In their ethnographic account, Nina Glick Schiller and Georges Eugene Fouron discuss the experiences of transmigrants, as they pertain to the ties they maintain to two countries both socially and politically. Included in the ethnography is a first-hand account coming from Fouron who is himself a transmigrant with ties to both the United States and The République D’Haiti. As the name suggests, the idea of identity is discussed in a two-fold manner, the implied ties maintained with the people and socio-political situations in the country of origin for these migrants as well as the new social networks and political engagement of the migrants in their landed country. This situation, it is noted, is not the same universally for any person who migrates from one country to another. In order to be considered within this group of people, a migrant must maintain solid ties with the political structure and economic viability of their home country while still be actively involved in their new country. The specific mechanisms behind these connections are driven by the individual’s situation and potentially also by the motivating factors for relocating.
Ethnographies have a long and dynamic history which includes a time when they were written by those in the ivory tower for others in the ivory tower. It is interesting to note the kind of bubble in which these pieces of the anthropological record resided. Meant to be read by those who already had a solid grasp of what constituted fieldwork and the general concepts, there was little need to demystify these terms. With regards to a more publicly accessible form of ethnography, this assumption no longer holds. What, then, makes an ethnography perfect for a student audience? Excessive use of undefined academic jargon is to be avoided. A student ethnography must still have enough analysis of the events and people described within it to add to the ongoing ethnographic discourse. The final aspect of a good student ethnography is that it must be engaging, the people and groups studied and interviewed must feel real, the descriptions cannot fall flat. This specific audience, by popular belief, falls victim to loss of interest if the content of the reading is not interesting. Careful attention must be paid to maintaining academic validity, be it through fieldwork or description, while also capturing the reader.
How does “Georges Woke Up Laughing” fare with regards to the above concerns? I would argue that this ethnography meets the requirements, at least on a baseline level, of the student audience. The entirety of this ethnography rests on the assumption that the reader is able to understand what is means to enact long-distance nationalism. This is not a term which is used regularly by members of the public nor is it used, from my experience within the realm of the general undergraduate vernacular. Glick Schiller and Fouron do a great job of defining not only the concept itself but also the sub-conceptual facts which lie below the surface of the term: “we must from the onset define nationalism, long-distance nationalism, nation-state, transnational nation-state, and transborder citizenship” (Glick Schiller and Fouron 2001, 16). In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted to exploring the definitions and implied meanings of the terms. The discussion then reasonably follows using those same terms to the effect that the reader now knows what the meanings are. Beyond anthropological definition, it is evidenced throughout the ethnography that the researchers are incorporating a secondary vocabulary, coming from Haitian language. These terms are italicized and defined in an accessible manner. Therefore, “Georges Woke Up Laughing” is successful in meeting this burden on two fronts: actively defining the relevant terms and layout for the ethnography in the second chapter as well as the ongoing defining of key terms in other languages. If we look at this last requirement, it is also evidence that the research was done with real people on the ground, this puts the researcher inside the research and, as traditional ethnography would suggest, gives them something of an authoritative stance on the fieldwork.
Racism and immigration are ever present in current dialogue. This ethnography does a good job of entering into the dialogue with valuable insight and analysis as to the firsthand experience of peoples who come from different racialized backgrounds. The final two requirements listed above will be addressed under the same general umbrella. This ethnography is interesting in that it is presented very much from an emic point of view. One of the main researchers and authors seems to be a key informant, living the realities described within the text. The problems have more impact and the people are incredibly life-like, especially so given the personal anecdotes given at the beginning of each chapter and sometimes embedded throughout. Perhaps the most important narrative which comes out of this dialogue about duties to both countries, is the idea of family expectations. I am of the same opinion as N’zengou-Tayo, who is writing in an academic journal which centers around matters of the Caribbean, when she says that this ethnography has opened to doors to looking at family ties. She argues that “Georges Woke Up Laughing” is a new way of looking at the private sphere, a concept which tends to go under the radar (N’zengou-Tayo 2002, 131-132). Inevitably, this ethnography allows the reader to come to a deeper understanding of the impacts of globalization on the individual as well as opening a dialogue around the communities which are formed across borders. This is something new to the discussion of racism and immigration which has been in existence for decades, a new layer of complexity in how people view themselves and others from their particular groups.
Who would make a good audience for this ethnography? While I have implicitly argued that it suits a more academic, be it student, audience there is merit to the idea that it may represent a more general audience. The anecdotes referenced above make it so that the reader is constantly engaged. There are however, sections of long historical rhetoric which are not necessarily conducive to an invigorating read. This opinion is somewhat paralleled by the review done by A. Jade Alburo. Alburo argues that there is some repetition and redundancy paired with a predictable ending which reduces the rating of the ethnography (2002, 308). While I would agree that there are moments where the ideas seem repetitive, I do not think the ending is predictable or even the most important part. This ethnography does so much analysis across borders, into issues of gender and race, that a predictable ending is less impactful. Overall, this ethnography proves to be entertaining and insightful, lending it to numerous areas of readership while still maintaining the pillars of ethnographic writing.
Alburo, A. Jade. 2002. Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long-Distance Nationalism and the Search for Home. by Nina Glick Schiller and Georges Eugene Fouron. Erudit.Org. Université Laval.
Nina Glick Schiller and Georges Eugene Fouron. 2001. Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long-Distance Nationalism & the Search for Home. American Encounters/Global Interactions., edited by Gilbert M. Joseph, Emily S. Rosenburg. US: Duke University Press.
N’Zengou-Tayo, Marie-Jos. 2002. “Review: Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long-Distance Nationalism and the Search for Home by Nina Glick-Schiller; Georges Eugène Fouron” Caribbean Quarterly 48 (2): 128-132.