Saturday, November 22, 2003

The great and enduring strength of the United States is that it is an immigrant society subject to continual waves of replenishment from outside. Such is the desire to participate that one person every day is killed trying to enter the country. These "new" people bring with them new narratives, which grow and flourish in the very heart and bosom of the society, narratives that find expression in music, theatre, dance, film, and literature. These "new" people are not only vital to the economic health of the country, they are also the keepers of the cultural and artistic flame. However, after September 11, it is precisely these people who are being hounded and persecuted by the government, and their fealty to the country is being questioned. Their desire to construct narratives has not been stilled, but their new tales are counter-narratives, which seek to explain their situation.

The urge to tell a story is the oldest of human impulses, for it clarifies and orders the relationship between the private and the public, our inner and outer worlds, and it records the dissonance between these two spheres of existence. This being the case, storytelling has always been a logical form for the migrant to utilise to try to capture the conundrum of his own, often precarious, situation in the world. While I remain dismayed by the domestic and foreign chaos that the United States continues to unleash upon its own people, and millions of foreign citizens, I am comforted by the knowledge that her folly will be recorded and exposed by the narratives of those whose private and public lives have been thrown into turmoil by the iniquities of White House policies.

-- From Caryl Phillips's essay "A Beacon in Dark Times", published in this weekend's Guardian Review.

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