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Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen a writer whose work has appeared in Buzzfeed, The Lifted Brow and the Kill Your Darlings. She can be found @gisellenguyen and at http://gisellenguyen.com/

Nguyen is a writer whose work has appeared in Buzzfeed, The Lifted Brow and the Kill Your Darlings. She can be found @gisellenguyen and at http://gisellenguyen.com/

In this interview with me, Nguyen speaks about internet dating, the fetishization of Asian women, and SEX!

Watch here: The Two Chairs Interview Series: Giselle Nguyen

 

By now, everyone should have seen the meme featured above. Originally, this picture of First Lady Michelle Obama was a social media message shared during May 2014, supporting the global campaign to bring back Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Post-election, the image has been altered to display a humorous message about the new First Lady, Melania Trump, wife of President-elect Donald Trump.

It is easy to understand why it is funny. The meme points out the hypocrisy of Donald’s anti-immigration stance, where he spouts racist rhetoric about immigrants, all the while being married to one. In fact, it’s not just Melania—another one of his wives was an immigrant. These are women he would not have been able to marry had the draconian anti-immigration laws he plans to put in place existed earlier. This is an irony not lost on many. Also, the meme inevitably calls for a comparison between Michelle, who is beloved everywhere, and Melania, who is probably most well-known for wanting to be Michelle.

Thus, the meme would definitely be hilarious, if not for the fact that the meme itself is fundamentally anti-immigrant.

The phrase “immigrants take your jobs” has historically contributed to the isolationist policies of many countries. It has prompted anti-immigrant doctrines on the basis that people born in a country have more right to employment than those who have come from elsewhere. The phrase is also used as a justification of violence against immigrants, who are seen as a faceless horde, there to ruin the lives of people who supposedly have a better claim to land and jobs.

Dislike of the Trumps is at an all-time high, and it is to be expected that jokes poking fun of them will abound. However, while there are many things Melania should be criticized for, being an immigrant should not be one of them.

It reinforces the idea that those to blame for working class folks losing their jobs are poor immigrants, rather than the rich capitalists who are using them. It punches down, making people not only more vulnerable but also the butt of the joke—and that is unacceptable at a time when these people are facing mass deportation.

The truth is that rather than taking jobs, research has shown time and again that immigrants create jobs and contribute to the economy. Putting aside the white-collar expatriates, most immigrants perform lower paying jobs compared to workers born in the U.S. In fact, undocumented migrants even pay taxes.

They often do jobs no one else wants to do, precisely because of the exploitative nature of these jobs. These people face a choice between staying in the country in abject poverty or being deported back home for even lesser conditions. Naturally, they will accept jobs that pay under minimum wage or are detrimental to their health, all in hopes of staying in the country.

This meme blames low wages and unemployment on people willing to work for even lower wages, not the people who are paying these wages. These are the people the spotlight should be on because an immigrant does NOT take anyone’s job.

Instead, it is given to them by an exploitative boss unwilling to pay well for the labor provided. These jobs are reluctantly accepted by people who have no other choice because it is a matter of survival for them. We need to be concentrating on capitalist bosses who line their own pockets by refusing to pay a fair wage.

At any point in time, this meme would be distasteful. However, at a time when Trump and his advisors are openly making plans to send them home, the meme furthers the public perception of immigrants as being a drain on American resources and actively contributes to the immense discrimination they already undergo.

Three million immigrants might be sent back to their home countries in Trump’s America, and you think now is the time to be making jokes about immigrants taking jobs?

Everyone who sees this meme should call it out for what it is: an anti-immigrant message peddling on worn-out humor that achieves nothing except hurting some of the most vulnerable in our society and participates in their further marginalization. The racism and Islamaphobia of Trump’s administration cause more damage to those who do not even have the benefits of citizenship to fall back on, which means we need to step up and refuse to be silent when we see “jokes” like these.

After all, it’s what the classy lady in the picture would have done.

This piece was originally published in Brown Girl Magazine on Nov 22, 2016.

Yesterday we read that “MIA literally hates Bengalis” and we collectively lol-ed. Apparently MIA now hates everyone and everything. Even freaking upper-caste West Bengalis, so we figured it’s about time to intervene. So far we’ve refrained from writing on this topic for a number of reasons, but most importantly because a lot of it just seems so basic and based on silly, knee-jerk reactions. We didn’t want to join the social media kangaroo court and neither did we want to be subjects of it.

Our silence, however, has not benefited anyone (and allowed, for instance, for upper-caste Bengalis to cry imaginary fouls). It has especially not benefited our own causes and concerns, and made us complicit in tearing down someone who has been meaningful for many in our communities and beyond. And that needs to stop.

Our lack of responses mirror the marginal position we speak from; the unknown and ambivalent spaces we derive from that challenge Western-centric and non-Dravidian South Asian framings. We have multiple problems here at hand, and social media is no platform to address all of them in the manner we’d like to, but we’ll try to cover a few with the means available to us. So here we go:

Facing criticism

MIA has been considered “controversial” from the very start, but mostly for the wrong reasons. Though she has played a vital role in raising the visibility of refugees and became an icon for many Eelam Tamils, particularly young women, she was hardly ever credited for the contributions she made. Instead, she has faced shitstorm after shitstorm. It wasn’t ever about engaging with her, about potentially correcting her course or widening her scope. Instead, it was mostly about intentionally misreading her and silencing her as a person because her voice didn’t fit into what most wanted to hear – including many Tamils.

Ever since MIA has released her first single, Galang, she’s been dealing with a lot of pushbacks. Most folks probably won’t even have heard about them because they, for the most part, fell outside of the western focus and were hardly covered by mainstream media. After years of receiving attacks, there’s, at this point, nothing particularly new or shocking when MIA slips back into criticism. Starting off with challenges posed by Tamil patriarchy, the Sri Lankan government, Sinhalese people (diasporic and non), liberal, pro-unitarian state, middle-class, non-refugee Tamils (yeah, that’s long), so-called “desis” (i.e. South Asians, especially North/West/East Indian Savarna diasporic types), white people and so on and forth. The list seems endless and so do the threats and accusations she faced over the last decade and more. As Eelam Tamil refugees in Europe, this is the set up a lot of us have grown up in and these are the battles we’ve been fighting for decades, if not longer.

Of course no single person, including MIA, should stand above criticism. Some of it may well be (and is) justified. But the larger question we are interested is: what do we want from our public figures? Do we want to have the ability to have dialogues with them to grow and change, or do we want to continue with a mentality that makes public figures like MIA disposable? Do we want to hold them accountable while not holding ourselves accountable – or not all public figures equally? Do we really think that all of us are replaceable? And can we really afford the loss of one more of us?

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