Making Visible the Nativism-Ableism Matrix: The Rhetoric of Immigrants’ Comics

Rhetoric Review Journal

Rhetoric Review, vol. 38, no. 4, 2019, pp. 445-462

Abstract: Nativist ideology, which dominates public discourse, implements ableist hierarchies to reduce immigrants to diseases of the body politic. Immigrants’ graphic narratives, on the other hand, reveal the disabling effects of xenophobic environments. Rhetoricians have begun to recognize comics’ persuasive potential but thus far have not explored their role in immigration rhetoric. Using this medium’s affordances, immigrants critique the nativism-ableism matrix, as exemplified by Parsua Bashi’s comics memoir about immigrating to Switzerland from Iran, Nylon Road (2006/2009). Bashi’s self-worth, displaced by her unreceptive context, depends on accepting a mental (dis)ability. Her comic counters nativism’s eugenic underpinnings by visualizing variation.

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Image courtesy of Rhetoric Review.

Uniting the World, Two Hearts at a Time

(Image source)

“Each sees in the other the Beauty of God reflected in the soul, and finding this point of similarity, they are attracted to one another in love. This love will make all men the waves of one sea, this love will make them all the stars of one heaven and the fruits of one tree. This love will bring the realization of true accord, the foundation of real unity.” 

Abdu’l-Baha1

In 1904, Florence Breed and Ali-Kuli Khan married in Boston. Breed was American and Khan was Iranian; their union symbolized East and West uniting in the Baha’i Faith. When Abdu’l-Baha visited the US in 1912, the Khans hosted a luncheon for Him in Washington, D.C. There, Abdu’l-Baha defied social convention by giving Louis Gregory, an African-American Baha’i, the seat of honor. 

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A Christmas Story: The Forced Migrations of the Messengers of God

Photo by the author

Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Baha’u’llah. For Baha’is, these teachers are among a series of divine Messengers, and Their teachings share a spiritual basis. These divine beings’ human lives also share certain features. Nearly all divine messengers have been rejected by most of Their contemporaries, persecuted harshly, if not killed. But for these four, Their persecutions took a particular form: forced migration. They and Their families were pushed from Their native cities into perilous journeys. 

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Feeling Boundless Love for Others

Bahá'ís consulting.
A Baha’i gathering. (Image source)

Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet, whether of your country, your race, your political party, or of any other nation, color or shade of political opinion.

Abdu’l-Baha1

The security of people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent living in the United States seems to be on thin ice: bearing brown skin and a “foreign” name are dangerous liabilities. Evidence comes in recent hate crimes like February’s Kansas killing. Engineers Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani were attacked by a man who told them to “get out of my country.” Kuchibhotla died. The attacker later disclosed that he thought his victims, who were natives of India, were Iranian. In March, Hasel Afshar returned to his Oregon town from vacation to discover his home ransacked and hateful messages coating the walls of his house. The messages indicated that the attackers believed Afshar to be Muslim. He is actually a Baha’i refugee from Iran. Persecuted for his faith in his homeland—attacked for his foreignness in his refuge. 

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Borderless Love: The Benefits of Marrying Outside Your Social Group

Ali-Kuli and Florence Khan
Florence and Ali-Kuli Khan. (Image source)

In 1904, Florence Breed and Ali-Kuli Khan married in Boston. Breed was American and Khan was Iranian; their union symbolized East and West uniting in the Bahá’í Faith. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, visited the US in 1912, the Khans hosted a luncheon for him in Washington, D. C. There, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá defied social convention by giving Louis Gregory, an African-American Bahá’í, the seat of honor.

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