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Unbecoming Americans

Unbecoming Americans: Writing Race and Nation from the Shadows of Citizenship, 1945-1960

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Unbecoming Americans
    Book Description:

    During the Cold War, Ellis Island no longer served as the largest port of entry for immigrants, but as a prison for holding aliens the state wished to deport. The government criminalized those it consideredun-assimilable (from left-wing intellectuals and black radicals to racialized migrant laborers) through the denial, annulment, and curtailment of citizenship and its rights. The island, ceasing to represent the iconic ideal of immigrant America, came to symbolize its very limits.

    Unbecoming Americanssets out to recover the shadow narratives of un-American writers forged out of the racial and political limits of citizenship. In this collection of Afro-Caribbean, Filipino, and African American writers-C.L.R. James, Carlos Bulosan, Claudia Jones, and Richard Wright-Joseph Keith examines how they used their exclusion from the nation, a condition he terms "alienage," as a standpoint from which to imagine alternative global solidarities and to interrogate the contradictions of the United States as a country, a republic, and an empire at the dawn of the "American Century."Building on scholarship linking the forms of the novel to those of the nation, the book explores how these writers employed alternative aesthetic forms, including memoir, cultural criticism, and travel narrative, to contest prevailing notions of race, nation, and citizenship. Ultimately they produced a vital counter-discourse of freedom in opposition to the new formations of empire emerging in the years after World War II, forms that continue to shape our world today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5968-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Shadow Narratives of the Transnational
    (pp. 1-24)

    On November 12, 1950, theNew York Timesran a lengthy exposé by the journalist A. H. Raskin on what the article’s title deemed the “New Role for Ellis Island.” At the top of the page there is a large black-and-white photograph, shot from behind, of a person sitting in deep shadow staring out through a gated window toward the Statue of Liberty, which stands in the distance bathed in sunlight. Beneath the photo, the article chronicles in sober terms how with the passing of the Internal Security Act earlier that year, Ellis Island had come to serve as a...

  5. PART I Novel Forms:: Writing at the Limits of Citizenship

    • 1 Neither Citizen nor Alien: Rewriting the Immigrant Bildungsroman across the Borders of Empire in Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart
      (pp. 27-65)

      Early on in Carlos Bulosan’s novelAmerica Is in the Heart(1946), the young protagonist, Carlos, is forced to leave home due to the loss of his family’s rural farm in the Philippines and find work in the commercial town of Baguio doing odd chores to survive. During this period on his own, before he sets off to America, he befriends an older Igorot boy, Dalmacio, who is attending school and gives Carlos his very first reading lesson. It is a lesson based on the story of Abraham Lincoln.

      “Whoisthis Abraham Lincoln?” I asked Dalmacio.

      “He was a...

    • 2 The Epistemology of Unbelonging: Richard Wright’s The Outsider and the Politics of Secrecy
      (pp. 66-104)

      Feeling unsettled and more than a little homesick, especially given the struggles and deprivations of France in the aftermath of World War II, Richard Wright and his family returned to the United States at the start of 1947 after having lived in Paris for the previous eight months. The country to which Wright returned, however, was in the midst of profound and, in his eyes, profoundly troubling changes. The Cold War had come to dominate the political scene.

      Wright was struck by the increased nationalism (“‘Americanism,’” he declared, “had become a kind of religion”); by the radical break with New...

  6. PART II Peripheral Forms:: Literatures of Alienage, Incarceration, and Deportation

    • 3 Richard Wright’s Cosmopolitan Exile: Race, Decolonization, and the Dialogics of Modernity
      (pp. 107-130)

      Near the end of his lengthy confrontation with a Communist Party leader at the end ofThe Outsider’s fourth book, the main character, Cross Damon, finally expresses what he understands to be the true underlying historical conflicts of the age.

      The ravaging scourge that tore away the veil of myth-worlds was science and industry; science slowly painting another world, the real one; and industry uprooting man from his ancestral, ritualized existence and casting him into rational schemes of living in vast, impersonal cities. A split took place in man’s consciousness; he began living in the real world by the totems...

    • 4 The Undesirable Alien and the Politics of Form: Telling Untold Tales in C. L. R. James’s Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways
      (pp. 131-162)

      Buried beneathThe Outsider’s main story of the existential antihero Cross Damon is another tragic tale that Richard Wright’s novel tells. It is the story of Bob Hunter, a minor character whose eventual fate reflects not only the broadly repressive political climate of the period but also curiously echoes a much more specific historical episode from the time of the novel’s writing. When first introduced to the reader, Hunter is working as a waiter on the train from Chicago to New York on which Cross is traveling in his escape from his former life. As we go on to learn...

    • 5 Talking Back to the State: Claudia Jones’s Radical Forms of Alienage
      (pp. 163-196)

      C. L. R. James was not the only Trinidad-born black radical housed in what became informally termed the “McCarran wing” of Ellis Island. Two separate times the writer, journalist, and communist activist Claudia Jones was imprisoned there—first briefly in 1948 by warrant for deportation under the 1918 Immigration Act, and then two years later for eighteen days under the McCarran Act, or Internal Security Act, of 1950. Jones’s imprisonment at the institution did not, however, lead directly to deportation as in the case of James. Instead, her path would take a more circuitous and ultimately even more repressive turn....

  7. Conclusion: An Empire of Alienage
    (pp. 197-204)

    On the eve of Claudia Jones’s deportation from the United States, on December 7, 1955, a banquet was held in her honor at the Skyline Ballroom in Harlem. Speaking at the occasion, William Patterson, a leader of the CPUSA and secretary of the Civil Rights Congress, envisaged how Jones’s deportation would lead not to her silence—as the state’s actions intended—but instead to an even more radical global political practice.¹

    Claudia goes as a deportee, but as Frederick Douglass once left our shores carrying a message describing the crime of slavery, as William E. Burghardt Du Bois once went...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 205-228)
  9. Index
    (pp. 229-239)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-240)