Distracted for a moment, you see a sprig of jasmine, white like peace and delicate in its beauty. In that moment, you forget everything else around you: the ghostly neighborhood, the cramped balconies clothed in bullet holes and rubble. Then it comes back. The Israeli occupation of 2006 is no place of beauty, and thousands of visitors are evacuating. Dripping with sweat from hours under the hammering sun, they pack onto ships like sardines, eager to leave Lebanon. One of the videos of these refugees stands out: the evacuees dancing and enjoying music, “[managing] to have some fun and forget about the war” (RHM Productions), not merely surviving, but enjoying. This use of music has, in part, been keeping Lebanon alive in times of strife— in other words, almost always. Many Lebanese citizens use music as an escape and mouthpiece for emotions, harnessing its power to conjure wistful images and express political opinions. Music can capture feelings and release political tension, allowing Lebanese citizens, among others, to use it to wrest some control—either illusionary or real--over their politically chaotic world.
"Each of us has a place where we feel comfortable. For some it’s a church, for some a mosque, a sanctuary, a movie theater, a stadium, a market. I feel comfortable in a kitchen. And it’s not that surprising, because I’m a good cook...I’m not a dishwasher as they say in the restaurants of Rome. In Shiraz I had a good restaurant...Soon I’m going back to Shiraz. I know I am." (Clash 19)
This is stated by Parviz, the first of many characters who help narrate Amara Lakhous’s novel, Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio. In this brief passage, Parviz outlines a thematic discourse that is present throughout the novel and throughout much migrant literature irrespective of time and location. This is the discourse regarding “place,” a concept which is much more complex and interesting than a mere plot point on a map or a chart. Rather, place is a space imbued with certain qualities and even an identity. It has psychological power and meaning. When Parviz talks about being comfortable in certain places, he is referring to this dynamic in which places are given the psychological power of comfort and empowerment. This discourse on place is one that is inherently a part of the immigrant experience. Immigrants arrive in new spaces that have few if any meanings or attachments for them. The goal of an immigrant generally is to turn meaningless space into meaningful place, though this often leads to conflicts with others by whom certain places have already been created and to whom the presence of migrants alters the essential qualities of that place. This tension can be found reflected in migrant literature. The creation of place is a process which the characters of Clash of Civilizations and all migrants, real or otherwise, undergo. Though the creation of place is fraught with potential conflicts, the existence of dynamic migrant literature indicates that immigrants are simultaneously establishing real and literary “places” within their adopted homelands.
When American politician Horace Mann termed education “the great equalizer” in 1848, he demonstrated enormous faith in the idea that a person’s mobility in life was not contingent on his being born into wealth (Rhode). Society at large appears to agree with Mann: more than ever, high school students have been urged to apply to colleges and to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, a trend which points to the belief that receiving a higher education is the surest path to the “American Dream.” For low-income students, however, educational statistics reveal a more disheartening story behind the American higher education system: among the nation’s 193 most selective universities, wealthy students outnumber low-income students by 14 to 1 (Dreier). On the other hand, more than half of low-income students who receive aid through Federal Pell Grants attend public two- and four-year colleges, institutions which are historically known to be the least funded and most resource-deficient (Dreier). These statistics are indicative of a “zero-sum-game” within the system: as wealthy students continue to be admitted to selective universities for their competitive SAT/ACT scores and extracurriculars, low-SES (socioeconomic status) students are forced to poorly-funded colleges where they are falling behind in degree attainment and shouldering large student debts. Although the college education system has long been touted as a socioeconomic equalizer, it inherently exacerbates wealth inequality in the United States by catering to the privileged and affluent who can more easily invest in quality education. This increasing issue of classism begs us to reconsider the value of learning much beyond its so-called market worth, a step which is key to sustaining the feasibility of the “American Dream.”
Thanksgiving, the pinnacle of any American holiday, is when my family gathers not to eat a whole oven-roasted turkey with cranberry sauce or mashed potatoes with rich gravy, but rather to feast upon a ten course “Chinese Thanksgiving” meal. This includes a juicy roast duck with its head still on instead of turkey, a steaming pile of freshly-made rice infused with coconut milk in place of mashed potatoes, a bok-choy and garlic sauté because my family never had a taste for creamed spinach, fried rice made with honey baked ham, and of course to end it all, pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream, along with other exotic ice cream flavors like durian or taro. My sister and I always joked that we never got to experience a real “American Thanksgiving Dinner” like the rest of the kids at our elementary school who would chatter about savory stuffing and buttery bread rolls when our teacher asked what we had for Thanksgiving the next day. I honestly did not even know what cornbread was until I stumbled upon a Rachel Ray cooking show. I mean, why would you put corn in bread? However, I now consider my hybridized Thanksgiving experience as a part of my ethnic identity.
Media’s treatment of the female body is a disappointing reflection of what this culture deems beautiful or ugly. In American culture, body hair is considered ugly and even trespassing social media safety guidelines. Even women’s hair removal product companies, though aimed at selling their razors and shaving creams to women, do not allow the appearance of actual body hair in their ads. This censorship conveys the message that a woman in her unaltered, unshaven state is unacceptable and even offensive. This upholds a double standard of beauty. While photos of bikini-clad women in their unaltered states are censored, naked celebrities photo-shopped to glossy, toned “perfection” are splashed across magazine covers and the same social media sites that censor nipples and female body hair. Women in their natural states are censored while photo-shopped images of the female body are used to sell and make profit, while promoting an unnatural and idealized standard of beauty. Meanwhile, ads showing men with pubic hair peeking out from the top of their Calvin Klein underwear are also freely displayed.
It’s exactly four minutes past two in the morning, and my dorm room is softly illuminated with Christmas lights and the glow of cell phones. My feet dangle over the edge of the sink counter as I lean back into the cold embrace of the mirror, watching the three girls sprawled across my bed. My best friends. The twins are tossing popcorn at each other, with Cayla opening her mouth as wide as possible to catch Calli’s lopsided underhand. Laura is laughing along, ignoring the missed kernels that we’ll have to vacuum up tomorrow. My body feels restless in its inertia, and I’m suddenly hit by a wave of claustrophobia. We need to get out of this room, this 20 by 11 foot box made smaller by the two beds and piles of clothing scattered throughout. I stand up.
The recent discussions prompted by the Ferguson police shootings have renewed interest and awareness to the issues of racism and police brutality in the United States. Some argue that the issue is not racism and that those who disagree are simply “playing the race card.” Others argue that racism, racial profiling, racial prejudice, and the like are very much still occurring today and are a relevant issue and should be discussed. Political humor can be found in multiple forms of media, from TV shows like South Park or The Daily Show to online sites like The Onion to even literature. It is typically used to highlight controversial issues, provide a new way of looking at a subject, or simply to entertain, using a topic that is well known to the mass public. Satirical forms of media, such as The Daily Show, serve to bring issues to the forefront for discussion, while news programs, like FOX News, attempt at maintaining a moderate tone. Although The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a satirical news program designed to both praise and criticize aspects of current events and politics, Jon Stewart’s Ferguson monologue openly addresses the issues of news program coverage and police brutality in order to highlight the extent to which racism is prevalent in current society. The shooting of Michael Brown served to escalate the social unrest felt both in Ferguson and nationally, as well as bring the problem of racial prejudice to attention.
Rain fell lightly and coldly, grazing the top of my head. The sky was grey, the people were greyer, and my feet were aching after a long day of walking around Paris. I was visiting the city for the weekend, staying with some family friends who lived in the 16th arrondissement, a clean, upper-class neighborhood close to the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, and the crème de la crème of Parisian society. For the better part of the last hour, my host Annette and I had been traipsing around the neighborhood in a mysterious and relentless quest. We walked down street after street, each lined with seemingly endless gilded apartment buildings, expensive-looking cafés, and hurried, smoking Parisians. I didn’t know where we were going; Annette had developed a sudden and serious sense of purpose earlier when I pointed to a pastry shop across the street and asked if I could get macaroons there.
For the past few years, the valley I call home has been populated by big, bioluminescent rabbits. Known in scientific circles as Lepus lumanis, the bioluminescent rabbits are the result of genetic modification. It’s like how they made those fluorescent fish with jellyfish DNA, except the rabbits were made from glowworm DNA. Whenever I see those furry lanterns glowing in the distance, I grimace.
Bioluminescent rabbits don’t live the same way normal rabbits do. Instead of bolting away at the slightest sign of danger, bio rabbits are made to defend themselves. They’re aggressive towards anything with four legs and sharp teeth, and most animals don’t bother them because they don’t expect a rabbit to go on the offensive (I once saw one chasing a coyote out of the park; what a horrendous sight that was). Snakes and hawks will sometimes pick off a little one, but the adults are left alone because they’re so big. I can’t blame them; if I saw a rabbit bigger than my basset hound, I wouldn’t want to mess with it either. They love to dig, too, not because they have to but because it's fun. I caught one digging up my yard once and sprayed it with hose water until it ran off. The next day I tripped over a ditch that was right in front of my door. I don't care what anyone says; the long-eared rat did that on purpose.
There’s also the fact that they glow, and that’s my least favorite thing about them. Everybody has to close their blinds at night because they fill the valley like moving city lights. It’s obnoxious, and the worst part is that since almost nothing is controlling their numbers, their population is growing. Shooting isn’t allowed around these parts, and the rabbits are shockingly immune to pest poison. The scientists claim that wasn’t planed, but I don’t believe them.
What really saddens me, though, is that you never see a regular rabbit anymore. After the bio rabbits quote unquote “escaped”, the good old cottontails slowly disappeared. Those damn green puffballs must’ve displaced them. It’s a shame, because the plain bunnies weren’t the ones driving off other animals, blinding everyone with their light and taking over the valley. But now we’re stuck with these frankenbunnies, all because somebody thought it would be a good idea to make a rabbit that a moth would love. Didn’t Jurassic Park teach us that just because we can make something doesn’t mean we should?
The future is looking awfully bright, but not in a good way.
Ronald Johnson was a very important person. You could tell by the way his office window looked out across the concrete jungle of a parking lot filled with cars, as opposed to the more sightly view of the palm trees that sprung up all over the verdant campus. His office, situated seven doors down from the Athletic Director’s, was always filled with the smell of bound leather and the sound of the words, “I knew you would come around.” It seemed that every day, at least one person was “coming around,” although anyone who ever walked by his office and happened to hear some of the important conversation he was having on the phone never could tell you what it meant. Ronald was in the middle of today’s “coming around” conversation when his secretary, Michelle, walked in. She had on her concerned face, which looked like she either ate questionable hot wings from the sketchy chicken joint just across campus or her dog had just revealed to her his suicidal thoughts via a note spelled out in dog chow. Either way, Ronald was seconds away from delivering his classic line, so he gave her the classic one finger raised gesture, that always meant, “I’m one second from closing the deal.”
I peer over the walls of the wooden cubby and see two pairs of eyelash extensions and two perfectly blown out heads of hair clinging to one another in the crammed space of a single library cubby. One is smacking her gum loudly and the other is standing above her, eagerly awaiting whatever new gossip she just has to hear.
“Okay. But you can’t tell anyone.” “Who else would I tell?” “True.” “Okay?” “I slept with him.”
I don’t know your real name, I don’t know where you’ve come from, but I know I don’t like you. That’s not true; if I didn’t like you I wouldn’t write to you. I hate you, Blue-Eyes. I hate you, and my hatred takes fewer victims than I have fingers, so just you smile, Blue-Eyes, because you are a special guy. I attend Santa Clara University, and at Santa Clara University we value diversity with emphasis on the whole person. I haven’t taken a religion class yet, but I’m pretty sure--spiritually--you’re only part of a person. I hate you for what you’re not; I can’t feel pity, and I won’t empathize with you.