This week, the graduate students enrolled in my “Gender, Race and Urban Space” class are reading Imbolo Mbue‘s Behold the Dreamers, a novel centered by the 2008 global financial downturn and the dreams of an immigrant family from Cameroon in New York City. This class will make ties between this book and the “The Harvest,” a 2017 imagined work directed by Andrea Paco Mariani that receives inspiration from actual events concerning the experiences of exploited Indian agricultural workers in Italy.
As we continue to find meaning in the way in which people inhabit space in and outside of cities, it is worthwhile to think about the often elusive dreams tied to wealth, but also mere survival. Such an exploration requires us to be attentive to the way in which workers reclaim their dignity and the way in which their national origin figures into their dreams for a better future for themselves and their families. Hovering over this discussion are other issues including questions concerning what it means to be “legal” as people look for work and survive difficult work conditions. There other questions concerning assimilation, too, as the couple from Cameroon and the Indian workers discover.
What is being given?
What is being given up?
How do education and ways of worship aid assimilation and one’s ability to prosper?
How does the shine (and sound) of the city get woven into the passage to new ways of living?
These are questions worth asking as we examine people who leave their native lands, looking for more in Western culture. The students will be challenged to see the risks involved in various migrations.
Who are the mediators between the worker and the employer? This is another question worth asking.
Do the experiences of women differ greatly from men when exploitative conditions manifest for migrants?
As we look for answers (and find new questions), there will be opportunities to make connections to earlier readings and video/film “texts” and, perhaps, the students’ final paper, which is due in four weeks.