Through her research and latest book, Divya Victor, Associate Professor in MSU’s Department of English and Creative Writing Program, tells the story of South Asian immigrants, and those belonging to the South Asian diaspora, and how they navigate public spaces in the United States. And in doing so, how they maintain and retain a sense of self and a sense of direction, and encounter feelings of fear and displacement.
Titled, Curb, and released on April 27, Victor’s book comes at a time when hate crimes against Asian Americans have risen by 150% in the United States over the past year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
“So many acts of violence or hate crimes take place because men and women are misrecognized as terrorists or as dangerous to society,” Victor said. “I hope my book draws them into greater recognition that they can be seen as humans with lives and loves. I hope the book helps people see the stranger that poses such a threat to this country, the imagined stranger doesn’t exist. Every person we see as a stranger is actually someone’s loved one. And I hope this book will show people that.”
Through the use of poetry, Victor emphasizes the risk to nonwhite individuals presumed to be trespassing in white spaces and challenges readers to reconsider the fragile boundaries they share with one another.
In some ways, this is a book about the fear that immigrants live with deep in their hearts, and the ways in which they confront that fear and keep themselves together as they navigate these public spaces.
Victor began working on Curb in 2017 shortly after she returned from Singapore to the United States, when Donald Trump was just beginning his presidency.
“I was taking a walk with my mother when she said to me, ‘Now that Trump is in office, I’m afraid to even take walks.’ I thought that fear expressed by my very confident, very brave, very bold, immigrant mother, I had to take that fear seriously, and I needed to understand it and imagine where it comes from,” Victor said. “I needed to understand and explain to others how that fear had a history, a history that began in the 1800s and has become more refined and more weaponized over time. In some ways, this is a book about the fear that immigrants live with deep in their hearts, and the ways in which they confront that fear and keep themselves together as they navigate these public spaces.”
Victor chose the title, Curb, because it’s the dividing element that forms an edge between the road and the sidewalk, which is also used to restrain, to check, to stop, or to arrest.
“A curb is a tool that we use to restrain horses to change their direction to rein them in to control them,” Victor said. “So I’m very interested in the ways the nation, state, and now increasingly the militarized police state, curbs the immigrant, how it restrains us, how it prevents certain freedoms, of feeling freedoms, of living freedoms, of being ourselves in this country.”
Often these hate crimes don’t even get reported in the national news. That, to me, became unbearable, and poetry became the way to bear some of that grief.
Victor dedicated the book to the men whose lives were taken from them because of xenophobia, racism, and anti-immigrant sentiment, while acknowledging how they were seen as a stranger and as a threat, so monstrous and terrifying, that they were taken out of this world somehow.
“The power of white supremacy is that it steals from you people you never knew. People who could have been your family. People who could have been your friends. People who could have come over for dinner. It is difficult to estimate the loss of a stranger because it’s pure potential,” Victor said. “Often these hate crimes don’t even get reported in the national news. That, to me, became unbearable, and poetry became the way to bear some of that grief. That’s why the book is dedicated to these men. It’s not because I knew them, it’s because I could have known them.”
Victor grew up in India, Singapore, and the United States. As an immigrant, she says she was always asked where she came from, what her name means, and how to pronounce it.
“I just got so tired of explaining myself everywhere I went. And with poetry, it has built into it a refusal to explain it. It asks the reader to figure things out for themselves,” Victor said. “That’s what I respect about the form, it’s that it refuses to explain that it places the responsibility for understanding on the reader, which echoes for me the responsibility that people have when they encounter the stranger or when they encounter the immigrant, the responsibility is theirs to understand our place here. It’s not ours to explain why we’re here.”