On Silenced Narratives
Issue   |   Tue, 03/06/2018 - 20:57

At this year’s LitFest, Junot Díaz started his talk with a reading from his nonfiction essay “Money,” which discusses remittances, a part of the immigrant experience that isn’t discussed often. We must continue to do what Díaz is doing: bring to light stories about immigrants and other underrepresented groups and give more varied insight into how others live.

Díaz said last Friday, “The peculiarities of most of our lives don’t appear in literature. The country spends more energy erasing the lives of other immigrants than it does to represent them.” The “roaring silence” he mentions dominates communities of color and immigrants. We can do more by exploring different sides of stories from unheard people. For example, in Díaz’s talk, he specifically asked people of color as well as other marginalized groups to speak up. No one should feel the need to strip away one’s own identity in order to please a certain audience nor should we strip away at people’s lives to create the narrative we want to hear. Díaz said in his talk, “I would cut pieces of myself, thinking whiteness would applaud. If I were to keep doing that, there would be nothing of me.”

Much of Díaz’s work focuses on shedding light on immigrant experiences, and this Monday, we reached President Trump’s deadline for Congress to come up with a legislative solution to DACA or else Trump would repeal it. Neither Trump nor Congress delivered.

During such a polarized era without a long term plan for immigration, we must take a more holistic and nuanced perspective on policy and the people affected. There’s racial anxiety about immigrants who are mostly people of color. We have a responsibility to society to be careful in how we have a discussion about them.

Díaz argues that we should be deliberate about how we label or think about certain groups of people. He said that many of his readers consider the narrator in his novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” Yunior, a Dominican male of African-descent, as problematic. Díaz said he wrote Yunior to be sexually assaulted in the first five pages of his novel and frequently referenced the sexual assault as a framework as to view Yunior’s subsequent transgressions. Díaz encourages a complex reading of his character to avoid typecasting him as a sexual predator incapable of also being a victim, even though perpetrators and victims are often linked. The same complexity should be applied to groups of people outside the literary realm especially immigrants.

Without a clear policy moving forward, DACA members are in a tough position as they tip-toe the line of legality. This affects how society perceives them and their rights, of how to handle non citizens entering and staying in our country. The legal rights that we, as a country, believe undocumented immigrants deserve are in flux right now, subject to the country’s economic or political needs. This ignores the enormous impact these policies will have on hundreds of thousands of people.