Using Our Stories for a Cause: UW-Madison Students Speak Out
Using Our Stories for a Cause: UW-Madison Students Speak Out
Using Our Stories for a Cause: UW-Madison Students Speak Out
After Ruth Ozeki’s presentation last week, it is important to remember that Go Big Read book selections continue
to have a lasting impact on our campus. A Tale for the Time Being has
become a platform for positive campus-wide discussion around mental health
issues and suicide, something that Ozeki herself hoped would happen. These
conversations raise awareness and serve as reminders to take care of ourselves
and our community. One student has chosen to share personal reactions to the
book from the perspective of someone who has struggled with anxiety and
suicidal thoughts. This student’s story reminds us that while Nao is a
fictional character, her experiences are certainly very real for many young
adults. This student story also speaks to the message that seeking help changes
lives for the better.
Begin student reaction —–
Nao held onto her suicide as a way of coping with her
uncertainties in life. It makes sense. I can’t stand uncertainty either, and I
had a really hard time accepting the uncertainty that comes with college.
Will I like my roommate?
Will I get into the business school?
Will I stay with my boyfriend or will one of us find
someone we like more?
Will I get a job after college?
The list goes on and on. Starting college, I wished
that I could just know the answers. It kept me up at night. Questions circled
round my head all hours of the day. I never felt at peace. I couldn’t stand
still, couldn’t relax, and always had headaches.
It only got worse as my freshman year stretched on. I
was worried about a lot of things, but most of all, I feared what happened when
someone dies. During my senior year of high school, a girl in my grade
committed suicide. I had never understood what it really meant to feel haunted
until that day in 2011. I would wake up convinced that she was standing in my
room, watching me. As I would try to fall asleep, I imagined her hovering over
me, whispering into my ear. I couldn’t escape it, and I couldn’t understand why
she would do it. Why would anyone willfully take away their own life?
Well, as my anxiety raged on, I started to understand.
I was so worried about the future; wouldn’t it just be easier if I had no
future? Those worries would all go away. I would go away. I, like Nao, could
just hang onto the idea of suicide as a form of comfort. “Oh, it doesn’t matter;
I won’t be around much longer anyway.”
Lucky for me, as soon as these thoughts entered my
mind, I pictured my school the day after that girl died. I’m sure while she was
standing on those tracks that night in 2011, she had no idea how many lives her
actions were about to affect. She touched everyone at our school, from her best
friends to those freshmen that were pretty sure they had passed her in the
hallway a few times. Her death broke us. Any one of us would have given
anything to have her back in school again. You see, she was loved. She may not
have felt it, she may have been told contrary, she may have convinced herself
that she was utterly alone. It didn’t matter. She was loved. We loved
Thinking back on those weeks after her death reminds
me of the value of a life. We had such an aversive reaction to her death – it
must be because we are made to live! As social beings, we need to rely on one
another. And when someone takes themselves out of the game, it affects all the
After my freshman year, I got help for my anxiety. I
was diagnosed with Generalize Anxiety Disorder, and started seeing a therapist
at UHS. Those hours we spent together changed my life. I understand that life
will always have uncertainties, and I’m working on embracing them. Now, I’m running
into life, not hiding from it. And although I still have bad days, overall I’m
much happier. For the time being, and hopefully for much longer than that, too.
you a student who is passionate about suicide prevention or mental health
promotion? Do you want to work to end stigma surrounding mental health issues
on our campus? Check out ASK.LISTEN.SAVE. to connect with student engaged in
these efforts or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
|The “Draw Your Love Story” banner at Ogg.|
“The ‘Draw Your
Passions’ event that CRC did was a great success! It
was really exciting to see the wide variety of
passions and interests our residents have and the
diverse community that makes up CRC and all of our
residence halls. It provided a great backdrop to the What Matters to Me and Why with Lauren Redniss, as she
talked about all of the things that inspire her as a
writer and artist. Both the CRC’s Passions event and
the What Matters to Me and Why series allow us to
explore the unique experiences and interests we have
that impact where we go in life.” –Ashley Trewartha
“We were inspired
to have students draw their passion in anticipation of
Lauren Redniss’ visit to Chadbourne, because
Radioactive explores the ways in which Marie Curie’s
passions influenced her life and her work. Hers is a
story that reminds us all that if we persevere in our
passions, we will have a huge impact on our chosen
field. Having residents draw their passions not only
asked them to think about what had given them purpose
thus far, but also what was motivating them to get to
where they want to go.” –Elise Swanson
|Marie Curie puts in an appearance!|
|The display of artwork at Chadbourne.|
Since this is a blog posting, I am going to save space and not sugarcoat my critique. I also think it is important to note, that I am reading this book through the lens that it was a Go Big Read book. This text is supposed to “promote connections among students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the wider community”, engage the community in academic discussions, create new learning experiences, and broaden views of the world.
In light of those lofty goals, Enrique’s Journey, while a gripping read, was an intellectual disappointment. Nazario’s journalistic approach is sensationalist to seemingly no end and a little voyeuristic. The theme of determination and love conquering all is a trite simplification of complex social and political forces informing migration practices.
Nazario’s “fly on the wall” approach feeds into the already narrow view of immigration that exists in mainstream discourse. Yes, this approach allows for empathizing. However, what it fails to do is illustrate the systemic circumstances that produced the conditions for both Enrique and his mom’s migration. Overall, as a reader, I was left with no tools to handle the empathy, anger, and frustration I felt while reading a harrowing story of the real-life near death encounters migrants make.
The idea that all you need is love and determination to succeed is naïve at best. How does love triumph over starvation? While Nazzario reported facts on unemployment and immigration numbers, they were not contextualized beyond statistics. I was left with a myriad of questions after reading this text: Why is the unemployment rate so high in Honduras? Why are women disproportionately affected? How do American foreign and economic policies contribute to migration patterns? What historic conditions produced such economic inequity in Honduras? Was there a military dictatorship? (If so, what was the US’s role?) Why do so many women “abandon” their children? Why is a grandmother raising her grandchild not considered a legitimate family/kinship form? Looking at the gendered aspect of this, why is only the mother’s love important?
What few answers Nazario does provide seem only to fall into the trope of the US being the saviors and progressive bastion to the backwardness of third world countries. This is clear in the general premise of the story, and Enrique’s hope that life will be better in the US. However, Nazario’s own language helps support the first world/third world dichotomy, inevitably placing the power in the hands of the first world. She writes, “Immigrants who return to their home countries also bring skills acquired while living in a more technologically advanced country… They bring lower levels of tolerance for corruption and stronger demands for democratic processes” (249). The problem with statements like these includes overgeneralization and an ivory tower lens of analysis. Instead of humanizing a struggle of immigration-related problems, Nazario totes a false sense of unity that just barely conceals an attitude that fits more appropriately with an exclusionary view of what immigrants provide toward American society. Nazario could, instead, have touted a view of seeing what people coming from foreign countries can provide to a theory of American intellect, culture, and society. This quote is just one small example of the classical, anti-foreign influence Go Big Read touts itself as standing against.
The logical conclusion of all this neoliberal hoopla is that all us rich, well-off northerners who now feel guilty about our privilege should just send our money to help all those poor folks with their backwards ideas. Obviously, sending money to border churches and other groups is noble and a valid use of funds. However, it will not solve the “problems of immigration” Nazario sought to brush over: childcare, education rights, food, access to potable water, etc. If you really have an issue with a child getting an education in this country because their family illegally migrated here for whatever reason, sending money is not going to help.
In my view, Nazario’s text itself does little to provide anything more than a heart wrenching mainstream view of how horrible it is for all those non-Americans. My sarcasm aside, I think that the University should reconsider a stand-alone book with such a narrow view as a Go Big Read book. Supplements or any contextualization would have been appreciated. I am glad I was able to read this class in the context of an immigration course. I think it would have been quite useless otherwise. The most I can hope for is that the Go Big Read blog proves me wrong and people actual engage the text beyond itself.
While presenting her work at the Go Big Read lecture, Sonia Nazario told her audience one of her goals in writing about immigration is to humanize immigrants so the public will look at this issue in a new way. Her objective in putting herself in the middle of the action is to write a compelling story so that her readers will become educated, and perhaps do something to help. Reading Enrique’s Journey, she wanted her readers to feel as though they were on top of the trains with the migrants in order to understand how difficult their journey is. While I appreciate Nazario’s efforts to provide a complete picture of the struggle the migrants endure in order to reach the United States, I still felt as though there was a missing piece to the story after I left the lecture. There were aspects to the journey I felt were absent while reading the novel, and my hope of Nazario filling in those gaps at the lecture was short-lived. I felt the story concentrated on the narrative, while ignoring larger political forces. Although I feel it is important to highlight the difficult journey people like Enrique face, it is also important to look beyond their personal struggle and have a complete understanding of why they must make the journey.
The focus of Nazario’s lecture was the determination that leads Central American children to ride on top of trains in order to find their mothers in the United States. This approach reduces immigration to a personal choice, while failing to provide broader contextual influences that create impoverished countries that migrants choose to leave. Nazario’s lecture, much like her novel, was framed in a manner that did not encourage her audience to think beyond the material she presented. Though she argued her writing aims to encourage people to think about immigration, one could argue we are only supposed to think about it through a certain lens.
Similarly to how I felt after reading Enrique’s Journey, I left the lecture feeling frustrated, but not having a clear sense of what to do with that frustration. By describing in detail the brutality and harsh conditions the migrants faced, Nazario evoked anger and sadness in her readers, but did not provide a way to reconcile these emotions. Though she discussed the idea of the United States buying medical scrubs from Honduras instead of China, I doubt many audience members felt personal responsibility for this issue. It is important to discuss larger issues like these in which the United States plays a role in the economies of these countries; however, I did not feel I was told how I could do anything to change these policies. And while Nazario did bring up ways students can get involved, either through buying fair-trade products or donating money to Heifer International, I believe more can be done. Although my personal feelings about Enrique’s Journey are complex, I can only hope that Nazario’s novel is fulfilling its goal and prompting people to think about immigration differently than they have previously.
Communication Arts 610
After reading the book Enrique’s Journey I put it on my bookshelf and sat there, trying to understand the hollow feeling I had in my stomach. It was as if I had eaten a nice little appetizer but the waiter had forgotten to give me the entre and I was still left hungry. Flipping through the pages again I began to put my thoughts together and realized that at least for me, Enrique’s Journey had humanized the face of immigration but had left me no big beefy concepts to think over in my mind: the story of the immigrant had remained just that, Enrique’s story and there were many larger issues at hand that I believe the author Sonia Nazario failed to interrogate or leave us with.
Nazario sprinkles many nuggets of information that she then chooses not to elaborate on further concerning the issue of the economy of immigration, in particular the migrant as a body commoditized. One particular scene that exemplified this was when a badly injured Enrique arrived to a village, sparking a debate over whether to give him assistance that was coldly discussed in the amount it would cost to bury his body versus give him medicine. Routinely through his journey Enrique either experienced, observed, or heard of banditos that would mug immigrants for food and money or even authority figures that were willing to turn a blind eye to these activities in turn for a bribe. I feel as though Nazario could have brought out more how immigrants such as Enrique become a part of the cogs of a community’s infrastructure, literally providing a means of living that in a twisted way this industry may help a country.
In even broader contexts, Enrique’s Journey has undercurrents of neo-liberalism that operate within Enrique’s world and sharing borders with our own. The trains used as the main form of transportation of these migrants carry cargo such as gleaming cars that are headed to the US border to be driven by citizens by us. The parallel of the car and undocumented workers being “cargo” on their way to work within our economy is a rupture in the text outside of Enrique’s travels and helped me to start thinking about capitalism, private property and lasses faire economics – leaving the market to take care of itself. How fitting that Enrique is also left to take care of himself too. The smugglers and gangs that operate in this environment carry guns that I also questioned as to where they obtained them. Who brought the guns into this country? Was it a domestic purchase or from other countries with looser gun control policies? Neo liberalism in an international context very much brings a relevance to Enrique’s Journey that I feel if Nazario had interrogated more could have really engaged her readers to see that his story is in reality one that affects all of us.
Yet although these are suggestions that are begging to be further explored Nazario remains very much in the “present” of the story, ultimately privileging the story line of Enrique over a larger national narrative. Her authorial voice is loud and clear in the prologue and epilogue yet disappears in the middle of the text – citing academic sources at selective opportunities yet subsuming herself in the character of Enrique. The book allows us to easily brush along all of these issues suggested and instead allows us to draw focus on affective issues: The story of a boy trying to find his mother.
Ultimately Nazario has successfully created a more empathetic depiction of an undocumented immigrant, she fails to really delve into the capitalistic mechanics of immigration that reach far beyond Enrique’s experience and affect the US economy and therefore our own experiences. I found the same technique mirrored in the Go Big Read lecture where Nazario used the majority of her hour to talking about her methodology and the actual story itself before offering a 7-minute reflection on the implication immigration has on our country. This troubled me as a member of the audience because these few minutes of review gave me no basis on which to critique critically process Nazario’s stance on immigration. Much like after reading the book, I left Union South wanting more.
Sonia Nazario writer of Enrique’s Journey attempts to start a dialogue about immigration specifically exposing the horrors of children crossing South American borders up through Mexico into the United States in search for their mothers. Nazario exposes mothers crossing the border to where they believe success lies and opportunity for their families is possible. Enrique’s Journey is nothing more than a book of exposure. It graphically details the horrors of those trying to make a living on nothing in South America and Nazario also documents the lost limbs, drug abuse, sexual abuse, battery, beatings, murder, starvation, and the list goes on. The problem is Nazario stops at these exposures and does not offer anything else to her audience leaving them angry or just sad about the situation and not able to grasp an understanding of the problem and how we as people play a significant role.
Enrique’s Journey along with Nazario’s lecture series at the University of Madison-Wisconsin encompassed the idea of “pornography of the real” which involves the viewing of images or reading of real suffering, death and destruction of people who are generally casted as ‘other’ and being left with some sort of pleasure from the experience. That pleasure being sadness from seeing graphic images of children’s limbs missing from falling off the tops of train carts or witnessing Enrique almost beaten to death by gang members on the tops of trains, and anger from witnessing mothers leave their children behind to search for money to send to their children or bring back so they will live a better life and not starve. Nazario fails to bring her audience to think about immigration and their role within this system in the United States or else where. She makes no connection or understanding of the implications of the immigration system.
Being a student who has studied immigration and the connections of sexuality and immigration, I can see Nazario’s very small beginning attempts to open up that conversation but without a background in such studies it makes it very hard to see such exposures as an opening to the conversation. Viewing immigration from that of a queer migrant, and by queer migrant I mean those in society who are marginalized and cast as ‘other’, raises critical questions regarding sexual identity in a cross-cultural setting. It appears to be a common theme of migrating for reasons concerning discrimination, finding success financially, finding others who are like them somewhere else. Many writers such as Cantu and Luibeid have raised the idea of there being a construction and regulation of immigrants’ sexual identities within U.S. policies and rhetoric. Nazario just gives her audience the graphics and not the meaning.
The border is seen as a constant state of transition and creates a stronger idea of “Us” vs. “them”. I have learned that sexuality is a power that shapes the process of migration. Nazario loses the conversation of immigration within the graphic images written in detail throughout the book. If Sonia Nazario has been working with the concept of immigration for 20 plus years, as she stated in her lecture, she needs to be writing works that spark her audience to raise questions such as how do we get a nation to broaden its understandings of words such as sexuality and citizenship? How do we eliminate these binaries that have been in the U.S. dominant logic for so long and how do we reconstruct the U.S. dominant logic? These questions are important to look into and find solutions. If Nazario is going to use Enrique’s narrative she must expose the corruption within U.S. immigration policies and their construction or regulation of identity at the border. The border is not only being that dividing line between states but within the work force and other social settings that creates binaries.
Lynnette Adabele Quiles