The Pull to Keep the U.S. of A. Centered: Reflections on Some of CNW's Authors This Week
So, perhaps like many of you, I found myself glued to the coverage of the conventions the past few weeks. The political science feminist in me couldn’t help but watch the pandering train wreck that is Political Convention. In the midst of all the flag waving from both sides, it’s easy to forget that American Presidential Politics is not, and yes I’ll say it and some of you will perhaps gasp as the blasphemy, the perfect revolving center of my feminist universe. Most days, I don’t believe that being American is the most important part of my political identity. As a feminist activist, whether I believe I have personal agency or not (a Foucault discussion for another blog), I have to pay attention to the stories all around me about marginalized experience and resist the urge to center myself and my perspective in the process.
I had just the opportunity to do that this week by listening to two debut novelists at the Harvard Bookstore. The audience was packed so perhaps some of you were there. Both novels were written by women who live in the United States now, who spent much, if not all of their lives, growing up in North America. And yet the place and nation they chose to center in their first novels were the countries of their family.
The first, Randa Jarrar was raised in Egypt and Kuwait. She moved back to the U.S. after the first Gulf War when she was thirteen. Her first novel, A Map of Home, is much about this experience told through her main character, Nidali. An author who can call Palestine home territory, and who centers a Palestinian identity within her main character’s family, has political implications for readers from the West who marginalize and often ignore Israel’s illegal and unjust occupation. Jarrar and her characters make us pay attention to the complexity of national and multinational identity.
The second, Padma Viswanathan, though she grew up in Canada, chose to write her first novel based on family stories from India. A Toss of a Lemon, which is the story of the private life of a young Brahmin widow loosely based on Viswanathan’s great grandmother, brings light to the tensions created by colonialism and the uneasy collision of values from east and west in a post-colonial era. While Western occupation may have ceased, certainly Western encounter has not.
After hearing these two women read, women who live within the borders of the United States, who may or may not call themselves American, I can’t help but be reminded, when I return back to my J.P. apartment to roommates watching Political Convention, that perhaps the biggest failure of the Presidential Elections is the fact that neither side resists the temptation to center America. How could Jarrar and Viswanathan’s stories be represented in this Presidential Campaign? I don’t mean as “immigrants” but as women still fiercely and passionately attached to other nations?