The Bad Foreigner/"The Melancholy Migrant"

by on Nov.16, 2012

I’ve often talked about the position of the foreigner. Recently I’ve been interested in homesickness, a condition that was increasingly pathologized in America in the 19th century – identified as a disease that troubled the image of the Good Immigrant who forges ahead without any memory of the past, maintaining the model of the self-sufficient, autonomous self. The homesick foreigner troubles this idea of Selfhood, holding on to stuff he/she should let go of.

A lot of my ideas are elaborated on by Sara Ahmed in her essay “Happy Objects.” Here’s an excerpt:

“The figure of the melancholic migrant is a familiar on in contemporary race politics. The melancholic migrant holds onto the unhappy objects of differences, such as the turban, or at least the memory of being teased about the turban, which ties it to a history of racism. Such differences become sore points or blockage points, where the smooth passage of communication stops. The melancholic migrant is the one who is not only stubbornly attached to difference, but who insists on speaking about racism, where such speech is heard as laboring over sore points. The duty of the migrant is to let go of the pain of racism by letting go of racism as a way of understanding that pain. The melancholic migrant’s fixation with injury is read not only as an obstacle to his or her own happiness, but also to the happiness of the generation to come, and to national happiness. This figure may even quickly convert in the national imaginary to what I have called the “could-be-terrorist” (Ahmed 2004). His anger, pain, and misery (all understood as forms of bad faith in so far as they won’t let go of something that is presumed to be already gone) become “our terror.”

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