Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Strangers and refugees...and a superhero

Out of all the stories I've written, I have exactly one that features a superhero. The story itself is in that limbo of having been accepted for publication but not yet released, so I won't get into the plot. I will mention, though, that his name is The Stranger, and his superpower involves changing his appearance so he always looks like a foreigner to those he meets, always matches whatever people group the locals currently fear.

The Stranger's mythos, such as it is in just a single short story, is that he was once a god of some sort (even he doesn't know) who cursed villages and encampments that refused to welcome him. Now he does that (on-the-surface) typical superhero thing of seeking out injustice and fighting it.

***

If there's one theme that goes through a lot of my writing, it's the idea of immigrants, exiles, and refugees. Some day some graduate student will go through my works and my life and come up with theories of why and places where that plays out even more than I'm aware. For now, though, I'll just say that I grew up very aware of the immigrant stories of my grandparents and great-grandparents and many others in the tight-knit Dutch-immigrant communities of West Michigan. The religious ideals of that community play into it as well, the idea that they as Christians were strangers in this land, these Shadowlands as C. S. Lewis called them. And certainly the many interactions I've had with immigrants from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries (I was working side-by-side with immigrants in the fields from a very early age, well before I decided to major in Spanish or worked at a Spanish-language newspaper or any of those later experiences) have had a huge role in shaping my views and interests.

It is no anomaly that the central character in the Spire City serial is a second generation immigrant. Nor that her circle of support has such a high concentration of immigrants. At this point in the series, the members of the Weave include not only Chels, whose mother immigrated, but Sairen, who is younger than Chels but immigrated himself a few years earlier. It also has two members who immigrated from a completely different city as adults. And really once you look at it, even those whose ancestry lies in the city, by the nature of their infection, they are exiles.

It is no anomaly that the novel I'm currently preparing to query (and/or submit to a publisher) is called Fugitives of the Avocet Road.

Even a look at my poems reveals "The Immigrant Looks Back" and "Exile, Self-selected" (which I see now is no longer available online, and even the Wayback Machine didn't find an archived copy, alas—I may have to do something about that... It is apparently still available in POD format).

And just over a month ago, I won a flash fiction contest with a rather surreal story of refugees boarding a train. I could go on, but it would mean little to anyone except those who've beta read my other novels and stories. Suffice it to say that this idea of being away from home in one way or another may well be more central to my writing than even I realize.

***

This is not meant to be a partisan, political post. I try to maintain contact with people from all over the political spectrum and never block people on Facebook, etc. for their views. Many of my friends who self identify as conservative (understandably given my upbringing) fit comfortably in the religious right label. (Though note that many even who shared that upbringing most definitely do not.) Many of my writing friends self identify as liberal, which is not surprising in an artistic field, but also doesn't encompass all of them.

What I'm seeing is that for the most part, these friends from all over the political spectrum are uncomfortable with the anti-refugee rhetoric going around. Certainly a month ago, few if any seemed to support the glimmers of anti-refugee rhetoric that were floating around. They either weren't commenting or were speaking out (often forcefully) for compassion. Post Paris...I'm seeing a bit more caving to that, as ethics become subordinate to fright, but for the most part the call remains strong to welcome the stranger, to put those religious ideals (for those that ascribe to them) into practice and not react out of hatred or misguided fear.

I'm heartened by this.

I'm disheartened by governors clamoring to shut their borders to refugees. I'm disheartened by presidential candidates threatening to send 'em all back. I'm disheartened that they haven't been called on this forcefully enough by those they might listen to.

But I'm especially heartened to see the glimmers of pushback that are there. And the many voices of friends and acquaintances from all kinds of backgrounds, religions, politics saying "Wait. This isn't right." Thank you.

No comments: