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Making an Alien: American Immigration in the 20th Century

ENGL 200.305
instructor(s):
TR 3-4:30
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

From the 2016 “Muslim Ban” to the more recent “migrant caravan” controversy, the U.S. has experienced a surge of xenophobia against immigrants and refugees from Mexico to Syria, Somalia to Vietnam. But where do these fears come from, and why have they intensified? This course aims to answer these questions by studying the longer history of migration throughout the 20th century, paying close attention to the construction of immigrants as “aliens” under U.S. law. Reading literature from writers like Edwidge Danticat and Gloria Anzaldúa alongside immigration acts, we will trace the figure of the “alien” through a series of immigration eras that shift the boundaries of race, gender, ability, and sexuality. Throughout the course, we will ask, what other kinds of personhood do artists create outside “illegal,” “foreign,” or “undocumented?” What might it mean to imagine a world without borders? And what would it mean to embrace being an alien?

 Some exercises will include close readings of immigration law, a digital mapping of immigrant groups and their responses to U.S. legislation, and sci-fi interpretations of a racialized “alien.” Other potential authors and artists include Sandra Cisneros, Moustafa Bayoumi, Aimee Phan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Miné Okubo, R. Zamora Linmark, and Jessica Hagedorn.

As a Junior Research Seminar, this course will familiarize students with research practices in literary studies like working with archival materials; reviewing critical literature; close reading; using online databases; tracing discourses empirically, etc. Assignments include 2 short papers that build towards a final project of 10-15 pages (creative or scholarly) with writing exercises staggered throughout.