Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Warmth of Other Suns

I was leaving the South.. To fling myself into the unknown… To see if [I] could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom.” – Richard Wright

During the 20th century, some of the most impactful moments in our history stemmed from World War I, the Great Depression, World War II,  and the Civil Rights Movement. All of us have at least some basic understanding of how these events shaped our lives today, but during that sixty year period another phenomenon happened that has shaped the North and the South, has outlined popular thought and has defined many of our biggest cities. Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns, is dedicated to studying this phenomenon, a movement now known as the Great Migration.

Through this sixty year period, hundred of thousands of black people fled the South in search of greater freedom, opportunity and stability. They left the south as fugitives, forced to become both emigrant and immigrant in their own country– orange pickers driving down back roads, sharecroppers concealing their plans from farmers, those condemned for activism smuggling themselves in coffins,  others still driving days without sleep. Now in the new world,  a world which Northerners had advertised and led them to, they could walk on the same street as white people, talk to them without honorific titles, and work for a wage, but the North erected its own set of obstacles. The racism of the north disguised itself in higher rent, and lower wages. It made itself evident in the white flight from a neighborhood as soon as a black family moved in. “The hierarchy in the North called for blacks to remain in their station…while immigrants [from other nations] were rewarded for their ability to leave their old world traits”.

The Warmth of Other Suns
not only inspects how migrants made their way from South to North, but how they navigated the injustices they faced once there, how they realized the North was not the oasis they dreamed of. Wilkerson is a masterful story teller, interweaving smaller vignettes into the longer arcs of three primary “characters”– each of whom followed a very different path North. Ida Mae Brandon Gladey, a sharcropper from Mississippi, leaves the South on the verge of the Great Depression. She settles in Chicago where her resilience and affectionate practicality helps her make a home in a swiftly changing city. George Starling Swanson, a passionate, willful orange picker from Flordia, flees the state  to Harlem, New York after the owner of the groves decides to kill him for organizing an ersatz union to fight for workers’ rights. Robert Pershing Foster, an ambitious surgeon hemmed in my limitations of Louisiana, drives to California where he hopes to prove himself to his family, his race and his oppressors.

I’ll admit, some of Wilkerson’s  reminders  of information in previous chapters felt repetitive,  and I do wish she had included some of the images on her website in the book itself, I still learned a great deal from this book, and appreciated the stories it told. In fact, I have not been able to stop thinking about it since I put it down.  For anyone who wishes to understand how  false myths surrounding welfare, inner cities and crime first took root, or who for those just wishing for a good story pick up The Warmth of Other Suns.

Let’s jump on the bandwagon, shall we?

First of all, a quick shout out to Kevin Wada  for this  amazing piece of fan art. I hope they won’t mind my using it here. Click here for their blog.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is it about?
Set in the same world as Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, Six of Crows  turns to the underside of Ketterdam, a major trade nation, where gangs run the streets. Seventeen year-old Kaz Brekker has quickly become the unspoken leader of one of those gangs, the Dregs, which he spent his childhood transforming from pitiful to formidable. Kaz is tapped by an upstanding merchant to run a near-impossible heist in exchange for unimaginable wealth. Gathering a crew of misfits*, all with their own goals, Kaz sets out to complete a mission that might just change the world.

*A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

What did you think?

Continue reading Let’s jump on the bandwagon, shall we?

All by my shelf: Book Goals for 2017

Back in high school I had a pretty sweet gig  reading books. Publishers used to send them to me in exchange for a review. I know. I was pretty psyched about it too. As I got older, I dropped it. I won’t bore you with the reasons, but I will say I have been reflecting on my teen-self. I loved reading in a way I think has faded. I switched passion out for responsibilities and anxieties.

Oh, I never stopped reading. I will always love reading, but for the past several years, every time I picked up a book for me I felt a prick of guilt.The last several months I’ve been rekindling my love of reading– reading not for academic or intellectual advancement, but for personal enjoyment. If I learn something along the way, then great. If I don’t, well then it’s been great stress relief.
Still, just because it’s relaxing doesn’t mean I can’t use a challenge, so here are the challenges I’ll be participating in this year:

1. Flights of Fantasy Challenge: Ah, Fantasy, my first love. I’ve set a goal of 15 fantasy books this year, mainly because I’m planning on doing two other challenges, and I want to make sure I read a bit more diversely this year.

Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge 2016 banner Alexa Loves Books Hello Chelly

2. Around the World Challenge: In Arabic there is a saying “Language is the bowl of culture”. To look for the lessons different people value, it is useful to read the popular literature in the region they grew up in. Bonus: Often times, people whose second language is English think about differently. That means there might be fewer cliches or more refreshing choices in diction and syntax. This also applies to insightful translations.

3. The TBR or the #beatthebacklist challenge: Like so many of us, I have lists of books I haven’t read yet. I have a stack in the corner that, for some reason or another, is unopened. Time to remedy that. If you’d like to see some of my TBR’s, you can check out my Goodreads account. I think I have about 20 or so books on my TBR, and I’d like to get through all of them this year.

4. Finally, I’m participating in a challenge of my own making. That challenge is the non-fiction or Learn Something! challenge. Despite what I said above, I’d still like to learn something about our own world that isn’t nestled in fiction.

As a whole, I’d like to shoot for 52 books this year. Let’s see if I can pull it off!

There you have it. My 2017 reading challenge.

Is anyone else participating in a reading challenge this year?

Forbidden Love?!?!: How dating someone made question how I defined rights and culture

Dating in a city where dating is taboo is not thrilling. It’s not romantic.We don’t steal embraces and chaste kisses in alleyways. We don’t even hold hands.  Sure, we often go out together — which has greatly improved our neighbors’ gossip fortunes (you’re welcome)– but the traditionally romantic parts of our relationship were held in one of two rooms, until recently.

Perhaps I should break a rule here by rewinding and dumping some info. (sorry Stephen King, guess I’ll never be a great writer). For the past several months, I have unexpectedly found myself living in Nablus, a city in the West Bank.  When I’m not engaging in socially frowned upon behavior with my boyfriend, I’m studying Arabic at the University in the same city. I knew when I moved here that dating was a complicated social topic, but I had hoped to establish my home and his as a sort of private space–  one where we could be comfortable in who we are.

I spent most of my time at his place, mainly because I could sleep over at his. Occasionally, I would invite him to mine when I had work to do in the evening, or an early class the next day. This also meant I could spend more time socializing with my roommates, whom I really enjoyed, without sacrificing too much time with my boyfriend.

Roughly two months ago, however, the dynamic shifted when a new Palestinian roommate join us. During the consideration period she insisted she felt comfortable with having men over, but another roommate, also Palestinian, though quite liberal, sensed discomfort. We let her move-in anyway; we needed the money and we believed her. Everything continued as normal at first.

My boyfriend visited maybe once a week. Each time I would check with each roommate before he came. Mostly I would take him into my room, out of the common area, so as not to bother the other roommates. The second month the new roommate started shutting herself in her room the moment he walked in. I knocked on her door and asked her if she was certain she was okay with having him there. I told her I didn’t want her to hate being in her own living space. She assured me everything was fine.

One day I walked out of my room to find the landlord sitting in the living room. Not just the landlord, but a girl from next door, whom the roommate had befriended. I had received no call, no warning. He asked me if I’d known that boys were forbidden in the apartment. I calmly informed him that he had not stipulated this when we had moved in. A number of foreigners lived in mixed apartments here, so I assumed it’d be the same in this one.

“Don’t you know about our traditions?” he sputtered. I spent the next five minutes, face burning, listening to him berate me for my choices.I told him I’d never do it again, rushed back into my room, packed up and left.

After the meeting I was enraged, humiliated and filled with self-doubt. I felt violated, like my privacy had been invaded. This was meant to be one of my safe spaces. I felt angry with the societal implication that women needed to be protected and, by extension, that they were incapable of making decisions about their own safety and well-being.  I questioned if this meant I couldn’t ‘cut it’ in the field of work I was most interested in. I struggled to discern where the line was between preserving what you believed to be your own rights and not infringing on others’. I wondered about how to be a good ally to feminists here and whether my own outrage was justified.

While we walked down the street to his house, my boyfriend listened to me puff my frustration into the cold air, before constructing a scenario which ended in this question: “Let’s say you lived here and you saw a boy entering the building. Could you stay silent?”

I snapped my mouth shut. In truth, I didn’t know. If I had been raised to believe boys and girls mingling in their living spaces was inappropriate; if  I felt that seeing a strange boy in my apartment building infringed upon my safety, would I be justified in making sure he left? Even if it affected others? Did my right to privacy supersede theirs? What is privacy and how do different cultures interpret it? Is a right innate?

As we continued walking down the empty streets, I descended deeper and deeper into this question: What makes a right? When do I choose to defend one and let it go? I realized more clearly then what I had known in some small part of my brain. A right is decided by the will of the majority. If others do not define what you believe to be a right as such, you must fight against them, often at great cost.  This becomes even more complex when considering an individual’s right in a country they aren’t a citizen or native of. Add on to this the concept of allyship and the long history of well-intentioned people interfering in the progress of another country and bungling it up.

I knew I shouldn’t extend the conflict by speaking with my landlord. It wasn’t worth the price of making others uneasy– even if they wouldn’t admit they were, even if it meant I was humiliated in front of a stranger, even if I disagreed with the method of communication. My grievance was a relatively small one compared to what others’ had to live with. I might be the subject of gossip for the year. I might be shamed or humiliated for five minutes. But I didn’t have to spend my life here. I didn’t have to conform long-term with a society I didn’t agree with, or be punished for diverging. No bravery is required of me.

Perhaps even the landlord, whose attitude I had found so disagreeable, was  struggling with society in some small way. Perhaps he faced loss of face because of my actions. In order to defend his reputation, he had to make a public show of berating me. Perhaps. Or perhaps I’m being too nice. Who knows. It’is hard to tell when you’ve spent so little time in a new culture. It’s hard to know when to push and where.

Probably the best choice I could make is to throw my support behind a group in Palestine whom I believe in, but even that carries friction.  One on hand, to be an ally I must support someone. On the other hand, how much of my own cultural upbringing informs who I decide to support? It reminds me of the divide I see within feminist groups about things like the hijaab. Some feminists, even  Muslims in Muslim majority countries, view it as a symbol of oppression; others view it as a symbol of expression. Both can be correct, both believe the choice should be up to the woman, but who do you support? And why? And how do you support them? Is there room for nuance and how do you separate cultural influence from individual choice?

Being an ally, and choosing whom to ally with, is a difficult decision. Knowing when to stand up for your individual rights against the greater society can be difficult, too. I’m not sure if I have the right answers, but in some strange way I’m glad I’ve been forced to ask the questions.

*I should note that this should not be taken as a blanket statement on Palestinian culture, and shouldn’t be a comment on daily life here. This is intended to be interpreted largely as a personal experience which made me question my belief system.