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Longing for Home: Forced Displacement and Postures of Hospitality
M. Jan Holton
Yale University Press, 2016
240 pp., $40.00
The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World
W. W. Norton & Company, 2016
400 pp., $28.95
Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865
S. Scott Rohrer
The University of North Carolina Press, 2014
328 pp., $40.00
Stranger in a Strange Land: John Wilson
In the Fog
The subject was immigration, migration, by choice or by expulsion or flight, seeking refuge or perhaps simply a better job, the hope for a better life (maybe for the children and their children). So much talk about this subject is either hateful, jingoistic, blustering ("I will build a wall!") or primly unctuous, swathed in politically correct pieties and staggering banalities ("Home is especially significant because it is the place where the developing infant and then child learns to negotiate various successes and non-traumatic failures in her social world," writes M. Jan Holton in Longing for Home: Forced Displacement and Postures of Hospitality). "There's a fog," said my friend, a historian I greatly admire.
Yes, a verbal fog that obscures the messy contours of the Real rather than illuminating them. In her just-published book The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World (Norton), which I'll be writing more about on another occasion, Tara Zahra claims: "A world in which individuals are compelled by poverty or persecution to seek work abroad is no more free than one in which state borders are closed and locked." Read that sentence over a couple of times and ponder it. Zahra, by the way, who is professor of East European History at the University of Chicago, received a so-called genius award from the MacArthur Foundation in 2014.
Immigrants, refugees, migrants are just like the rest of us: a little lower than the angels, but also human, all too human. They may be working in sweatshops in New York, indebted to the fixers who arranged for their passage from mainland China years ago. They may be Chinese from Taiwan or Hong Kong who in the 1980s or early '90s came to the wealthy community of San Marino, California, paying cash for a luxurious house and sending their children to the public schools, which they lavishly support: my brother would have taught some of their kids at ...