NOW with Alex Wagner | March 11, 2013
>>> in the fiction world, garnering the support of literary giants, including toni morrison and salman rushdie . it touches on her own struggles and african-american immigrants forced to confront their roots. parents from ghana and nigeria who raise their children in america and struggle with cultural assimilation . looking to the windows of other homes on their block. the daughter describes the feeling. there was the sense in her house of an ongoing effort. a thing being built, a successful family with the six of them involved in the effort. all striving for the common goal, as yet unreached. the families in the windows were successful families already, had finished the heavy lifting generations ago, were not building or straining or making an effort. the goal had been reached. but besides performance, the portrayal of a successful american family never becomes a reality. instead, a tragic series of events splits the family apart and leaves the members alienated, the home life fractures. tai selassi the author of " ghana must go," welcome. i also had the support of toni morrison on a short e-book that i wrote. i'm a first generation american on my mother's side, she came over from burma and the notion of cultural identity is powerful intoxicating question as we think of our road forward, we're talking about immigration reform and what it means to become an american. what was the sort of overarching message you wanted to deliver or the thesis for this book, if you will as far as cultural assimilation and identity in modern america .
>> it's a wonderful question, i should say i dropped out of my ph.d. program to get out of the thesis business. that there is a single thesis, nor in this novel or any other. but certainly there is something to be said, i think or there was something to be said about an immigrant family that bears no resemblance to the one that ann coulter just described. in so far as this is, these are people who want nothing more than to succeed. they have given their very selves, their very identities, their blood, sweat and their tears to the project of simply being successful. they lose a lot in the process, but i think if there's anything that i think this family represents, indeed my own, it's that immigrants to this country be they from burma, ghana , nigeria , china, mexico, for the most part, are here to do well. and that's what this family loses itself and finds itself again in the process of doing.
>> i think you know, to bring this into sort of the cultural lens, we talk a lot about these voting blocs, we talk about the hispanic voter, the latino vote or the black vote. and you look overwhelmingly, president obama won 93% of african-americans. 71% of latinos, 73% of asians. and yet that sort of puts people of color into these verticals. that inherently are false. the black experience as written about in " ghana must your black experience in america , they're wildly different and how we speak to communities of color is often incredibly simplistic.
>> you'll hear people make an argument, even about marco rubio . they need to add a latino on to the ticket. first of all without understanding that a cuban is viewed very differently from a mexican or a puerto rican or a dominican or et cetera . just by adding a person of color on to a ticket does not necessarily mean that the policies are changing, which is really what people are more embracing. i tell you, you can go back to " ghana must go" one thing i thought was fascinating about it was something that delves into the larger dynamic we discussed, the idea of exceptionalism. and what exactly that means to be first generation burmese, first generation jamaican, and ha it means to succeed, to excel and what that component means to the larger conversation about immigration and ex-essentialalism.
>> you talk about these monolithic blocs and i never fail to chuckle and how reductionist that practice is, to talk about black people in america . of course there's a common struggle and i never tire of saying that. black immigrants to this country, be they jamaican, or west african , there's no doubt about it, we are standing on the successes of the african-american who is have fought for integration and rights before us. at the same time, though, if one is willing to parse these identities, one will see that west indian immigrants, west african immigrants are flying through the universities and metriculating at astonishing rates. and that conversation does not happen. i think it's sort of obscured by a conversation that pairs immigration and poverty in the first place and pairs poverty and unintelligence in the second place, two false linkings even uncle sam would agree.
>> the role of literature is so important, i think in portraying the immigrant experience, whatever it be. if you look at there 's wonderful writers, one of my favorite writers is edwin of the haitian experience and another book about the native american experience, obviously a different story. but i just think this is a way to bring these stories to people in a rich way that is just completely separate from the political conversation.
>> and i also think with africa in particular, there are so many cultural stereotypes about african sort of refugees, i'll read an excerpt from the book. the mother in the book talks about her father. she sensed the change immediately and the tone people took when they learned that her father had been murdered by soldiers, in the way that they nodded as if yes, te all makes sense. she stopped being herself and instead became the generic native of a war-torn country.
>> i wrote warn-torn nation, what i hear more often discussed is the war-torn continent. as if in fact it were one nation and not 54. the stereotypes are so familiar, they're so unoriginal and quite frankly at this point, so uninteresting that i almost hesitate to give any more breath to the subject. but it is true, that you ask i'm doing a documentary right now on young people in africa . and you know, i asked just a numb of people, when you think of a 20-something in any african country, a 25-year-old in ghana , 30-year-old in nigeria . 31-year-old in south sudan . ha do you think of? crickets. i mean no one, the things that come to people's minds are -- the child soldiers . or the rebel, or --
>> the woman who has been raped.
>> or the starving child.
>> literally, these are very smart people that i call my friends. and no one could really think, well what does a 25-year-old who has gone to college and graduates in kenya or tanzania or south africa or egypt, what, what does that person do?
>> well the idea of africa 's sort of intellectual class, that is not something that is talked about or discussed at all. in the west. but i'm sure it's something that you two, both oxford graduates, you slackers, it's amazing you've made it this far and old friends, talked about at length when you were in school together. taie, helping you land a wife.
>> it is true that i wrote wes's emails, his early emails to his now wife.
>> this is why you are great. that is why this book is here. thank you.
>> dawn, it's me.
>> thank you, taie selassi. the book " ghana must go" is on stands now. pick audiotape copy immediately.
>>> coming up, where there's smoke, there's a new pope. we'll have a black-and-white discussion about this week's papal conclave , live from rome, that's next. [