2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the Magnum Photo Agency, founded by photography greats Robert Capa, Henri Cartier Bresson, David Seymour, George Rodger, William Vandervirt, and others right after World War II. Legend has it that Magnum was named after the magnum of champagne they drank to celebrate the agency, but with Capa one’s never sure. At the time, the photographers ‘divided’ up the world–Capa was somewhat ‘at large’ and Cartier-Bresson took Asia. The result is on display at the Rubin Museum in a rich show of his images of India at some truly key historic moments. Capa always told Cartier Bresson: “Stop calling yourself an artist. Say you’re a photojournalist.”
Surely these images reflect both: A fusion of exquisite sensitivity and composition, coupled with his keen sense of the historical moment: Henri Cartier-Bresson: India in Full Frame.
April 26, 2017
Two items caught my attention today: an undocumented Rutgers student, a Dreamer, asked by ICE to interview at their office and report about how much young undocumented immigrants contribute to the NJ economy–$66 million and it is estimated that they could contribute another $27 million if they could get on with their lives, continue to study and work.
DACA Student at Rutgers Interviewed by ICE Officials.
Report: NJ young immigrants pay $66 million in taxes
I actually believe many people are squeamish about defending undocumented immigrants. It makes them uncomfortable. Aren’t they criminals? Didn’t they break the law? Many Americans, in fact, may be uneasy with Trump’s demonization of immigrants, but might have trouble openly marching on their behalf. Might they secretly wonder: It is too much, isn’t it? Could some of what he says be true? Are they ruining our economy? Taking over our cities, our towns? Aren’t they a drag on our resources?
I say this not because I believe these ideas, but because I believe we must bring out of hiding these shadow thoughts in ourselves. And the only way to do so is to bring the cold, clear nuggets of facts, such as the ones above. To hear these stories. These are young people whom we have already invested in; young people who are already contributed; and who have so much more to offer. Are we willing to lose that gorgeous hope and possibility? Because of we shut ourselves to what they can be, we shut down what we can be as a nation. I believe we are more capacious than this; that our republic, so different than others, has room and room again. Let us not give into the shadows and fears; let us find a way.
April 13th, 2017:
Last night I taught Baldwin (which the students loved) and the last lines kept resonating as I drove home: “It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are:in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never in one’s own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength.”
And yet I must confess, that the phrase ‘without rancor’–which is so hard to do–might be also substituted ‘without grief.’ For even as I gained so much strength from Baldwin, I found myself suddenly crying at the latest headline regarding the withholding of Federal funds from Planned Parenthood. The outright cruelty of this move undid me. I was subsumed in grief–for the women whose lives will be affected, poor women, sick women, confused women, determined women. It was a stab to my gut, my own body, a shock.
I only hope in daylight I can muster up the two opposing ideas that Baldwin conjures up for us, his complex light through the tunnel, to see our way into the future. But right now, my heart heavy, and it requires so much strength to rally forth.
An article in the NY Times today about how the Orlando killings are again snatching away a sense of normality for Muslim teens during Ramadan, a time that should be reflective and celebratory.
Last year, during Ramadan, I spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Queens and Brooklyn for my new novel Watched. And what I was so struck by–and what is lost in these polarizing times where Islam is equated with frightening headlines–is the way in which Islam, observance, is part of the fabric of life, a rhythm for one’s days. I watched families hurry to pick up last groceries, stroll and linger on streets before and after prayers, crowd around tables under the pale wash of florescent restaurant light for the Iftar, the evening meal. Little children cupped in father’s arms; a man and his wife, their robes blazing white in the dark, rushed off a bus, across a busy avenue. By one tiny mosque, where the women prayed, jammed next to one another in a narrow basement, prayers voiced in through speakers, little children set off tiny bang-snaps outside, annoying the adults who also forgave them. It was such a New York, a Brooklyn scene: how many children have been doing that for generations on borough pavements?
Take a look at the beautiful slide show that captures some of this.
Still jet-lagged and bleary from an over-three week trip to India, I did want to make mention of the inauguration of the heritage site at the Kidderpore Docks in Kolkata, honoring the over 1.5 million indentured workers who left India in the 19th and early 20th century. This was the same place that a number of us visited 3 years ago, and since then, the project has blossomed into a full-fledged site and potential museum. While I was unable to attend the actual ceremony, thanks to Gautam Chakraborty of the Kolkata Port Trust, I did take a small boat with my husband and boys, up the Hooghly. We sat huddled under shawls, sipping cha, squinting out at the diminishing gray winter light, trying to imagine the monumental journey these emigrants took. Not sure if my sons, in between squabbling, quite understood the import of our little voyage, but it was a start. Continue reading
I grew up in Queens, NY, in Parkway Village, a community built for U.N. families, and a haven for international, mixed, and American families during the ferment of civil rights and social change. Over the years I’ve come to understand that this sense of crossing – over, of mixture, permeates my way of seeing the world. And it drives my writing too. I am an adult author who crossed over into young adult; a fiction writer who frequently crosses over into nonfiction; and a writer who loves to create worlds that capture these cultural complexities.
But I’m also leery of categories that can be too confining. To me, that’s the very spirit of crossing over–resisting easy labels. So, in its broadest sense, Crossing Over aims to capture what all writers do: we cross over into territory both familiar and unknown.