voices of immigration - beyond sound bytes

this past friday, 5/26, i sat in the gymnasium at one of the jail sites at rikers island listening to young men, who are there awaiting sentencing, share excerpts from published stories in the collection titled, Echando humo para siempre (Forever billowing smoke). of the six authors in the book, three were present for the reading. their stories, printed in both spanish and english in the eighty-one page book, were read aloud in both versions that made the gym reverberate with reflections about family, musings on inequity, observations about cross cultural survival - these words painted images that challenged the sound byte media culture about immigration.

raul: "In Mexico we don't treat [minorities] like they do here. Even Americans have a lot of businesses there - the best, I'd say - and we don't treat them like they treat us here."

jaime: "[My parents] brought me up with the music - the meringue, the bachata, the salsa - and they brought me up with the food, too. The brought me up with the culture from over there, like the people from there, like it was before for their gradparents, they they had been raised."

enano: "I miss my family so much - my parents, my friends. Here, you have friends while you have something to give, but if you don't have anything, they turn their backs on you. And over there, whether or not you have anything, they're your friends."

edwin: "...being out here in the United States there are always good chances, many opportunities here to come out ahead. Here I found out that I can draw - I started to draw here. ... I bought a tattoo gun and as soon as I leave here, if I ever do leave, I'm going to start tattooing."

in their words are "undeniable ambiguities and contradiction," (a point made in the introduction written by patricia cortes) that further call attention to the inadequate scope of the immigration rhetoric that dominates popular media discourses.

from a literacies perspective, we might ask what the implications are for how these young men make sense of their world through literacies as the move across national borders and cultural boundaries. lesley bartlett's research explores this and related questions about transnational literacies and resonates with some work that doris warriner is doing, as well. both of these literacy researchers, along with many others, are helping the field understand the life changing, sometimes threatening, experiences of individuals who are border crossing on a minute-to-minute basis. their work and the recently published Echando humo para siempre reminds us that we need stories that are not only rich in ethnographic detail, but that also are produced by those individuals whose crossings, negotiations, and balancing of transnational literacies, identities, experiences, challenges, and dreams too often become the purview of overused phrases and easily quantifiable categories.

this story was also filmed for the local news (new york city, abc) but i was out of town and didn't catch it. i'll report back on what story sound bytes made it to the small screen...

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