Asylum Speakers: Caribbean Refugees and Testimonial Discourse

Asylum Speakers: Caribbean Refugees and Testimonial Discourse

Asylum Speakers: Caribbean Refugees and Testimonial Discourse

Asylum Speakers: Caribbean Refugees and Testimonial Discourse

Synopsis

Offering the first interdisciplinary study of refugees in the Caribbean, Central America, and the United States, Asylum Speakers relates current theoretical debates about hospitality and cosmopolitanism to the actual conditions of refugees. In doing so, the author weighs the questions of "truth value" associated with various modes of witnessing to explore the function of testimonial discourse in constructing refugee subjectivity in New World cultural and political formations. By examining literary works by such writers as Edwidge Danticat, Nikol Payen, Kamau Brathwaite, Francisco Goldman, Julia Alvarez, Ivonne Lamazares, and Cecilia Rodriguez Milan's, theoretical work by Jacques Derrida, Edouard Glissant, and Wilson Harris, as well as human rights documents, government documents, photography, and historical studies, Asylum Speakers constructs a complex picture of New World refugees that expands current discussions of diaspora and migration, demonstrating that the peripheral nature of refugee testimonial narratives requires us to reshape the boundaries of U.S. ethnic and postcolonial studies.

Excerpt

Hospitality consists in doing everything to address the other, to accord
him, even to ask him his name, while keeping this question from becoming
a “condition,” a police inquisition, a blacklist or a simple border control.
This difference is at once subtle and fundamental, it is a question which
is asked on the threshold of the ‘home’ and at the threshold between two
inflections. An art and a poetics, but an entire politics depends on it, an
entire ethics is decided by it
.

—JACQUES derrida, “THE principle of HOSPITALITY”

In her 2007 memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat recounts the events surrounding the death of her eightyone-year-old uncle Joseph Dantica, who died while being detained by U.S. immigration authorities shortly after his arrival at Miami International Airport in 2004. Dantica, a pastor, fled his home in Haiti after gang members burned down his church and threatened to kill him. Despite having a visa, which had allowed him to enter the United States on numerous other occasions, Dantica, “not understanding the full implication of that choice, said that he wanted to apply for temporary asylum” when questioned by a Customs and Border Protection officer at the airport. Danticat writes, “I can only assume that when he was asked how long he would be staying in the United States, he knew that he would be staying past the thirty days his visa allowed him and he wanted to tell the truth.” Danticat notes that the transcripts of an interview with a second Customs and Border Protection officer reveal that the officer did not ask for further details on the three occasions that Dantica indicated that his life was in danger in Haiti. the officer determined that Dantica did not have “a legitimate reason for entering the U.S,” and he and his son Maxo were sent to Krome Detention Center in South Miami, where they were subsequently separated and Dantica’s personal effects, including medication for blood pressure and an inflamed prostate, were taken from him. During his daylong detention at Krome, he was given medical attention for high blood pressure, but his medications were not returned to him. During his asylum interview the following day, he . . .

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