Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jose Antonio Vargas and Camilo Mejia

For the third consecutive semester (Summer 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2012), I'll be discussing Jose Antonio Vargas's article, "My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant," originally published last June in the New York Times Magazine. I find the essay to be a moving, thoughtful, and provocative "coming-out" story, as artful as it is courageous. Typically, my students tend to be impressed both with Vargas's writing and with Vargas himself, as he disrupts common stereotypes about who undocumented immigrants are and convincingly relates the psychological effects of living a life that is, by necessity, always partly a lie. He argues in the piece for the passage of the DREAM Act, which would make it easier for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children--and educated here--to earn their citizenship without temporary deportation. More profoundly, though, the essay re-conceptualizes citizenship as something that ought to be "earnable" -- as something that one does, rather than something one is.

In ENG 112, starting next week, my students and I will be discussing Camilo Mejia's memoir, Road from ar Ramadi, which documents the author's experiences in the early days of the Iraq War, through his decision to resist his redeployment and join the antiwar movement. This book, I am fairly certain, will provoke some complex reactions. While many of my younger students may have little memory of why exactly the U.S. got involved in Iraq, or how things got so messed up there, some of my other students may have actually served in the conflict themselves. Whatever one's opinion on Mejia and his resistance (I think he, like Vargas, is a man of great moral courage), his book raises several important questions: Should soldiers have the right to walk away from a war they believe is unjustifiable? Is it possible to be antiwar and still support the troops? Does patriotism necessarily mean supporting America's wars?

I don't expect to convert my students to my own left-leaning, pacifist politics, but I do hope these readings provoke a good deal of critical debate.

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