Mexican Heaven: (Untold) Experiences of Mexican Immigrants

Cover of Citizen Illegal and author Jose Olivarez

Given today’s political climate with our current president, Jose Olivarez’s work, Citizen Illegal (2018), engages readers to learn and understand true experiences told by someone who is knowledgeable about Mexicans immigrating into the U.S. The collection of poems reveals cultural, social, and socio-political struggles of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. Citizen Illegal helps us re-imagine this topic by showcasing specific experiences that other Mexican immigrants can relate to while also educating readers of these experiences. It directs our attention to micro-level experiences that are not portrayed. Further, it encompasses emotions and experiences revolving around Mexican immigrants. Citizen Illegal is divided into five sections and contains poems ranging from 1 stanza to multiple stanzas in addition to the emotions ranging from nostalgia to sorrow. While there is no set character, the poems are meant to place the reader in Mexican immigrants’ position and enlighten relatable situations. Throughout the poems, readers learn about relations between individual family members, and between Mexican immigrants versus American society. Although Olivarez himself is not an immigrant, he is the son of immigrant parents, whose experiences informs some of his poems. His work helps readers understand the untold experiences of Mexican immigrants that no one thinks twice about. The poems allude to esoteric and specific experiences while educating and informing the reader of more than the misconceived notions or what is often portrayed in the media. Citizen Illegal highlights the experiences of Mexican immigrants that are not portrayed in media or that are seldom in discourse revolving Mexican immigrants. It challenges the representations of Mexican immigrants in U.S. cultural production and highlights untold experiences of Mexican immigrants. In particular, his multiple one-stanza poems titled “Mexican Heaven” describes and understands the ideal “heaven”/utopia that consists of both Mexican and American culture. The various “Mexican Heaven” poems allude to representations and experiences of Mexican immigrants that defy the misconstrued and negative portrayals of Mexican immigrants.

As Alejandro Portes and Robert L. Bach explains in their book Latin Journey: Cuban and Mexican Immigrants in the United States, the history of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. spans as far back as 1907 during the annexation of land belonging to Mexico (Bach and Portes 77). Eventually, the annexation of Mexico’s land reconfigures into the narrative and understanding of Mexican immigrants as “bad” because they are trying to “reconquer land that was formerly theirs (U.S. Southwest)” (Chavez 3). Often, what is portrayed or misconceived of Mexican immigrants is that they “don’t contribute to society” or “they’re taking all our jobs” or, as President Trump has most recently described them, “drug dealers, rapists, and criminals”. 
Unfortunately, we believe or perpetuate these notions because these narratives are most often the only ones portrayed, making us unaware of their untold experiences. In addition, these portrayals contribute to what author Leo Chavez coins as the “Latino Threat” narrative in his book, The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Narrative, and the Nation. The “Latino Threat” narrative encompasses the many assumptions of Mexican immigrants, including the “unwillingness to become part of the national community,” “illegal alien,” “destroying the way of American life,” and a foreigner (thus implying a threat to national security) (Chavez 3). The “Latino Threat” continues to perpetuate the discourses revolving Mexican immigrants in part (but not exclusively) because of the negative portrayals and the lack of continued struggles Mexican immigrants face. These portrayals are “typically devoid of nuances and subtleties of real lived lives”, consequently negating the additional obstacles and experiences of Mexican immigrants (Chavez 4). Because of the lack of appropriate Mexican immigrant portrayal and the over portrayal of the “Latino Threat” narrative (as made evident by President Trump), many individuals’ perceptions of Mexican immigrants revolve around the “Latino Threat” narrative.

While he has multiple poems titled “Mexican Heaven” in different sections of the book, the “Mexican Heaven” poem in the third section exemplifies Mexican women’s role in the Mexican community. The Washington Post conducted a research study to analyze the depictions of Mexican immigrants in news media. Their results asserted that while the majority of Mexican immigrants’ portrayals were harmful and produced them in a negative light, Mexican immigrant men were more often represented than Mexican immigrant women were. This “Mexican Heaven” poem complicates the portrayals of Mexican immigrants as it gives recognition to Mexican women, rather than Mexican men, who “are pictured more often than females” (Washington post).

The poem is one stanza, comprised of five lines, and narrates common domestic responsibilities:

all the Mexican women refuse to cook or clean

or raise the kids or pay the bills or make the bed or

drive your bum ass to work or do anything except

watch their novelas, so heaven is gross. The rats

are fat as roosters & the men die of starvation. (Olivarez 31)

The repetition of “or” throughout the poem separates the numerous tasks/responsibilities Mexican women have, even though they may not work at an actual job. The repetition produces the effect of an ongoing list that is “never-ending”, that the domestic responsibilities of Mexican women are endless. Additionally, in omitting commas to separate the tasks, the poem forces the readers to take their time in reading and reflecting on each task. This poem showcases that while Mexican immigrant women contribute just as much in providing for the family, even though it is not always portrayed. Moreover, in stating that this imagined “heaven” is where the women refuse to do this continuous list of tasks, it signifies that the “heaven” they imagine is different than the one they are living in. This poem illuminates that the “heaven” imagined for Mexican women is being able to relax and not do any of these tasks. However, the “heaven” they are living in (America) emphasizes that they have to do these tasks in order to help sustain their family’s life.

In examining Olivarez’s work, his poems speak to experiences and motivations of Mexican immigrants. As sociologist Carol Cleaveland observes in her research study, ‘In this country, you suffer a lot’: Undocumented Mexican immigrant experiences, Mexican immigrants individuals migrate “in order to spare their families potential suffering from poverty, or from having to immigrate themselves” (Cleaveland 582). They immigrate in pursuit of a better life, of the American Dream. Immigrating in pursuit of the American Dream reflects their concerns and worries of providing for their family and of financial stability (Hugo Lopez, “Latinos”). While there is no concrete definition to the concept of the American Dream, the Pew Research Center defines the American Dream as “hard work, financial security, career success and confidence that each new generation will be better off than the one before it” (Hugo Lopez, “Latinos”). The American Dream is the idea that if you work hard enough, you can achieve whatever you want.  In another short-stanza poem titled “Mexican Heaven”, Olivarez is able to articulate what an imagined “heaven” looks like to Mexican immigrants while highlighting the realities of coming to America and striving to achieve the American Dream. The poem further complicates the portrayals of Mexican immigrants by illuminating the concealed, continuous struggle of trying to provide for their family. In a seven-line stanza, the “Mexican Heaven” poem of the third section of the book showcases the contrasting ideas of the expectations versus the realities of America. Through the use of descriptive diction, Olivarez highlights to the reader the dismay of Mexican immigrants’ experience in America:

Saint Peter lets Mexicans into heaven

but only to work in the kitchens.

a Mexican dishwasher polishes the crystal,

smells the meals, & hears the music.

they dream of another heaven,

one they might be allowed in

if they work hard enough. (Olivarez 19)

cartoon taken from

The word “heaven” refers to the ending destination of Mexican immigrants: America. The word “heaven” juxtaposes where they come from, indicating that the place they are leaving in pursuit of “heaven” is unpleasant. As Cleaveland stated before, many Mexican immigrants migrate to the U.S. as “neo-liberal economics created untenable conditions for workers in Mexico” (Cleaveland 568). Mexican immigrants migrate because they are unable to work and therefore unable to make money to provide for their family. Additionally, the third, fourth, and fifth line of the poem contain diction that describe menial tasks, specifically referring to a job in the kitchen. The third and fourth sentences indicate that the worker is not enjoying the event, rather they are the ones prepping it. This portrays one of many low, “under-the-table” jobs Mexican immigrants work in order to sustain their life in America because of the disadvantages of language barriers and minimal education (Cleaveland 569). Because of their status, Mexican immigrants are forced to “work at jobs that are exploitative in terms of pay and benefits” (Cleaveland 571). Many places hire Mexican immigrants while not giving them the full benefits because it is cheap labor. Furthermore, describing these jobs by referencing some of the human senses (touch, smell, and hearing) places the reader in the shoes of a Mexican immigrant working the job. In placing the reader in this labor position, it illuminates an aspect of the life Mexican immigrants have in that they work “under-the-table” jobs because of their status.
The second half of the poem uses diction that refers to the idea of the American Dream. The words “dream” and the phrase “if they work hard enough” indicate that by working hard, one can achieve the American Dream. However, this poem showcases that “working hard enough” is not enough because Mexican immigrants are able to only work in menial occupations. It highlights an experience that is not often portrayed in the media and it recognizes the labor Mexican immigrants face in order to sustain their life.

Even after migrating to America, Mexican immigrants still face obstacles that remain concealed. One of these instances is the experience of Mexican immigrants needing to give up a part of their culture for the sake of white people. Olivarez encompasses this situation in another “Mexican Heaven” poem:

There are white people in heaven, too.

They build condos across the street

& ask the Mexicans to speak English.

I’m just kidding.

There are no white people in heaven. (Olivarez 21)

cartoon taken from

This Mexican Heaven poem highlights the relationship between Mexicans and the neighborhood they live in. It illuminates and an experience that it relatable (but not exclusive) to Mexican immigrants as it juxtaposes their positionality in relation to others, specifically white people. The contrasting diction of “build” and “ask” indicate that white people have the privilege to do and ask what they want of Mexican people. In incorporating the sentence about “speak[ing] English”; it illuminates the experience Mexican immigrants have about needing to change their language.
Additionally, the first sentence of the poem indicates the reality of being in America while the last sentence imagines a “heaven” in which there are no white people to denigrate them. In America, they are asked to rid their language and speak English, whereas in an imagined “heaven”, they do not have to worry about such an incident. The poem further illustrates Olivarez’s intentions, in which he states in a 2018 interview with Hannah Steinkopf-Frank of the Chicago Tribune. The interview, titled “Chicago Poet Jose Olivarez builds his own world in debut book ‘Citizen Illegal’,” contextualizes Olivarez’s background and experiences to show how they are illustrated in Citizen Illegal. In addition, the article suggests that while many of poems are based off of Olivarez’s experiences, they can also be accredited and attest to other experiences of Mexican immigrants, as he wanted to “create a space where Mexicans who already know the language feel that intimacy” (Steinkopf-Frank, “Chicago”). This poem highlights the experience of language as while each individual has their own obstacles, language is a common obstacle shared by (but not exclusive to) the Mexican community.

Primarily, analyzing Citizen Illegal and its multicultural contexts showcases that the portrayal of Mexican immigrants in U.S. cultural production is frequently a negative portrayal and disregards other aspects of Mexican immigrants’ experience. Citizen Illegal highlights and explains experiences that are not always depicted in discourse revolving around Mexican immigrants. In the “Mexican Heaven” poems, Olivarez is able to describe experiences in easy-to-understand terms, such as recognizing Mexican women’s role in the Mexican community, understanding the difficulty of striving for the American Dream, and understanding the sacrifice of culture in order to “make it” in America. After reading Citizen Illegal with additional research, I question why these experiences remain untold and why the negative portrayal of Mexican immigrants are perpetuated in U.S. cultural production. Citizen Illegal speaks to a specific audience that can relate to these experiences while educating other audiences of more than Mexican immigrants being “drug dealers, rapists, and criminals”. Ultimately, the discourse and portrayal of Mexican immigrants remains in this perpetuating state of unconstructiveness  unless challenged or enlightened, as Olivarez does in Citizen Illegal.


Works Cited

Chavez, Leo. The Latino Threat : Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation, Second Edition, Stanford University Press, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Cleaveland, Carol. “‘In This Country, You Suffer a Lot’: Undocumented Mexican Immigrant Experiences.” Qualitative Social Work, vol. 11, no. 6, Nov. 2012, pp. 566–586.

Farris, Emily and Silber Mohamed, Heather. “The news media usually show immigrants as dangerous criminals. That’s changed – for now, at least.” Washington Post, 27 June 2018. Accessed 24 April 2019.

Hugo Lopez, Mark. “Latinos are more likely to believe in the American dream, but most say it is hard to achieve.” Pew Research Center, 11 Sept. 2018, Accessed 30 April 2019.

Olivarez, Jose. Citizen Illegal. Chicago, Haymarket Books, 2018

Portes, Alejandro, and Robert L. Bach. Latin Journey : Cuban and Mexican Immigrants in the United States, University of California Press, 1985. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Steinkopf-Frank, Hannah. “Chicago Poet Jose Olivarez builds his own world in debut book ‘Citizen Illegal’.” The Chicago Tribune. 11 Sept. 2018, Website, Accessed 4 March 2019.


Making Sense of a Census

I officially learned about race while sitting in my elementary school classroom years ago when I was taking the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, a state test that begins in third grade. Before then, color and ethnicity was how I distinguished myself from my siblings and friends. But in that moment I was given 5 categories of races to choose from. A look into the way the question of race is approached in a non western perspective is presented in the book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009) by Daniel Goh and Philip Holden. The authors point us to new views of the construction of race in these countries but also allow us to see how they are similar to the wider world through institutionalization.

         The authors clearly show how the current “state multiculturalism” that exists in both countries are rooted in the colonial past that has framed them (2). It is not just present in a political sphere, but also has a significant effect in the way people see and interact with one another. The authors discuss how this influence creates a “common sense” among the people in a multicultural nation. In critiques of this institutionalization, people see “limits” in “the recognition and interrogation of cultural difference,” which questions how people today can escape a colonial legacy that perpetuates a narrow view of the demographics of the nation (3).  The authors say, “the institutionalizations of identities has foreclosed commitments to cultures other than the official categories of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) inherited from the British colonial administration.” (3) This shows  how the decisions of colonizers can directly influence the prioritization of groups in the distributing of resources. It lives on in the forms that people complete, and in turn informs the lives they get to live in their multicultural state.

         I find it interesting how the categories seem so fixed and known to be referred to as the CMIO acronym. I think about my experience as a young kid having to choose between the categories of White, Black, American Indian, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. I don’t believe there was even an ‘other’ option my first time taking the PSSA, as I remember having to choose a race I have never identified with on several occasions over the years. But even if and when I had the chance to chose other, I knew I still didn’t belong. Even when I answer yes to the ‘Hispanic or Latino’ question today, I still feel out of place when it comes down to race. And so I wonder what it must be like for a child, adult or anyone being a descendent from immigrants having to choose between CMIO. I wonder how my experience gives me a different world view from someone my age in Malaysia or Singapore trying to make sense of their place in institutionalized multiculturalism.


Works Cited

Goh, Daniel P.S. and Philip Holden. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. New York, Routledge, 2009

BP 5

Foreground: A Key to Understanding


Cover of Vietnamerica graphic novel

Have you ever judged a book by its foreground? For many pages of G.B Trans graphic memoir Vietnamerica(2010), its precisely what readers are doing. Foreground is a usual tool used by artists in order to convey a certain message, where the subject or focus of the image is manipulated by the artist in order to move the readers eyes and attention to one specific aspect of the piece of art. On pages 9 and 10 of the graphic this memoir this tool is used.

Foreground on these pages creates an effect of sadness. In the pages 9 and 10 the scene where the grandmother’s death is described, the narrator’s mom is walking with an image of her mother. In the panel after this one the image of the grandmother is magnified and is made the focus of that image. Panels with big images are presented and then in a panel afterwards a specific part of the image is magnified. This tool allows the readers to understand the main idea the author/artist is trying to portray, given that with pieces of work like this one it can be hard to understand the authors/artists intent with artistic actions.

In addition, foreground also creates the effect of emotions intensified to the reader. In regards of the image of the grandmother, the readers are forced to focus on the grandmother and the grieve of the scene. The text on this page shows that the narrator was not close to his grandmother but given that the focus was made to be the grieve from his grandmother’s death, the readers are able to understand the narrators love for his mom. The text says he went to Vietnam for his mom and to be there for his mom through this difficult situation regardless of not knowing many people there, his love for his mom drove him to Vietnam.

The way foreground is used in these pages and memoir connects to the idea of each layer of an image having its distinct significance. For instance, the background of an image may intend to depict a contrasting idea of that of middle ground and foreground. This can be seen when the background of an image is drawn with dark colors and saddened features, but the foreground may be the opposite with bright colors and happy emotions intended. Foreground adds the necessary sub explanation that’s needed to complete an image and understanding.


Works Cited:

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


Colorful Transitions in Vietnamerica

Cover of Vietnamerica graphic novel
What better way to tell your story than by the creative use of drawings, color, and free-flow structure? From the first few pages, G.B. Tran’s Vietnamerica (2010) emits layers of meanings through its structure, colors, form, and language. One of the noticeable structures is the many blank single-colored pages that act as a separator for different sections/eras of the novel. They have little to no other content on the page and function as a transition for different time periods (past and present).

The pages range in color from maroon, to white, to semi-pitch black, to bright blue, to dark navy blue, and to bright red. The maroon page comes before GB’s trip to Vietnam for his grandmother’s funeral. The white page comes after a portrait of Tran outlined in black with outlines of his parent in blue and red overlapping. The semi-pitch black page comes after the all-white page and appears before a section in which Tri’s family is forced to make the decision to move to a village outside of Mytho. The dark navy-blue page comes before the section that begins with GB packing his stuff in New York. The bright red pages come after a section where Tri is getting tortured for information.

This pattern of using different colored blank pages as transitions from past events to present day allows the readers to get a hint of the tone of the next section and gives reader a chance to read the next section with a blank slate (without thinking too much about previous information they were just given in prior sections). These blank pages remind me of clean slates, which is significant considering the narrative is bouncing back and forth from past and present. It allows readers to digest what they’ve just read and prepare for the next section. The choices of colors themselves also provide some sort of indication of the tone for the following section. For example, the dark navy blue page indicates that the tone of the next section is one of dreariness, routine, or lackluster.

In providing these plain, colorful blank pages, the graphic novel takes readers on a rollercoaster of an emotional narrative. They allow readers to empathize in some way with Tran’s experience, which gives the novel more meaning that just pictures and colors on a page.


Works Cited
Tran, Gia-Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010.


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

Imagery and Escapism

Some tragedies are difficult to confront. Claudia Rankine’s poem from Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) titled “February 26, 2012 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin” uses imagery to show a desire to escape from the police brutality that affects the black community in the United States. Specifically, Rankine utilizes images of nature, which evoke a sense of peace that juxtaposes the event that the poem was inspired by. Imagery is a type of descriptive language that appeals to the senses and prompts the reader to create a mental picture inspired by the language.

Rankine’s repeated images of nature echo throughout the poem. In the fourth paragraph, mentions of the sky are woven between mentions of struggle and pain. Rankine writes, “On the tip of a tongue one note following another is another path, another dawn where the pink sky is the bloodshot of struck, sleepless, of sorry, of senseless, shush.” (89). The image of the pink sky falls in the middle of the sentence, which is concluded by a series of words that connote negative emotions. In this line, I was drawn to the image of the sky as it contrasts strongly with the emotions evoked by “struck, sleepless, sorry, senseless, shush” (89). Then, Rankine uses the image of blossoms to juxtapose violence, slavery, and brutality. Following a list of instances of violence and institutional racism, Rankine writes, “a throat slices through and when we open our mouths to speak, blossoms, o blossoms… The sky is the silence of brothers” (90). Rankine’s brutal image of hanging is juxtaposed here by the image of blossoms, which the reader associates with softness.

The effects provided by Rankine’s imagery are significant, as they offer a glimpse into the speaker’s coping mechanisms for grieving Trayvon Martin. By returning to images of blossoms and the sky, Rankine shows a desire to escape from the realities of police brutality.

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “February 26, 2012 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin.” Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014.


Socioeconomic divide or Systematic Racism

Once we have solved the gap in socioeconomic divide, issues of race will follow. According to Ijeoma Oluo author of So you want to talk about race, and recipient of the 2017 Humanist Feminist Award by the American Humanist Association, the statement above is a false misconception.

In So you want to talk about race, Oluo shares how identifying as a black, women of color in a white space, such as Seattle, has placed her in many positions of vulnerability and anger while explaining to her white friends how their white privilege works to oppress her every day struggle against systematic racism & oppression (Oluo, 35). In “Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s”, Omi & Winant, sociologists from University of Santa Barbara argue how systematic oppression of people of color roots itself within social and political power of hegemonic institutions such as the education system, government, Church ect (Omi, 67).

In reference to the ignorance of hegemony’s power to facilitate and prevail systemic racial oppression, friends of Oluo must understand the tickle down of this all-controlling inescapable void of oppression against all are non-white identifying. Yes, socioeconomics is a single aspect of how racism can effect the life of a person of color, but no it is far from the encapsulating answer to race.

Works Cited (MLA)

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. 2018. Print.

Omi, Michael W. H. Racial Formation in the United States: from the 1960s to the 1990s. Routledge, 2013. Print.


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,

Biewen, John, host. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White, Scene on Radio, 15 Feb 2017.