Lingering Memories, From Vietnamerica

Flipping through the pages of GB Tran’s novel, Vietnamerica (2010) You’ll see colorful spreads and complex panels, layers of images one over the other, creating an epic illustration of one man’s life. These busy and bright pages, are separated by single pages of smoke. Large illustrations of smoke rising from incense or a cigarette. Within the billowing plumes Tran illustrates, he encapsulates memories within in them, in small panels inside these plumes. Indicating a flashback to the reader, and highlighting the lingering and fleeting nature of memories – like smoke.

Tran first introduces this element when reimagining Gia Boa’s parents in their youth. He illustrates their young and smiling faces between images of their current selves and even younger, frightened versions of themselves. The bright colors of the in the panels depicting their happy young selves, overpower the darker colors around it, and signify the fondness and the clarity of these memories. In rendering these memories from the smoke on incense, Tran connotes the sweetness and fondness of these memories, as he associates the reflection of these happy moments, with the sweet smell of incense. In using smoke to encapsulate these memories Tran highlights how distant they are as smoke will linger but eventually disappear only leaving the sweet smell of incense behind, like the sweetness of distant memories.

Tran also encapsulates darker moments from the past within plumes of cigarette smoke. In using the smoke that billows off the tip of Gia Bao’s father’s cigarette to depict and encapsulate his memories of post war Vietnam, Tran connotes a sense of bitterness. These memories linger like cigarette smoke, as they are potent and pungent and linger much longer that the sweetness left by incense.

In combining illustrations of memories within plumes of smoke from incense and cigarettes, Tran indicates flashbacks to readers in a repeated format. Furthermore, Tran also combines the power of sight and smell by connecting the images from the characters memories to the sweet and bitter sent of incense and tobacco. These sensory oriented elements enhance the text as it gives multiple layers of meaning to the captions, and highlights the complexity of these memories and the impact that they have on Tran’s characters.

Works Cited:

Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010

Blog Post 4

Caroline Berezin

Identity, Unchained

We are only as strong as our weakest link. In Kamila Shamsie’s novel Home Fire (2017), she explores the way in which a fragmented and broken identity can wreak havoc on ones self and their relationships with others. One of the main characters in the novel, Parvaiz, delves into his Muslim Identity, although he is British and considers him self a Muslim and a Londoner, the exploration of his islamic identity and his understanding of the islamic state brings him closer to his father, affords him a sense of freedom from the doubts he has never confronted, but tears him away from his family. He looses the sense of security he once felt with the duality of his identity and allows his Muslim identity to overtake his British identity, leading him to make life altering decisions.

As Parvaiz builds a bond with Farooq, a member of an extremist group he begins to feel closer to his father and gain an understanding of the significance of his Muslim identity. Upon entering Farooq’s apartment Parvaiz finds himself chained and waterboarded, as a means to simulate the torture his father had to endure. After Farooq frees him form he chains and lets Parvaiz leave he feels a sense of peace and solace despite the physical pain he has endured. He feels closer too his father, and feels a yearning to pursue a career in the Islamic state for it gives him a sense of connection to his father, and gives him the feeling of brotherhood and security. On his return home he notices the sound of a “wedding ring against a yellow hand rail” which Shamsie likens to “chains unlinking.” In likening the sound to “chains unlinking” Shamsie highlights the impact of the ordeal Parvaiz has endured, but simultaneously uses the imagery created by the disassembly of chain links to connote the sense of freedom Parvaiz has gained. He feels free from doubt as he has come to understand more about his father, but he also feels free from uncertainty about his identity. He embraces the muslim identity he had kept locked away out of fear, and he had suppressed his faith with his British identity, as he had never explored his connection to Islam because of his father and because of the way in which he felt persecuted in British society. Whilst this metaphor signifies a significant revelation for Parvaiz, it also symbolizes the close bond between him and his sisters being broken. As his revelation and the breaking of chains foreshadows his disassociation from his siblings when he leaves England to join the extremist group his father was a part of.

Shamsie’s use of this metaphor in conjunction with the use of foreshadowing highlights the way in which Parvaiz’s identity takes him from a whole man, to a fragmented and broken man. Like a chain, it is only as strong as its links. In the convergence of his two conflicting identities, his newfound understanding for his islamic identity breaks him apart from his British identity, and separates him from his sisters who embrace both identities as one, rather than two conflicting halves. Shamsie demonstrates the impact of conflicting identities throughout the development of Parvaiz’s character, and uses her craft to highlight the detrimental impact of conflicting identities.

 

By Caroline Berezin

Works Cited

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.

Blog Post #3

Race : The Elephant In The Room

 

Why don’t we talk openly about race? I think this image presents just a few reasons why. But within the history of the united states, race is subject that is barely explored in depth, whether it be in the media or between friends in conversation. It is hard to talk about race, and it is also difficult to understand the real reason why. Claudia Rankine’s collection of poems in her book, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), explains and presents exactly why peopler so afraid of these conversations, and she does this without any of the frilly poetic elements you would expect from an collection of poems. Rankine is to the point, and states bluntly why, without needing to soften the blow – because it is time that we recognize this deafening silence and tune into the static, white noise that has been the soundtrack of the American life for centuries.

Within the opening of Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), Rankine includes a poem that exemplifies the difficulty of having conversations about race. She frames this issue by addressing the reader directly and inserting them into a conversation between a black and a white friend, allowing. The reader to choose who they align with. Through this, Rankine formulates her poem into a personal experience for the readers and furthermore forces them to think about their own interactions, and their own shortcomings or obstacles within racial discourse.

Rankine introduces the concept of one’s “self” and ones “historical self”. “Self” meaning the way in which one views and presents themselves aside from their race, and “historical self” meaning the way in which one is labeled categorized or perceived due to the historical context of the color of their skin within American history. Rankine’s use of diction in relation to the convergence of a black and a white persons’ “historical [selves]” is both broad and specific, but through this duality, Rankine creates a moving statement within the text that pinpoints the difficulty of racial discourse.

“However, sometimes your historical selves, her white self and your black self, or your white self and her black self, arrive with the full force of your American positioning”

The use of broad diction in reference to the phrase “American Positioning” forces readers to pause and think about the impact of the writers choice. What is my position? Where does my historical self put me? The word position has several different meanings. When we think of position we often think of a literal place in which exist, where we literally stand. Or, we think of position in terms of advantage or disadvantage, where we stand compared to others. Rankine’s choice of diction brings to light all of these implications and definitions and forces readers to confront that their “American positioning” will never be defined by their “self” but by their “historical self”, because race in America will always be at the root of all interactions, friendships, schools, institutions, and governments. It forces readers of all ethnic backgrounds to acknowledge that they are physically positioned in a nation that is designed to oppress, and that they are either in a position of advantage or disadvantage.

Rankine’s choice of diction is a small yet central component to the piece as the vague nature of the word forces them to confront themselves, but simultaneously the bluntness of the statement and connotations that are aroused demonstrate exactly why there is a fear associated with racial discourse. People are afraid – especially white people – are afraid of realizing the position that was built for them. And minorities, specifically African Americans in the case of the poem understand this position yet have to live in a nation that will not acknowledge this injustice aloud.

Blog Post 2

Caroline Berezin

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen. Graywolf Press, 2014. (Book)

Kindergarten Culture Day

Remember culture day at school? When people would bring in different food as a means of representing and educating others on their nationality. It was honestly a beautiful time, celebrating our different heritages through food. But the problem is, we’ve never grown out of this tradition. It seems that today, our conversations about race as a nation, never penetrate deeper than what you would expect at a kindergarten culture day. Seeing White, by John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika, and So You Want To Talk About Race By Ijeoma Oluo comment on our nations inability to talk about the real issues regarding race in the United States. Together the podcast and the book bring to light the reasons why people are afraid to have these conversations, and together they create a discourse about how we dress race, and how we should be addressing race.

I’ve included this image just to bring us all back to that time in our lives when we all ate delicious foods made lovingly by our friends mothers, only to touch upon the superficial beauty of multiculturalism.

Isn’t it beautiful how we all coexist together under this glorious flag that represents us all and unites us in freedom. But isn’t it also beautifully naive that we value this faux sense of togetherness in order to coexist but allow racial formations and projects to continue to create a gaping divide in society.

Both Oluo and Biewen ease the readers and listeners into their discourses, as both stress the significance of race as a difficult subject to talk openly about. Both create a relaxed and comfortable dialogue between the readers, and listeners, and the content. By creating this casual yet serious tone, listeners and readers feel invited and welcomed to discuss these taboo subjects. I think that these conversations are essential in todays social climate, but people are too afraid to have them. This is why our nation is stuck in the mind set that we can educate ourselves through superficial activities like culture day. Oluo and Biewen package the information they are sharing to make it more “user friendly” but without diluting the potency of the discourse.

When listening to the first episode of the podcast, Turning the Lens, I took note of the fact that Biewen mentioned his own whiteness several times, and eased himself into the topic of discussion with the help of his co-host Chenjerai Kumanyika. Through easing himself – as a white man – into this conversation highlights the err of caution around conversations about race for white people. Biewen’s enlistment of Kumanyika as a co-host to help “check” him, highlights a fear white people have of talking about race. The fear of talking openly about race, I think, (as a white woman) stems from the fear of getting it wrong, or being labeled as a racist.

Which is honestly a valid fear. Why? Because as a white woman living in America in 2019 I know that I am in a position of privilege, and many people like to pretend that everyone living in America is equal, but this isn’t the case. This is why Oluo teaches her readers in steps on how to have these conversations. People don’t know how to talk about race because there has never been an open dialogue about the divide between the people of this Nation because we live within a system that perceives events like culture day as sufficient. Biewen’s awareness of his own whiteness and the impact of his perspective highlights the err of caution taken around the subject, but also the simple acknowledgement of the truth that it is time we remove our blindfolds and look at our nation in a light that we have never been exposed to before.

The conversations that Oluo urges her readers to partake in are necessary in order to understand how the United States functions, and also to open up the eyes of those who have been too afraid to delve into the reality of  the role of race within society and the government. Similarly, Biewen’s podcast unpacks the meaning of whiteness in this nation but also the meaning of whiteness for people that identify as white. Biewen’s podcast highlights why white people, and all people need to engage in conversations about race in this nation – to inform themselves on the truth of what the U.S. was founded upon and what it continues to run on. Like the old familiar kindergarten culture day, we need to take our conversations deeper, and we need to learn how to do so. Oluo and Biewen create an environment that teaches and allows people to have these vital conversations, in order to bring to light the truth about race in this nation and in all aspects.

Written By Caroline Berezin

Bp. 1

Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk about Race. New York, NY : Seal Press, 2018., 2018. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00326a&AN=dico.1767489&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Biewen, John, host. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White, Scene on Radio, 15 Feb 2017. http://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-31-turning-the-lens-seeing-white-part-