Denied Detained Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration
by Ann Bausum
National Geographic, 2009
Negative space is an artistic construct that looks at the visual space around or between subjects as a place in an image where meaning can exist and communicate itself: objects can be defined by their own outlines, or by the outlines of adjacent objects. The construct has application in the study of literature, too, as we consider how an idea is shaped not only by its own definition but also by the definitions of related concepts. As we seek to understand “belonging” in books for young people, then, let us look not only at books that celebrate someone’s place in a particular community, but books that consider the refusal of such membership, too.
Ann Bausum applies such an approach to American history in Denied Detained Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration, seeking to understand how people came to this country, by looking deeply and carefully at a number of situations where that arrival was thwarted. She begins with the familiar Emma Lazurus poem that appears on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, followed by a contemporary poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that offers a decidedly less welcoming vision of the US border. From there Bausum investigates a number of historical events, each titled with a different form of alienation. “Excluded” looks at the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which left Chinese immigrants ineligible for citizenship until 1943. “Denied” tells the story of the St. Louis, a ship carrying hundreds of German Jewish refugees that the US turned away in 1939. The author captures the events with arresting clarity, engaging the reader’s empathy and outrage with her precise language and documentary research. And on top of the harrowing stories Bausum posits questions about our contemporary treatment of those newest to our country, often subjected to xenophobic mistreatment and persecution.
By exacting the nature of fearsome, systematized alienation, Denied Detained Deported delivers a powerful picture of how important it is to belong.