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As we get to the last few of these guest blog posts, I’m trying to look ahead to the process of pulling everything together for Invisible 2. Like last year, my plan is to do an electronic anthology, and to donate any profits to a relevant cause (which I’ll be discussing with contributors.) The anthology will probably have the same $2.99 price point. I don’t have a release date yet, but I’ll share more info as things progress.

For today, I’m happy to welcome Bogi Takács to the blog to talk about migration/migrants in SFF, and in eir life. It’s educational and eye-opening, to say the least.

I’m an autistic trans person from a non-Western country where I also belong to an ethnic minority. I could write about many, many intersections, and how my lived experience is or is not represented in SF. Yet for this essay I chose to talk about something people might not consider about me: the experience of being a migrant.

Before we begin, a terminological note: I really do prefer the term “migrants” to “immigrants”. First, “immigrants” assumes that your destination is more important than your origin. (It is, not surprisingly, common in US-centric discourse.) Second, “immigrant” often has a precise legal definition that many migrants are literally not able to claim.

With that in mind, people migrate all the time: they immigrate, from one perspective, they emigrate, from another. I’ve lived in Hungary (where I was born), in Austria, in Norway, and I’ve recently moved to the United States. I have experienced a bewildering range of reactions and treatment, some of which I would not even describe here, because I developed quite an amount of self-censorship in the process.

As a migrant academic, I often find myself in curious legal categories where I can’t even claim the legal protections afforded to people with immigrant status, with many if not most of the downsides. Right now, I cannot earn any money outside campus – I even had to turn down the $10 Jim offered to include this essay in Invisible 2.

On the online SFF scene, I am usually seen as the ethnic, religious, gender, sexual minority person – take your pick! People don’t see me as a migrant, and yet this is possibly what defines my day to day experience the most. I now live in a small liberal town where I can literally go around being draped in a Pride flag and random strangers will cheer me on. (For the record, I tried this. I also tried this in Hungary. DO NOT TRY THIS IN HUNGARY.) People are sometimes perplexed by my gender, but unlike in my country of origin, I haven’t experienced physical violence. Americans also have trouble believing that I have ever been the target of physically violent racism, because they categorize and treat me as white.

Warning: self-exoticization follows!

By contrast, what I experience all the time is being the strange foreigner [sic], being from somewhere else with exotic customs [sic] – and often not being taken at face value when I talk of my experience having lived there. I have a weird accent [sic]. (Actually I have a “weird accent” in any language due to being autistic, but most Americans don’t know this.)

People try to be nice: “I have been to your country as a tourist, it’s such an amazing place!” …Umm, yeah, guess why I’m not there.

To see where migration fits into my experience of SFF in particular, and why I feel invisible as a migrant, we need to start quite far, both in space and in time. As a multiply marginalized person, I discovered thanks to the Vienna Public Library that there was a vast amount of literature beyond the Western literary canon that really resonated with me. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o's work – both fiction and nonfiction – in particular was eye-opening to me, especially Matigari and Decolonising the Mind. I discovered the solidarity of the marginalized that had up till that moment been nothing more than a dated Communist slogan from my childhood.

This was before I got summarily thrown out of the Vienna Public Library and my account cancelled because as a migrant I didn’t have just the right legal document! (Even though I was in Austria perfectly legally.) …My life was changed regardless.

I had been a voracious SFF reader since early childhood – my parents were both agricultural engineers at that time and heavily into SFF. In Hungary this is not a particularly subcultural activity, SFF is much more a part of mainstream literature and a lot of people read SFF who would not be considered part of core fandom in the US. The definitive Hungarian print SFF magazine, Galaktika, has a print circulation similar to the big three print American SFF magazines, while Hungary has a population half the size of the New York City metropolitan area!

As a child I read many, many Soviet and other Eastern bloc SF works where people of different cultures and races worked together – this was a trope of Communist propaganda, the “friendship of the peoples” (népek barátsága in Hungarian, druzhba narodov in Russian). But these works were written by ethnic majority people, and from a position of power – in the case of ethnic Russian authors, even a position of colonizing power.

The friendship of the peoples was, in practice, very limited. It could not include Jews. It could not include Romani or Beás people. It could not include queer people. Trans people could only be aliens – oddly, they could be aliens. Religious people were obviously out – religion was the opiate of the peoples, as Marx had put.

When I started to read in English, what could I obtain in Hungary? Novels from the Asimov-Bradbury-Clarke triumvirate, some William Gibson, and precious little else… basically the same American authors that I could already read in Hungarian translation. While I greatly admired Bradbury, his semi-autobiographic Dandelion Wine was so different from my own childhood experience that I literally cried from frustration. (Gibson was different, but that’s a topic for another time.) I came to understand why Dandelion Wine was never published in Hungary!

So when I discovered online short SFF in English, I was amazed. There were so many people, from all over the world, who were writing from their own perspective, about their own experience, and I could obtain vast amounts of this stuff free of charge! I could actually talk to the authors and they responded! At the risk of sounding trite: this was, in effect, the friendship of the peoples.

Yet almost immediately thereafter I discovered a curious gap: a lot of the American SFF discourse, even very “progressive” and left-wing discourse, seemed to ignore that migrants existed. Again, the friendship of the peoples didn’t seem to extend very far… For instance, I was baffled when Ekaterina Sedia was dismissed by Wiscon organizers who tried to shoehorn the American immigrant experience into, at best, an “ESL workshop”. (Because professionally published writers like her need an ESL workshop – how patronizing is that?)

How to Live on Other PlanetsThe first anthology of immigration-themed SFF, How to Live on Other Planets (ed. Joanne Merriam) is coming out just now, and it’s reprints-only and had a royalties-only payrate. (Not that I can get paid, anyway!) Despite that, the lineup is stellar, because many, many writers are migrants themselves, or the children of migrants, and are eager for their words being heard. It is also striking that a lot of the best migrant writing seems to come from semi-pro SFF or literary fiction markets, not the core pro SFF venues.

Full disclosure: I have a poem in How to Live on Other Planets. It’s about my country of origin, so might be a bit out of place, but it does examine Hungary from the PoV of an outsider – an alien.

I am, right now, literally an alien – probably the most annoying kind, the “non-resident alien”. (This is the actual legal term.) I have to pay taxes, yet I cannot vote.

For further American legal terms to baffle and entertain, I also recommend you look up “alien of extraordinary ability”. I’m not an alien of extraordinary ability. I’m just a quirky and mild-mannered everyday person who sometimes writes poetry. I’m also very loud and paste myself all over the internet, so if I remain invisible, that’s not on me.

Part of my loudness consists of providing story recommendations to every passerby on Twitter who just as much asks an idle question. Therefore, I close this essay with an amount of free, online SFF story recommendations on the theme of migration!

Bogi Takács is a neutrally gendered Hungarian Jewish person who’s recently moved to the US. E works in a lab and writes speculative fiction and poetry in eir spare time. Eir writing has been published in venues like Strange Horizons, Apex, Scigentasy, GigaNotoSaurus and other places. You can follow em on Twitter, where e tweets as @bogiperson, with semi-daily recommendations of #diversestories and #diversepoems that are regularly collected on eir website.

Bogi Takács

Photo by Rose Lemberg

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 17th, 2015 01:39 pm (UTC)
Academia is a weird fish. I went to grad school and knew a lot of academic migrants (and my dad is one, though as a white Anglophone with a very light Dublin accent, he passes* -- but Dad grew up in one country, went to school in another, did a postdoc in a third, then came back to the second (because Mom couldn't adjust to living abroad)).

I'd be really interested in that particular story, because even if it is weird, it's a story of my family and friends.

* Except for the differing cultural expectations. Being Irish in America is different than being Irish in Europe, especially in Dad's childhood and young adulthood. Which you mentioned: American views of race and ethnicity have been shaped by our history, just like everywhere else.

It seems appropriate to mention this on Saint Patrick's Day, one of the two areas most inclined to piss Dad off about the American view of the Irish, the other being the Notre Dame football team.
Mar. 17th, 2015 02:42 pm (UTC)
I migrated to England over 15 years ago, in large part because I had found friends in an online fandom that had regular real-life and cross-border meetups (and many members of this online group migrated to other countries before and after I did).

So I already had a social network, of sorts. I also knew the culture and language in the country I migrated to reasonably well, and I had a job, and got integrated in society.

And yet, I'm regularly reminded I'm a stranger, because I have an alien name, and I have a bit of an accent. "Where are you from?" and "Oh, I've always wanted to visit" or "Oh, that's a lovely country" are well intended, but they do reduce me to a representative of the country of my birth, rather than a person. "What made you move here?" is another question asked out of genuine interest, or for small talk, but which again serves to remind me that I do not quite belong.

After I did migrate, I realised this experience of otherness ought to be more prevalent in SF/F, but it is quite uncommon in anglophone fiction. And when it does appear, it often comes with a sense of having greater worth than the migrated-to culture.

I have sometimes talked to an English friend about this. She can't relate to being exoticed, to me being asked to say something in my strange little language to entertain onlookers. And I can't relate to the self-assurance and self-worth that comes from being a native anglophone, from coming from the place that ruled the world just a century ago (or, in the case of Americans, currently does), and from knowing that there'll always be someone who can understand your language, wherever you are.

And I think that might be why there's not many examples of migrants in anglophone SF/F.
Mar. 17th, 2015 03:26 pm (UTC)
My family migrated several times while I was young (a different continent every 3.5 years on average), and when I first came (back) to Canada where I'm a citizen, I got to experience a bit of that exoticization as a woman of colour with a slightly different accent. Suffice it to say that being asked: "Where are you from?" (along with the follow up, "But, no, REALLY, where are you from?") quickly became two of my least favourite conversation openers.

I've lost the accent and mannerisms that marked me as "foreign", so I don't hear the question as often, but it remains something that can make me go from calm to livid in virtually no seconds at all.

That to say: some small comprehension, here, of how wearing it can be to endure those reminders of "not quite belonging."
Mar. 21st, 2015 02:44 am (UTC)
I lived in Zambia for a year, which is a relatively short time, as such things go, but long enough to realize that "Where are you from?" would get to be REALLY annoying after a while. It was eye-opening in a lot of ways, of which that is one.
Mar. 17th, 2015 08:58 pm (UTC)
I like "alien of extraordinary ability". I got to be a "kennismigrant" - "knowledge immigrant" - in the Netherlands and an "alien resident" in Taiwan, but those don't sound nearly as cool.

Though I can brag about having been a knowledge-immigrant in a place that claims to be the smartest region in the world, so hey.
Mar. 19th, 2015 05:53 am (UTC)
So, firstly, hi, Bogi, I'm also a (possibly) autistic NB Eastern European Jewish migrant writer. Spooky. Do we get badges? I would quite like a badge. And thanks for the recs, I loved Ken Liu's stories in Clarkesworld and am always glad to see more similar. What would you recommend as the best places to submit migrant poetry? I've had some kicking around for a while (I'm Australian, so I wanted to start with local journals, and whew, those are some epic response times).
Mar. 19th, 2015 05:25 pm (UTC)
I second the recommendations for Ken Liu AND of Zen Cho -- one of my favorite of hers is http://giganotosaurus.org/2011/12/01/the-house-of-aunts/

Looking forward to checking out Bogi Takács's work.
Mar. 20th, 2015 06:54 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing your story and thanks for mentioning Decolonising the Mind, I just read the introduction and I think I need to get hold of a copy.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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