Visiting authors stressed that their narratives can be critical resources for displaced immigrants attempting to assimilate while maintaining their original identity.
The Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice’s lecture series, “Writing Dangerously in Immigrant America: Violence Politics, Diaspora Histories and the Poetics of Survival,” engaged members of the campus community with stories of courage and struggle among Central and Latin American immigrants on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The presenting authors, artists and scholars, all of whom are familiar with diaspora immigrant communities from the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico, attempted to uncover the roots of the struggle that results from living in a foreign community.
Co-sponsored by The Americas Initiative and the Comparative Literature Program, the two-day event opened with a talk by Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and Massachusetts Institute of Technology creative writing professor, in Gaston Hall.
“Most countries do not like to think that the very essence of who or what they are can be recreated by people who they have sent elsewhere,” Díaz said. “History shows us that … the ability of immigrants to regenerate not only the nation in which they arrive, but also the nation they left.”
The diversity of Georgetown students who come from first- or second-generation immigrant families resounded throughout discussions on the divide in sociopolitical implications of the presenters, some of whom emigrated from state-sponsored regimes of violence and political corruption.
The second day featured writers Edwidge Danticat, Charles Bowden, Hector Tobar and Quique Avilés in Copley Formal Lounge and concluded with readings by poets Juan Felipe Herrera and Cristina García in the Gonda Theater.
Danticat, winner of the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award, continued to discuss her personal experience of losing a cousin in the Haitian earthquake and the resulting diaspora.
“Immediately people would call me to say things, to write things,” Danticat said. “It came through in those moments about not writing before catastrophe or writing beyond catastrophe, but writing, as Walter Benjamin says, through catastrophe.”
The causes of migration — from natural disasters to oppressive regimes — highlighted the multiculturalism among the presenters. Bowden and Tobar, who addressed issues from the Cold War to narcotrafficking and border disputes, compared their individual experiences.
The gains found through taking authoritative risks became a guiding theme for the presenters, who have each succeeded in spreading their message despite being stifled by oppressive authorities.
This message resonated with the audience, which felt that the immigrants’ shared experience transcended cultural backgrounds.
“I’ve had many students who are immigrants, but I think the appeal of these writers extends to everyone, not just immigrants,” said Adam Lifshey, an assistant professor in the Spanish and Portuguese departments. “These students should come here because these are important writers whose voices deserve to be heard.”