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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Flophouse American Diaspora Reading List

“Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.”

Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

Time for an update of the Flophouse American Diaspora Reading List - the best books and articles I've read recently about American citizens and communities abroad.  New books are in green.  As always, please feel free to add to the list.  

This list has three sections:  Upcoming titles - Books that have not been published yet but that I plan on reading; General books/articles - the larger view.  Some talk about specific issues (like citizenship), others are studies, portraits or serious research about Americans abroad;  Expat autobiographies - Accounts of Americans in different countries.  These are not books that tell a potential American migrant how to live abroad.   These are personal accounts that talk about what happens to American identity when it gets transplanted somewhere else for a year or two, or for a lifetime.  

Upcoming Titles:

The Citizenship of Americans Living Abroad: Democracy and Those Who Leave by Katya C. Long.   According to Amazon this one still has not been released.  The pre-order price is 145 USD which means I need to feel a lot richer before I 1-Click this one...

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General books:

Unofficial Ambassadors:  American Military Families Overseas and the Cold War, 1946-1965 (2007) by Donna Alvah. American civilians abroad tend to ignore the presence and experiences of American military families abroad.  There are many sterotypes of these families that show them living in American ghettos and never getting out and having contact with host country.  That may be true in some countries but certainly not all.  Where there wasn't enough base housing these families had no choice but to live "on the economy" in local towns.  In this period the US military in Europe and Asia encouraged the spouses (mostly wives) to become unofficial American Ambassadors which meant learning the language and culture. These women started friendship clubs and tried to create places where host country nationals and American military families could informally interact and learn something about each other. Alvah does a superb job of describing the lives of these families, and reveals the contradictions behind these attempts to partially integrate into the host country in the service of their country.

Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite (1995) by Robert D. Kaplan.  Kaplan is one of my favorites.  I don't always agree with him but he writes beautifully and he does his research.  This books has excellent portraits of the American communities in places like Lebanon in the 19th and early 20th century.  They were not just missionaries, they were educators, explorers and advocates.  Kaplan draws a line between that American expatriate "localitis"  which was passed down to their intellectual heirs in the late 20th century, and the diplomatic debacle behind the first Iraq war. 

Revoking Citizenship: Expatriation in America from the Colonial Era to the War on Terror (2015) by Ben Herzog.  Not as good a book as Sovereign Citizen by Patrick Weil, but still a fine read. The US has a fine tradition of making and unmaking citizens.  Who was not worthy to remain an American citizen?  In one era it was race, in another it was having the wrong ideology, and in our time it is support for terrorist organizations.  Herzog quotes extensively from Peter Spiro's work and argues that it is the duals who are the most vulnerable today because, he posits, we are living in a period where dual citizenship is merely tolerated, not accepted.

American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates in the Civil Rights Era (2008) by Kevin K. Gaines.  In 1957 the British Gold Coast colony in sub-Saharan Africa became the independent state of Ghana.  A number of Americans of African descent left the US at the time to live, work, or simply lend their support to the new state.  People like Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Richard Wright.  The Civil Rights Movement in the US had an international dimension and many activists saw their fight for rights in the United States as part of the larger context of African national independence movements.  An amazing story with a not so happy ending - a military coup took down the regime in 1966.

The Sovereign Citizen: Denaturalization and the Origins of the American Republic (2013) by Patrick Weil.    Really superb book. Excellent research into the un-making of American citizens in the 20th century. 

The Other Side of the Fence:  American Migrants in Mexico (2010) by Sheila Croucher.  A book that came out of a study that Ms. Croucher conducted on US citizens residing in Mexico.  This is not a definitive book about Americans in Mexico in the first decade of the 21st century. It's a sketch that leaves out a lot and once we have that firmly in our minds, we can look more closely at some of her arguments and the questions she asks about the meaning of this group in the larger picture of regional migration on the North American continent. Flophouse review here.

Round-Trip to America:  The Immigrants Return to Europe (1996) by Mark Wyman.  Fascinating look at the immigrants who came to America and then turned around and went back home.  How many?  Hard to know but in the brief period where the US government tried to track it (1908-1923) the inflow to America was nearly 10 million and the outflow was 3.5 million of which 88% were Europeans. Wyman notes that these remigrants represented an important connection to the United States and were viewed as "americani" and "Yanks" when they resettled in their countries of origin.  Worth reading to remind us all that migration is not an aller simple.

The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth, 1880-1941 (2014) by Nancy L. Green. I was really looking forward to this one and it did not disappoint (gave it four stars on Goodreads).  The American community/colony in Paris has always been far more diverse than one might think:  businessmen (and women), lawyers, doctors, dentists as well as students and artists and writers. Green does an excellent job of broadening our perspective about this community which has existed since before the American Revolution.  I highly recommend this book and all of Nancy Green's work.

Civic Myths: A Law-And-Literature Approach to Citizenship (2007) by Brook Thomas.  There is citizenship as the law of the land which defines who is legally "in" (or "out") but there is also the social context around it which influences how we feel about that citizenship.  Thomas shows how the "good citizen" or the "immigrant citizen" were portrayed in popular American literature.  The most interesting for me was his discussion about the very famous essay The Man Without a Country which may still be influencing how Americans feel about expatriation (renouncing or losing US citizenship).

Citizenship Without Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Polity (1985) by Peter H. Schuck and Rogers Smith.  My review is here.  This is a book that argues against the rather broad application of US jus soli citizenship laws.  I think it reads very differently for an American living outside the US who is aware that these laws have created something that is being referred to now as an "Accidental American." 

What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France (2013) by Mary Louise Roberts.  Well-researched and has so much information in it that I was in awe as I was reading it.  However, I'm not so sure about the conclusions she drew from that research.  I think I need to read it again before I can give it a fair review.   If you have read it, let me know in the comments section what you thought. 

Migrants or Expatriates?  Americans in Europe by Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels. This one came in 2014 and is THE book to read if you are interested in knowing something concrete about just who those absent Americans (7 million or so of them) are:  socioeconomic status, political affiliations, host country, integration, identity and so much more.  Short Flophouse review here and an interview she gave about the book here.  

The Citizenship Revolution: Politics and the Creation of the American Union, 1774-1804 by Douglas Bradburn.  This came out in 2009 and it examines the development of US citizenship in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Fighting over citizenship in this newly independent state was influenced by what was going on in Europe (the French Revolution), the arrival of yet more immigrants and the naturalization question, and expatriation (how to give up US citizenship).  For the last look no further then the fascinating case of one Gideon Henfield, an American who, when accused of privateering, invoked his "right to expatriate" and informed the court that he was no longer an American, but a Frenchman.  He was acquitted in 1793 and allowed to leave and go about his business. 

Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization by Peter Spiro (2008).  This one is already on the Flophouse Diaspora and International Migration Reading List but it definitely should go here as well.  What has happened, in his view, to US citizenship in a globalized world?  I am planning on re-reading it with my American abroad eye taking into account what has happened in the world to US citizenship since 2010.

Expatriation, Expatriates, and Expats: The American Transformation of a Concept by Nancy L. Green.  This article (available on-line) was published in 2009 in the The American Historical Review. Great essay about American expatriation in the legal and cultural senses.  How did the right to expatriate (the right to leave) go from a mechanism for "nation-building" to one of excluding Americans from the nation?

Americans Abroad: A Comparative Study of Emigrants from the United States by A. Dashefsky et al. Published in 1992 this is a study of Americans migrants in Australia and Israel (Canada is briefly mentioned as well).  It asks provocative questions about motives for leaving, adaptation in these countries, and why the migrants stayed, returned to the US, or decided to move on to a third country.  In the final chapter are some interesting conclusions and proposals for policies around this emigration one of which is: "Deter efforts to force migrants to change citizenship or otherwise make a permanent, formal commitment to one society or another."

Published in 2007, a very interesting book that re-examines the "American Dream" in the light of American emigration.  Talks about Americans in Canada, Israel, Australia and New Zealand.  It's one of the few I've found that includes African-American emigration and women migrants.  Some good statistics (or at least estimates) at the end of the book.

The Unknown Ambassadors: A Saga of Citizenship by Phyllis Michaux.
Published in 1996, this is the story of how Americans abroad organized around issues of particular importance to Americans living outside the US:  citizenship for the children of Americans who were born abroad, voting rights, and many other issues like Medicare from the 1970's to the 1990's.  This is the diaspora going to the homeland government for recognition as a distinct group with particular interests.  It's a battle that is still ongoing but this book is important because it's the only one I know of that gives the the history and the context behind today's efforts.

"Gilded Prostitution": Status, Money, And Transatlantic Marriages, 1870-1914 by Maureen E. Montgomery.   The title is a bit off-putting but if you are an American woman married to a foreign national this is a good one.  The marriages examined here are between elites (U.S. and U.K.) over a century ago and yet some of the negative (and positive) attitudes about women who marry foreigners and leave America are all too familiar.  Under it all, of course, were questions of citizenship (should women lose their citizenship because they marry "out") and taxation where money followed these women abroad.

Americans Abroad, How Can We Count Them? This book which came out in 2010  is the transcript of a hearing held in 2001 by the U.S. Congress House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, Sub-committee on the Census,  on the feasibility of including Americans civilians abroad in the census.  This is the diaspora meeting the homeland government directly and the interplay between homeland interests and the interests of Americans abroad is fascinating.  In particular the testimony of the representative from the U.S. State Department shines a light on the relationship between the US Embassies/Consulates and the American communities in the host countries.  

Diaspora Politics: At Home Abroad by Gabriel Sheffer. This is a general book about diaspora politics but I include it here for two reasons: 1.  It will put the efforts for recognition in the three previous books on this list in a much larger context.  There are patterns, general strategies that all diasporas use or try to use as they attempt to manage the relationship with the homeland over different issues and 2.  He examines the question of whether or not the American communities abroad (some of which have a history that goes back to the American Revolution in the 18th century) constitute a true diaspora. 

A Gathering of Fugitives:  American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965 (2002) by Diana Anhalt. a fascinating portrait of American political expatriates, a "small group of controversial Americans who found refuge in Mexico during the late 40's and throughout the '50's..." Flophouse review here.

This book focuses on one of the largest and most visible group of Americans who live and work abroad: teachers. Zimmerman talks about the distinct differences between those who went abroad in the first half of the 20th century and those who left in the latter half. Though the social, historical and political frameworks changed over time, he notes that there has always been a diversity of opinion and a debate about just what these Americans were doing (or supposed to be doing) abroad. There are things in here that will make Americans wince - not just how some Americans viewed the countries where they worked (especially those that were a part of the American empire like Puerto Rico or the Philippines) in the first part of the 20th century, but also how this continued with a different twist in the second half of the century.

A beautiful book about American women abroad - the photography is stunning.  These are ordinary women who have done (and are still doing) extraordinary things outside the US: Jean Darling (Ireland), Yuzana Khin (Thailand), Gillian McGuire (Italy), Kim Powell, (France), Lucy Laederich (France), Marcia Brittain (Uruguay), and Jane Cabanyes (Spain) to name just a few. The book came out of a FAWCO (Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas) project and is the work of two members: My-Linh Kunst (photography) and Charlotte Fox Zabusky.  A longer Flophouse review of the book can be found here.

The Transplanted Woman by Gabrielle Varro
Gabrielle Varro is a CNRS researcher in anthropology and sociology who has studied bi-lingualism, immigration and the sociology of mixed-marriages. This book came out of a study that she conducted with AAWE of French-American marriages and families over generations.  Some of it is about the dynamics of cross-cultural marriages but it also looks at American identity as it is transmitted through the American wives of French men.  A Flophouse discussion of Varro's work can be found here.

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Autobiographies:

The Dead Ladies Project:  Exiles, Expats and Ex-Countries (2015) by Jessa Crispin.  Another American who left the US as a tourist with a project after the Great Recession, and from  what I can tell she is still abroad and living in Europe (Berlin) - the quintessential "Accidental Migrant." She's a fine writer and I enjoyed the book very much.  I wish, however, she had done a bit more research into the expat/migrant community in Berlin before passing judgment on them: "...the artistically spent, those trapped in the waning of careers, of inspiration, of family relations, and of ambition."  David Griffiths and Stella Maile, for example, have done research on Britons in Berlin in the context of "Lifestyle Migration" - a term I loathe and yet the shoe fits in Crispin's case.

Unsavory Elements:  Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China (2013) by Tom Carter.  The contributors here are a mix of American and other nationalities and their stories make for an excellent read.  Surprise!  Foreigners in China (or anywhere) do not always behave well (employment problems, prison, drugs and alcohol, prostitution) and it's a relief to hear people admit that in some very well-written short stories. The editor of this collection, Tom Carter, is an American writer and photographer who has lived in China for about 10 years. He wrote the introduction and the last story in this book, Unsavory Elements, and the latter triggered a controversy:  Carter and friends found an rather interesting diversion for a Canadian friend who was leaving China "having utterly failed here" - a trip to a Chinese brothel.  The tone of the piece is light-hearted and makes fun of everyone involved and that did not sit well with some who found the entire business extremely offensive.  I'll let you read it and decide for yourself what you think of it.

At Home in Japan: A Foreign Woman's Journey of Discovery (2010) by Rebecca Otowa.  I was not impressed by the first half of the book and almost put it down.  But I persevered and the second part was all that I could hope for.  Flophouse review here.

Foreigner in My Own Backyard (2014) by Travis Casey.  I found this when when I was looking for a copy of Bill Bryson's book.  The author is an American who has been living in the UK for 20 years (he's a dual US/UK citizen) and who has had to come back to the US for a short time to care for family.   These are his first impressions of life back in the homeland.  It's funny (and sad sometimes).  Some of his stories show just how ambivalent Americans in the US are about Americans who leave.  If you are an American abroad and have ever toyed with the idea of going "home" for an extended visit, I think you will enjoy this one.

The American (2007) by Franz-Olivier Giesbert.  A rather dark book but with a unique perspective.  The author is an Accidental American in France who wrote about his relationship with his American father.  Flophouse review here.

Second Skin (2012) by Diana Anhalt.  Some stunning poetry from the author of A Gathering of Fugitives. She writes about her host country (Mexico), languages (English/Spanish) and much more.  One of my favorite lines from her work:

"Today I speak Spanish to survive,
but I write in English for its punch,
for the way it slices through excess, draws blood,
attracts sharks. (They know this voice and come to me.)"
All about the trauma of losing identity and forming a new one in a new language and country.  Very honest account of how she felt during the process.  A longer Flophouse review of the book is here.

The musings of a "redneck socialist" which are mostly about homeland politics but there are some excellent essays in this book about his time in Belize. His political views are pretty clear:  "Capitalism is dead," he said, "but we still dance with the corpse." Really engaging writer and his expat perspective is one you don't come across everyday.  Just have a look at his bio.  

Tales of Mogadiscio by Iris Kapil
This is a series of essays written by an American woman in a cross-cultural marriage (her husband is Indian and they got married in the 1950's).  She was a serial expat but this book is about the two years the family spent "on the economy" in the capital city of Somalia in the 1960's.  Beautiful descriptions of what that city was like before the country descended into chaos and became the epitome of a "failed state."  Kapil has a fine blog called Iris sans frontières.

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