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‘Sam no es mi tío:’ A visit from Diego Fonseca & Aileen El-Kadi

By Cheney Hagerup
18 Mar 2013

We had just published our annual call for intern applications: a sign posted around campus with a loud image of the traditional Uncle Sam that read, “I want YOU to be a Prindle Intern.”

Diego Fonseca and Aileen El-Kadi, the two minds that brought together the twenty four crónicas that form “Sam no es Mi Tio” are at DePauw for the week speaking about the book and about their understandings of identity through the lens of their experiences immigrating to the U.S. El-Kadi says that crónicas should not be confused with the translation, “chronicles.” Crónicas are traditional Latin American formats of storytelling that often break from a specific timeline through flashbacks. “Sam no es mi tío” is a series of crónicas from Latin American immigrants who tell of their experiences in dealing with issues of stereotype, acceptance and contradiction in their perceptions of the US. El-Kadi said “the book does not offer the expected testimonies from illegal immigrants. The crónicas are from intellectuals who belong to the middle class.” She disclosed, “We even threw an American journalist in there just to bother people.” Diego emphasized that “these are the experiences of normal people who had to break from their identities to change in a new environment, reinventing themselves.

So, during Fonseca’s and El-Kadi’s conversation in Watson on Tuesday afternoon, Sandro Barros, Professor of Spanish at DePauw, ironically held up the Prindle flyer in one hand, displaying the traditional Uncle Sam, and the cover of “Sam no es mi tío” in the other, which pictures a Latin Uncle Sam. The Latin Uncle Sam appears tired, as if he were saying, “I don’t know if I want you,” says Fonseca. And, as El-Kadi explains, the problem lies in the fact that the U.S. has an attitude towards the Latin American community that goes something like, “We need you but there is no agenda that includes the Latin community.” Uncle Sam is an imperial image: a figure symbolizing an America without acknowledging the existence of Latin American representation. These propagandist images reinforce the reality that we have forgotten America’s foundation as a country of immigrants: a country made up of heterogeneous cultures and histories.

By emphasizing our differences and building up our borders, immigrants feel forced to conform to certain expectations just to feel respected as American Citizens. Consequently, our notions of Latin culture are preconceived, and the identities of immigrants are then constructed by American assumptions. El-Kadi and Fonseca write in the preface, “The logic goes like this: sometimes it’s not the borders that divide spaces, it’s the spaces that separate borders.” El-Kadi recalls that, as someone who grew up living in Brazil and then moving to Argentina and then on to the states, she simply cannot classify her identity and her nationality in the way that America would expect her to. And yet, she feels forced to represent these cultures that she feels foreign to in the eyes of America. She writes in her crónica, “I determined that it was absolutely necessary for any Latin American to have a past of political compromise. I considered the possibility of reinventing for myself… Anything to save the dignity of my family.”

It was with this internal factionalism that Al-Kadi met one of her most significant dilemmas at U.S. Customs. Al-Kadi tells of the impossibility she faced in identifying herself as one of the nationalities listed on the paper handed to her. By checking one of the boxes, she would be placing both herself and her history in a box, labeling herself as something she was not. And so, she left it blank.

Note: The Prindle Institute for Ethics helped fund Al-Kadi’s and Fonseca’s visit to DePauw, and the two of them spent time at the institute in conversation with the interns.

Cheney graduated from DePauw University in 2015 with majors in English Literature and Spanish. She is from Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
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