Daniel, Ibn Bahija.

Looking out from my balcony; Ras En-Nebaa.

Looking out from my balcony; Ras En-Nebaa. (Photo by Mayda Freije Makdessi)

Seest thou one who denies the Reckoning? Then such is he who harshly repulses the orphan…. —The Small Kindnesses, 107:1–3

We remain the repulsed, splinters, expelled from the body; the corpus surrounds us, englobes us, drives us out; it then returns to a state of “as if” we had never existed. Should we attempt return, we do not notice that the immune response starts yet again, only at this point we are incapable of understanding its reasonings and explanations. Ô Lebanon! Shall I be sorry that I wished not to return as an “American”? Had I done so, I know I would have been embraced with open arms, as the colonized greet their oppressors. There is no comfort here. No, I sought something more from you: an origin, a sense of source, an acknowledgement of belonging, a claim to place—a wish shared by many also discounted as not being “of” this place, none of which you deemed worthy of offering. In this regard, I was naive to an extreme, no doubt. Things have changed as they are wont, though it took much of a lifetime: After a decade of search, a DNA test, and reunion with extended family, a great unblocking took place as word got round, as the who and the what and the why made the rounds; and an elderly man plagued by his memories of a child absconded with half a century ago came forward, and revealed a secret to the only man he trusts with such information, my cousin Jamal’s father. And with that the Sisyphean task, twelve long years later, is accomplished.
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National anti-adoption awareness month: 30 answers to 30 questions.

The problem for adoptees arguing about their position in society is similar to what has been experienced previously by other marginalized groups looking to make a space within the hegemonic culture. Namely, how to expand out from what is considered simply a personal issue; an individual hang-up; a “selfish” focus on one’s condition. The individualistic and solipsistic dominant culture ironically turns around and tells its absconded-with children to not be so “selfish” as to complain. In other terms, this was used against other groups as well—”don’t be ‘uppity'”; “know your role”. We should literally be seen and not heard. Those days are over.
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His eye is on the sparrow…

Letterpress memorial card

It was two years ago at my sister’s house, and my mom came down the stairs with a junky old tape recorder and a cassette. “I got to hankering for Brother John’s voice”, she explained matter-of-factly, speaking of my Uncle John who had passed away a few years back. He taught choir at the local schools, and would sing in church and for recitals. Mom’s life revolved around choir as well, and hymns were always at her lips. We listened in silence, but at the same time, I was trying to figure out what was behind all of this. Mom grew wistful at one particular song, and I asked her what was playing. She piped up: “Now, this hymn is called, ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow’*; it was played at the memorial service for both your Nonnie and Papaw; also your Aunt Barbie and Uncle John….” She trailed off, and I knew the rest of the sentence. And this time, I knew better than to jokingly chastise her concerning not wanting to talk about such things.
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An interview at American Indian Adoptees

[A memorial commemorating those who went to the Alberni Indian Residential School [link to article: “One town, two worlds: Reconciliation in Port Alberni”]. (Wawmeesh Hamilton/Discourse Media)]

This interview was conducted in 2012 for American Indian Adoptees [link to web site] via email exchange with Trace Hentz [link to blog]. I’ve been going back to this web site a lot this past year, now that I’m living and working on unceded territories of the Musqueam, Skxwú7mesh, Tsleil-Waututh, and Kwantlen bands. “Unceded” means that the land was never surrendered, it was usurped. I add to this land acknowledgment my vow to actively work toward restitution and repossession, not reconciliation nor any other deception from within the structures and systems of occupation and oppression that dominate in North America.
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Research/writing at @academia

I’ve uploaded papers, conference presentations, articles, etc. to Academia.edu [link to Academia.edu]; I hope this will serve as a more central repository of output than various blogs/web sites.

Thanks for reading.

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Resisting Extirpation: Revolutionary Adoption Activism

This is the full text of the presentation I delivered at the ASAC/AI Conference that took place in Oakland in October, 2018.


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ASAC/AI Voices of Adoption Literary Event

ASAC Creative Event

ASAC presents Voices of Adoption, an evening of literary readings, featuring Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Susan Harness, Julayne Lee, and Lee Herrick (and many other talented writers). Free and open to the public! The literary event will take place on Friday, October 19, at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center (388 9th St., Oakland), starting at 8:00 p.m. in the Auditorium. Susan Harness and Daniel Drennan ElAwar from Transracial Eyes will be reading from their work.


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@Jack, Defiance Killer: @Twitter’s focused attack on the left

Kamal Shaqi’s Twitter timeline

The social media Purge
I was intrigued by a tweet that went out the other day. Caitlin Johnstone (@caitoz), after tweeting that John McCain was a warmonger, had her account unceremoniously suspended. Twitter users raised enough of a ruckus that it was reinstated, as witnessed by her celebratory tweet. I was glad to see her back online, yet at the same time I don’t view this as a victory. In recent years I’ve been keeping count as left-wing and pro-Palestinian voices that I follow on social media have announced their warnings, suspensions, online jailings, or recreated accounts (Twitter is doing a secondary purge of these). The shift to actively purging such voices, mimicking the real world, looks to be thorough and permanent on the various virtual conveyors of what goes for free speech these days.

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CAA Conference: Decolonizing Illustration

The College Arts Association (CAA) Annual Conference, “the largest professional convening of art historians, artists, designers, curators, and others in the visual arts” [link], will be holding its annual conference in New York City in February. I’m happy and honored that my proposal entitled, “Decolonizing illustration: 
Rerooting culture, language, and activist practice” has been accepted. The irony that this work be recognized in my nation-state of acculturation and not in my colonized nation-state of birth and return is, to put it mildly, rather bittersweet.

Teaching illustration in the periphery of capital/empire reveals contradictions of disconnection/uprootedness concerning culture, language, community, and artistic practice. Contesting this fracture has a long history. Paulo Freire stated: “The oppressed want at any cost to resemble the oppressors”; Frantz Fanon referred to the “colonized mind”; and Patrick Lumumba called for “mental decolonization”. He advised his compatriots to “rediscover [their] most intimate selves and rid [them]selves of mental attitudes and complexes and habits that colonization…trapped [them] in for centuries.”

Given the structural nature of colonial education, within which students are educated outside of local language, culture, and majority class, how might it be possible to reintegrate with local space, realm, and communities? How would an awareness of globalization, liberalism, and humanitarian imperialism affect their university-based projects and, later, their local artistic practices? Finally, what are the negative effects/disincentives of taking political stands in terms of personal/commercial work, given a globalized art industry itself imbued with liberal/capitalist incentives and tendencies?

This paper will reflect on eight years teaching in Lebanon, and attempts to “decolonize” the classroom. Themes examined include communal/collaborative work; the collision of local/colonial languages; the interaction with displaced, dispossessed, and marginalized populations; the exploration of social issues beyond humanitarian imperialist contexts; concepts of fractured, uprooted, and affected identities; and concluding with an exploration of how such pedagogical foci might “travel” and be applicable in the core of capital/empire, as well as among disparate and seen-as unrelated communities.

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ASAC Conference, Part II: “Creative Writing Reading”

The Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture (ASAC) Conference will also be hosting a “Creative Writing Reading” session. I am happy and honored to report that my proposal here has also been accepted.

Reading proposal • My proposal includes excerpts from a work in progress tentatively entitled Foreign Body. It is based on two book proposals: one a non-fiction overview of adoption from a perspective of belonging, identity, and citizenship; the other a more personal memoir. Based on feedback from a literary agent I have embarked on a trajectory that aims to combine the two projects into one. The premise is a series of elocutionary samples, based in literary genres found in South- and Southwest Asia, in the work of modern writers such as Thomas Bernhard, as well as in the freeform radio presentations created by Joe Frank. These samples take as a basis examples of what I refer to as “writs of rupture”, ephemeral missives that yet maintain a power over lives, that embody dominant hegemonic modes, or else represent popular voice deemed invalid by these modes. For example, the small piece of paper that stated I was abandoned on the beach in Dbayeh; the poetry written down and then discarded by a Syrian migrant worker friend in Beirut, who would exclaim: “Who will read such verse, professor?”; the propaganda leaflets dropped from the sky during the July War of 2006, etc. The whole will be self-referential in the sense that it is not a chronological read, it is more an attempt to show the “full iceberg” that these notations barely make evident and manifest. Furthermore, it reveals an interconnectedness between those whose lives have been irrevocably altered by acts of dispossession, displacement, and disinheritance.

Registration closes July 1. Hope to see you there in October!

The Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture
The Adoption Initiative

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Resisting Extirpation: Revolutionary Adoption Activism

The Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture (ASAC) Conference this year will feature sessions of The Adoption Initiative, which is usually a separate conference. I’ve been to both conferences in the past, have worked on the planning committee for the latter, and am greatly looking forward to this combined effort. The conference will take place in Oakland, October 18–20.

My proposal, “Resisting Extirpation: Revolutionary Adoption Activism” has been accepted as a paper presentation. The proposal follows:

Research Paper Proposal • Current adoption activism accedes to dominant liberal conceptions of economic and political value as ascribed to human life. By extension it concedes culturally specific concepts of family creation, kinship, identity, and citizenship. Adopters and adoptees, identifying with the class responsible for displacement and dispossession along a grand spectrum, construct adoption as separate from similar societal disinheritances. When examined through a lens of “social death”, adoption regains its role as a quite successful tool of social cleansing. It is only in admitting adoption’s agency in such practices that an effective resistance concerning survival and healing can be put into place.

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Eulogy: Mary J. Drennan


Mary Jo Keiper Drennan: 1933–2017

There’s a story we tell in the family about our mom. One time, when she was living in Magdalena, hours away by car from the nearest cellular tower much less town or city, they were obliged to use a helicopter to take her to Albuquerque’s heart hospital. It was a tense situation, to be sure. The EMTs who were taking her to the airport, in an attempt at levity, told her they were Marines just back from a tour of duty, so they didn’t want any trouble from her. The two of them together easily weighed four times our mom’s weight.

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