We’re joined by guests Shashank Avvaru and Michelle Zamanian to talk about citizenship, immigration and xenophobia in Star Trek. What does it mean to be a Federation citizen? How did Star Trek portray immigration and xenophobia and how does that relate to events in our world today?
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Hosts: Jarrah and Grace
Guests: Michelle Zamanian (@mezamanian) and Shashank Avvaru (@gutter_hero and host of PoliTreks and Weekly Trek on the Tricorder Transmissions Network)
Transcription: Lydia – @moon_babes_, facebook.com/moonbabesart
Download Transcript: PDF or Word
Notes and References:
- Article on Ford’s English School “Melting Pot” ceremony at the Henry Ford Museum website.
- Star Trek and History: Race-Ing Toward a White Future by Daniel Leonard Bernardi (1998).
- Article on the “Muslim Ban” and countries of origin of 9/11 attackers.
- “Canada’s immigration history one of discrimination and exclusion” (Toronto Star)
- “Kansas Man Pleads Guilty to Indian Immigrant’s Murder” (New York Times)
- “Me, Simon Tarses and the Effects of a Cold War” by Michelle Zamanian on our blog.
- Canadian Council for Refugees 2000 report on systemic discrimination in Canadian refugee and immigration policies (PDF).
I was really heartened to hear this deep and detailed discussion of immigration, an issue near and dear to me, on Star Trek. Similar to the previous listener, I followed the debate about “Sanctuary” on ML, an episode which impressed me with its timeliness and, in retrospect, disappointed me by not taking a clear enough stand on refugees and immigration. My reading of “Sanctuary” was that everything about the Skreea was meant to reflect a situation that often happens around people of other cultures: They are similar enough to us to be relatable, and different enough (in their appearance and social organization, as well as language, at first), to prompt xenophobic reactions. It’s easy to feel outraged by the Skreea’s demand to be placed on Bajor – just like in our day and age, some people view refugees and immigrants as freeloaders and a danger to their status quo. However, there were two other points that stood out as very true to me in “Sanctuary”: The Skreeans didn’t choose to leave their planet, and they didn’t necessarily like it on Deep Space 9; and they were convinced that they could have actually helped Bajor to rebuild their farm provinces. I think these facets of an immigrant’s life are often ignored. People often immigrate not because they are looking for an easy way out, but because their life in their home country is threatened or doesn’t meet basic human conditions.
On a different note, I found your choice of the “Drumhead” and “Measure of a Man” for this discussion really insightful. Both episodes are mainly focused on other topics, but your discussion of otherness and human rights/ immigrant rights was spot-on (and not something that has occurred to me earlier, so thank you for making me think!)
I find that Star Trek, in particular Deep Space 9, brings forth characters that are caught between two (or more) worlds, which is an experience shared by anyone who has ever lived in a foreign country, let alone immigrated. I’m thinking of Worf and Odo, but Worf in particular because he has the culture of his home world to which he is attached, and yet he’s spent all his life working in Starfleet, having to learn to be among people and other aliens. As a result, he’s neither here nor there: The other Klingons don’t approve of him, and frequently make Worf indignant by their lack of honor; and he finds living among non-Klingons trying, and people don’t necessarily always relate to him, either. I’ve always found it interesting, too, that Worf seems to be more mired in the old ways and traditions of the Klingon culture than many of the other Klingons we meet, which is something that I have encountered in people who spent their early life in one country and then moved to live in another one.
So, thanks for a thought-provoking episode!
When Mike Stoklasa of RedLetterMedia did his review of Insurrection, he interestingly pointed out how Picard was ready to forcibly transplant a group of Native American settlers off their planet, yet when he found himself in similar circumstances with a group of aliens who look like white people, he suddenly was willing to defy Starfleet’s orders.
Mission Log recently covered the DS9 episode “Sanctuary,” and as I said in my comments in response to that, I kind of hate how unsympathetic I feel towards the refugee characters in the episode. And I hate that someone might point to the episode in order to make a case against immigration, even though it doesn’t really work as metaphor for what’s going on today. It’s not like people in the real world fleeing from terrible circumstances can just go off and live on some uninhabited continent or island, unlike the Skreea, who had absolutely no reason for needing to settle on Bajor when they had a galaxy full of other options.
I watched a clip from “The Drumhead” on YouTube and was disheartened to see comments from people who apparently missed the point claiming the episode was somehow intended to be a critique of “political correctness” or feminism, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if these are some of the same idiots mad about increased diversity in Star Trek.