Author Archives: Joan Leggitt

The Designated Other

Twisted Road Publications came into existence with a singular goal: tell stories that illuminate our shared humanity, regardless of the labels that designate us as “other”, and attempt to debunk the myths that surround those labels: Poor people are lazy; disabled people have no value to society; LGBTQ individuals are a threat to families; people of color are drug dealers and gangsters; Latinos are all here illegally; Muslims are terrorists, etc., etc., etc.

More often than not, the labels that designate some of us as “Other” are bestowed upon us by politicians and political parties seeking power. There is an interesting story titled When America Despised the Irish on the History Channel website (https://www.history.com/news/when-america-despised-the-irish-the-19th-centurys-refugee-crisis), detailing the country’s response to the influx of refugees from the potato famine in Ireland. According to the article “The refugees seeking haven in America were poor and disease-ridden. They threatened to take jobs away from Americans and strain welfare budgets. They practiced an alien religion and pledged allegiance to a foreign leader. They were bringing with them crime. They were accused of being rapists. And, worst of all, these undesirables were Irish.”

The Irish had become the designated “other”.

Opposition to the Irish refugees coalesced around the anti-Catholic, anti-immigration American Party, also known as the Know-Nothing party, because they claimed to “know nothing” when questioned about their politics. I suppose at the time it didn’t go over well for people to publicly declare their xenophobia. Nevertheless, they ran candidates who shouted “Americans must rule America!”, and it worked. Know-Nothings elected eight governors, more than 100 congressmen and mayors of cities including Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago in the mid-1850s. Nothing like good old-fashioned fear-mongering to get people to the polls.

Now, migrants from all over the world – Latinos and Muslims, people fleeing famine and war – are being placed by those who wish to consolidate their power into the category of “others”, all of whom we are supposed to fear.

The most ridiculous application of this label (okay, they’re all ridiculous) is for refugees who are resettled here though UNHCR. Refugees are vetted more intensively than any other group seeking to enter the U.S. In fact, the hardest way to come to the country is as a refugee. Once those refugees most in need are registered by the U.N. refugee agency, the U.S. then hand-selects every person who is admitted. The U.S. resettlement program gives priority to refugees, usually vulnerable families, who have been targeted by violence. The U.S. does not recognize as refugees people who have committed violations of humanitarian and human rights law, including the crime of terrorism, as refugees. They are specifically excluded from the protection accorded to refugees.

The question is: how do stop the fear and increase understanding. For me, the answer is the same as it’s always been – through story. Stories of struggles and overcoming obstacles. Stories of hope. Stories of family. Watch this space.

Twisted Road Publications is partnering with a new non-profit organization, Refugee Stories, Inc. to collect, transcribe and publish some of their stories. Since Twisted Road is a small press with limited resources, we are asking for help.

If you can help, please click here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/vaa5e-refugee-stories

TALES FROM MY INBOX: Part I – Writing Your Passion

“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style. I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.” Kurt Vonnegut

What are you writing now? A novel? A short story? A memoir? A journal? A letter to your best friend from college? Whatever it is, my question to you is: why are you writing it? To be a little clearer, why are you writing THIS story, journal, letter, etc.? What is it about this story that is compelling you to write it?

Memoirs and fiction based on writers’ lives are regular visitors to my submission inbox. It’s no mystery why we write them. We all have our own stories and we need to tell them. In truth, we all have many stories to tell, so when I read these submissions I often wonder, why THIS story?

Sometimes, the why is very clear: the writer has developed a passion for promoting something, or for changing something, that has altered or defined his or her life. A passion for gun control develops in the life of someone who has suffered gun violence; a passion for motherhood develops in someone who struggled to become a mother; a passion marine life develops in someone who grows up swimming in the gulf. When this passion is present, it almost always produces a good story.

If there is nothing to reveal the writer’s passion, and the story ambles from anecdote to anecdote to anecdote, there is generally very little that keeps a reader turning the pages.

The same is true for fiction of every genre: mystery, romance, family saga – you name it.

I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with a talented young writer who talked about the evolution of his writing focus. He said he once imagined himself writing conventional stories about corporate greed and governmental malfeasance, but was now thinking more along the lines of writing science fiction. I remarked that some of the best stories I’ve ever read used those conventional themes in very unconventional ways – science fiction, for example. His eyes lit with something I can only guess, but I imagined he had already begun creating a story in his mind – maybe a corrupt emperor on the planet Caligula who has learned to control the weather so that he can flood cities and enslave their inhabitants. What’s important is that if examining greed and corruption is what he cares about, he can tell it any way he chooses and still make it compelling. What matters is the passion.

Are you writing your passion? Feel free to share.

DEFINING RESILIENCE

In November and December, the US Postal Service ran television ads depicting delivery of packages (lovely surprises, no doubt!) to a variety of rural and urban homes – all of them clean, bright, and appealing – using “Home for the Holidays” as background music. For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home, right? Go back there (or at the very least have packages delivered there) and you will be happy. Convincing us to look backward is a great selling tool.

It’s hard to imagine what it would feel like if that green, grass of home we played in as children had been laid waste by war or multi-year drought or some other disaster; if, for whatever reason, our childhood homes had been made uninhabitable and we had been forced to flee for our lives. Someone whose homeland is under siege or has been destroyed by war or weather becomes a refugee. There are millions of refugees all over the world who can never go home again, so they struggle to make new homes. For some of them, refugee camps become home for years or decades. The fortunate ones have been allowed to resettle in host countries like the United States.

The media loves wreckage, so we frequently see images of ruined cities and tent compounds with no running water or sanitary facilities.  It’s painful to watch and we can find no end to it, so it’s understandable when, after months and years of seeing images of desperate families running for their lives, we start to look away. We imagine we’ve seen all there is to see.

But there’s more to it than that.

There are resettled refugees, in this country and many others, who can show us the face of resilience and hope. These are not terrorists in the making, nor should they be made objects of our pity. They deserve our respect, and they can help teach us, if we’re willing to learn, how to look to the future instead of the past. They can teach us to look past our differences and see our shared humanity.

I recently listened to a refugee who had fled the genocide in Burma (Myanmar). He made it across the border into Malaysia, only to picked up for being in that country illegally. He spent a year in a Malaysian prison before being allowed to enter a refugee resettlement program, then spent another two years completing the vetting process that would allow him to enter the United States. (“My friend went to Norway,” he said. “He only had to wait six months.”) When asked about the hardships he endured, he dismissed them, saying, “I was lucky. I’m here. I’m safe. I have a good life. Many were not so lucky.” He has started his own business, and is now employing others, clearly proud of the fact he can say he isn’t taking away anyone else’s job.

Resilience personified.

There are many, many stories like this. Now, more than ever, we need to understand refugee resettlement in terms of what such resilient people can offer us, and stop letting politicians with their own agendas tell us they are a threat to our country. We need more courage and resilience in our midst – not less.

Twisted Road Publications is partnering with a new non-profit organization, Refugee Stories, Inc. to collect, transcribe and publish some of their stories. Since Twisted Road is a small press with limited resources, we are asking for help. We need resources to be able to:
– Offer small gifts to individuals who are willing to share their stories.
– Reimburse the interviewers from Refugee Stories for their time and help their organization get established.
– Cover up-front costs for editing, designing, and publishing the finished stories.

Your support will allow us to collect and publish the first volume of stories. Proceeds from the sale of books will help both Twisted Road Publications and Refugee Stories, Inc., continue this important work. 

If you can help, please click here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/vaa5e-refugee-stories