Chai Wai Series: Migrants, Immigrants & Refugees

 

The Chai Wai Series Launches with “Migrants, Immigrants and Refugees”

Katrina Spencer

October 22, 2014

“What does it take for someone to leave what they’ve worked for their whole life?” he asked. In one of the more provocative statements made at the International and Area Studies Library’s (IASL) first Chai Wai event, Ricardo Díaz of the C-U Immigration Forum boldly affirmed that “Mexicans don’t want to come to the USA,” openly challenging a common premonition existing about the U.S. being an immigrant’s ‘paradise.’ “Immigration is a natural human process,” Díaz said, adding that “It’s not just liberty” that attracts people from other countries to seek lives within the U.S. borders: “it’s the economic opportunity”. Díaz passionately suggested that many people of both working and professional class love their home countries but make deliberate choices of sacrifice in order provide secure futures for their families. They were statements like these that constructed the framework in which push and pull factors regarding immigration were visited Tuesday of last week.

As South Asian Studies Librarian Mara Thacker’s brainchild, the Chai Wai Series was launched to much acclaim. This series seeks to provide a forum for conversations regarding global issues that need space for development, debate and discussion. More than forty people gathered in the Main Library’s room 321 to hear four panelists speak on the topic of “migrants, immigrants and refugees.” The event was moderated by Steve Witt, head of the IAS Department. Three panelists in addition to Díaz, University of Illinois anthropology professor Ellen Moodie, Ha Ho of the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC) and Gai Nyok, a current master student in economics and former refugee, shared their personal narratives, highlights of their research and general postures that encouraged, as Moodie phrased it, “compassionate policy in a country that can absorb immigrants.”

One valuable feature of the event was the diversity of voices and experience represented by the panel. Too often issues of immigration are reduced to discussions of U.S.-Mexico relations. This panel, by its very nature, infused identities that spring from war-torn areas like the Sudans, persecuted minorities like the Hmong of Vietnam and Central American narratives of post-war reformation. In addition to the varied faces on the panel, some insights were particularly compelling. Moodie, for example, affirmed that “violence actually increased” following armed conflicts as countries entered into new instabilities and reconstruction. The post-war period, then, while largely interpreted as one of peace, may in fact see more human mobility than when fighting is active. Moreover, some internally displaced people choose not to seek refuge in places like the U.S. even when a protected status is available to them. When asked if his mother could join him in the United States, Nyok, a former Lost Boy of Sudan who found a second family in a foster home in Virginia, affirmed that yes, she could. However, he supposed that her experience in the West might indeed be of an inferior quality than that which she is experiencing in East Africa, citing the language barriers she would encounter, the cultural isolation, the laborious work she would take on, and the lack of respect and promotion she could likely experience in trying to integrate into a foreign society and its job workforce at an advanced age.

Despite all of this, Ho, speaking from experience, affirmed with great confidence that “the United States is a very generous country.” As someone whose immigrant status has seen a variety of classifications—visitor, resident and citizen—Ho acknowledges that “immigration law is very complex,” yet also that the U.S. offers a wealth of possibilities for mobile persons. The discussion implied that there are significant varieties of meaning indeed between migrants, immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced people, exiles and even expatriates, and that the variety of their experiences merit the richness of the vocabulary used to describe them. While the opportunities are numerous once a migrant obtains a certain status, before then, immigration policy can appear hostile. “I don’t expect the system to change without a struggle,” Díaz concluded, and for that reason, Díaz lives out his passion and encourages others towards advocacy. He is currently promoting José Toledo’s documentary “Unfreedom: Latino Immigrants in a Midwestern Town.”

For more on the Chai Wai Series, follow the International and Area Studies Library on Facebook, access our lib guide which addresses our first event and be sure to join us Wednesday, November 5, 2014 from 2:00-3:30pm when we will discuss gender-based violence in the global South.

The Amish of Illinois

Poster advertising the "Simply Amish" furniture brand

Poster advertising the “Simply Amish” furniture brand

Think for a moment what the word “worldly” connotes in its modern usage: a high level of formal education; sophistication; open-mindedness about cultures, languages, and ways different from our own. All in all, these can be seen as quite positive attributes. In cosmopolitan circles, one might fondly refer to a well-traveled and/or multilingual friend as “worldly,” perhaps with a slight air of envy at their mobility and adventuresome lifestyle. On a “world-class” university campus, “worldliness” as an ideal state of mind and of action has become intertwined with such institutions’ mission statements. And, of course, not without good reason, considering the highly interconnected and transnational nature of modernity.

Now compare this to another interpretation: Worldliness may entail all of those positive attributes mentioned above, but it may likely come at the cost of breaking with tradition, with isolating oneself from one’s family and home community, with being, as it were, too attached to this world when not only one’s identity as a member of a group is at stake, but also one’s eternal status in the afterlife. This is the view of the Amish.

Thus, when something – an act, a technological device, a manner of conducting oneself – is considered “worldly” by practitioners of the Amish faith, it is often considered better avoided. Not judged as evil, necessarily, but not deemed as useful in the grand scheme of things. Perplexing to our modern sensibilities? Certainly, but this is the nature of the Amish outlook, and this culture and its folkways have thrived intact, in spite of the dominant society on the North American continent for over 250 years by maintaining such views.

Most, if not all of the reactions I received to the news that I was conducting research on the Amish belied a certain befuddlement and overall mystery about them. Certain traits of the Amish that were listed off either anecdotally or from hearsay turned out to be mildly to wildly inaccurate. Contrary to some comments I heard, “technology” in and of itself is not eschewed by the Amish, but rather the effects that certain kinds of technology can have on a given Amish community. Thus, a car is not inherently sinful or evil and in fact many Amish rely on non-Amish (“Englisch”) coworkers for rides to and from work. But the potentially negative effect that a car has on one’s bond with the home community means that its ownership is clearly verboten. What is or isn’t permitted is determined by each congregation’s Ordnung, or “order” in German, meaning the community’s unwritten set of rules and regulations (Mabry 2008: 10).

So who in the world are the Amish, really? Strictly speaking, they are Anabaptist Christians (i.e., practitioners of adult as opposed to infant baptism), descended primarily from immigrants from the post-Reformation, German-speaking regions of central Europe, including areas of what are today France, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. However, since the 1930s, there are no longer any Amish in Europe (Nolt 1992: 182-3). As for other Anabaptist groups, relatively small numbers of Mennonites remain in Europe, according to the Mennonite World Conference World Directory, 2012. Those Amish who maintain the practices of strict shunning, avoidance of most technological innovations, holding church services in congregants’ homes (as opposed to meetinghouses or churches) and in the High German language, and plain dress are considered Old Order Amish, as opposed to other sects that have changed more drastically over time.

The Amish take their demonym from the surname of the preacher Jakob Ammann (1644 – c.1720), who broke away from the less socially conservative Mennonites in 1693. In particular, Ammann promoted the strict practice of socially shunning church members considered to be living in unrepentant sin. Before this schism, however, Anabaptists in general were persecuted by mainstream European society throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, leading to a galvanized sense of both their religious and ethnic unity. An early avoidance of all things “worldly” (a prime example being violence in general) led these early “radical reformers” to adopt strict pacifism, self-sufficiency, and, overall, a highly cautious perception of the world-at-large. Later, when both Amish and Mennonites sought further opportunities to practice their beliefs in peace, they arrived at the same conclusion as many other European conscientious objectors of the 17th and early 18th centuries: emigration to the New World. In particular, these groups chose one of the most culturally and ideologically tolerant of the thirteen British colonies in America, Pennsylvania, recently founded by the progressive-minded Quaker William Penn. Groups identifying as Amish began arriving as early as 1737 (Nolt: Ch. 1-3).

Over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, the intrinsically rural Amish avoided the burgeoning, industrialized urban centers of colonial and post-colonial America and gradually spread westward, covering a large swath of territory in not only Pennsylvania, but also Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. While there are small Amish communities in other areas (including the Canadian province of Ontario), in general they followed the predominantly ethnic-German wave of immigration across the Midlands region of the continental United States (Woodard 2011: Ch. 8).

Established between 1864-66, the Amish communities of central Illinois are concentrated in Moultrie and Douglas counties, about 35-40 miles south and west of Champaign-Urbana (Nolt: 188-9). This predominantly Old Order Amish settlement of around 4,000 can be found along Route 133 between the towns of Arthur and Arcola. According to Anabaptist expert Donald Kraybill, it is the ninth-largest Amish settlement in North American (Mabry 2008: 6). Congregations of more modernized Mennonites are also located nearby, as well as interspersed among them.

I visited this area by bicycle recently and took a few snapshots (I avoided any close-up shots of Amish people, as they strongly prefer not to be photographed – according to their beliefs it promotes vanity):

"Dutch" in the modern context is a misnomer but in an earlier sense referred to the Amish-Mennonites as ethnically and linguistically German (Deutsch or Deitsch)

Billboard at the entrance to Amish country between Arcola and Arthur, Illinois. “Dutch” in the modern context is a misnomer for the Amish-Mennonite people, but in an earlier sense more accurately referred to them as being ethnically and linguistically German (i.e., Deutsch in High German or Deitsch in the local vernacular, also known as “Pennsylvania Dutch”).

Horses and buggies coexist with automobiles as tradition and modernity continue to overlay each other in increasingly complex ways

On the outskirts of Arthur, IL, horses and buggies coexist with automobiles. Amish tradition and “Englisch” modernity continue to overlap each other in increasingly complex ways.

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Founded in 1890 in Sugarcreek, Ohio, the Budget provides weekly, highly localized news to the Amish and Mennonite communities throughout North America and the world. It represents an otherwise archaic form of mass print journalism, in that the news is reported almost exclusively by the paper’s readership itself, via “scribes” or writers representing individual Amish or Mennonite communities (Nolt: 202-3).

What I found while riding my modern bicycle alongside horses and buggies constructed according to centuries-old methods was a place where the past and the present intersect in notably profound ways. Yet, to the Amish, certain things do not change because they needn’t change. According to Steven M. Nolt, a recognized expert on Mennonite and Amish history,

“While the larger Western world seeks peace in bigger weapons, happiness in newer, larger and ever more material things, and disregards extended family and community in the search for individual self-fulfillment, the Amish continue to espouse such unpopular values as ‘turning the other cheek,’ living with less and working for a common good. Faith in God and God’s activity in the world through the church has marked Amish life as noticeably different from an American society bemused by ‘progress,’ but unable to find a purpose or meaning in the resulting activity” (283).

As I perused the items in Yoder’s Lamps, Antiques and Collectibles in downtown Arthur, I overheard the proprietor speaking in the unfamiliar tones of Pennsylvania “Dutch” to his employees, reminding me that the melting pot of the United States has not yet – nor may ever – come to a full boil. On my way out of town, an elderly Mennonite woman who repairs sewing machines and hardcover books explained to me that though the Mennonite church no longer uses High German in its liturgy (as the Old Order Amish church does), she is bilingual in the same Low German dialect as that of her Amish neighbors. “We have the same roots,” she confirmed. Since much of the modern American (and, to a certain extent, Canadian) Midwest was originally populated by immigrants from the same areas of German-speaking central Europe as both the Amish and Mennonites originally hailed, what’s clear is that adherence to or distance from traditional religious practices has meant the difference between maintaining distinct ethno-linguistic identity or otherwise assimilating to the culture of the Anglo-American majority.

Whether we, as outsiders, wish to view the Amish (and Mennonites) as models of Christianity, as paragons of simple, family-values-based living and local entrepreneurship, as leaders in environmental sustainability, or perhaps even as stubbornly anachronistic outliers to the norm, what’s clear is that their presence and impact add a fascinating element to our understanding of the North American cultural landscape. And as pertains to the European historical roots of this continent’s ideological and religious heritage, they most certainly cannot be ignored.


 References (click links for UIUC Library catalog records):

Mabry, R. (2008). The Amish of Illinois’ HeartlandChampaign, IL: The News-Gazette.

Nolt, S. (1992). A History of the AmishIntercourse, PA: Good Books.

Woodard, C. (2011). American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North AmericaNew York: Viking Books.

For more information, see:

Beiler, J. (2009). Think No Evil: Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting…and Beyond. New York: Howard Books.

Hurst, C. and McConnell, D. (2010). An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community. United States: Johns Hopkins University Press.

The Winners of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize

On October 10, 2014, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize will be shared by Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay. According to a press release from the Nobel Committee, this year’s winners were chosen on the basis of their advocacy for children and access to education. The Committee states:

It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected. In conflict-ridden areas in particular, the violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation. [I]

Kailash Satyarthi by Leandro Uchoas is licensed under CC-BY-2.0.

Kailash Satyarthi by Leandro Uchoas is licensed under CC-BY-4.0 (image via Wikimedia Commons).

Satyarthi and Yousafzay share a commitment to children’s rights. Kailash Satyarthi, who was born in Vidisha, India in 1954, has been organizing protests and demonstrations in support of children’s rights for many years. In 1980, he founded the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS), an organization dedicated to aiding child laborers and preventing the trafficking and exploitation of young people. [II] In 1998, he organized the Global March Against Child Labor, during which demonstrators marched across 103 countries demanding children’s rights. Today, Satyarthi chairs the Global March Against Child Labor, an organization that brings together NGOs working on these issues and continues to hold events and advocate for children in the United Nations. [III] If you are interested in learning more, Glocal Notes suggests Globalisation, development, and child rights (Delhi: Shipra, 2006), edited by Satyarthi and Bupinder Zutshi.

Malala Yousafzai by Southbank Centre is licensed under CC-BY-2.0. (Photo via Flickr.com).

Malala Yousafzai by Southbank Centre is licensed under CC-BY-2.0. (Photo via Flickr.com).

Malala Yousafzay, born in Mingora, Pakistan in 1997, is being honored by the Nobel Committee at just 17 years old. She has been speaking out about girls’ rights to education since she was 12 years old. In 2009, she began to write an anonymous blog for the BBC documenting her experiences living in Pakistan’s Swat Valley as the Taliban came to power in the region and began to limit girl’s access to schools. In 2012, Yousafzay, then 14 and on her way to school, was shot by the Taliban, who hoped to silence her. [IV] Although, the shooting left her in critical condition, Yousafzay recovered and continues to advocate for children’s rights. In July 2013, she gave a powerful speech at the United Nations Youth Assembly. During the speech, she encourages us all to follow her lead by telling us:

One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.

If you would like to learn more about Yousafzay, her autobiography, I am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban, is available in the library. Both Yousafzay and Satyarthi’s work in support of children’s rights is very inspiring and Glocal Notes congratulates them on their well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize!

References

[I] Noble Media AB. (2014). The Nobel Peace Prize 2014 – Press Release. Retrieved from http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2014/press.html

[II] Harma, R. (2009). Global march against child labor. In Hugh D. Hindman (Ed.), The world of child labor: An historical and regional survey. Retrieved from Credo Reference.

[III] Global March International Secretariat. (2014). Global March Against Child Labor. Retrieved from http://www.globalmarch.org/.

[IV] Walsh, D. (2012).  “Taliban Gun Down Girl Who Spoke Up for Rights.” New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/10/world/asia/teen-school-activist-malala-yousafzai-survives-hit-by-pakistani-taliban.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Faces (Phases) of Iraq: Canvas Truths vs. Plasma Screen Blues

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“Violins and Bases” by Sundus Abdul Hadi (via http://sundusah.tumblr.com/warchestra)

On Monday, September 15, 2014 I gave a presentation entitled “Sundus Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst: From Weapons of Mass Destruction to Instruments of Creation.” The presentation dealt with two married artists of Arab descent who use their artistic mediums of expression to defy and transform the image of traditional marriage and hip-hop. However, it is important to note that the music and art Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst produce is part of a movement of Arab artists who use hip-hop as a medium to challenge not just the commercialization of a youth culture, but also to redefine and recreate the image of underrepresented communities abroad.

Since the tragedy of 9/11, Iraqi-Canadian multimedia artists Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst had begun to produce art and music that defied the negative stereotypes broadcasted by the media. Warchestra, a multimedia art project, was their response in order to challenge the misinformation and marginalization of Arab society by mainstream media. Through the creation of a soundscape, Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst worked to “replace weapons of war with musical instruments . . . [in order] to re-imagine, re-define, and re-invent the war in Iraq as it was represented in the media” (Abdul Hadi). Instead of wielding an automatic weapon or explosives, the men’s weapons are replaced with tubas, trombones, saxophones, and clarinets. While media broadcasts images of violent and radical Arabs, Sundus and the Narcicyst use Warchestra to encourage dialogue and transform the image of the Middle East and its people.

New discussions about the future of Iraq are taking place worldwide concerning the threat of a militant group named the Islamic State, or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), as they are commonly referred to. President Obama has commented about his stance against ISIS, but has also been careful not to declare war. Recent news developments mention the US has conducted airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria. And with each new day, more images of war-stricken foreign lands emerge, thus reinforcing the negative stereotypes of Arabs and the Middle East. Fortunately, artists like Sundus Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst provide an alternative to such negative stereotypes with their art and message of peace.

The International and Area Studies Library at the University of Illinois is home to many resources related to the history and current events of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.

For more information about Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst’s multimedia project Warchestra and other projects, go to the following link: http://sundusah.tumblr.com/warchestra

For links to subject headings, databases, news updates, articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, blogs and more on Iraq and neighboring Middle Eastern and North African countries, go to the following links:

http://uiuc.libguides.com/content.php?pid=517878&sid=4261171

http://uiuc.libguides.com/ArabDemocracy

For additional electronic references, go to the following link:

http://www.library.illinois.edu/eref/formats/countries.html