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A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States

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In A Forgetful Nation, the renowned postcolonialism scholar Ali Behdad turns his attention to the United States. Offering a timely critique of immigration and nationalism, Behdad takes on an idea central to American national mythology: that the United States is “a nation of immigrants,” welcoming and generous to foreigners. He argues that Americans’ treatment of immigrants In A Forgetful Nation, the renowned postcolonialism scholar Ali Behdad turns his attention to the United States. Offering a timely critique of immigration and nationalism, Behdad takes on an idea central to American national mythology: that the United States is “a nation of immigrants,” welcoming and generous to foreigners. He argues that Americans’ treatment of immigrants and foreigners has long fluctuated between hospitality and hostility, and that this deep-seated ambivalence is fundamental to the construction of national identity. Building on the insights of Freud, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida, he develops a theory of the historical amnesia that enables the United States to disavow a past and present built on the exclusion of others. Behdad shows how political, cultural, and legal texts have articulated American anxiety about immigration from the Federalist period to the present day. He reads texts both well-known—J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass—and lesser-known—such as the writings of nineteenth-century nativists and of public health officials at Ellis Island. In the process, he highlights what is obscured by narratives and texts celebrating the United States as an open-armed haven for everyone: the country’s violent beginnings, including its conquest of Native Americans, brutal exploitation of enslaved Africans, and colonialist annexation of French and Mexican territories; a recurring and fierce strand of nativism; the need for a docile labor force; and the harsh discipline meted out to immigrant “aliens” today, particularly along the Mexican border.


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In A Forgetful Nation, the renowned postcolonialism scholar Ali Behdad turns his attention to the United States. Offering a timely critique of immigration and nationalism, Behdad takes on an idea central to American national mythology: that the United States is “a nation of immigrants,” welcoming and generous to foreigners. He argues that Americans’ treatment of immigrants In A Forgetful Nation, the renowned postcolonialism scholar Ali Behdad turns his attention to the United States. Offering a timely critique of immigration and nationalism, Behdad takes on an idea central to American national mythology: that the United States is “a nation of immigrants,” welcoming and generous to foreigners. He argues that Americans’ treatment of immigrants and foreigners has long fluctuated between hospitality and hostility, and that this deep-seated ambivalence is fundamental to the construction of national identity. Building on the insights of Freud, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida, he develops a theory of the historical amnesia that enables the United States to disavow a past and present built on the exclusion of others. Behdad shows how political, cultural, and legal texts have articulated American anxiety about immigration from the Federalist period to the present day. He reads texts both well-known—J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass—and lesser-known—such as the writings of nineteenth-century nativists and of public health officials at Ellis Island. In the process, he highlights what is obscured by narratives and texts celebrating the United States as an open-armed haven for everyone: the country’s violent beginnings, including its conquest of Native Americans, brutal exploitation of enslaved Africans, and colonialist annexation of French and Mexican territories; a recurring and fierce strand of nativism; the need for a docile labor force; and the harsh discipline meted out to immigrant “aliens” today, particularly along the Mexican border.

42 review for A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bhzd Sdgh

    The analyses of the book Per Se were interesting and enlightening. The writer sets out to show how the myth of the American nation is created and how the crimes of the early colonizers are condoned by such famous names such as Whitman and Alexis de Tocqueville. What outrages me, however, is that the writer (who is an Iranian) closes his eyes on what is wrong with his own country and finds fault with Americans.

  2. 4 out of 5

    JT

    Interesting chapter on Whitman. Nothing groundbreaking here.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Ryan

    Read this to understand America's ambiguous nature as a xenophobe-xenophile nation, how she's sucked in immigrants while also wanting to spit them out. You'll find a literature-based exporation our concept of ourselves as a "nation of immigrants," and of our variable hospitality and of our selective historical amnesia. Not exactly a pleasure-read, as I often find myself knee-deep in theoretical mumbo jumbo and extra-long sentences that I have to read twice-over. Perhaps if I were a history major Read this to understand America's ambiguous nature as a xenophobe-xenophile nation, how she's sucked in immigrants while also wanting to spit them out. You'll find a literature-based exporation our concept of ourselves as a "nation of immigrants," and of our variable hospitality and of our selective historical amnesia. Not exactly a pleasure-read, as I often find myself knee-deep in theoretical mumbo jumbo and extra-long sentences that I have to read twice-over. Perhaps if I were a history major, some terms would be more familiar.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Anas

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    Amy

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    Afrah

  7. 4 out of 5

    Samantha Chun

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anam

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    Sima

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jishnu Guha

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Sternisha

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karim

  14. 5 out of 5

    Hiie Marie

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    F

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

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    Alex

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    Sean Lumkong

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    Laurie

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    Arnoldo Garcia

  21. 5 out of 5

    secondwomn

  22. 5 out of 5

    Timothy

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    Mandi

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    Jenni Buckley

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    Torie

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    T.

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    Anne

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    Josué Rivera

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    Colin

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    Anh Le

  31. 4 out of 5

    Miriam Borenstein

  32. 5 out of 5

    Catalina

  33. 5 out of 5

    Bryan

  34. 5 out of 5

    Naila

  35. 5 out of 5

    Serena

  36. 5 out of 5

    Esra Tasdelen

  37. 5 out of 5

    julia

  38. 5 out of 5

    rows

  39. 5 out of 5

    Prasanna

  40. 4 out of 5

    BookDB

  41. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie Smith

  42. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Kellogg

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