“In my dream I was young and in Haiti with my friends, laughing, joking, and having a wonderful time. I was walking down the main street of my hometown of Aux Caves. The sun was shining, the streets were clean, and the port was bustling with ships. At first I was laughing because of the feeling of happiness that stayed with me, even after I woke up…Then I laughed again but this time not from joy. I had been dreaming of a Haiti that never was”(1). The book begins with segment of a dream offered by Fouron, providing the readers a better understanding of the underlying meaning of the title as well as the central theme for the book.
Nina Glick Schiller and Georges Eugene Fouron’s book, Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long Distance Nationalism and the Search for Home, uses their concept of “long-distance nationalism” in our contemporary, ever-increasing, globalized world in order to oppose traditional views of nationalism among Haitian immigrants to the United States, while at the same time providing a compelling illustration of Haitian transnational migration using personal anecdotes to enrich and support their text. The highlighted and reoccurring theme in the book is the idea that “migrant” as an identity, is a dynamic term.
The transnational aspect of migration in our modern-day world of globalization creates a variety of identities and forms of nationalism that immigrants can take on. In this book, we explore the mindset and lifestyle of immigrants living this transnational life, continuously battling the question of “where does one fit when they struggle with their own identity? ” and must ask themselves constantly, “who am I? ” Throughout the book, the authors tackle the question of national identity, transmigration, and the effect that this has on Haitians.
One interesting characteristic of this book is the choice to write the text as a dialogue between two separate voices: one voice as a social scientist, attempting to understand the social and political aspects of transnationalism and its effects on migration; and the other more personal, representing the thoughts and emotions of Haitians. As evidenced by the introductory anecdote, which effectively expresses the homesickness that many immigrants feel, nostalgia for one’s homeland (Haiti) is at the core of this book’s theme.
The rest of the book follows this pattern of weaving in and out of a dreamy state and memories of the past, all equating to a certain feel of yearning by immigrants for a better future for their home country and their family, and equality among all men. A large portion of Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long Distance Nationalism and the Search for Home, and a key term to understand in order to best comprehend this text’s themes is the notion of long-distance nationalism.
Chapter two attempts to provide a definition of this term, referring to it as “the desire to create a new state” and must hold the aspiration to “make claim to nation-state building”(23) as opposed to identifying with an already existing state. The book connects the way many immigrants “live their lives across borders” (2) to long-distance nationalism. These transmigrants concurrently build new lives in their adopted country while maintaining constant participation and preserving their ties to their homelands.
Many of the people introduced in the text are doing this exactly—they live their lives in two or more nation-states and are still involved in the social, economic, and political aspects of their homelands even as they settle in new places. In other words, the book expresses “long-distance nationalism” as belonging to a community that extends beyond the national borders of the home country, with the immigrants taking part in this type of nationalism known as transborder citizens. An idea that goes hand-in-hand with the notion of “long-distance nationalism” is the act of remittances, which is also touched on in Georges Woke Up Laughing.
It is used as another method of connection between families/family members abroad to those who remain in Haiti. Particularly in the case of Haiti, this “long-distance nationalism” emerged from these transbordered forms of national identity in combination with increasing globalization and Haiti’s recognized political economy of dependency. Among Haitian immigrants, the long-distance nationalist transmigrant identity stems from an emotional attachment to Haiti while also being actively involved through the commitment of economic resources, such as sending remittances.
The idea that is explored here is the link between sending these remittances, gifts, and other resources back home to Haiti and the sudden weight that is felt by the Haitian transmigrants abroad to these family members who remain home. As expressed in the book by interviewees on sending these remittances, they portray their feelings of obligation to help family and friends, kin and non-kin alike, and acknowledge the dependency these people have on them solely because they have the privilege of living abroad.
There is an understanding and knowledge amongst those abroad that they are obligated to help because they know from personal experience how difficult life in Haiti is. Those who stay behind in Haiti and continuously receive these remittances often find themselves with an elevated status, resulting also in conflict between them and others who are envious of this financial support. Reactions such as these encourage the idea that economic resources like remittances plays a vital role in shaping the life circumstances of those who live in Haiti. Haiti thus becomes a heavily dependent country on financial aid provided by transmigrants abroad.
Through these actions, it is evident how “long-distance nationalism” can relieve economic difficulties of a receiving country whose ability to be more self-sufficient is low. Even more so, however, we see how commission and other fiscal support maintain kinship ties between Haitian transmigrants living in the United States and Haitians in Haiti. The book also addresses other forces that help to form “long-distance nationalism”. One belief that is particularly highlighted in the text is that regardless of citizenship, “blood remains Haitian”(20).
This holds especially important significance to Haitian immigrants in the United States, allowing these immigrants to hold a certain pride for their culture, background, and race as well as giving them a sense of belonging to a community while constantly battling experiences with racism in their adopted country. Tying in with the importance of remittances in the book as well as the concept of “long-distance nationalism”, transmigrants, through the sending of fiscal support to their home countries, develop a feel of self-worth by being in a position of importance.
As part of a racially oppressed group in the US, the author offers his perspective as a transmigrant Haitian living in the US and how having the power to make a lasting impact on kin back home makes up for the unjust treatment and racial difficulty faced abroad. This in turn creates a complicated identity status for Haitian US citizens, conflicting the traditional assumption that all immigrants who immigrate to the US will completely and perfectly assimilate into “American culture”.
In Georges Woke Up Laughing, Georges shares his realization with the audience on acknowledging the circumstance that he will never be fully accepted as an “American”, regardless of how successful he is professionally or personally. The racism and discrimination experienced by immigrants such as Georges becomes one of the varying factors that account for this type of “long-distance nationalism”. The racist undertones that occurs in everyday life build up to a rejection felt by immigrants delivered by their adopted country, therefore pushing more and more transmigrants like Georges into taking on this identity as a transborder nationalist.
Overall, Georges Woke Up Laughing is an interesting and worthwhile read. The reader will be able to gain a better understanding of the meaning of the concept of “long-distance nationalism” and perhaps even a new perspective on what it means to live transnationally as an immigrant. The read addresses many different topics and themes as a whole, but I feel that the main argument was for the idea that migration as a concept is changing, along with the definitions of citizenship, nation-states, and nationalism in our world of increasing globalization.
From personal experience, I found that many of my relatives could relate to this confusing identity of being a transmigrant. Growing up with Chinese immigrant parents from Hong Kong, I was constantly reminded by my family how much of an outsider they felt like on both sides. After leaving Hong Kong, they felt they could no longer identify as well with family and friends living there still, but on the other hand, they felt a similar disconnection to the US, experiencing discrimination and racism which ultimately led to their impression that they are considered second-class citizens in their adopted country.
This is similar to the experience that Georges portrayed in the book—he is not Haitian because he has moved to the US, but in the US he is not “American” enough. Georges Woke Up Laughing challenges the finality of the migration experience by highlighting the continued interest and participation of immigrants in the affairs of their country of origin even after their physical departure. Through this book, we explore the multitude of complex identities that one faces when positioned in a world of rising globalization, as well as a dynamic perspective on this transitory definition of being an immigrant.