Episode 7: Transcript

Transcription by Keffy Kehrli

Annalee: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct. A podcast about science fiction. I’m Annalee Newitz, and I’m a science journalist who writes science fiction.

Charlie Jane: [00:00:10] I’m Charlie Jane Anders. I’m a science fiction writer who obsesses quite a lot about science, and we have a very special guest this week.

Baruch: [00:00:18] Hello. My name Baruch Porras-Hernandez. I am a writer, performer, comedian, sometimes playwright. Drawer of penises. Uh, illustrator, and MC. And also, I’m an immigrant. So, I’m a everything.

Annalee: [00:00:34] He is everything. He is everything to us, and we brought Baruch here to talk to us about the theme of immigration in science fiction, which there’s not really any new movies or books about this, but it’s something that’s on our minds. I mean, it’s something that in the United States has become a huge issue, politically, and so we’re turning to science fiction to think about it.

[00:00:56] Intro music plays: Synth over snare with bass line followed by guitar riff.

Annalee: [00:01:03] So for the purposes of this conversation, I mean, we could talk about a zillion different things, so we’re just gonna focus on stories that are dealing with immigrants and refugees. We’re not gonna talk about colonization, the 900 bazillion science fiction stories about colonization and settler colonialism because that is a whole other episode that we will do later. So, let’s start out by talking about some of the ways that science fiction and fantasy deal with immigration and the immigrant experience. What are some of your favorite stories in this genre?

Baruch: [00:01:36] Did you two ever read Fables?

Charlie Jane: [00:01:36] Oh yeah.

Annalee: [00:01:36] Oh yeah.

Charlie Jane: [00:01:37] No, people love that comic.

Baruch: [00:01:37] I loved that comic. Which is all about refugees, because they have their own little place in New York, right, where they—they put an enchantment on a whole frickin’ building, and it’s like their little refugee settlement because their lands, or worlds, are getting destroyed by a mysterious guy who turns out to be, you know, spoiler. Are we allowed to do that ?

Annalee: [00:01:59] Yes. Spoiler alert.

Baruch: [00:02:01] Spoiler alert, it’s Geppetto. And he’s an evil Geppetto and it’s such—I just love that comic book.

Annalee: [00:02:09] Wow, so Geppetto as like multi-national capitalism. Like.

Baruch: [00:02:11] Just destorying planets left and right.

Annalee: [00:02:14] He’s just like, you’re raw materials for my toy factory. Fuck you.

Baruch: [00:02:17] I mean he was killing people is the thing. And that comic book was all about these like fairy tale characters having to restart their lives, and wheel and deal just like immigrants do. That comic book to me, was so much about the immigrant hustle and like who you, who you work with, what you do to survive, and who really makes it in this new world. I just loved it. And just kept going. I loved that it kept going and they kept having to leave and they kept having to like, figure out how to survive and all. And the witch character, I forgot, Frau Totenkinder was my favorite. I don’t know if you guys remember her.

Charlie Jane: [00:02:57] Yeah yeah, she was great.

Baruch: [00:02:58] She was great.

Charlie Jane: [00:02:58] I love that comic. One thing I wanted to bring up is American Gods, the book and also the TV show.

Baruch: [00:03:04] Oh, that one, yeah.

Charlie Jane: [00:03:06] Which is so much about the immigrant experience and uses sort of ancestral beliefs and gods and magic as metaphors for the process of assimilation. The sort of weakening of these traditional gods reflects the assimilation of the people who have come to America and sort of taken on American values. And so, there’s a hundred Jesuses and they’re all super powerful.

Baruch: [00:03:28] Wait, really?

Charlie Jane: [00:03:28] Yeah.

Annalee: [00:03:28] Yeah.

Baruch: [00:03:29] Wow, I need to watch the show.

Annalee: [00:03:30] There’s actually—there’s a great episode focused on immigration, where there’s a Mexican Jesus who’s helping people get into the states, like—

Baruch: [00:03:38] Time out. Is there a Virgin of Guadalupe?

Annalee: [00:03:42] I think there is…

Charlie Jane: [00:03:43] I can’t remember.

Baruch: [00:03:44] Because…

Annalee: [00:03:44] Actually, I can’t remember either, but…

Baruch: [00:03:46] I just feel if that was real, yeah, Jesus is cool, but like where I’m from in Mexico, she is like more powerful.

Charlie Jane: [00:03:50] Oh, really?

Baruch: [00:03:50] And if she was a superhero, people would be like Jesus who? It’s all about the Virgin of Guadalupe, because a lot of Mexicans believe that she is really the Aztec mother goddess, Coatlicue, who transformed herself into a Spanish deity just to keep watching over us.

Annalee: [00:04:09] The thing I would say about American Gods that’s interesting, as compared to Fables—so Fables is about all of these imaginary characters coming and living in basically a ghetto, or almost like a refugee camp. Although, it’s of their—they created it themselves.

Baruch: [00:04:23] They have their own little society there, though.

Annalee: [00:04:25] Yeah, so it’s more—

Baruch: [00:04:25] With their little rules, and even policing, which some immigrants do.

Charlie Jane: [00:04:28] Right?

Annalee: [00:04:28] So, it’s more like an immigrant neighborhood than it is like a refugee camp. And then the thing that’s interesting in American Gods, is American Gods is really partaking in that myth of the idea that the United States is a “nation of immigrants.” Which, I think has been a myth that has been contested a lot, and is not necessarily true. But, it’s trying to say that every group that came here back to the ice age, up to the very present, brings their own gods with them, and those gods—

Baruch: [00:04:55] And there’s a traveller.

Annalee: [00:04:56] Right, and those gods stay with them and slowly drain away as they assimilate, so it’s about the people connected to their gods, and those gods are in their own little enclaves, neighborhoods, immigrant neighborhoods—

Baruch: [00:05:06] That’s interesting.

Annalee: [00:05:07] It’s really… it is. It’s dealing with the same question, but I think with Fables it’s more directly looking at the immigrant experience today vs a kind of long term sweep of like how so many different groups have come to the US and brought their own beliefs with them. But it’s the same basic premise, I think. That fantasy allows us to tell that story.

Charlie Jane: [00:05:29] Yeah, and another kind of story I wanted to bring up really quickly, is the story of the alien who comes to earth. Superman, Mork & Mindy, you know, Third Rock from the Sun, District 9, The Martian Manhunter who works like that—

Baruch: [00:05:40] I really liked that movie.

Charlie Jane: [00:05:41] Brother From Another Planet…

Baruch: [00:05:43] Where the hell is District 9 part 2? What the heck. Didn’t he say three years or whatever?

Charlie Jane: [00:05:46] District 11…

Annalee: [00:05:47] District 10.

Baruch: [00:05:48] Didn’t he say like, three years, I’ll be back. And he was like, okay, [crosstalk].

Charlie Jane: [00:05:52] He got sidetracked.

Annalee: [00:05:52] Oh, the alien who left?

Baruch: [00:05:54] Yeah.

Annalee: [00:05:54] I mean, hopefully he came back with some international aid and some kind of NGO that would like—

Charlie Jane: [00:06:00] They all did super well.

Annalee: [00:06:01] Yeah. What basically happened is he went back, and he got an NGO that distributed all of their donations really badly, and so they wound up all getting rich back on the homeworld, off the NGO, but then they were like, oh but what about the refugees on earth? And they’re like, oh yeah, we’re gonna deal with that.

Baruch: [00:06:15] Soon, yeah.

Annalee: [00:06:16] Soon. Yeah. I think they seem fine right now. It’s okay.

Baruch: [00:06:20] That scene though, where he—where they go into that ship and find all these like disheveled aliens coverd in whatever alien dirt was very, I’m sure, triggering for a lot of immigrants because it’s just reminds me of those YouTube videos, and you know Facebook videos people share of those boats full of immigrants from other countries. Just like, desperate and barely able to move because they’re so tired. So, I think it’s so interesting. Stuff like that.

Annalee: [00:06:45] Yeah, people inside shipping containers, or trucks.

Baruch: [00:06:48] Yeah, stuff like that. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s made it into our scifi stories and movies because that’s just a thing that happens so much.

Annalee: [00:06:56] One of the things I love so much about District 9 is the image of that decrepit space ship just hanging in the air of Johannesburg, and it’s just this reminder that yeah, you’ve got a bunch of immigrants and you haven’t done shit about them, and their ship is just hanging there. And just, every day we look at it. We just pretend it’s not there, like, oh you know, there’s just this decrepit ship full of desperate individuals that need our help, but you know, whatever, someone will deal with it. Some bureaucrat will deal with it.

Charlie Jane: [00:07:26] Oh my God.

Baruch: [00:07:27] And just like immigrants, there’s the alien that wants to help, and there’s the alien that when the guy shows up, is like fuck you. Like the first thing out of his little bug mouth, is like, why are you here? Fuck you.

Charlie Jane: [00:07:36] Right?

Baruch: [00:07:38] Which, my parents were very the, they were very much the “do not ever piss off white people, we’ll get deported.” I remember just growing up and them saying, “Okay, you’re walking to school. Remember, do not talk to anyone. Don’t tell anyone where we live. If they ask you anything just say, ‘I don’t speak English’ and run away.” And I just remember growing up with this strange, like, oh my God, at any moment, I’ll say the wrong thing or get in trouble and my whole family will get deported because of something I did. And just growing up with the whole. I know there’s a lot of comics that make this joke about people knocking on the door and no one… and like that was my house. Like, the second anyone would knock on our door, my mother had trained us to like walk to darkest part of the house and stay away from the windows.

Charlie Jane: [00:08:22] On the topic of aliens who come to earth—

Baruch: [00:08:24] Yes, aliens!

Charlie Jane: [00:08:24] You know, Baruch, I feel like you had some things that you wanted to talk about with like Superman and Martian Manhunter—

Baruch: [00:08:27] Oh, yeah yeah yeah yeah. Superman was created by two Jewish guys who were immigrants. Who, I’m sure, back then, when he was created, were feeling super oppressed and super new, and leaving your entire like world, your entire country, that must have felt like your whole planet literally died.

Annalee: [00:08:44] Yeah, your planet died and also Superman is the first place where we really get that idea of a secret identity being part of your superhero self, and it’s kind of—

Baruch: [00:08:52] Right, the duality.

Annalee: [00:08:53] And it’s like what you were talking about when you were a kid and you had to kind of hide who you were, and for a lot of Jews, especially in the early part of the 20th century, that was the life that you lead. You don’t tell people your Jewish. You change your last name.

Baruch: [00:09:05] You put on the glasses, and go to work.

Annalee: [00:09:07] Or you go to work and like, whatever your doing, if you’re doing stuff to save people. If you’re writing journalism, whatever you’re doing, like, just keep it under wraps. Try to act like a white dude. Try to act like a goyim, you know?

Baruch: [00:09:22] And there are a lot of immigrants that I feel that’s the path they want to put on the… you want to get on this path that at the end of the path, you’re going to look like everyone else and have an American job and an American house and the American dream will give you a lot of prosperity and marry Lois Lane or whatever, but you know, just…

Annalee: [00:09:39] You can marry a shiksa and then, you know, on your nights off maybe you can save the world, too, because yeah.

Baruch: [00:09:46] Hopefully. Yeah, it gives you—the American “dream” gives you all these guaranteed, and I think my parents had a lot of that, and they definitely had like, a plan. They were like, oh no no, you are going to UC Berkeley. Like. You are going to do this, and you will buy us each a house and then, just like, things never turned out super like the way they were supposed. With Superman, it didn’t turn out that way for me. Another one I want mention is Supergirl because you know, that’s another one that is oh, whoopsies, Krypton didn’t kill everyone when it exploded. I’m here.

Charlie Jane: [00:10:21] Yeah, and like the Supergirl TV show has this whole thing where they’re like, the government—people want the government like to round up all the aliens.

Baruch: [00:10:27] Oh, really?

Charlie Jane: [00:10:27] Yeah, the Supergirl TV show is super blatantly talks about this.

Baruch: [00:10:31] That’s great.

Charlie Jane: [00:10:32] They’re like, well, there’s all these aliens that came to earth now, because of these various disasters. And we should round them all up and put them in camps. We should just like register them. It’s the usual thing, and Supergirl and the Martian Manhunter kind of have to team up to be like, look, it’s okay. And the Martian Manhunter brings his dad—

Baruch: [00:10:48] Oh, Martian Manhunter’s in the show?

Charlie Jane: [00:10:50] He is a major, major character in the Supergirl show.

Baruch: [00:10:51] Wow.

Charlie Jane: [00:10:52] Yeah. He’s played by an amazing actor.

Baruch: [00:10:54] I really need to—I saw the first episode and it wasn’t my bag, so I should go back and rewatch it.

Charlie Jane: [00:10:58] It’s so good.

Baruch: [00:10:59] Justice League, I think is the best canon for me. Everyone is just written so well, and it has the best Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter comes from a planet that has been completely destroyed, and he is super alone. And he doesn’t like, his story has been very different because Superman, I feel like, represents either that immigrant whose parents brought him here or was born here, or came here as a baby and doesn’t have that many memories of his planet, and just felt alone and then became super American. There’s a lot of immigrants like that. Coming here—like, a lot of the folks who are the Dreamers came here when they were children, and now feel nothing but American, and there’s this horrible—

Annalee: [00:11:40] Yeah, they have no connection to their parents’ land.

Baruch: [00:11:41] Yeah. This horrible government threatening to like take them back to a place they don’t know anything about. And even if they do, it’s still not fair to grow up somewhere, in a place you have no choice to come to, and then just feel super like this is your home, and then someone tells you, nope? This isn’t your home.

Annalee: [00:11:58] Actually, you’re going to go back to Krypton now.

Baruch: [00:11:59] Yeah, exactly.

Annalee: [00:12:00] Good luck with learning the language, figuring out what people live there. Learning how to use their technology.

Baruch: [00:12:02] Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Annalee: [00:12:06] Sorry, like, it’ll come naturally, though, to you, right?

Baruch: [00:12:08] [crosstalk] yeah.

Annalee: [00:12:09] Because you know, your family’s from Krypton.

Baruch: [00:12:11] Totally, yeah. Yeah.

Annalee: [00:12:12] It’s probably genetic. You know, knowledge.

Baruch: [00:12:14] Yeah, and by the way, you’re a criminal, but.

Annalee: [00:12:17] Exactly. On top of that.

Baruch: [00:12:18] But Superman like, represents that assimilated immigrant who’s doing pretty well. And people like that assimilated immigrant who’s doing really great American things. And Martian Manhunter’s just like depressed as fuck, because he was an adult when he came here and all his friends are dead. And his wife is dead, and there’s this wonderful episode in The Justice League where nothing is as American as American Christmas and so The Justice League tower is empty, everyone goes—Wonder Woman’s like, well, I guess I’ll go hang out on Themyscira, and Martian Manhunter’s like. I’m just going to stay in the watchtower and be alone, and Superman is like, no no no, come to Kansas, or wherever the fuck he’s from, and spend Christmas with me. And it’s such a cute episode where you see this Superman being a super dork about Christmas and how much he loves it, and his American parents. And Martian Manhunter’s like. No… I’m still depressed about my entire planet dying. And then there’s all these, like, customs. There’s Martian Manhunter trying to learn all the weird different customs, and he doesn’t understand presents. And Superman’s parents have covered them with lead paper so he can’t see and peek what the presents are. But then there’s this scene where he—anyway, everyone should watch the episode. Eventually Martian Manhunter has like a little breakdown and remembers all the good things about where he’s from and he sees he’s surrounded by friends, and there’s a cat in it, of course, because cats make everything better, and he starts singing songs from Mars. He starts feeling happy again, so he sings songs from Mars, and then the Kents and Superman like listen to him sing. It’s just like a beautiful moment. He doesn’t like, have a breakthrough where he goes, “Well, I guess I love Christmas,” which would have ruined the episode. It would have ruined everything because there’s still a lot of immigrants who like, we kind of celebrate it mostly to spend time with each other, but its not like it was back home, for my family. Anyway, I love the way that at the end, he doesn’t go like, “Christmas is great.” He just is still up in his guest room, and he doesn’t hug anyone. But he just starts singing. It’s just such a beautifully written moment, because sometimes, yeah. You don’t—a lot of immigrants don’t do that. They don’t assimilate. We don’t become this perfect American thing. We just have to be ourselves, and you know.

Annalee: [00:14:29] But it sounds like it’s a beautiful representation of how you can create kind of a hybrid celebration, where it’s like, it’s not about oh now I’ll join your Christmas thing. It’s like, I get it. Your Christmas thing is about just hanging out and being friends and like singing. Well, here’s how I do it. Here’s some Martian songs for you, and maybe now we’ll have a Christmas celebration that has some Martian songs from now on and—

Baruch: [00:14:50] Like, the Mexicans that all we do is eat tamales and we don’t eat ham during Christmas. Or like, we have something called Mexican Thanksgiving, or immigrant Thanksgiving, because we don’t like really—my parents were educated and they were like, oh, no no, Thanksgiving, they were like, Ugh. But, they would invite all the immigrant families they knew over for like a very long Mexican meal to just be thankful.

Charlie Jane: [00:15:14] So one movie I wanted to mention really quickly is the movie Sleep Dealer which I think is super important. It’s a small indie movie that came out in 2008, 2009 by Alex Rivera, that was the director and co-writer, and it’s basically about a future where instead of bringing Mexican labor to the United States, they plug Mexican people into machines that kind of use your brain to control robots in America.

Baruch: [00:15:39] What.

Charlie Jane: [00:15:41] So that they’re basically—

Annalee: [00:15:41] Outsourcing.

Charlie Jane: [00:15:42] They want—they don’t want to bring the people, they just want to bring the labor, and it’s incredibly exploitative, and it destroys your brain and your body starts to like decay while you’re plugged into this machine, and it’s basically this metaphor for the way that immigrant laborers are exploited in this world where there’s a ginormous evil wall between the US and Mexico.

Baruch: [00:16:02] Wow, I need to see this movie.

Charlie Jane: [00:16:03] It’s super intense and scary and creepy, and it’s literally like a metaphor for exploitation of immigrant labor.

Baruch: [00:16:09] That is so funny.

Annalee: [00:16:11] But it’s also… it is also about outsourcing, too. Because that’s, I feel like, especially with multi-national capitalism, that’s a new form of, I know we’re not talking about colonialism—but it is a new way of having colonialism. It’s a way of exploiting labor without even allowing people to come and be immigrants and possibly get any kind of rights in the country that they’re working in. And so, yeah—there’s a great novel by Jim Monroe called Everyone in Silico which kind of deals with the same idea. People go into virtual reality and if you’re poor, the way that you afford to live in virtual reality is that you—while you’re in VR, your body is doing labor for a corporation.

Baruch: [00:16:50] God. Really? Oh my God. Wow.

Annalee: [00:16:51] So your body is just kind of like… building things or like, I don’t know, picking up radioactive trash. But like, your brain is in this—

Baruch: [00:16:59] At least your brain is in…

Annalee: [00:17:01] –happy world.

Baruch: [00:17:02] Wow. [crosstalk]

Annalee: [00:17:03] Although, if you’re poor, and you’re already kind of paying for your pleasure that way, you also have to see ads everywhere. So, if you have—the more money you have, the fewer ads you see in VR, and the better your body is treated, and I feel like Sleep Dealer is kind of treading that same ground, where it’s like they give you a little bit of VR feeling and then—

Charlie Jane: [00:17:25] But it’s horrible.

Annalee: [00:17:25] Yeah, it’s disgusting.

Charlie Jane: [00:17:26] I mean, it’s not fun for the people. And like, basically they’re gardening. They’re gardening—they’re doing people’s gardens in the United States, and they’re picking oranges in the United States, but they’re—their bodies are still back in Mexico.

Baruch: [00:17:38] Oh my goodness.

Charlie Jane: [00:17:39] And it has these really sarcastic infomercials about like, we don’t have to bring people to use their labor anymore in the United States. And like, we don’t want Mexicans, but we want their labor.

Baruch: [00:17:49] So, question about that movie. So the society in the US in that movie know that this is happening and know—

Charlie Jane: [00:17:56] Mm-hmm. I think so.

Baruch: [00:17:57] And they don’t—

Annalee: [00:17:57] But it’s viewed as being more humane, right?

Baruch: [00:17:59] It’s viewed—okay, so that is my thing, so. It’s viewed as being more humane?

Charlie Jane: [00:18:03] I’m not actually sure. I mean, we should—I wanna watch it again.

Annalee: [00:18:06] It’s cleaner, right? Because it’s—there’s no-one. You know, you’re sitting. You’re in this safe space. You’re just controlling a robot, right?

Charlie Jane: [00:18:10] I think it is—It’s explicitly racist, though. One thing about Sleep Dealer that is true of some other kind of dystopian films is the giant wall between the United States and Mexico that has like drones flying over it.

Baruch: [00:18:22] Oh, lord.

Charlie Jane: [00:18:22] It has, like, is impossible to cross. Like the movie—you were saying the movie Logan has that.

Annalee: [00:18:28] The movie Monsters, which is Gareth Edwards’ first film, and he went on to direct Godzilla, so it’s another giant monster movie, but the monsters come to Mexico and in order to keep the monsters out of the US, we build a giant wall. Because you know, it turns out that the monsters just want to mate. They’re just trying to look for love, but…

Baruch: [00:18:49] Ooh.

Annalee: [00:18:49] I know? Spoiler. Sorry. It’s actually—the monsters are these sort of beautiful giant jellyfish, and so the people in the United States are like, “They’re coming to eat us! They’re going to do terrible things. Keep them in Mexico.” And it’s like, no, they just want to find a friend, and like…

Baruch: [00:19:04] It’s so funny how people get so like, oh they’re coming to do this! And like, the reason I asked that question is because I feel that’s so interesting in the place where we live now, what people think is going to happen, or what they believe is gonna happen. Like, oh, the second I see an Arab looking person, aaah! A Muslim’s moving into my neighborhood and they’re going to turn everything Muslim. It’s like, no, calm the fuck down. They probably just want coffee. Maybe they’re Christian? Maybe they’re a Christian Arab person, you know, like. I just… I feel the… And it’s interesting what the comic book stories or the movie choose to have the propaganda or the belief in that world be. It’s also like it’s interesting to me the parody of what the propaganda and paranoia is to what is actually happening. Because, like, growing up a lot of people thought my family and I had like crossed the border and like, swam through a river, and had to like—and sometimes I would tell them, like, actually no, my dad was on a waiting list for ten years. He wanted to do it legally. He got on the list like very early on, and then he had to do a lot of manual labor in order to come here legally. So, even though he was an engineer, he got on a bus, an American bus, paid for by an American company and was bussed to Nebraska to do farm work, because a lot of American—So, a lot of people are like, “Mexicans are coming here to take our jobs!” No, you stupid fucking idiots. American companies are bussing Mexicans in to do your jobs for a lot less money in exchange for the promise of coming here legally. So, the only person fucking you over is rich Americans. You stupid…

Annalee: [00:20:45] Yeah. Well, and that’s happening now. Where there’s—because there has been a crackdown on people coming over the border, there’s now all these companies. A lot of them are in—it’s like slaughterhouses, and like meatpacking plants, where it was almost 100% immigrant labor, and now they’re like, we have… actually no one to package chicken anymore.

Baruch: [00:21:06] Yeah. It’s so crazy. And it’s so—yeah. It’s weird.

Annalee: [00:21:10] So, what kind of immigrants are the X-Men? Or how do they fit into this story?

Baruch: [00:21:16] Well, a lot of people don’t know about this, but the X-Men are super immigrant, and way before any other team started being international or diverse. The X-Men beat everybody by like, you know, ten years. Because first of all, well, so the first X-Men team, all white, all vanilla, whatever. And they’re like oh, the comic’s not selling. So then they re-did the—they added [inaudible], they added like a whole bunch of new X-Men, and a lot of people forget that these X-Men were from all over the world. So, a lot of people love Storm. They love her. They don’t—a lot of people forget—yes, she was played by Halle Berry, who’s American, but Storm is an immigrant. She is from Africa. Professor X found her being worshipped as a goddess in Africa, and was like, “Hey, you wanna you know, come to the US and fight oppression?” And she was like, “Yeah, sure, why not?”

[00:22:04] A friend of mine is like, as soon as you start winning, people don’t like—because a lot of people in my work ask me why I keep describing myself as an immigrant. Why I put it in my bios a lot, why I—before I even start a show, whether I’m doing stand-up comedy or poetry, I’ll remind the audience that I’m an immigrant. I’ll ask the people in the audience to raise their hands, “Who is an immigrant here?”

[00:22:24] Another one: Colossus. He is an immigrant from Russia. Banshee, also an immigrant, from Ireland. Magneto, an immigrant as well, even though a lot of people forget. Holocaust survivor. And you know, there’s a—the X-Men are super diverse. There’s a lot of like, Asian, Latino immigrants like Sun Spot. People keep forgetting to mention him. He’s from Brazil. Karma from Korea. Psylock is an immigrant, twice. I don’t know if you all knew that. Because her first appearance, she was a British woman, and then was in the X-Men, and then they were like, oh, um, we’re gonna turn her into an Asian woman because her brain is going to be put into the body of an Asian woman from Japan, who’s a ninja, by the way.

Annalee: [00:23:06] That’s always helpful, yeah.

Baruch: [00:23:08] So, she’s an immigrant twice. I gotta mention these kids because I love them. The X-Babies from Mojo World. They don’t get mentioned enough. Google them. They’re adorable. What’s funny to me is that everyone’s favorite X-Man, the most popular X-Man ever—

Charlie Jane: [00:23:23] Wolverine.

Baruch: [00:23:24] Wolverine, is an immigrant. And people forget! He’s Canadian. So, I feel like the X-Men has always been talking about this. It’s always been a topic. There’s so many scenes where, back in the ‘80s or ‘70s, where Storm has to like, learn, oh, they don’t do that here. Or, they do do that here.

Annalee: [00:23:41] The fundamental struggle that we associate with the X-Men between Magneto and Xavier is, in many ways, the debate that we see happening in immigrant communities, which is, Xavier is the guy who’s like, let’s assimilate. Let’s offer our cultural uniqueness to our human friends, and like, help them out. Liberal pluralism, like, we’re all brothers and sisters. And then there’s Magneto, who’s like, “Fuck those humans.” We will rule them. And it’s not—I’m not saying that there’s a lot of immigrant groups that are going around doing that, but I think that—

Baruch: [00:24:16] I mean, I am, but…

Annalee: [00:24:17] I mean, some of us are. I mean, I’m from the Chosen People, so. But, I think there is that sense of not wanting to lose your particularlity, not wanting to build those bridges, and saying, like, look, we’ve been fucked over enough. Like, just leave us alone. We just want to be here in our place with our people. And like, just be mutants. And not have to worry about whatever human needs that you have.

Baruch: [00:24:42] Oh, there’s several old Mexicans that I love, who like, you know, they’ve been here for like 40 years. They still just speak Spanish. Not my parents, but I’ll be like, “You know, you’ve been here 40 years, you wanna learn English?” and they just look at me, and they’re like, “No.” “¿Para qué?” They’re like, don’t need to, don’t want to.

Annalee: [00:25:01] And I feel like that’s kind of the X-Men. Like, most of the X-Men are in that middle ground somewhere, where they’re not totally just like, “We live to serve the President of the United States.”

Baruch: [00:25:10] Oh yeah, they’re not. Exactly. They’re not the Avengers. That’s what I’ve always loved about the X-Men.

[00:25:14] Another storyline that I love, about the X-Men that brings up refugees a lot is the Genosha storyline. Genosha is a fictional island country off the coast of Africa that for years in the X-Men storyline was like one of the richest countries in the world, and everyone was like, “Oh, where do they get all these riches?” But they were super secretive, they wouldn’t let anybody travel to Genosha. They wouldn’t let anybody—they would not let anybody leave Genosha. And so the first storyline is a refugee. Someone finally escapes Genosha, X-Factor finds this person, and he tells them the reason Genosha is so rich is because their economy is supported by slaves. They’re a country that has taken their mutant population, and turned them into slaves. And that, and the X-Men just went like, holy crap, what?

Annalee: [00:26:00] Genosha is like the far extreme of the horror that immigrants might flee from, or that refugees might flee from. Right? Like, it’s like the worst case scenario.

Baruch: [00:26:10] One thing I did want to mention with Genosha before we move on, is that as a kid reading these stories where there’s like a press conference and a Genosha refugee is saying like, “These things happen to us. We get tortured. I was forced into labor.” And the US going like, “Oh, that’s terrible.” And the X-Men going like, “Oh, I wish we could do more, but there’s only like 12 of us and this is an entire country with like robots, and machine guns and then later seeing the news and seeing a video of someone who’s [from?] North Korea, talking about all the stuff they went through. Just, was really like, shocking to me, and just really like, “Oh, holy crap, the X-Men are like writing some really great stuff. Maybe inspired by that.” And then, because I’m a depressed Aquarius, I was like, oh, humans are trash.

Charlie Jane: [00:26:57] Humans are trash.

Annalee: [00:26:58] Humans are, but mutants—

Baruch: [00:27:00] Why do we do these horrible things?

Annalee: [00:27:00] Mutants can be trash, too. In an alternate timeline.

Charlie Jane: [00:27:03] So—

Baruch: [00:27:04] Do we have time to mention time traveling X-Men, or do we need to move on?

Charlie Jane: [00:27:06] I was gonna actually. Yeah, there’s a bunch of X-Men who flee from a disastrous future.

Baruch: [00:27:11] Disastrous future. Cable in the upcoming Deadpool movie, spoiler alert, he is the son of Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey, another time traveler is Rachel Grey. She’s from a future where Cyclops and Jean Grey do have a baby and it is a girl who’s more powerful than her mom. She comes back because that future is terrible. It’s just… we don’t even have time to get into that. And who else… Bishop! I had to mention Bishop. Bishop… they never talk about him. He’s one of the most unpopular X-Men, even though he’s one of the best X-Men. Also, one of the only black X-Men. He made it into the movie Days of Future Past, thank God, because you can’t have a Days of Future Past without a time traveling black X-Man. You can’t.

Annalee: [00:27:54] It’s interesting because there is a whole like, cluster of stories about—

Baruch: [00:27:59] So many.

Annalee: [00:27:59] –temporal immigration. Time-based immigration.

Baruch: [00:28:03] It’s ridiculous.

Annalee: [00:28:04] Either fleeing a horrible future and trying to fix it. There was like this incredibly silly TV series on for a while called Terra Nova, where people in a near future are suffering from climate change and there’s this very unrealistic idea that the air has become—there’s so much carbon dioxide that people can’t even breathe. And they’re getting kind of climate-based disease and stuff, which actually is realistic. So they all go back in time to the Cretaceous period when dinosaurs were ruling the planet and when, by the way, there was way more carbon in the atmosphere, so like, they just escaped one—

Baruch: [00:28:46] I think human could have breathed back when the dinosaurs were around.

Annalee: [00:28:48] I think they could have. I just think it wouldn’t have been all that much better than this future problem that they had. But, anyway, they go back in time and they do it as climate refugees, basically, and I think in the context of the show, because it isn’t very scientific. This is an untouched world, where only dinosaur poop is [crosstalk]. Is the main pollution. Um, then there’s also the show that’s on right now, The Crossing, where people are coming from the future to, again, escape from a war, and from climate change, and they’ve come back to our time, today, which is apparently the most peaceful, wonderful time ever in history.

Charlie Jane: [00:29:30] The Long Peace.

Annalee: [00:29:30] Which, The Long Peace, which I thought was hilarious, because I was like, wow, it’s like revisionist present.

Baruch: [00:29:35] So, basically they didn’t go back to Syria, is what they’re saying. They went to the US, not Syria, or the other countries that are at war with each other right now.

Annalee: [00:29:40] Yeah, exactly. No, this is the Long Peace because anything that’s happening in the US is what’s happening everywhere, obviously.

Baruch: [00:29:47] Of course. Of course.

Annalee: [00:29:48] And this is apparently a future where the US still exists, perhaps. We’ve been talking about a ton of different stories.  A lot of X-Men. A lot of other stuff, about just sort of how we imagine immigrants, and how we imagine the immigrant experience, but what do you think these stories—especially stories now—are telling us about what people fear about immigration, or like, what kinds of, you know, negative images are we getting out of this?

Charlie Jane: [00:30:12] One of the things you see in a lot of science fiction is this sort of trope of the other who hides among us. The kind of alien or mutant, or you know, person with like a disease or whatever. The person who is categorized as the other, and they hide in plain sight, and often what you see in these stories, especially lately, I think, is the one where, some of them are actually good. Some of them are friendly, and then there’s the secret once who are BAD. Like, there’s always a few who are evil, and we have to root them out, and it’s sort of playing to this idea that like there are some bad immigrants that we have to stop, and that those are the ones we need to be scared of, and maybe we can team up with the good immigrants, so the good aliens or mutants or whoever who are kind of hiding.

Annalee: [00:30:53] That’s certainly the case in The Crossing—

Baruch: [00:30:55] [crosstalk]

Charlie Jane: [00:30:55] Yeah.

Annalee: [00:30:56] Where it’s like a bunch of gentle, kind, you know, refugees who are like, we just want to do what you’re asking. And we have no—do you want us to live in a hovel for a couple years? No problem. And then there’s the bad guy who’s like embedded…

Baruch: [00:31:11] What does the bad guy want?

Annalee: [00:31:12] The bad guy wants—

Charlie Jane: [00:31:12] Take over the world.

Annalee: [00:31:13] –power, right. He’s embedded himself in the US government.

Baruch: [00:31:17] Oh.

Annalee: [00:31:17] He’s working with the FBI. He’s pretending to be a person, basically. So, it’s basically the anxiety of passing, I think. What happens when immigrants can just pass as one of us. Like, what will they do? They’ll worm their way into a position of power and then, they’ll just… will they just open the floodgates and let any immigrant come in, ever? Or like, will they start discriminating against those who really deserve to be here. You know, real citizens.

Baruch: [00:31:44] And that goes back to the whole like, I think that wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have borders. Or maybe it would, because people have been mean to each other even before the concept of borders, I’m sure. But back then, it was like. I want to live in that shady part of the jungle. I’m gonna kill all of them! You know, or like, that part of the island has better mangos, let’s go kill them for their mangos. That just feels like our—horrible.

Annalee: [00:32:06] Delicious, delicious mangos.

[00:32:07] Although, I think that there is a—I think that creating borders and creating nations has given that kind of mean-ness a whole new aspect. I mean, it’s like—it isn’t the same as just like, I want to be in this tree, or like, I want to live in this cave. There’s something much more…I mean once you have a bureaucracy, and a whole war machine behind it, it’s like—

Baruch: [00:32:30] I mean, once you give people team names, it’s you know—it’s like that Spongebob episode where it’s like, “Okay, you guys over here are Group A and you guys over here are Group B,” and before they know what they’re doing, someone in group B is like, “Group B rules! Screw Group A!” And they’re like, “Wait, we don’t even know what we’re doing yet.”

Annalee: [00:32:47] Yeah, like, let’s draw a border between group A and group B.

Baruch: [00:32:49] Yeah, literally, yeah.

Annalee: [00:32:50] And you’re gonna have to do a lot of things if you want to cross that border.

Charlie Jane: [00:32:53] Oh yeah. I mean, but, you know, I think it’s interesting that we’re gonna get another Men in Black movie, soon, because Men in Black has this thing of like the aliens—

Baruch: [00:32:53] A lot of immigrant stuff, yeah.

Charlie Jane: [00:33:01] Yeah, the aliens who pass and the aliens who don’t pass. And like, you can live on Earth, and like. And they all kind of talk in funny accents, like all the aliens are like, “Heeey, what are you doing, I’m just trying to sell some [inaudible].”

Annalee: [00:33:15] And, yes. And it’s—that—Men in Black is all about creating bureaucracy for handling that.

Charlie Jane: [00:33:21] Yeah.

Baruch: [00:33:21] The bureaucracy is, ugh, [crosstalk].

Annalee: [00:33:23] And I think that’s—I mean, that’s one of the things that’s so terrifying and deadly and vicious in a lot of these stories. Like, to go back to District 9, like part of the horror of District 9 is Wikus, the bureaucrat.

Baruch: [00:33:23] Yes, and what we learn eventually, spoiler alert, is that they never intended to help any of these aliens. They were ripping them apart to experiment on them. And that’s another thing that I was talking about. The whole like, eventually someone lifts the veil and you learn that the bureaucracy was there to cause harm. Or the immigrant thing happened because someone was causing harm.

Annalee: [00:33:56] If you think about a lot of these stories, including X-Men, you know, one of the themes is the propaganda that’s created.

Baruch: [00:34:04] Propaganda, yeah.

Annalee: [00:34:04] To pull the wool over people’s eyes, and that there is a kind of conspiracy to get people thinking, “Oh, the X-Men are super dangerous.” Like, “Oh, we’ve gotta contain them. We’ve got to put them into camps. What can we—How can we protect ourselves?” And so, I think, you know, in the best of these stories, you do get that sense that we—it’s not just that people are dumb, it’s that they’re being deceived, and it’s a very deliberate process of deception that is designed to prey on people’s fears, and prey on people’s hopes, too. You know, like that, “Oh, well, I won’t be—I hope that I won’t be the bad immigrant. Like, I’ll—if we just repress our urge to ever speak Spanish, like, maybe we will be passed over. Like, and so I think that that is a big part of what we see happening here. And I think, the sort of—in among these stories, like there are certainly conservative tales, too. Like, we see things like—I mean even something like Pacific Rim, which I think has a beautiful, kind of message of togetherness, and all of the nations will band together, it’s still predicated on the idea of there’s a group of aliens out there that are trying to come here and take over the earth, and we have to not only rip apart the monsters they’re sending, but go through this like, weird vaginal thing at the bottom of the ocean and go to their world and destroy their world. But I think that, in a nutshell sums up, exactly this fear of immigration, is that somehow these immigrants who are actually coming here in real life as vulnerable people, who are, as you were saying, losing their whole culture. Leaving their families, leaving their wealth behind in a lot of cases, leaving their property behind. And coming here, and they’re like, basically like, “Okay, we don’t have anything.”

[00:35:47] But in our imagination, they are giant monsters who are eating our cities and breaking down walls and we better build some giant robots to fight them, you know.

Baruch: [00:35:59] And it is just imagination. It’s just—I run Dónde está mi gente, which is a literary performance series for Latinos or Latinx people, and I say that sometimes at the beginning of every show. Hi, we’re here to take your jobs. But, it’s like—it’s a total joke. My parents are all in their late 60s, are both in their late 60s. They both have jobs. Like, my father’s still a janitor. Like, no one—he didn’t take that from some educated white guy who desperately needed a job. He’s a janitor. Yeah yeah yeah.

Annalee: [00:36:33] Now we have to fear that AI is taking our jobs, too. Like, uh-oh, AI, immigrants…

Charlie Jane: [00:36:38] Part of what interests me about a lot of the stories we’ve seen in the last five years or so about immigrants and refugees is along with this idea of, “Can we tell the good ones from the bad ones? Can we like, sort them into two batches and deal with them accordingly?” There is this thing, of this unquestioned endorsement of assimilation. And that the good ones are the ones who are going to assimilate. They’re the ones who are going to, you know, do all—play by the rules but also kind of lose whatever makes them different.

Annalee: [00:37:07] And also, those are the ones who aren’t going to ever question that propaganda that we were talking about. Will never say, like, actually you guys, this is propaganda. Like, this isn’t what the immigrant experience is like. They’re just like, “Okay, we’ll just go along.”

Charlie Jane: [00:37:19] On the tip of assimilation, as a huge Doctor Who fan, I always have to bring in Doctor Who, I’m sorry.

Baruch: [00:37:24] Yay Doctor Who!

Charlie Jane: [00:37:24] So, Doctor Who has these shape-changing aliens called The Zygons, who are basically just like weird squid people, and in their earlier appearances, they just want to take over, they want to invade, they’re scary. And then at some point in the last like, five years or so, it was changed to the Zygons just want to come and live among us in peace, and the Doctor basically says, no, we’re not gonna kill the Zygons. We are going to let them live here, as long as they promise to look exactly like humans, using their shapeshifting powers, and even you know, forget that they used to be aliens, maybe. And so there’s several episodes where whe kind of—there’s trouble because some of the Zygons start being outed, and we have to, like, they have to go back to being secret, and we have to forget that there are aliens living among us. And it’s never like, why can’t the Zygons just live among—why can’t Zygons be Zygons?

Annalee: [00:38:16] Let the Zygons be Zygons.

Charlie Jane: [00:38:18] But, it’s never that. It’s always like, they can live here as long as they use their shape-shifting powers only to look exactly like humans.

Baruch: [00:38:26] That’s a thing. That’s the whole like, the appropriation debate now, is like, you know, well you wearing a suit is appropriation. It’s like, “No, bitch. Me wearing a suit was just me trying to survive in your world.”

Charlie Jane: [00:38:38] It’s all about power.

Baruch: [00:38:38] It’s all about power and like, and yeah. I mean, it’s—I love these young new immigrants that are coming here and not assimilating. I just think that’s really great. Like, I mean, don’t be a dick, but also like, they’re not dressing like Americans. They’re trying to cover—like, I think the queer community is also one who has never really. I mean, yes, there’s a ton that try, but there’s a ton that don’t. They’re like, “I’m gonna cover myself with tattoos. I’m gonna shave half of my head. I’m going to only working places where I can have pink hair, or purple hair. And I really—I love that. And I love the immigrants who aren’t trying to do that.

Annalee: [00:39:16] One of the things I really like about Jeff VanderMeer’s most recent novel, Borne, is that it’s about climate refugees in the future, and it’s a bunch of people who come to a Caribbean island, and this is an island where a biotech company has been creating creatures that are half-human, half-other stuff. Or maybe partly they’re alien, or maybe—we don’t know. It’s unclear. It’s very delightful. But there’s a bunch of immigrants that have come from many places and they have to survive. There’s been some kind of collapse, where like, the island is now overrun by like a giant bear, who’s like oppressing everyone. And little bears that are eating people.

Baruch: [00:39:55] Are you sure that wasn’t me?

Annalee: [00:39:57] Even bigger. This is a bear that’s the size of like a skyscraper.

Baruch: [00:40:02] Nice.

Annalee: [00:40:02] No, he actually is great. It’s really, um. The bear is really interesting. And so, the two main characters are basically human. They’re kind of augmented, and they make friends with the blob. And the blob becomes kind of a human and they form kind of a family with this biotech blob. And the whole feeing of the story is that there’s a bunch of life forms out there that can’t assimilate, that are human-equivalent, but radically not human, because there’s also a lot of animals like rabbits that have been kind of weirdly uplifted and seem to have their own bunny civiliazation. And like, and so, I love that we’re sort of left—I’m not going to give away spoilers for the end. I mean, some of the characters don’t meet a good ending, but the whole point is that as we approach the future, we need to be thinking about how do we—how do we reach a kind of peace with creatures or other people who just seem so different from us that we can’t even—we don’t even think of them as human, but we finally just have to make friends with them, because that’s what we’ve got. We don’t have anyone else. So, why not make friends with a blob? Or like, with a bunny civilization, or—you know, when you’re being threatened by a giant bear, you gotta—

Baruch: [00:41:16] Stick together.

Annalee: [00:41:16] Stick together, exactly. So, what, for you, is an example of that where you see kind of a happy—or not a happy ending, necessarily, but—

Baruch: [00:41:28] Yeah. I mean, well, right away that makes me think about the Crystal Gems, or the cartoon Steven Universe, if you haven’t watched it.

Annalee: [00:41:34] Which we talk about a lot.

Baruch: [00:41:36] There’s something wrong with you if you don’t know what that is.

Annalee: [00:41:37] We like it.

Baruch: [00:41:38] Crystal gems kind of are refugees, sort of, or war criminals. Who knows? There’s a very great episode that, to me was super—it just gave me all the feels. Lapis Lazuli and Peridot, come from Homeworld, but they get—Lapis Lazuli gets stuck there, Peridot gets stuck there, but their little place to live is too big, and they don’t know where they’re going to live, so Steven Universe is like, live in this barn. Like, my dad’s barn is empty. So they make it their own, and then his crazy uncle shows up who actually does own the barn, and is like, why are these crazy colorful ladies in my—rrgh, I’m so white and straight and I’m scared of everything, and rggh. But then the whole episode is about them trying to calm this guy down, who doesn’t even live there, but he owns it. But my favorite is that Peridot’s like, “It’s all gonna be okay,” even though she’s the angry one. But Lapis Lazuli, the goth one, starts raising her hands and like lifting all this water to like drown him and something, and all the crystal gems and Steven Universe are like, “Aaaah, no no no nono.”

[00:42:36] And so, when that episode first aired, I got mad, because I thought it was like Rebecca Sugar being like, “Be nice to your Trump supporting family during Thanksgiving,” and I was like, “No, fuck them.” But anyway. The episode’s great because they basically like, you see the immigrant crystal gems trying to like appease him, and they’re like, look, we brought all this food that humans eat, right? Look at all this stuff! And then, and then he’s like, I don’t know if this is going to work, but eventually he gets hungry and Steven gets hungry and the crystal gems are like, ugh. Good, he stopped screaming. And they just have a meal together which is the best part, and they just start talking like people. And even though, you know, humans are weird meat covered skeletons, and even though crystal gems are like strange rocks, they still have—they’re still people. And that was why I loved that episode. At the end, they just have a meal together, and I feel like that’s the America that I like. Just, people that are super different and are just trying to like, freaking get along and live here. And at the end, he does decide, the crazy uncle, I feel, does decide to let them stay, and they just promise they’re not gonna keep destroying his barn. And so, I think that’s how it ends. I don’t remember.

Charlie Jane: [00:43:45] And then later, they take the barn into space. It’s gone.

Baruch: [00:43:48] Okay, that’s really funny. That’s true. I forgot about that.

Annalee: [00:43:51] I mean, they don’t destroy it. They just take it into space. It’s fine.

Baruch: [00:43:55] But, they both learn. I think Peridot and Lapis Lazuli learn something about why he cares so much about the barn, and they go, “Oh, we really like the barn, too. We like all these vegetables we’re growing here.” And he goes, “Oh, oh that’s cool, and he starts to like them and they start to like him. What’s good about that episode is that doesn’t tie it all up in the end with a bow. They don’t end up best friends. Nobody hugs. I like that. Nobody hugs. I like that.

Charlie Jane: [00:44:18] Martian Manhunter doesn’t yearn to love Christmas.

Baruch: [00:44:21] Yeah. That’s another great thing that I like about that episode.

Charlie Jane: [00:44:21] You know, that kinda ending.

Baruch: [00:44:24] It’s great. Uh, I cried at the end of that episode. It’s such a beautiful episode.

Annalee: [00:44:28] You have been listening to Our Opinions Are Correct and we will be back in two weeks with another amazing episode. You can find us on Apple Podcasts and Google Play things, and this episode was produced at Women’s Audio Mission by Veronica Simonetti. The music was provided by Chris Palmer, and we’ll see you in two weeks. And our special guest was—

Baruch: [00:44:56] Baruch Porras-Hernandez. Thank you so much for having me.

Annalee: [00:44:59] Yeah, and where can people find out more about you?

Baruch: [00:45:01] I’m on Wordpress, baruchporrashernandez.wordpress.com. Please follow me on Instagram. That’s where you can find out about all of my upcoming shows. My poetry books that are getting published, and my comedy performances. And I also do all of my illustration—I put them on there.

Annalee: [00:45:20] What’s your Instagram?

Baruch: [00:45:21] Oh, it’s just my name. BaruchPorrasHernandez.

[00:45:27] Outro music plays. Synth over snare followed by guitar riffs.

Annalee Newitz