Asylum Speakers : New World Refugees and Testimonial Narrative

April Shemak

Offering the first interdisciplinary study of refugees in the Caribbean, Central America, and the United States, Asylum Speakers argues that the refugee seeking political asylum and the undocumented transnational laborer seeking economic refuge function as specific kinds of native informants who occupy some of the most contested spaces of articulation. Shemak considers how current debates around hospitality and cosmopolitanism inform the conditions of the refugee by drawing on the work of Jacques Derrida, Edouard Glissant, and Wilson Harris. Moreover, she weighs the questions of “truth-value” associated with various modes of witnessing to explore the function of testimonial discourse in constructing refugee subjectivity in New World cultural and political formations. By examining literary works by such writers as Edwidge Danticat, Nikol Payen, Kamau Brathwaite, Francisco Goldman, and Julia Alvarez, as well as human rights documents, governmental documents, photography, and historical studies, Asylum Speakers constructs a complex picture of New World refugees that expands current discussions of diaspora and migration, demonstrating that the peripheral nature of refugee testimonial narratives requires reshaping the boundaries of U.S. ethnic and postcolonial studies.