Teaching Migritude Now

On Monday and Wednesday, I will walk into an undergraduate classroom and attempt to teach Shailja Patel’s Migritude. At this point of the semester, I’ve ceded as much control over the classroom as I can. I expect students to demonstrate what they have been learning: ask questions, insist on evidence, be relentless, be restless, be curious, be interested. I teach Migritude, a work that talks about migrants and visas and empire and violence, a work that takes up the word “America,” examines it, handles it critically, refuses to submit to its demand for obedience, silence, reverence, fear.

I take up Migritude, a work that takes up the violence of empire, the accents of empire, the tones of empire:

Kin’uh get some service?
Like, where’s the line for Ay-mericans
in this gaddamn airport?

Didja see how we kicked some major ass in the Gulf?
Lit up Baghdad like the fourth a’ July!
Whipped those sand-nigger in’nu a parking lot!

And juxtaposes that violence against other dreams: of daughters waiting for their parents at the airport, of a father who travels, who fights, “just . . . to see my daughters.” Of the love that compels travel, the dreams that one pursues:

In the darkened lobby / Sneha and I watch the empty exit /
our whole American / dream bought with / their lives /
hisses mockery / around our rigid bodies / we swallow
sobs / because they raised us to be tough / they raised us
to be fighters / and into that clenched haze of / not crying /
here they come / hunched over their luggage carts / our
tiny / fierce / fragile / dogged / indomitable parents

“finally,” writes Shailja, “I understand / why I’m a poet.”

What is poetry in a time of war? What kind of poetry responds to war?

How does one teach Migritude “after Boston”? How can one not teach Migritude after Boston? I could attempt to avoid “Boston,” pretend it does not matter. It matters, of course, because I have an accent. Already students are asking where I’m from. I do not volunteer this information. I understand the race-nation calculus better than that: what I am permitted to say, what I am not permitted to say, what they are allowed to hear, what they are not allowed to hear, what they allow themselves to hear, what they do not allow themselves to hear.

I teach Migritude because it is necessary: a blend of product and labor, performance rendered into codex, family inheritance transformed into an occasion for art, a missing performance, a traveling book. Because it provides a language and a voice for a now that too-frequently leaves me muted, trapped, unable to speak or write. [censored]

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