Twenty-three writers, artists, scientists, educators, and other people of vision were honored this year with prestigious MacArthur grants; five of them are doing work that advances our understanding of immigration, the immigrant experience, and the border.
Each year the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation distributes their widely anticipated “genius” grants, in recognition of extraordinary “originality, insight and potential” in a range of fields impacting the arts, science, and the overall cultural fabric locally, nationally and internationally. Awarded since 1981, the fellowships are granted to individuals who have been anonymously nominated, then evaluated by panel of 12 similarly unknown experts in their respective fields. Finally, winners are informed and announcements are made with great fanfare, not least because the award brings with it incredible validation and a no-strings-attached grant of $625,000 distributed over five years. The accolades and cash go a long way toward furthering important work when it’s ripe for growth and greater impact.
The 2016 MacArthur fellows—23 in all—include five recipients who are working on issues affecting immigrant rights, communities and cultural appreciation. Here they are with condensed bios from the MacArthur Foundation website. (A full list is available at: https://www.macfound.org/fellows/class/class-2016/ .)Remember their names—you’ll be hearing more from them.
- Ahilan Arulanantham: Human Rights Lawyer
Director of Advocacy and Legal Director
American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA
“Ahilan Arulanantham is an attorney working to secure the right to due process for individuals facing deportation. Through advocacy and successful litigation of a series of landmark cases, Arulanantham has expanded immigrant detainees’ access to legal representation and limited the government’s power to detain them indefinitely. Courts have traditionally characterized deportation proceedings as civil cases, which means defendants do not have many of the rights guaranteed to criminal defendants, including the right to counsel and the right to ask for release on bond. As a result, immigrants going through deportation hearings often have to represent themselves in complex proceedings, during which they can be detained for months or even years…Through his incremental approach and careful selection of cases, Arulanantham works to demonstrate the human costs of denying due process to immigrants and to set vital precedents to expand the rights of non-citizens.” Arulanantham worked on the recent class action lawsuit to obtain court-appointed attorneys for unaccompanied children in immigration court. (See other article in this newsletter.) More at: https://www.macfound.org/fellows/953/.
- Josh Kun: Cultural Historian
Professor of Communication, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA
“Josh Kun is a cultural historian exploring the ways in which the arts and popular culture are conduits for cross-cultural exchange. In work that spans academic scholarship, exhibitions, and performances, Kun unearths and brings to life forgotten historical narratives through finely grained analyses of material and sonic manifestations of popular culture. He complicates our understanding of the evolution of racial and ethnic identity in America in works such as Audiotopia (2006), a comprehensive comparative study of African American, Jewish American, Mexican American, and Mexican popular music, and…To Live and Dine in LA: Menus and the Making of the Modern City (2015),” which explores “the diverse and vibrant culture of Los Angeles, with an emphasis on bringing present-day communities together around historical intersections of cultural expression…In these and many other projects, including cultural studies of the U.S.-Mexico border, Kun is showing how communities that may have historically been seen as separate actually have much in common.” More at: https://www.macfound.org/fellows/961/.
- José A. Quiñonez: Financial Services Innovator
Mission Asset Fund
San Francisco, CA
“José A. Quiñonez is a financial services innovator creating a pathway to mainstream financial services and non-predatory credit for individuals with limited or no financial access. A disproportionate number of minority, immigrant, and low-income households are invisible to banks and credit institutions, meaning they have no checking or savings accounts (unbanked), make frequent use of nonbank financial services (underbanked), or lack a credit report with a nationwide credit-reporting agency. Without bank accounts or a credit history, it is nearly impossible to obtain safe loans for automobiles, homes, and businesses or to rent an apartment…Quiñonez is helping individuals overcome these challenges by linking rotating credit associations or lending circles, a traditional cultural practice from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, to the formal financial sector…[His] visionary leadership is providing low-income and minority families with the means to secure safe credit, participate more fully in the American economy, and obtain financial security.” More at: https://www.macfound.org/fellows/966/.
- Sarah Stillman: Long-Form Journalist
The New Yorker
New York, NY
“Sarah Stillman is a long-form journalist providing new and compelling perspectives on social injustices in stories of people usually invisible to mainstream reporting. Stillman has written on a wide range of topics both in the United States and abroad, including the use and abuse of civil asset forfeiture, the perils faced by young police informants, and the kidnapping of undocumented children at the U.S.-Mexico border…Committed to following many-faceted stories through to their conclusion, no matter where and how long it takes her, Stillman teases out the complex forces driving the marginalization of her subjects…In bringing to light the plight of those at the margins, Stillman is changing the terms of debate around even well-covered issues and demonstrating the continued power and relevance of long-form, immersive journalism.” More at: https://www.macfound.org/fellows/972/.
- Gene Luen Yang: Graphic Novelist
San Jose, CA
“Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novelist and cartoonist whose work for young adults demonstrates the potential of comics to broaden our understanding of diverse cultures and people. Yang has produced full-length graphic novels, short stories, and serial comics, many of which explore present-day and historical events through a contemporary Chinese American lens…In American-Born Chinese (2006), Yang integrates tropes from American comics, Chinese folklore, and the Chinese immigrant experience. Three interlocking narratives contribute to a nuanced depiction of the struggles of adolescent Jin Wang as he comes to terms with his bicultural identity and attempts to assimilate in America…Having written much of his work while employed as a high school computer science teacher, Yang recognizes the instructional value of comics…[and] is leading the way in bringing diverse characters to children’s and young adult literature and confirming comics’ place as an important creative and imaginative force within literature and art.” More at: https://www.macfound.org/fellows/975/