policies. Only by understanding their impact can one evaluate who is benefiting from them, and if they are serving their intended purpose. (page 31)

One point that Fernandes makes throughout the book is the fact that the country is divided into two experiences. If two men are accused of, say, smoking marijuana or driving without a license and one is a citizen while the other is a permanent resident they will both be charged, they will both serve their sentence, but at the end, while the one holding a passport will go on with his life, the permanent resident is put into immigration detention and eventually deported. The vast majority of deportees are not violent criminals or terrorist threats, they are people who have had status issues or been accused of low level crimes. For example, entering the country with a false document gets you detained and charged, and can get you deported – even if you came in with false documentation because you are seeking asylum and had no access to valid documents from the country persecuting you. And that charge can, of course, hurt your asylum case.

Fernandes covers so much ground in this book. She talks about the reasons for migration and the effects of neoliberal policies on economics and job prospects in home countries. She covers the racism and classism inherent in border policing, as evidenced by the differing treatment of the borders along Mexico and Canada (Canada has the Rainbow Bridge and the Peace Bridge, Mexico has walls and unmanned drones and vigilante groups patrolling). She talks as well about the rise of non-citizens as the fastest-growing prison population. And about government ineptitude such as poor record keeping, not abiding by its own rules, and inaccuracies in databases and records which all cause further harm to noncitizens. And the ways in which companies benefit from cheap labor thanks to the ways that H-1B visas are set up. Each topic is woven expertly into the accounts of various specific people as well as into the overview of policies as they relate to specific groups of noncitizens.

In talking about the immigration-industrial complex, the author talks about the creation of the Department of Homeland Security – and the big business interests who were a part of crafting its existence. The private prison industry was failing prior to 9/11, and is now once again booming. Companies which have shown a clear lack of regard for human rights or for safety and security are granted huge government contracts, usually due to extensive lobbying and by recruiting former government employees and members to their boards and staff. Much of these contracts, although touted as being against terrorism, are truly used only to round up immigrants and noncitizens, make money off of their detention, and deport them. Along the way large amounts of information is gathered – and did you know that the Privacy Act doesn’t apply to those who are not citizens or private residents? So the vast amounts of personal information being collected on immigrants is actually subject to no privacy laws.

The hardest chapter to read was the last one, which talks about the rise in white nationalist hate groups and the rise in anti-immigration sentiment in the US. At the time of writing it was pretty bad, although there was some hope of things improving. While there were some improvements in the time since the book was printed, knowing what is going on now made it all the more difficult to read. Fernandes does a great job of outlining individuals and groups who had a hand in moving the country to the right on immigration, and their hate group and racist ties. This is especially where I want to see more recent scholarship because it seems so necessary!

Although there was some repetition of facts and figures (and occasionally of anecdotes and of actual sentences), the book definitely succeeds at painting a broad overview, as well as a detailed examination, of the changes to immigration brought about by 9/11 and the human toll of those changes. She clearly shows the rise in private prisons, the vast sums of money being made by corporations, the shift from bills targeting terrorism to successes touting immigrants detained, and the rise of white-nationalistic sentiments and policies around the country. I hope that one of my upcoming reads on the topic does this good a job but is more current. Although, with the sweeping changes underway now, even books published earlier this year might already start to seem out of date.

* Earlier this year I posted my thoughts on Reece Jones’s Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move and Aviva Chomsky’s Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal. The links will take you to the specific posts. I’m working my way through a number of books on immigration policies, borders, and refugees just for my own interest as a bit of a personal project. 

Organizations of Interest: Policing the Planet – Policing and the Criminal Justice System

Last month I posted my thoughts on Policing the Planet edited by Jordan T Camp and Christina Heatherton. I also posted a list of books on similar topics. At the time of the review, I had also promised a list of organizations working on the topic, but it’s been taking me longer to pull it together. I, unfortunately, didn’t think of this while I was reading but combed through the book for a partial and incomplete list of all of the organizations listed.

Check these organizations, find some in your area, and get involved! All information has been pulled from the organizations’ websites.

  • #thisStopsToday –  #ThisStopsToday convened to respond to the Staten Island grand jury’s expected failure to indict officers in the killing of Eric Garner, and to call for the end of discriminatory “broken windows” policing, characterized by aggressive enforcement of minor quality of life offenses, that led to the killing of Eric and brutality against too many other New Yorkers.
  • #BlackLivesMatter – Black Lives Matter is a chapter-based national organization working for the validity of Black life. We are working to (re)build the Black liberation movement.
  • Dignity and Power Now! – Dignity and Power Now (DPN) is a grassroots organization based in Los Angeles that fights for the dignity and power of incarcerated people, their families, and communities.
  • Ella Baker Center for Human Rights – The Ella Baker Center works locally, statewide, and nationally to end mass incarceration and criminalization. We mobilize everyday people to build power and prosperity in our communities.
  • Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) – The mission of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) is to help people dealing with poverty create & discover opportunities, while serving as a vehicle to ensure we have voice, power & opinion in the decisions that are directly affecting us.
  • Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) – An unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, bringing together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those most unfairly targeted by the NYPD. This groundbreaking campaign is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.
  • Audre Lorde Project – The Audre Lorde Project is a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color center for community organizing, focusing on the New York City area. Through mobilization, education and capacity-building, we work for community wellness and progressive social and economic justice. Committed to struggling across differences, we seek to responsibly reflect, represent and serve our various communities.
  • Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice – The only philanthropic organization working exclusively to advance LGBTQI human rights around the globe. We support brilliant and brave grantee partners in the U.S. and internationally who challenge oppression and seed change. We work for racial, economic, social, and gender justice, because we all deserve to live our lives freely, without fear, and with dignity.
  • The Red Nation – The Red Nation is dedicated to the liberation of Native peoples from capitalism and colonialism. We center Native political agendas and struggles through direct action, advocacy, mobilization, and education.
  • We Charge Genocide – We Charge Genocide is a grassroots, inter-generational effort to center the voices and experiences of the young people most targeted by police violence in Chicago.
  • Lesbian Herstory Archives – The Lesbian Herstory Archives exists to gather and preserve records of Lesbian lives and activities so that future generations will have ready access to materials relevant to their lives. The process of gathering this material will uncover and collect our herstory denied to us previously by patriarchal historians in the interests of the culture which they serve. We will be able to analyze and reevaluate the Lesbian experience; we also hope the existence of the Archives will encourage Lesbians to record their experiences in order to formulate our living herstory.
  • Stop LAPD Spying Coalition – The STOP LAPD SPYING COALITION – Campaign to Rescind Special Order 1(1) is an alliance of different organizations (and, in our case, individuals), each with their own interests, mission and vision, that come together to collaborate and take collective action together toward a common goal(s). We reject all forms of police oppression and any policy that make us all suspects in the eyes of the State. Our vision is the dismantling of government-sanctioned spying and intelligence gathering, in all its multiple forms.
  • National Network for Immigration and Refugee Rights – The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) works to defend and expand the rights of all immigrants and refugees, regardless of immigration status.
  • Political Research Associates – Political Research Associates is a social justice think tank devoted to supporting movements that are building a more just and inclusive democratic society. We expose movements, institutions, and ideologies that undermine human rights.
  • Youth Justice Coalition – The Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) is working to build a youth, family, and formerly and currently incarcerated people’s movement to challenge America’s addiction to incarceration and race, gender and class discrimination in Los Angeles County’s, California’s and the nation’s juvenile and criminal injustice systems. The YJC’s goal is to dismantle policies and institutions that have ensured the massive lock-up of people of color, widespread law enforcement violence and corruption, consistent violation of youth and communities’ Constitutional and human rights, the construction of a vicious school-to-jail track, and the build-up of the world’s largest network of jails and prisons.
  • California Prison Moratorium Project – The California Prison Moratorium Project seeks to stop all public and private prison construction in California.
  • Homies Unidos – Homies Unidos works to end violence and promote peace in our communities by empowering youth and their families to become advocates for social justice rather than agents of self-destruction. It is based in LA.
  • Immigrant Defense Project – The Immigrant Defense Project works to secure fairness and justice for immigrants in the United States.
  • Critical Resistance – Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the prison industrial complex (PIC) by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe. We believe that basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom are what really make our communities secure. As such, our work is part of global struggles against inequality and powerlessness. The success of the movement requires that it reflect communities most affected by the PIC.
  • StoryTelling & Organizing Project – The StoryTelling & Organizing Project (STOP) is a community project collecting and sharing stories about everyday people taking action to end interpersonal violence.

Check out this link for a list of Canadian organizations. As well, check out:

  • End Immigration Detention Network – The End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN) is a coalition of No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Fuerza Puwersa, End Immigration Detention Network Peterborough and Vancouver and No One Is Illegal – Ottawa. We believe that the only fair immigration system is one without deportations and detentions, and call for full immigration status for all migrants. The Campaign to End Indefinite Detentions is our interim campaign.
  • No One Is Illegal – Toronto – No One Is Illegal (Toronto) is a group of immigrants, refugees and allies who fight for the rights of all migrants to live with dignity and respect. We believe that granting citizenship to a privileged few is a part of racist immigration and border policies designed to exploit and marginalize migrants. We work to oppose these policies, as well as the international economic policies that create the conditions of poverty and war that force migration. At the same time, it is part of our ongoing work to support and build alliances with Indigenous peoples in their fight against colonialism, displacement and the ongoing occupation of their land.
  • Black Lives Matter Toronto – To forge critical connections and to work in solidarity with black communities, black-centric networks, solidarity movements, and allies in order to to dismantle all forms of state-sanctioned oppression, violence, and brutality committed against African, Caribbean, and Black cis, queer, trans, and disabled populations in Toronto.
  • End the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) – A prison abolition group based in Kingston, Ontario.
  • Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies – CAEFS is an association of self-governing, community-based Elizabeth Fry Societies that work with and for women and girls in the justice system, particularly those who are, or may be, criminalized.

Do you have other organizations in your own communities that you would recommend?

Weekend Links

As could probably be guessed about someone who writes posts online about books, and effuses regularly on twitter about books and other things (cats! baking! Buffy! etc!), I spend a fair amount of time on the Internet. Through the course of a week I come across interesting articles, and I thought I’d share a few with you, dear readers.

(Alternatively, I could just be sharing for myself so that I can find them back some day if no one else is reading. HAH!)

Do you ever feel a bit discouraged about what is going on in the world and what you can do to resist? Enter Do A Thing by Shannon & Jane, a daily letter to your inbox which lists one action you could take for the day. They range from calling your representative about a specific issue, starting a daily thought journal, donating to a specific cause, and so on. I originally heard about this from Rebecca, and despite being US focused, I still find it interesting and helpful.

One article that was referenced in Do A Thing is this handy article called How To Be A Good Online Friend by Rose Eveleth on The Last Word on Nothing. It gives great advice for how to respond when a friend is dealing with online harassment. It covers some of the worst of what not to say, as well as ideas for how to help. Always useful when being feminist / female / any marginalized identity on the internet.

It’s always sad when a fave does or says something especially problematic. I’ve been a long time fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and have loved all of her books (especially Purple Hibiscus). Her recent transphobic comments, and subsequent clarification that just dug herself in deeper, were disappointing. Bitch has a great article by Aqdas Aftab on Adichie’s comments, her recent work, and racism, transhopbia, and colonialism in feminism. Aqdas says we should “allow these fraught histories to complicate our readings of our favorite books, to suspend our monumentalization of feminist figures, and to disrupt the binaries that limit our evolving feminism”

And, one from the vault (because it’s always good to revisit good articles):

The Guardian had an interesting post just over two years ago by Mawuna Remarque Koutonin on how the term expat is used exclusively for white people, while everyone else is called an immigrant or migrant. It’s an interesting examination of language and privilege, and especially timely considering my current reading project on borders, immigration policies, and refuge.

ALSO a bit more good stuff.

WATCH: The Skin We’re In, a documentary on anti-black racism in Canada by Charles Officer, following Desmond Cole. It’s 45 minutes and incredibly important – take the time to watch it. (I think the video is only watchable in Canada, but it is also on YouTube!) Below is the trailer:

LISTEN: This week I heard about Lizzo, who is a Minneapolis based artist. Worship is my new fave, but Bitch linked a video to her whole SXSW set through NPR. Her set is amazingly body-positive and sexy and just everything.

What are you reading / watching / listening to this weekend? Share your good stuff with me please! 😀

Documentary Days: Asylum and Refuge Movies from Hot Docs 2016

It might not surprise you, given my love of non-fiction, but I’m also an avid fan of documentaries. This post has been sitting in my drafts folder since April 2016. I figured I might as well post it, as I am reading a number of books on borders, refugees, and immigration policies. The post wasn’t completed, and I haven’t modified or updated it, so it only provides partial thoughts on these films. 

Each year Toronto hosts Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary film festival. It is my favorite week of the year, and I usually try to take it off of work and see as many movies as I can. This year I saw 42 movies in 10 days…. it was glorious! One major theme running through my selection at Hot Docs this year was that of asylum and seeking refuge. The theme cropped up on different days and in various screenings, following current and past stories. Here are just a few:

On opening night, I saw director Eva Orner‘s Chasing Asylum. Using hidden cameras and interviews with asylum seekers and detention center workers, Orner takes us inside Australia’s controversial detention facilities on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Nauru. When it’s become a crime to be a whistle-blower at either location – even for a doctor or social worker to report a sexual assault – this hidden camera footage gives us an inside look at the detention facilities at how the asylum seekers are being treated and at the policies in place.

Through interviews with current and past employees – mainly social workers, though also a former director and a former security adviser – Orner highlights the human consequences to the government’s policy in terms of the mental and physical health deterioration of those in detention. As well as detailing the human cost, and the lack of compassion shown by those in the government, it also highlights the absurdity of the fiscal cost of the programs. The absurdity of paying such ridiculously high figures per asylum seeker in detention versus what could be spent on improving conditions in home countries, or on resettlement, truly highlights the willingness of the government to pay any price possible to keep those in need out, and treat the desperate with callousness and cruelty rather than compassion.

Screening with Chasing Asylum was director Natasha Pincus‘ Missy Higgins: Oh Canada (you can watch at that link). This five minute short film is a song, performed by Missy Higgins, accompanied by animation of the story of Alan Kurdi, the young boy whose family was denied asylum in Canada and who subsequently drowned while crossing the Mediterranean sea, as well as by images drawn by refugee children of their fears and their hopes. It is a truly heartbreaking story, and is only more heartbreaking in this form.

George Kurian‘s The Crossing uses hidden cameras and phone calls to follow a group of middle-class Syrians as they take their chance escaping Egypt for Europe. The group includes journalists, an engineer, and a musician, as well as children. They risk smugglers and death at sea in a cramped and dirty boat, only to arrive and realize that the asylum process is not as they had hoped. Throughout the ordeal the individuals talk about what it means to be a refugee, and what refuge means to them.

The film offered a close up view to what some refugees face. At the same time, we know that this is a solidly middle class group. The fact that this is a privileged experience of seeking asylum makes it even more heartbreaking when you read about how many are displaced and in need of refuge.

At Home in the World by director Andreas Koefoed followed children in a Red Cross school for refugee children in Denmark. Children come to this school as their families asylum cases are being heard, and here they learn the language and begin to get used to the new culture. It highlights the effects of asylum seeking on children, and both their resilience and their struggles as they cope with being in a new country.

Lastly, one film which explored the idea of refuge within your own country was When Two Worlds Collide by directors Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel. This film shows on the ground footage of clashes between the government of Peru and Indigenous Peruvian minorities who are clashing over the government’s attempt to open up protected tribal lands to corporate clear cutting, mining, and drilling. The film explores both sides of the conflict and displacement that can occur within one’s own country.


March 22, 2017

It’s hard to believe that Amy Reads has been up, in some form or another, for over 8(!!) years. While for the last number of years I’ve been mostly offline and fairly inactive, in the past couple of months I’ve started to jump back in. I have been nervous to post about returning because I’m scared I will jinx myself and go back to being mostly offline… but here goes.

Early this year I switched jobs. I went from one that had a heavy expectation of (unpaid) overtime and with very frequent travel (which often included weekends) to one with a much stronger belief in a healthy work/life balance. I am also no longer travelling (although there will likely be occasional travel, it should be Mon-Fri instead of Sun-Fri or Sun-Sat). All of this means I am less stressed and have more time.

I don’t know if I’ve always been anxious or if it’s newer to the last few years, but I do know that I usually do not want to leave my house. Too much social activity leaves me with a strong need for a lot of down time to recharge. Online never felt social in the same way that real-life did, but somehow a couple of years ago it became that kind of social, making it harder for me to participate – whether it be twitter, responding to emails, blogging, commenting, or etc. HOWEVER, new job and having less stress and more time has significantly lessened this. And the more I return to twitter and bookish conversations and discussion groups, the more I realize just how much I’ve been missing. The more I’m participating, the less anxious and depressed I’m feeling overall.

I didn’t realize quite how much my previous job was affecting my mental health until I left. And now, looking back, it’s a little bit horrifying…

In addition to having more time and less stress, I am also feeling much more of a need to participate in life online, due to current events. There is so much that is terrible in the news, and reading and voicing criticism and pushing back seems more relevant than ever. Seeing others resisting and learning and sharing makes the world seem a more hopeful place. Reading and writing are political acts – every book is written from a specific worldview, and even if an author claims to be apolitical, that in itself is a political message. Now, more than ever, it is important to see this being acknowledged and discussed, and I feel a need to be a part of this.

What does this mean? I doubt I’ll blog about all that I read, but I do know that I want to talk about important (to me) books. I want to do more personal projects. I want to have conversations and get feedback. I may also talk about the genre reading that’s gotten me through busier and more stressful years. I am a huge documentary nerd, I may write about some of them on here too. Basically, I have no real plan, I’m just taking it a day at a time and seeing where I feel like taking this site.

I’m also participating in Bina’s Diverse Study Group. I’ve requested to join the Social Justice Book Club. I subscribed to Noir Reads, which also has a book discussion forum. Any other recommendations for me?

Many, many, many thanks especially to some of my favorite people online who are helping me get back into bookish conversations: Cass, Ana, Iris, BinaJenny, Renay, Memory, Rhiannon, and so many others.

The First Hundred Reads of 2017

Over the weekend I read my hundredth book of 2017. I am pretty excited about the achievement, so I thought I’d share some stats and favorites! Also, I thought I was doing great at keeping my fiction/non-fiction split close to 50/50, but a closer look tells me that that is a lie, so I need to post this sad fact which will hopefully shame / force myself to do better!

I split my reads into two tabs in my Google Sheets tracking document this year, because combining comics messes up my stats. So comics and graphic novels have been split out into their own section here as well. Doing this makes me feel better about my book reading – my comics are still sadly more white and male.

First, the book books, of which there were 75:  Fiction: 41 / Non-Fiction: 27 / YA Fiction: 7

Some fun stats:

  • Writer of Color: 39 (52%) (African-American – 24 / South-Asian – 4 / Latinx – 5 / Asian – 4 / anthology ft various – 2)
  • International: 4 (5%) (Iranian, South Korean, Spanish, Chilean)
  • Translated: 3 (4%) (South Korean, Spanish, Chilean)
  • LGBTQ author: 12 (16%)
  • Female author: 61 (81%) (male+female gives another 4 or 5%)
  • TBR: 16 (21%)
  • Romance: 8 / Urban Fantasy: 13
  • Novellas (under 150 pages): 12 / Chunksters (over 450 pages): 6

And for the comics and graphic novels, of which there were 25: Comics: 19 / Graphic Novels: 7

Some fun stats:

  • Non-Fiction: 2 (8%)
  • Writer of Color: 10 (40%)
  • LGBTQ author: 1 (4%)
  • Female author: 8 (32%) (male+female gives another 7 or 28%)
  • Rereads: 9 (36%) (I’ve been re-reading series as I catch up)
  • TBR: 9 (36%) (I had been ignoring comic reading last year, although still buying the trades)

I’m doing pretty decently (with very little actual effort) at reading female authors and authors of color. I need to do much better in terms of international and LGBTQ authors, and I would like to read more translated works as well. Number one priority though is definitely to read more non-fiction.

I am almost done re-reading and catching up on my comic series, so I can’t see that section remaining as such a high percentage of my overall reading. What I do have remaining has more women and creators of color though which is good. My comic reading is… not so diverse 😛

Top 5 favorites:

  • Sushine by Robin McKinley (fantasy) <— seriously I had to return the library copy so bought my own copy and have already started re-reading it
  • Difficult Women by Roxane Gay (short stories) <— plus I GOT TO MEET HER and she’s even more amazing in person
  • Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter edited by Jordan T Camp and Christina Heatherton (anthology) <— shouldn’t be a surprise if you look through my post history
  • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (novel) <— swoons, so good
  • Paper Girls by Brian K Vaughan (comic) <— see even my fave comic is by a white dude, how disappointing for my reading diversity

*The page above, 2017 Reads, has the full list of all my reads of the year.

Thoughts on Undocumented by Aviva Chomsky

Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal by Aviva Chomsky provides a detailed overview of migration and immigration policies specifically within the United States of America as they relate to Mexican and Central American migrants and immigrants. The book traces history from the open borders and heavy recruitment for seasonal work of the 1800’s and early 1900’s through to the first immigration laws targeting Mexican immigrants and the ways in which industry and corporations have benefited from and relied on first seasonal and then undocumented labor. She also talks about the more recent immigration activism and reforms such as DREAMers and DACA and the ways in which they attempt to change the conversations.

In this illuminating work, immigrant rights activist Aviva Chomsky shows how “illegality” and “undocumentedness” are concepts that were created to exclude and exploit. With a focus on US policy, she probes how people, especially Mexican and Central Americans, have been assigned this status—and to what ends. Blending history with human drama, Chomsky explores what it means to be undocumented in a legal, social, economic, and historical context. The result is a powerful testament of the complex, contradictory, and ever-shifting nature of status in America.

The book begins by providing a brief history of where illegality came from. It provides high level ideas and concepts from history of how domination, religion, and race have been used to limit mobility while not delving into the specific laws outside of North America related to this. This general beginning sets the stage for the more detailed examinations in the rest of the book, as it focuses in on immigration history and laws in the US, especially it’s relationship with immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

The author begins from the assumption that we find borders and illegality natural and without question. As my last review showed, I’m not of this mind and I would hope that at least a few others are also of this understanding – that borders and laws and citizenship are constructs created for applied for specific purposes. Chomsky begins by highlighting the similarities between Michelle Alexander’s theory in The New Jim Crow on the criminalization of African Americans and the increasing criminalization of Latinos, with the main difference being that the criminalization of African Americans is to remove them from the labor market while the criminalization of Latinos is to make them especially vulnerable and exploitable in the labor market. This helps set the stage for the ideas and concepts raised through the rest of the book.

Chomsky walks through a history of Immigration laws in the United States, how they were applied, and who they targeted. She also talks about the history of migratory work in Mexico and in Central America and how, in Mexico especially, the US government encouraged it until relatively recently. We see how those coming to work often don’t even realize it is illegal – they are following the same migratory patterns as previously, are working with the same companies, and / or are being recruited by the same recruiters as previously to work within their own country but now the recruiter may be bringing them to a job in the US. She talks about how originally forced migratory work has become a habit for many, especially as local subsistence farming and economic opportunities have disappeared.

In providing a history of immigration law as it relates to those of Mexican and Central American nationalities, some history of anti-immigration sentiment is also provided. In fact, media and politicians are shown as gaining benefits from expressing these sentiments throughout history.

In addition to attracting voters or increasing ratings, the Latino threat narrative serves the more subtle purpose of channeling national anxieties about social inequality; environmental crisis; economic downturn; lack of access to jobs, housing, health care, and education; deteriorating social services; and other real issues facing the US population away from their real cause. Those who benefit from the status quo would rather have people blame immigrants than fight for real social and economic change. (page 102)

Chomsky argues that illegal immigrants are an expected part of the immigration process – that there are less visas available than jobs that need to be filled, that companies prefer to be able to pay employees less and extort bribes up front, and so the system benefits them – why would they change it? The government can deport the employees and then simply assume more will show up to do the work and that any employees injured or who should be able to retire do not need to be assisted in any way. In fact, using undocumented workers makes it much easier for companies to get rid of any who start agitating for better wages or working conditions.

Undocumentedness has everything to do with work and the economy. It is a key component of the late-twentieth-century global system. Every so-called industrialized country – or more accurately, deindustrializing country – relies on the labor of workers who are legally excluded to maintain its high levels of consumption. (page 151)

The use of undocumented labor allows companies to keep prices lower, and allows more individuals within the country to benefit from this exploited labor. Using the structural violence examinations of Violent Borders and applying them to the details provided by Chomsky, we can see clearly how we all benefit from this violence. Lower prices on food, cheap landscaping, and cheap nanny services are just some of the ways in which we might benefit.  In the same way that Jones’ analysis showed the violence caused by keeping poor people within their own borders and subject to low wages and lack of regulation, here Chomsky shows that keeping immigrants undocumented or “illegal” allows companies within the receiving country’s borders to exploit workers in many of the same ways with little to no repercussions.

The inexpensive nature of these services – in part because of the often undocumented immigrant labor that provided them – helped to sustain an illusion of upward mobility for people in the working and middle classes. (page 145)

As well, Chomsky points out the fact that stronger border enforcement has no effect on immigration – while it may make the crossings riskier, it is, rather, political and economic situations in the countries of origin that dictate the fluctuations in migrant crossings. The US has played a part, and continues to play a part, in those very political and economic situations. As well, one large consequence of stronger border enforcement is the breaking of the seasonal patterns of migration – outflows of migrants slows, while new migrants continue to cross over, causing increasing numbers of undocumented immigrants within the borders.

The book ends on a chapter titled Solutions, that unfortunately did not provide many ideas or solutions. The chapter instead provided a recap of immigration law as it relates to people of Mexican and Central American origin. While providing a recap of the book, Chomsky only hints at the idea that the major solution would be free movement for all. Her hope for the book is that it educates people and opens room for more debates, which I think she has done.

This was an interesting and well-written read, although due to the lack of solutions, I did find the book a bit lacking. I wish that chapter had offered true solutions and ideas rather than simply rehashing what had already been said throughout the book. The use of a theory (criminalization of African Americans) that more may be familiar with might also help others see the similarities and civil rights issues endemic to undocumentedness. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to know more about the history of and effects of undocumentedness  on immigrants, on the economy, on regulations, and on all of us.

* Earlier this week I posted my thoughts on Reece Jones’s Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move. The link will take you to that post. I’m working my way through a number of books on immigration policies, borders, and refugees just for my own interest as a bit of a personal project. 

Thoughts on Violent Borders by Reece Jones

Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move by Reece Jones provided a high level overview of borders and the structural and literal violence they cause in various different ways. It examines the actual death toll at borders (40,000 in the last decade alone), as well as the violence caused by less examined issues such as the unequal access to wages and labor regulations and the unequal impacts of environmental change and loss of resources through over-exploitation. The blurb calls it “A major new exploration of the refugee crisis, focusing on how borders are formed and policed”.

The state is a boundary-making institution that legitimizes the exclusion of others from land, resources, wealth, and opportunity through legal regimes and military power. States make exclusive claims to land and resources, define who has access by creating and monitoring social boundaries of belonging, and enforce these exclusions with legally sanctioned violence, such as the right of the police to use force. The structural violence of borders is at the foundation of the state in its role as a collector, protector, and exploiter of resources and labor. (Page 164)

Violent Borders begins with an examination of current borders and their trends to militarization around the EU, the US, and various other places including India, Bangladesh, and Australia. Through these examples, we see the death toll caused at these borders as people desperate to escape war and poverty attempt to cross them. Here we see the most obvious and reported upon violence caused by borders – individuals shot trying to cross, or dying during their journey, and the ways in which the border enforcement directly envisions and plans for theses deaths. For example, forcing migrants on the US-Mexico border to more remote and dangerous areas where death tolls will be higher and which, officials and planners imagine, will make people decide the risks aren’t worth it.

Using the example of Andrew Carnegie, Jones next shows how free movement during a specific point in the past allowed those experiencing poverty and the loss of jobs, in large part due to industrialization, to move elsewhere for better opportunities. As states have moved to create immigration policies, the industrialization of countries outside of Europe leaves the poor and newly jobless with no escape possible as there are no settler-colonies accepting immigrants. This highlights the ways in which so-called developed nations benefited previously from free movement and benefit now from restrictions on movement. A history of border creation through the ages from the Magna Carta, which allowed for free use of the public commons, through to the current age of private property and fences highlights the ways in which the wealthy have long benefited from these borders.

Borders, which currently affect the movement of people but not goods, impose limits on free markets which results in violence in terms of low wages, lack of regulations, and so on around the world. Workers in the US were historically able to agitate for better working conditions and create unions because the majority of goods came from within the border, meaning that any regulations were applied broadly across all competitors. The increasing globalization of goods allows companies to now get around these regulations and laws, which aim to protect workers, because state borders constrain the regulations and wages, but not the goods.

…while global institutions like the WHO and free trade agreements allow corporations to operate across borders, regulators and workers are contained by them. (page 132)
As long as labor is contained by borders and not protected by basic labor and environmental standards, the systems of exploitation will continue regardless of whether individual companies change their practices. (page 138)

Borders also allow states the ability to focus on resource exploitation and extraction within their own areas in disregard of global impacts. The expansion of exclusive economic zones in the sea is leading to increased resource exploitation – despite the popular theory of the “tragedy of the commons”, history shows that states look out for their own interests at the expense of global needs. Border walls disrupt animal habitats and change water ways and migration patterns. Borders make impossible any true action on climate change as each state looks out primarily for its own interests rather than global interests.

The structural violence of borders concentrates the negative impacts of borders on more vulnerable places and contains the affected people to those areas through movement restrictions at borders. (page 153)

Thus, the book argues: borders have been created, borders cause violence, and the only legitimacy that they have is that which we give them. Jones ends with three ideas and options for moving forward to a world allowing free movement of people and access to resources and opportunities. Jones argues that those in a privileged position are currently privileged in part due to their exploitation of others, and free movement as both a human and civil right is necessary. He also argues for global regulations on working conditions, which would improve job conditions around the world and create more jobs everywhere, including Europe and the US. Lastly, he argues for global environmental protections and responsibilities as well as limits on free property.

The exclusion of others from resources and opportunity is based on the idea that the in-group should be protected no matter what, with little regard for what effect it might have on the other and without questioning why there is a distinction between “us” and “them” in the first place. Rather than hard lines around nations of people and their homelands, political borders are systems for controlling land and resources and limiting the movement of people. The “nations” they enclose are not long-term historical realities, but new political communities that developed with the emergence of states and borders. (page 168)

Overall a well-written examination of the visible and invisible violence caused by borders, and a look at how we can envision and create a more just and free world. My only complaint is the comparisons of serfdom and current global working conditions to slavery. I understand the modern-day slavery movement and the ways in which the working conditions, low wages, and lack of options are termed slavery, but it also seems disrespectful to historical slavery which was a completely different thing – forced work, being sold as chattel, no wages, no changes for escape, families being torn apart. What is termed modern-day slavery, in my opinion, should have a different name.

A recommended read and it seems like this will be a great introduction for my current reading project on borders, immigration policies, and refugees. I’m looking forward to see how these themes interact with the topics of my next reads.

*This was the ONLY one of the seven books I looked into regarding borders, immigration policy, and refugees which my library had in general circulation. Many of the others were there, but only a reference copy. Very disappointing, especially in this current political climate, as reading on this topic seems especially relevant. 

Thoughts on Why I Am Not a Feminist by Jessa Crispin

Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto  is a book where “Outspoken critic Jessa Crispin delivers a searing rejection of contemporary feminism… and a bracing manifesto for revolution.” Through the book she talks about the issues with lean in, commercial, and choice feminism and how they dilute and make meaningless the word “feminist”. She takes on the idea that all decisions are feminist decisions, that we don’t have to do the hard work of learning and of questioning our life and our choices. That women are often complicit in both our own oppression and in continuing oppressive systems, just with us as part of that system instead of outside of it.

Are you a feminist? Do you believe women are human beings and that they deserve to be treated as such? That women deserve all the same rights and liberties bestowed upon men? If so, then you are a feminist . . . or so the feminists keep insisting. But somewhere along the way, the movement for female liberation sacrificed meaning for acceptance, and left us with a banal, polite, ineffectual pose that barely challenges the status quo. In this bracing, fiercely intelligent manifesto, Jessa Crispin demands more.

Why I Am Not A Feminist is a radical, fearless call for revolution. It accuses the feminist movement of obliviousness, irrelevance, and cowardice—and demands nothing less than the total dismantling of a system of oppression.

Sounds good right? And there were some really great points. There were so many times I found myself nodding along, or where I was really agreeing – usually that happened each time she brought up a new point and lasted until about the third or fifth or seventh paragraph where it got problematic. How did it get problematic? Let me provide (some of) the my thoughts (in no particular order).

First: Let me make this as clear as it should have been in the marketing material / description / title. This is not a book for all feminists. This is a book aimed to an audience of heterosexual white middle-class feminists. Those who don’t fit this narrow stereotype are likely to feel alienated. The book begins from this premise that feminism is excluding “other” groups, and White feminism has, but that is a subset of what exists. While Crispin does acknowledge in places that she is talking about White feminism specifically, the book still was written in such a way that anyone outside of this group seemed to not exist. (For example, the statement that feminists could be, but often aren’t, building alliances with “people of colour … religious minorities and the poor.”, which assumes that you, as the reader, are not any of those. Or that if you are, you must not be a feminist.) And let’s be honest, women of colour feminists have done an incredible amount of activism and academic work – feminism would be a sorry place if they hadn’t always been a part of the movement.

Second: Crispin implies a level of indifference with micro-aggressions and believes that calling them out takes away from “real life struggles”, is hateful, et cetera. Sure, context is important in some cases, which is one of her points (and her example uses this type of scenario), but that does not excuse micro-aggressions and even outright hate speech and acts. We shouldn’t let those who perpetuate harm off the hook because ‘culture’ and because ‘we should be focusing on systemic issues not individual acts’. Systemic issues are important, but so is holding individuals accountable. And when one often isn’t the target of the comments or jokes or actions, it is easier to say that they are unimportant and should be ignored.

Third: As a real gem, the critique of using female safety as a justification for war or for expanding the criminal justice system was on point. But then, right after this, she talks about how if cases of rape are “he said / she said”, we should applaud judges throwing them out. Because we’re at a time when women’s claims are taken seriously and we should be careful about our desire for revenge. Which is… definitely some fantasy world in which I want to live, where women’s claims of rape and harassment are believed and it is our revenge fantasies causing us to seek prosecution. (While I am pro-prison abolition and am against the PIC, it is not because I am concerned about the revenge inspired victimization of men by women.) Falling back to that excuse for throwing out cases is disingenuous and part of the problem that feminists need to work to resolve – namely ending violence against women and granting equal belief to women’s testimonies.

As Leigh Gilmore says in Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives (which I am reading right now): “How “he said/she said” has come to be seen as something other than the prompt from which due process begins suggests that women lie outside the frame of justice from the beginning.” And also: “”nobody knows what really happened” is the starting point of a trial. Like the presumption of innocence, it names a suspension of judgement rather than the imposition of doubt.”

Fourth: Crispin is a staunch defender of and cheerleader for second wave radical feminists such as Germaine Greer, Andrea Dworkin, and others. Yes, they did some great work. Yes, we shouldn’t always throw out the baby with the bath water, as the saying goes. But their lack of intersectionality and their, in some cases, trans exclusionary stances are pretty big issues. She says ” Lately, older feminist writers and activists have been vilified by the younger generations for not using the right language, for arguing points that are no longer fashionable, and for just taking a different point of view.” If the language or unfashionable points are trans exclusionary points and language then we do well to criticize. It could be that some of their ideas or works are being ignored because of reasons other than their looks.

Basically – I wanted to love this book. I agree with many of the authors points. I think feminism has to mean constantly learning and being better and pushing for change. I think that working within the system simply props up the system and slightly expands who is “in” while maintaining oppressive systems. I think that men have to do their own work to educate themselves and not rely on women to do that work for them or to excuse them. BUT I just found too many problems. Too many instances of one specific example being thrown out to justify some large assumption or stereotype.

In so many instances Crispin seems to imagine this rosy world, which is ruined by people calling themselves feminists focusing on the wrong issues. She both wants us to be more radical and on the fringes, yet also wants us to ignore micro-aggressions and not seek retribution against individuals who cause harm. She both lambastes feminism for being exclusionary while writing a book targeted to an exclusive group, within which she excuses those she admires for being  exclusionary.

This book falls into this weird space that was in some instances super radical and in others super weak, often within the same sections. I wanted it to be so much more. In too many instances it generalized or glossed over or just threw out ridiculous arguments or examples as if they were the norm. Mostly I think I’m disappointed because I expected it to be so much more than it was.

I’ll go back to more academic and intersectional texts now.