Introduction: Family ≠ Nation
Issue #67, April 2004
Family has always been a subjective term. Its definition changes depending upon who you ask to define their idea of family. The Chambers Dictionary and Oxford Thesaurus offer many different, and sometimes opposite, definitions and alternatives: nuclear family, extended family, clan, tribe, offspring, dynasty, all those who live in a household (such as parents, children, servants). In the dictionary and the thesaurus, Family only intersects with Nation through one alternative meaning: tribe.
Most of today's nations are moving beyond identification with a particular tribe. One wonders, however, if tribe isn't the shadow-side of nation. Too many citizens seem to resort to a regrettable tribalism when the fabric of nation, real or imagined, is challenged from the outside or inside.
We like to think that we live in nations that deserve to be described in terms like multi-cultural, cultural mosaic, and melting-pot. The United States and Canada, in particular, have created new nations from the immigrants of other nations. Everyone in today's nations — whether conservative or liberal, libertarian or socialist, naturalized or natural citizen — works to find their own place and balance within the diversity of nationalities, cultures, and types of families available to them.
For the most part, in the past four decades, federal governments of nations such as the US and Canada have worked to preserve that diversity and to create opportunities for everyone. However, that trend is changing. For example, over the past few months, the Bush administration has repeatedly stated its intention to assert national power over what should constitute a Family — one man and one woman in a religious marriage with children.
The current attempt to intertwine Nation and Family, and to subjugate Family beneath the right foot of Nation, feels like the beginning of a trend that cannot bode well for the already besieged rights of the individual.
Family from the Inside
One Bad Subject is in a racially mixed marriage — one prohibited by miscegenation laws in much of the United States only a generation ago. His undergraduate classmates in New England sealed their long lesbian relationships with civil unions as soon as Governor Dean signed Vermont's law. Yet, although civil unions are a recent progressive step — and the compromise John Kerry endorses in an attempt to sound humane, liberal, and mainstream — no decent civil libertarian in 2004 wants to sound as spineless as the white people urging black people to take it slow during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s.
Meanwhile President Bush predictably acts like a cornered schoolyard bully: distract the crowd from his own failings and vulnerability by whomping on the sissy or minority kid. Anti-gay amendments to national or state constitutions, like the regrettable 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, diminish the integrity of the US as the purported Land of the Free at home and globally.
Bradley Berens confronts the conservative nature of the nuclear family as he discusses the perils of insisting on his liberal self as father to a three year old in In Practice There Is: Three stories about Progressive Fatherhood. Megan Shaw Prelinger discovers the liberal presumptions of marriage in her quest to add her husband's surname to her own in The Name Change Game.
In Searching for a More Perfect Union, Elisabeth Hurst looks at some of the rights and benefits, and what it really takes to give same-sex couples the choice to marry. Sylvia Allen and her partner didn't have to wait for the federal government to give their blessing to their choice to marry. As she describes in San Francisco Wedding Story, they took advantage of Gavin Newsom's decision to issue marriage licenses and went down to San Francisco City Hall to get married. Looking for someone to Pass Me the Purple Crayon, Carol E Trainor draws a textual picture of queer thought and of being queer in the world in general and in Nova Scotia in particular.
Nation from the Outside
No-one else sees a nation in quite the same way as an outsider. Outsiders have a unique ability to see and perspective on the actions and reactions of what forms that particular nation and how the nation affects its citizens.
Personal identity has a great impact on whether someone feels like an outsider in a nation. One person can feel at home in a situation that makes someone else feel like an outsider. We look at this dichotomy with articles by Rachel Barenblat and Loolwa Khazzoom. As a Diaspora Grrl, Rachel Barenblat considers the yearning of the Jewish Diaspora towards the nation of Israel, where she is an outsider, and looks for ways to re-channel that energy within the nations of the Diaspora. Loolwa Khazzoom, who felt like an outsider in the Jewish Diaspora, looks in the other direction in American, Iraqi, Jewish: So It Makes Sense for Me to Live in Israel.
Michael Hoffman's travels took him from the US to Central Europe in The Nation, the State, and Travel after 9/11. Away from the US, he brings a fresh, outsider perspective to the attitudes towards Nation that he finds in both his host countries and his home country. In a much shorter trip, Mary McInnis tries to replace her outsider status through the intimate experiences that she exposes in the Diary Entry of an Iowa Caucus Virgin.
Representations of Family and Nation
For clarity in this variegated world of families and nations, we might look to the representations around us, on television, in museums and in art works.
Tamara Watkins began her research on the Osbourne family two years ago for an assignment in a Saginaw Valley State University English class to write an essay like those published in Bad Subjects. In The Osbournes: Showing Family Life and Making Money Doing It, she examines the image of family presented by Ozzy the decrepit rock shouter, his wife Sharon, their children and fecally-productive hounds.
With Exhibition Complexes: Displaying Nation in Canada's Galleries, Kirsty Robertson looks at the ways that images can be used to both bring the themes of Nation to life, to place them into the historical distance, and to pin down ever-changing themes into still-life.
Melissa Usher uses paintings to portray images of social justice issues, asylum seekers, and the War on Terrorism. She uses her Rug Emporium to display these issues in a relatively non-confrontational manner, hoping to be less alienating and therefore allow the issues to be contemplated by a wider audience. In contrast, educator and artist Andrea Ondish explores a variety of individual and family issues in her American Graffiti: Prints and Paintings.
As a continuing theme, we bring you Voices from the Collective, as Mike Mosher and Colette Gaiter share their friendly discussion that arose from The Revolution Will Be Visualized: Emory Douglas in The Black Panther, Colette Gaiter's article in issue 65. Mike contextualizes Emory Douglas as a northern California underground cartoonist in Emory Douglas Roasts Pork — Response to Colette Gaiter. Colette acknowledges Mike's points, and encourages others to develop their own interpretations of Emory Douglas' art in its totality, as she further expands her own views in a Response to Mike Mosher.
Power of Nation: Use and Abuse
Every Nation wields a large amount of power over its own citizens. Each Nation's actions and attitudes can spread out beyond its own boundaries to influence the other Nations in the world. The more power a Nation has, the wider its sphere of influence, and the more it is incumbent upon that Nation to use the power wisely.
The US is currently the only "superpower" in the world. The USSR, which once provided a counter-balance to the power of the US, splintered into multiple countries — none of which retained the power of its larger predecessor. As a result, the exercise of national and international power is even more visible and more closely experienced by people when the US interacts with its own citizens and with other Nations.
The ways that the US government chooses to approach talks with the government of another nation frequently determines how that nation reacts. When the US doesn't pay attention to the culture of the other nation, the talks can easily degenerate and bring the world a little bit closer to catastrophe. Monti Narayan Datta examines the US Policy Toward a Nuclear North Korea. He contrasts the potentially disastrous results of the approach used by the Bush administration with the positive outcome that could come from an approach that is both more polite and considerate of the North Korean culture.
Finally, Megan Shaw Prelinger marks The Tenth Anniversary of the Siege at Waco and April 2003. She reflects the impact of that tragedy — which marked the greatest number of civilians killed in conflict with federal forces — against the backdrop of the current national crisis of civil rights and the War on Terrorism that has left many citizens and immigrants of the US wondering if they're going to be the next "Other" targeted by the US government.