Contemporary Relevance


Post 9/11 Race Relations in the United States


After 9/11, brown people were frequently attacked for being unpatriotic, darker, bilingual, and irresponsible. Asghar brings up many of these moments she experienced in her poetry, mentioning how difficult it was for her to learn English as a second language while students around her were ostracizing her for being brown. There is evidence showing that hate crimes against Muslims in the United States spiked incredibly after the attacks on 9/11, with nearly 500 crimes happening in 2001. The crime data since then has also shown that the anti-Muslim attacks have not gone down to their pre-9/11 levels, although they have decreased in the years since the incident. Any person who looked brown, whether they were Arab-Americans or not, faced the prejudice that was so strongly enforced through American media and cultural changes that developed in the months after the attack. Combined with an increasing curiosity about Arab-American people, everybody in the United States wanted to know about the “people who had irrevocably altered American life” (75).

Political turmoil has affected brown people living in the United States as well, and with legislative moves like the Patriot Act, Muslim-Americans have found it difficult to live comfortably under American administration. In recent years, Mosque burnings and terrorist attacks, including the Boston Marathon Bombing, have plagued the Muslim community in the United States and have created an unstable and unsafe attitude throughout the country. In California alone, 56 attacks have been reported since 2012, and an old word resurfaced — Islamophobia. In response, Muslims have participated in the Black Lives Matter movement that has surfaced in the states, and anti-terrorist organizations have developed throughout the country. On another note, India also used counter-terrorist propaganda and growing international concern to “implicate Pakistan in every way possible,” meaning that the effects of 9/11 even went so far as to influence overseas political battles.


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Oil in Southern Asia


Although not mentioned frequently, Asghar does bring into her poetry the very important aspect of oil reserves and farming that takes place in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia. In her most well-known poem from this collection, “Oil”, she draws connections between herself and her peers through oil. As of 2017, six of the 14 countries with the highest production of oil are in the Middle East, and Southeast Asia produces 139 million tons of oil every year. While this amount is only 1% of the world’s total recoverable reserves, much of the economy of the areas are taken up by their ability to produce and continue maintaining their store of crude oil.

Another aspect of oil that’s integral to Asghar’s poetry is the wars that have been fought in the Middle East over the prospect of oil. 1/4-1/2 of all overseas wars since 1973 have been linked to the production and distribution of oil, and both the 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars were questioned for their involvement in overseas oil production. There are direct links between national security and the instigation of international wars based around oil production and distribution, which leads to internal conflicts as well as cultural alterations based around the importance/necessity for oil.


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Migrant children: adoption, abandonment and America


In her poetry, Asghar mentions her life with her sister, growing up under the guidance of two people whom she was not related to. She calls them “Auntie A” and “Ullu”, and she frequently mentions what it was like to grow up without her parents, while she and her sister were considered orphans. Through immigrants, it is very common to send children to live in the United States with family members or friends while the parents stay at home in order to raise money to live in the States and get sponsorship for a green card. This is done in the opposite way as well, with parents coming to the States and children staying back in the home country with relatives.

Many of the reasons for this stem from parents wanting their children to get a better education, but it can lead to feelings of abandonment in children, and confusion due to dislocation and a lack of familiarity. Parents and children’s relationships are affected, and commitments are different between families who live across borders versus families who all live under the same roof. Tensions are high, feelings of loss, misunderstanding, and confusion survive even long after there are reunions. This “transnational” movement and way of growing up has lead to many of the sentiments behind Asghar’s poetry, but it is a practice that can still be seen throughout countries today, with parents staying behind and children going to other countries. It is even mentioned by Hasan Minhaj in his Netflix special, Homecoming King,  where he talks about him and his dad living in the USA and his mother and sister staying home in India for a time.


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Grace McKenna ’19

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