The immigrant experience offers new windows to discover the living conditions of the most hegemonic empire that has ever existed. Students of sociology should recognize this as the concept of “outside-in”. I am very hesitant, however, to call myself an outsider in any sense, especially when those living outside the so-called West, with a capital “W,” outnumber those inside. I am not an outsider in the same way that this western world, the one understood through the languages of wealth and power, is not the only one that makes sense.
Believing in capital and its internal logic is not the only way to make sense of existence “inside” the West. What I mean is that perspectives from the outside, or at least from places that smack of a looser understanding of liberal capitalism, are key to understanding how people live and understand their relationships – with each other. others and in the social and natural environments around them – in different but equally effective ways.
An example: Reading wealth into existence is just one way to understand the importance of skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan. Watching from a bus as it crosses the Hudson and enters the island city, one can see how these buildings were constructed through private funds, accumulated wealth, and public policy. Construction was born out of individual accumulations of wealth and a capitalist determination to create space out of nothing, allowing concrete and steel beams to reach into the heavens.
Another reading, or a different understanding and articulation of what is happening on the other side of this window, might be a reading of the shadows that these skyscrapers cast on the ghettos below. Behind the spectacle of the city grid are the brick basements and the slouched men who cook for New York’s elite. I’m talking about the women who go from room to room, from floor to floor, cleaning the apartments of financial bankers. I’m talking about alienated sanitation workers whose work helps support their children who study in uptown City College, unaware that their child remains alienated by their peers and teachers, the children of capital who believe they built the city from scratch.
I am not emphasizing the material allocation of wealth or the capitalist and bureaucratic arteries that channel resources through the bodily construction of the city. Rather, what I want to explore through an academic lens is what these buildings mean to those on the periphery of perception.
Reading through a different lens isn’t about sharing the stories of the people below – there are plenty of articles and ethnographies with much more detailed and accurate descriptions of what life in the shadows is like. I prefer to use this column to write about what it’s like to slip between social spaces while retaining the logic I still feel whenever I catch myself staring at the New York skyline on my way back from Bowdoin.
I find it beautiful to study the different lenses that animate everyday life and to see the different webs that make up the cosmologies of people’s sensitivities.
I want to end with a call, or better yet a cry, for a world where the speeches of all the different dialects, sacred signs and totems of divine significance are equally legible. One in which the public at the center of America’s wealth and privilege reacts to cries of religious grief with the same visceral reaction as to the world of secular politics.
If writing is a practice of articulation, as understood by post-Marxist scholars like Chantal Mouffe, then my writing directs my articulation toward decoding hidden meanings in the immigrant experience. Articulation, in my view, shouldn’t be limited to stories, about me recounting my parents’ suffering as precarious workers or my own stories as someone still outside of wealth and generational privilege. .
I hope to conjure up a language out of thin air, with the same unearthly beauty that Marx attributed to capitalism in his manifesto, that makes sense outside of the binary of capital.
My purpose is not to describe the story behind a photo of an indigenous woman carrying a rifle through the mystical jungles of Zapatista-controlled Chiapas. Instead, I hope to translate its beauty and what it means to us and use different language currents that do justice to the dynamic meanings of seemingly indescribable objects. It aims to capture what it would mean to live in a world beyond alienation, a world based on dignity and communal power. Perhaps a world like this can be read by imagining Zapatista women walking through the financial district and allowing themselves to revel in the bodily joy that those in the South feel in this demonstration of autonomy and liberation. .