This fall, half of The Common’s new issue will be dedicated to a portfolio of writing and art from the farmworker community: over a hundred pages filled with the stories, essays, poems, and artwork of immigrant agricultural workers. The portfolio, co-edited by Miguel M. Morales, highlights the work of twenty-seven contributors with roots in this community.
An online portfolio will also accompany the print issue, giving more space for these important perspectives. This feature is the first of several that will publish throughout the fall. Click the FARMWORKER tag at the bottom of the page to read more, as pieces are added.
Poetry Feature: Poems from the Immigrant Farmworker Community
In “James Joyce” (1982), a stifled writer engages a hallucinatory Joyce in dialogue about writing, and in so doing, interrogates not only what—but also who—makes a great writer. Combining his trademark intertextuality with tense mixing and pronoun ambiguity, Zafzaf creates a haze of temporal unease. But however lost in time our writer is, he is distinctly aware of his place. Creative mastery is never simply a matter of skill but always also a question of positionality and circumstance. The freedom to be authentic or make new, to mean or will, is not equally free for all. Time is unstable; remembrance, unbalanced.
One of the many things that drew me to A Space Bounded by Shadows is the novel’s overarching theme of exile and wandering between worlds — imaginary and real. The narrative weaves the rich tapestry of an artist’s life between art, relationships, and politics and their declaration of love for literature, film, and theatre. As an immigrant myself, the book captured me immediately because it explores how mother tongue and second language can merge, creating a new, enriched language and overcoming speechlessness in exile.
Translation: Excerpt from A SPACE BOUNDED BY SHADOWS
Translator’s note: Sergio Altesor Licandro’s 2016 novel TAXI (Estuary Editora, 2016) holds particular resonance this year, the fiftieth anniversary of the brutal military dictatorship in Uruguay, which held power from 1973 to 1985. The novel is structured as a series of journal entries recorded by the protagonist, Pedro Fontana, who in his youth—like the author—spent years in military prisons in Uruguay, as punishment for his opposition to the military dictatorship, before being exiled to Sweden. In Sweden, Fontana trained to become an artist, lived there for some years, and eventually left to search elsewhere for his destiny. Now, many years later, he has returned to Sweden for a conceptual art project, which is to drive a taxi in Stockholm and record his interactions with the passengers, as a way of analyzing life in Sweden at a time when the democratic-socialist ideals of the past have given way to a grim neoliberalism. In this excerpt, however, Pedro Fontana must instead analyze his own past.
When In Anne Frank’s House (Al-Mutawassit, 2020) was published, it was met with near radio silence—a strange reaction to a new book by a celebrated author. In an interview I conducted with Hassan in fall 2021, she suggested that this reaction was one of fear. The fact that many in the Arab world conflate Judaism with Zionism—and Israeli oppression—means that writing about a young Jewish martyr like Anne Frank was automatically taboo, and any response to Hassan’s book would be wading into murky waters. Hassan was accused of writing about Anne Frank to court international favor, and the memoir was automatically labeled as political. In my later attempts to locate a publisher for the English translation, I came across a similar hesitation and mistrust—concern, among other things, that an author from an Arab country might not treat Anne Frank with the respect she deserves.
From Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, translated by Tiffany Tsao. Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Feminist Press.
Welcome to the Department of Unanswered Prayers! Here’s your ID. When it’s time to go home, put your badge in your bag and leave the bag in your car. Rather than tossing it in some drawer, I mean, or chucking it somewhere inside your room. Don’t worry. No one will steal it. And don’t forget to bring it tomorrow and the day after and all the days after that. You’ll need it to get past security and to access the main entrance, the department, the sub-departments, the letter storage facility, and the archive. It happens every now and then—someone forgets their badge and has to go home to retrieve it. What a waste of time and money. Remember, every minute you’re late will incur a corresponding reduction in your heavenly salary. Each minute you’re late also incurs a 0.33-point penalty, to be subtracted from your end-of-year point total. Don’t let it get so dire that you can’t redeem them for the leave you’re entitled to every fourth year, because if you’re short even a fraction of a point, you’re still short a fraction of a point.
Although author Louis-Philippe Dalembert was born and raised in Haiti, this story takes place in French Guiana, a French territory located on South America’s northern Atlantic coast. Sharing borders with Brazil to the east and south, and with Suriname to the west, the region is also known for the Kourou Space Center, where the European Space Agency conducts satellite and spacecraft launches.
Some of the language used throughout the text reflects diverse historical and geographical influences, drawing from French, Guianese and Caribbean French Creole, Portuguese, and Spanish. Métro is an informal French term to describe someone from metropolitan France. Hexagone refers to mainland France, because of its shape. Carbet, a term used in the French Caribbean, refers to an open shelter where community members may gather. Domien refers to people from the French Overseas Departments. Hideputa is Spanish for “son of a bitch.” Tapouille is a sailboat or schooner. Garimpeiro is a Portuguese term referring to a gold miner. Clandestinos is a Portuguese term referring to illegal immigrants. Jinetero is a male prostitute. Tarlouze is a pejorative term used to refer to a gay man.
When my friends and I left the homeland, my second departure from Kuwait, there were five of us and ten suitcases. I knew exactly what was in each bag, just as I knew the pain and angst of the five travelers heading toward the unknown. The suitcases were packed with clothes, kitchenware, Indian spices, and various items we didn’t think we’d be able to find abroad. I could only bring four books with me from my vast library back home: Al-Mutannabi, in two parts; the collected works of Mahmoud Darwish; and just one of the volumes of The Unique Necklace. These would constitute the entire library I would survive on, for however long I ended up living in estrangement. Once we’d settled into our accommodation in a small house on Norris Drive in Ottawa, I arranged the books on the sleek wooden flooring, the place being still unfurnished. Then I sat back and simply gazed at them.
Around noon on those April days, my father would do his best to stop me from going out. After lunch, he’d stomp around the house locking all the doors: the kitchen, the front door, the back door, the main living room. Sometimes he’d even try to drag me to his bedroom and force me to take a nap.
During her worst fits, my waters couldn’t drown out her cries. Stacking plates, cups, spoons, and knives, her fists flailed against the sides of my bowl; she’d stare at the gushing water stream, her head slackened against her chest.
In a departure from daily routine, she went on an angry, blabbering rampage, hurling her son’s glass pill bottles into my lap, smashing cups and plates, and turning on the faucet. Water and bits of glass floated everywhere—oh, my, I got so dizzy and regurgitated the larger pieces that had lodged in the drain.
She kept kicking me as I coughed my guts up, and she smashed more plates with the skillet.
The specter of her son appeared, grabbed her wrist firmly but tenderly, and wrapped his arms around her from behind. She stopped and breathed a deep sigh but didn’t raise her head or turn around.