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SIN SEGURIDAD: Reflections on a Special CCSRE Chautauqua with Asad L. Asad and Javier Zamora

Collage of pictures of Authors Asad L. Asad and Javier Zamora at the bottom. In the top there's a horizontal picture with Asad, Zamora, Alfredo Artiles, Paula Moya, Ramón Saldívar, Patricia Zamora and Bridget Algee-Hewitt

Sin Seguridad: Asad L. Asad and Javier Zamora in conversation/Photo by: Michael Endicott

Sociology Professor Asad L. Asad and poet and memoirist Javier Zamora came together in conversation with moderator Professor Alfredo J. Artiles in a special CCSRE Chautauqua on January 25, 2024 at the Stanford Faculty Club. To an audience of over 100 captivated members of the larger Stanford community, they discussed the complex lived experience of U.S. immigrants through the lens of their respective books, Engage and Evade: How Latino Immigrant Families Manage Surveillance in Everyday Life (Princeton 2023) and Solito: A Memoir (Hogarth 2022).

11 million undocumented immigrants live along margins of the U.S. society today and their story is one of fear and hardship, survival and hope.

As this conversation between Asad and Zamora taught us, the story of undocumented immigration is complex, fraught, and often highly personal. Most critically, it explained how this story is one that must always challenge us, as a community of thinkers and global citizens, to confront the structural factors that motivate migration from home countries and the uncomfortable realities of the dehumanizationing acts in the U.S. that affect immigrants in their "new home" — many of whom are among the most vulnerable members of our society. 

Moderator Prof. Alfredo Artiles expertly guided the conversation and questions period, encouraging Asad and Zamora to uncover the through-lines that defined and united their books. And, so, as the authors spoke, several shared themes solidified: motivations are diverse, memories are persistent, trauma is pernicious, and discourse is powerful.  

Asad's research demonstrates just as Zamora's life story tells us: migrants are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers who have made the imaginable decision to leave all they know and love behind, often to risk their lives, and those of their loved ones, to walk into an unknown future. Fueled often by forces out of control, from violence and unrest to poverty and unemployment, migrants make the journey on the promise of greater freedom, security, and opportunity. A place where they, like all of us, can survive and thrive.

Asad and Zamora's conversation used memory and storytelling to lay bare the harsh truths of the immigrant experience. They made real to all of us listening the trauma faced by immigrants struggling to find a space along the margins of everyday society and to reconcile the conflicting meaning of "home" and "identity." They equally exposed the emotional effects of their own personal trauma as they worked through their writing projects, reflected on their own experiences, and came to understand their own personal roles — as survivor, researcher, narrator — in the larger immigrant story.

Over the course of the conversation, both speakers shared with us their different lived histories. Asad, as the son of Palestinian immigrants, has dedicated his research career to understanding how institutional categories, like citizenship and legal status, beget different forms of inequality, underscoring the greater human effects of U.S. immigration policies on their everyday lives. Zamora, as an immigrant himself and award-winning writer, has used his harrowing story of migration from El Salvador to the U.S. at age 9 as an outlet for his creative expression, a source of healing for the traumatic effects of this experience, and as a platform for public education and activism, advocating for freedom and justice for all oppressed, displaced, and marginalized peoples. While Asad and Zamora may differ in their authorial positions, their understanding of the immigration problem is similar. As Asad summarized, the immigration problem is "all about discourse - there is a lot of power in symbolism."

Asad and Zamora left the audience with a call for a more just future that fulfills the hopes of immigrants and their families. Zamora reminded us that to catalyze change we must challenge the boundaries of what is possible: "We must dream of a world we deserve. It is a world that is different than a nation state...if we are serious in our idea building, we need to come up with another idea that gets us to our dream."

This event was generously sponsored by:

CCSRE and the CCSRE Research Institute, Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies, Department of Sociology, Creative Writing, Ethnography Lab, Center for Latin American Studies, Public Humanities, Ethics in Society, Department of English, American Studies, El Centro, Mellon Foundation.