For FALL 2010's delicious offerings of books, art, food, film, and unique travel--check out the NEW ISSUE of our online magazine FEAST--you will not go away hungry-- http://www.feastofbooks.com/

Between issues, read our blog posts as we and our special guests share thoughts, ideas, and recommendations about books, art, food, film, and travel. We love to hear from our readers, so please post a comment! Thanks-- Rosemary Carstens, editor

SNAX ONLINE is moving during the first quarter of 2011 -- stay tuned!

Snax Online is undergoing a redesign and will be moving to a new location. Check back from time to time for a link. In its new format, this blog will cover a wider range of topics but also its usual five. In the meantime, keep up with what's happening in the world of books, art, food, film, and travel at http://www.FEASTofBooks.com --

See you in 2011!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Leaving Home . . . Part Two

If you think about the Hmong people at all, do you think that their persecution is all old news, nothing to do with today? Think again.

The personal tragedies of those forgotten soldiers left behind when America pulled out of Vietnam in 1975 lives on in the hearts and minds of many who, enduring incredible hardships, finally found their way to the United States as immigrants. And those stories, those hardships, are mirrored by those who struggle today to reach what they hope will be a land of opportunity. They don’t come because they want to leave family, home, culture, and country behind. They come because they must, to escape unbearable political conditions in their homelands, to provide for their families, to improve their chances for survival.

To quote just one experience from the many thousands experienced by Hmong refugees, taken from a story published on June 8, 2008, on appealdemocrat.com:

Grief visits Neng Xiong at Thanksgiving.

That's when the abundance of food and clean water—most basic of the many resources and opportunities available to him now—remind him of a sister who died for the lack of them. . . . He had been part of an early wave of Hmong tribespeople who fled pursuing communist mercenaries in Laos after US forces pulled out of the country.

Xiong says he left his village at about age 7 with his parents, three brothers, three sisters and various extended family members. They left their lives behind with little except clothes, blankets and 50 pounds of rice. "We struggled all the way," he says of the treacherous two-month trek.

Neither he nor his siblings had ever worn shoes or seen a house with running water, or a grocery store. They sought only safety. Opportunity and comfort were beyond their imaginations, Xiong says. "I never thought that I would make it here, I'm lucky to be here to tell this story."

To read the complete article, click HERE.

Because the Hmong were seen as collaborators by the communists who took over even as helicopters airlifted embassy employees and other Americans out, they were hunted down, driven out of ancestral lands and homes, and torn from everything they knew. Many of those who managed to survive years of ordeals and immigrated to the United States found themselves persecuted and unwelcome here, too, because they were different, because most did not yet speak English, because they were “too foreign.”

Coffee House Press has just published the work of a gifted Hmong writer, Kao Kalia Yang (http://www.kaokaliayang.com/home.html), titled The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. This poignant, unforgettable story about her family’s frightening experiences as they fled Laos after the Vietnam War, their years spent in a desolate, harsh Thai refugee camp where the author was born, and their ultimate immigration to the United States is a fine example of why smaller presses, dedicated to beautiful writing and important nonfiction, stories of people that might otherwise slip through the cracks because they are not about celebrities, are essential to literature in this era.

The Hmong and their circumstances after our government pulled the plug in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, has been a previously untold story about an “invisible” people. This memoir reveals the heartbreak, the loss of home and family, the deplorable conditions in which families fought to survive in country, in Thailand, and upon arrival in the United States. Yang writes lyrically and well and weaves the folk lore of her ancestry and the love of one generation for another into a compelling tale.

As I read her story, I found myself wondering: Whatever happened to “Bring us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses”? Have we lost compassion for those not fortunate enough to be born here? Do we now just use people and discard them when they have nothing else we want, without regard for what being a US ally costs them? It’s happening again in Iraq. Those who help us are left to fend for themselves when no longer perceived as useful in reaching our military goals.

How do you feel about this behavior, this history, still in the making, of a government who abandons those in need, those not needed, and those unable to fend for themselves through circumstances not of their making? Is this America the Beautiful, land of the free? I’d love to hear your comments
-- Rosemary Carstens

Monday, June 02, 2008

Leaving Home . . . Part One

I recently read Edwidge Danticat’s latest book, Brother, I’m Dying, the story about the treatment her Uncle Joseph (her “second father”) received at the hands of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, resulting in his death, sick and alone, while in detention. Danticat is a gifted writer and this poignant, shocking story is even more so in her hands.

From the time as a very young girl when she was placed in her Uncle Joseph’s care, when her parents left troubled Haiti to try to establish a better life in the United States, she was gathered into his family with warmth and deep regard. Joseph was a man who “knew all the verses for love.”

Although Edwidge, her brothers, and her parents, would eventually be reunited in New York City, Uncle Joseph stayed on to minister to his family on the island and to his church congregation. As political conditions deteriorated even further, the Danticat’s fears for those remaining in Haiti grew. Late in 2004, after a life-threatening situation instigated by a violent gang, 81-year-old Joseph escaped to the United States. Traveling on an official visa, he no doubt felt when he boarded the plane that he would arrive in Miami, be met by family, and finally be safe for the first time in a long while. Instead, he was detained by the Department of Homeland Security, imprisoned and abused, refused his medications even though he repeatedly said to authorities, “Brother, I’m dying.” Within days, he was dead.

Because Danticat has a platform through her writing, and the skills and contacts to gain access others might not have, she has been able to bring the plight of her uncle to light. Not so for thousands of others who fall victim to the far-less-than-transparent immigration services procedures. Many are locked up for months or even years awaiting determinations about their fate. Racial profiling is rampant. There are no first-amendment rights, no rights to due process or proper representation, and no regard for the human suffering caused families. If anyone were to read one of these stories under the misapprehension that it was another country being discussed, it would seem horrifying that “they” treat human beings in this manner. But the “they” in this case is US, our government, with the full complicity of this administration.

As reported recently in the New York Times, “no government body in these cases is required to keep track of deaths and publicly report them. No independent inquiry is mandated. And often relatives who try to investigate the treatment of those who died say they are stymied by fear of immigration authorities, lack of access to lawyers, or sheer distance.”

Leaving home, wherever it may be, is an event prompted as much by hope as by necessity. It is a voyage into not only an unknown future, but it is also one that often depends upon the kindness and humanity of those met along the way, especially if money is tight and language a barrier. It is filled with emotional conflict and takes enormous courage to undertake. Even those able to re-establish themselves in a new land carry deep sadness in their hearts—because you can never again go back. Oh, you might visit if political conditions permit, but you are then a visitor there, too. Time does not stand still and you are no longer a part of that community, you are an observer. Your memories become the only land you can visit that remains, however bittersweet, as it was before you became a traveler, an immigrant, a voyager of new cultural seas.

This is the first of a several part series on immigration and the experience of leaving home. Please check back for future discussions and add your own stories to the mix.

Click on the start arrow to watch Edwidge Danticat talk about her book --