2010 WLA Conference and New Arizona Immigration Law

Greetings from Arizona,

As you may know, last Friday the Arizona State legislature passed an extreme anti-immigrant law. The law, promptly signed by Governor Jan Brewer, allows for drastic measures to be taken against suspected illegal immigrants. This law will lead to racial profiling and is racist, intolerant, and stridently anti-humanitarian.  Many in the state, in the west, and indeed in the nation are shocked by what the Arizona governor calls a “tough” attitude toward “border security.”

There has been some talk among WLA members about the ethical implications of our 2010 conference in Prescott. As WLA president, I believe that there is no more urgent moment for us to come together to counter the oppressive politics of Arizona and other like-minded states who legislate the denial of human and civil rights. I am in this business because I believe in the transformative power of literature; I am certain many of you do, too. In addition to the topics suggested in this year’s call for papers, and the usual rich diversity of topics our members inevitably present on, there is certainly room for papers and panels on the literature of immigration, the globalization of the American West, the contemporary or historical literature of racial discord, of labor, of land and territory. And what better year to honor our Distinguished Achievement Award recipient Luis Valdez, who began his career writing and producing agitprop theater to demonstrate the humanity of Mexican American farm workers? His work on behalf of civil rights in the face of those who seek to deny these rights should be a reminder to us: artistic expression is a powerful force against oppression.

In today’s New York Times, op-ed columnist (click on highlight section for link to the whole column) Linda Greenhouse presents a good alternative to boycotting, which may actually hurt innocent small business owners and divest us of our political voice: “Here’s a modest proposal. Everyone remembers the wartime Danish king who drove through Copenhagen wearing a Star of David in support of his Jewish subjects. It’s an apocryphal story, actually, but an inspiring one. Let the good people of Arizona — and anyone passing through — walk the streets of Tucson and Phoenix wearing buttons that say: I Could Be Illegal.”

I look forward, more than ever, to seeing you in Prescott in October.


Gioia Woods

President, Western Literature Association


7 Responses to “2010 WLA Conference and New Arizona Immigration Law”

  1. Jaime Puente Says:

    A reporter from the Houston Chronicle asked people in Downtown Houston if they could prove their citizenship:

  2. westlitblogger Says:

    An interesting idea posted on Facebook for “Do I Look Illegal?” week:
    In defiance of the new bill in Arizona and in support of the Arizona citizens who will face harassment every time they step out their doors, the call is out for everyone to ask the question: “Do I look “illegal?” during the week of May 1st to May 8th. The focus is on raising awareness on the day of May 1st but by the overwhelming response, putting out this message is extending for the rest of the week.

    Post the question as your status on Facebook. Throughout the day, send the question out on Twitter. Ask one another the question, “Do I look illegal?” Hopefully, this will get all of us thinking and discussing what exactly does “illegal” look like..

    Finally, wear shirts, buttons or hold signs saying, “Do I look “illegal”? and take pictures to either send to Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona and/or post them here..

    her mailing address is:
    Jan Brewer
    Governor of Arizona
    1700 West Washington
    Phoenix, Arizona 85007

    This idea was initially from my roommate over a conversation the other night. Then I saw that a t-shirt was being sold that had the same message. So it made sense to take it a next step and share the idea of a “Do I Look ‘Illegal?'” Day with my FB family and friends..

  3. westlitblogger Says:

    There are a variety of challenges already being mounted against the Arizona Immigration bill:

  4. westlitblogger Says:

    And a clear overview of the some of the legal issues with the bill at Law Blog:

  5. Reg Dyck Says:

    I wonder if there has been a reconsideration since the announcement of a formal boycott La Raza, SEIU, UFCW and others. Will Luis Valdez still attend?

    The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association has decided not to join the boycott, but Simon Ortiz, recent WLA honoree, was quite critical of the decision.

    I respect the decision of the leadership, but I will not be attending the conference.

  6. gioia woods Says:

    Luis Valdez will attend. His work over the years using theater and literature to advocate for human and civil rights make him the perfect fit for this year’s conference, I believe.


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