Tag Archives: Immigration

Review: THE BEST WE COULD DO by Thi Bui

THE BEST WE COULD DO by Thi Bui

THE BEST WE COULD DO, by Thi Bui and published by Abrams ComicArts, is one of those rare graphic novels with an in depth family theme. This sort of book belongs in the select group of titles like PERSEPOLIS and FUN HOME. In fact, you usually need to turn to the superhero genre, with all its universes and lineages, to find a story in comics that focuses on anything remotely to do with family. I say this tongue-in-cheek but it’s fairly true. Anyway, anytime you add family, you are likely adding something interesting to your story. What happens in Bui’s graphic novel is thoughtful, funny, and totally interesting. When was the last time you read an epic saga about a Vietnamese family? Well, this fills that void in a very compelling way.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

Thi Bui studied art and law, thought about becoming a civil rights lawyer, but became a public school teacher instead. Someone with that kind of background is just the sort of cerebral and sensitive type of person who gravitates to creating comics. Bui was born in Vietnam and arrived in America with her family as a refugee from the Vietnam War. Her immigrant experience, without a doubt, is part of a continuum that will outlive our current political machinations. This is a story that goes beyond that and addresses the struggles that any family will confront as one generation must come to terms with another. It is also a story about finding one’s self both within and outside the context of family. As Bui discovers, close proximity to family does not necessary mean close ties to family.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

Overall, Bui has adopted a solid alt-comics approach to her work. It has that intimacy and spontaneity that evokes work coming out of a sketchbook. While Bui is not a career cartoonist who has honed years of experimentation with comics, she provides an engaging and polished style. It will be interesting to see if she chooses to further develop her work in the comics medium. She has created a beautiful book.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

“The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” is a 336-page hardcover available as of March 7th. For more details, visit Abrams ComicArts right here. You can purchase through Amazon right here.

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Filed under Abrams, Abrams ComicArts, Comics, Family, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Immigrants, Immigration, Vietnam, Vietnam War

The Power of Cinema: A Movie Review of GIANT

AN AMERICAN DIVIDE.

AN AMERICAN DIVIDE.

“Giant” is not quite as spectacular as “Gone with the Wind,” but it certainly holds its own. Both are colossal movies in star power, production, and size. “Giant,” however, is in a class all its own as it addresses head-on the curious relationship between the United States and Mexico and beyond. It is a powerful indictment on intolerance, expressed boldly and with audacity. And in 1956!

YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE.

YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE.

The whole movie can be boiled down to one scene. In fact, the movie could very well have been made simply for the sake of this one scene. You may know it, or know of it. It’s easy to do a quick search and watch the clip on YouTube. But, like most things in life, we gain from digging deeper. You simply must see the whole movie to appreciate its significance. Like I say, this movie came out in 1956. We Americans still have much to learn, as a whole country, don’t we? Some people think all we need to do is build a wall.

HOLD ON THERE!

HOLD ON THERE!

By the time we get to that momentous confrontation in a modest roadside diner, the main character of Jordan “Bick” Benedict (played by Rock Hudson) has grown by leaps and bounds as a human being. The suggestion is that so could America, as a whole, and anywhere else there is ignorance and hatred. It was there then. It is here now. We just pretend it doesn’t exist, at least too many of us do. That’s what Bick did. He never acknowledged, let alone cared about, all the Mexican people around him. He was the patriarch of a cattle empire in Texas. That’s all that mattered. Even if Mexicans worked on his ranch and cared for his children, as far as he was concerned, they didn’t really exist. So, if any harm came to them, that wasn’t his problem.

WE HAVE US A FIGHT!

WE HAVE US A FIGHT!

Some people assume all is well with the world as long as they are doing well. They cannot, will not, see beyond what they consider to be important. Maybe it’s a sewing circle, or collecting recipes, or a family pet. In the case of Bick, all that mattered was the family estate of Reata. In Edna Ferber’s novel, faithfully brought to the screen by George Stevens, we find in “Giant” the sweeping epic story of Texas. We follow the Benedict family from about 1930 to 1950 and see how Bick reacts to the great transition from a focus on cattle to a focus on oil. The fate of the Mexican population seems lost in the shuffle but it is always referred to, demanding some kind of answer.

THE FACE OF A NEW AMERICA.

THE FACE OF A NEW AMERICA.

By the time we reach that moment of truth in that diner, Bick must act instead of just react. The precision drumbeat has begun to the rousing tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” on the jukebox just as Bick and his family walk in. The signal is clear, we have something big that’s about to happen. Bick’s eyes have been opened to the world. He can empathize. His own son is married to a Mexican. And they have a beautiful child, Bick’s grandson. When the family arrives at the diner, the diner’s owner is prepared to throw them out but hesitates. He barks an insult and cowardly walks away. A few minutes later, a serious confrontation is inevitable.

In just a few moments, Bick witnesses the diner’s owner manhandle a Mexican family that had just arrived. Bick is now in a position, in his mind and heart, to take a stand. As the music on the jukebox swells, Bick and the owner engage in a fight. First words, then fists, and then total mayhem. It’s the most direct and honest thing that Bick has ever done in his whole life and, to think it possible, in the defense of the Mexicans. While in may seem amazingly sophisticated and enlightened for such a major motion picture to have been made at that time, it really is not too much to ask. The tide was slowly turning towards social change. The general public, whether or not they admit so in public, know right from wrong. In fact, “Giant,” is a widely acknowledged icon. Like its name implies, it is too big to ignore and too big to dismiss.

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Filed under American History, Commentary, History, Movie Reviews, movies, Race, Race Relations, Racism, Social Commentary, Social Justice

Review: DETAINED by Eroyn Franklin

Eroyn Franklin’s special accordion-style comic book, “DETAINED,” calls attention to a serious problem in the United States and world-wide: countless people who fall between the cracks of a faulty legal system and end up being detained, sometimes by mistake, and often for indefinite periods of time. These stories pop up in the news now and then. You might see them as that news item on your screen you bookmark for later or meant to read but never got around to it. Well, you really should.

Consider all of us human beings on planet Earth, and all the countries and governments and conflicts and wars and violence, and the outright need for people to leave one hostile place for another, hopefully safer, place. And then you need to think of what may happen to a lot of these people seeking asylum, a better life, only to be scooped up by a corporate net and held captive with little to no regard for their well-being. Just check out this recent article from The New York Times if you think detention centers are rare and far between. On the contrary, it’s a boom market for the companies who profit from them. The United States, along with other countries, do not run or closely monitor their own detention centers.

What Franklin does with her book is give you a taste of what it’s like to be a typical detainee. There are so many different stories to tell, some gruesome and heart-breaking. These two that Franklin presents are not overtly dramatic and yet even these more understated portraits give you a glimpse into the rampant violence, neglect and utter incompetence that goes hand in hand with all of these detention centers. In this case, it is  Seattle’s former INS building and the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. What Franklin’s portraits do is paint a picture of what is most likely to happen. At the very least, if you are a detainee, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t even be a detainee, your stay will be indefinite, your stay will be at least as bad as any prison, and there is a contractor profiting from your stay with no motivation to see you leave.

The book focuses on two detainees: Many is a Cambodian refugee who had a few run-ins with the law as a kid but who shouldn’t have ended up in a detention center; and Gaby, a Mexican, who simply got rounded up and must do some time at a detention center. The more you read about detainees, the more you wonder who exactly needs to be in a detention center. Given the fact that these centers are run for a profit, the overriding need to house people to make money is the only thing that makes sense. It is good politics and good business to crack down on immigration so people like Many and Gaby must be punished. Some detainees can’t bear the stress of the abusive conditions and not knowing when, if ever, they might be released and so they kill themselves. Franklin refers to that as well as the fact that these centers are so understaffed that the inmates must work, basically as slaves. The beauty of Franklin’s work is in its understatement. You be the judge, she seems to be saying.

This is a compelling story told in a compelling way. The continuous panorama that follows these two immigrants is quite mesmerizing. You literally loose yourself in the comics as you get a sense of day to day existence in these centers. It’s no surprise that comics journalism can be quite effective in telling a story and this is a great example of it. The book spreads out to 26 feet of folded up panles, each story on one side, a total of 78 color pages. This also includes, incredibly, two full-sized posters! You can pick up your copy by contacting the artist. You can also just visit Eroyn Franklin at her site. And, if you happen to be in Seattle, you must go see her at an amazing small press expo called, “Short Run,” at the Vera Project at Seattle Center, on Saturday, November 12. Admission is free. You must go! And check out CLP, the Common Language Project that compliments this book at clpmag.org. You can also  learn more at American Civl Liberties Union, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Detention Watch Network, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and One America.

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Filed under Art, Comics, Eroyn Franklin, Seattle, Vera Project