During the Cold War, Ellis Island no longer served as the largest port of entry for immigrants, but as a prison for holding aliens the state wished to deport. The government criminalized those it considered un-assimilable (from left-wing intellectuals and black radicals to racialized migrant laborers) through the denial, annulment, and curtailment of citizenship and its rights. The island, ceasing to represent the iconic ideal of immigrant America, came to symbolize its very limits.
Unbecoming Americans sets out to recover the shadow narratives of un-American writers forged out of the racial and political limits of citizenship. In this collection of Afro-Caribbean, Filipino, and African American writers—C.L.R. James, Carlos Bulosan, Claudia Jones, and Richard Wright—Joseph Keith examines how they used their exclusion from the nation, a condition he terms “alienage,” as a standpoint from which to imagine alternative global solidarities and to interrogate the contradictions of the United States as a country, a republic, and an empire at the dawn of the "American Century.”
Building on scholarship linking the forms of the novel to those of the nation, the book explores how these writers employed alternative aesthetic forms, including memoir, cultural criticism, and travel narrative, to contest prevailing notions of race, nation, and citizenship. Ultimately they produced a vital counter-discourse of freedom in opposition to the new formations of empire emerging in the years after World War II, forms that continue to shape our world today.
“A stunning accomplishment…As the Trump administration works to expatriate naturalized U.S. citizens, understanding the history of individual rights and state power at the heart of Under the Starry Flag could not be more important.” —Passport
“A brilliant piece of historical writing as well as a real page-turner. Salyer seamlessly integrates analysis of big, complicated historical questions—allegiance, naturalization, citizenship, politics, diplomacy, race, and gender—into a gripping narrative.” —Kevin Kenny, author of The American Irish
In 1867 forty Irish American freedom fighters, outfitted with guns and ammunition, sailed to Ireland to join the effort to end British rule. They were arrested for treason as soon as they landed. The Fenians, as they were called, claimed to be American citizens, but British authorities insisted that they remained British subjects. Following the Civil War, the Fenian crisis dramatized the question of whether citizenship should be considered an inalienable right.
This gripping legal saga, a prelude to today’s immigration battles, raises important questions about immigration, citizenship, and who deserves to be protected by the law.
The inequalities that persist in America have deep historical roots. Evelyn Nakano Glenn untangles this complex history in a unique comparative regional study from the end of Reconstruction to the eve of World War II. During this era the country experienced enormous social and economic changes with the abolition of slavery, rapid territorial expansion, and massive immigration, and struggled over the meaning of free labor and the essence of citizenship as people who previously had been excluded sought the promise of economic freedom and full political rights.
After a lucid overview of the concepts of the free worker and the independent citizen at the national level, Glenn vividly details how race and gender issues framed the struggle over labor and citizenship rights at the local level between blacks and whites in the South, Mexicans and Anglos in the Southwest, and Asians and haoles (the white planter class) in Hawaii. She illuminates the complex interplay of local and national forces in American society and provides a dynamic view of how labor and citizenship were defined, enforced, and contested in a formative era for white-nonwhite relations in America.
In Unruly Immigrants, Monisha Das Gupta explores the innovative strategies that South Asian feminist, queer, and labor organizations in the United States have developed to assert claims to rights for immigrants without the privileges or security of citizenship. Since the 1980s many South Asian immigrants have found the India-centered “model minority” politics of previous generations inadequate to the task of redressing problems such as violence against women, homophobia, racism, and poverty. Thus they have devised new models of immigrant advocacy, seeking rights that are mobile rather than rooted in national membership, and advancing their claims as migrants rather than as citizens-to-be. Creating social justice organizations, they have inventively constructed a transnational complex of rights by drawing on local, national, and international laws to seek entitlements for their constituencies.
Das Gupta offers an ethnography of seven South Asian organizations in the northeastern United States, looking at their development and politics as well as the conflicts that have emerged within the groups over questions of sexual, class, and political identities. She examines the ways that women’s organizations have defined and responded to questions of domestic violence as they relate to women’s immigration status; she describes the construction of a transnational South Asian queer identity and culture by people often marginalized by both mainstream South Asian and queer communities in the United States; and she draws attention to the efforts of labor groups who have sought economic justice for taxi drivers and domestic workers by confronting local policies that exploit cheap immigrant labor. Responding to the shortcomings of the state, their communities, and the larger social movements of which they are a part, these groups challenge the assumption that citizenship is the necessary basis of rights claims.