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« An Interview With Cartoonist Ted Rall | Main | Prof Guth: Free Speech Hero or Hateful Academic? »


Superman and the Immigrant Experience

By Angelo Lopez
September 25, 2013

During the early part of the year, one of the things that I most looked forward to was seeing the movie "Man of Steel". I was a big fan of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies and followed the latest Man of Steel trailers on Youtube. When I read Manohla Dargis's review of the Man of Steel, Dargis pointed something about Superman that had never occurred to me. He noted in his review that the Superman story is an immigrant story. This inspired a cartoon that I did for the June 19, 2013 edition of the Philippines Today. One of the great issues in the immigration reform debate is the separation of families as many illegal immigrants are separated from their American born children as they are deported. I thought I could make a comparison between Superman's feelings as an outsider in the world he calls his home and the same feelings that similar immigrants have.

Manohla Dargis feels that the best part of the Man of Steel movie are those moments when the story touches on Superman's attempts to assimilate in this alien world. In his review of the Man of Steel, Dargis writes:

...if you wave away all the computer-generated smoke and see past the pulverized buildings, it’s possible to remain hooked on the resonant origin story that wends through “Man of Steel” — that of the immigrant. It’s a story that begins with the launching of the spaceship and continues through a child’s pained attempts to assimilate and a young man’s sense of not belonging. In his excellent 1987 essay “What Makes Superman So Darned American,” Gary D. Engle wrote that “Superman raises the American immigrant experience to the level of religious myth.” Mr. Snyder isn’t capable of mythmaking, but in his sometimes poetic, sometimes crude way, he has given Superman a new lease on franchise life by affirming that this most American hero is also an alien yearning to breathe free.

The Gary Engle essay that Dargis refers to explores the Jewish immigrant experience that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster experienced and subtly transferred to the Superman myth. Engle wrote in his essay:

Twentieth-century immigrants, particularly the Eastern European Jews who came to America after 1880 and who settled in the industrial and mercantile centers of the Northeast--cities like Cleveland where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster grew up and created Superman--could be entertained by the Western, but they developed a separate literary tradition that addressed the theme of assimilation in terms closer to their personal experience. In this tradition issues were clear-cut: Clinging to an Old World identity meant isolation in ghettos, confrontation with a prejudiced mainstream culture, second-class social status, and impoverishment. On the other hand, forsaking the past in favor of total absorption into the mainstream, while it could result in socioeconomic progress, meant a loss of the religious, linguistic, even culinary traditions that provided a foundation for psychological well-being. Such loss was particularly tragic for the Jews because of the fundamental role played by history in Jewish culture.

...Where the pressures were perhaps most keenly felt was in the schools. Educational theory of the period stressed the benefits of rapid assimilation. In the first decades of this century, for example, New York schools flatly rejected bilingual education--a common response to the plight of non-English-speaking immigrants even today--and there were conscientious efforts to indoctrinate the children of immigrants with American values, often at the expense of traditions within the ethnic community. What resulted was a generational rift in which children were openly embarrassed by and even contemptuous of their parents' values, setting a pattern in American life in which second-generation immigrants migrate psychologically if not physically from their parents, leaving it up to the third generation and beyond to rediscover their ethnic roots.

...Throughout American popular culture between 1880 and the Second World War the story was the same. Oxlike Swedish farmers, German brewers, Jewish merchants, corrupt Irish ward healers, Italian gangsters --there was a parade of images that reflected in terms often comic, sometimes tragic, the humiliation, pain, and cultural insecurity of people in a state of transition. Even in the comics, a medium intimately connected with immigrant culture, there simply was no image that presented a blending of identities in the assimilation process in a way that stressed pride, self-confidence, integrity, and psychological well-being. None, that is, until Superman.

In the past few months, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill that offer a 13 year pathway to citizenship to the 11 million illegal immigrants if they pass certain citizenship requirements and after those in the waiting list of legal immigrants is cleared first. To allay the fears of conservatives who worry about the security of the border, the Senate bill proposes to spend $40 billion on border security, adding 700 miles of walls across the U.S.-Mexico border, and adding 20,000 personnel to guard the border. An immigration bill debate now switches to the House of Representatives, where conservative Republicans want a far less comprehensive bill that focuses almost exclusively on border security.

In this time, many religious groups, Asian American and Hispanic groups, farming groups, and high tech businesses have lobbied the Congress to pass a fair and comprehensive immigration bill. Here are some youtube videos of various groups that have lobbied for immigration reform.

Members of the Evangelical Immigration Table — along with hundreds of evangelical Christians from across the country — visited their members of Congress to urge commonsense immigration reform on July 24, 2013

Priests at many Catholic churches around the country are urging parishioners to support immigration reform as part of a two-month push by Catholic leaders.

Sandra Sanchez with the American Friends Service Committee speaks in support of comprehensive immigration reform during a rally in August 2013

At the First United Methodist Church in McAllen, members of Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, Episcopal and Presbyterian churches prayed for immigration reform

About 250 supporters attended a May Day vigil for immigration reform at the Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Santa Barbara May 2013

CWA President Larry Cohen is arrested as activists from labor, immigrant rights, faith, environmental, civil rights and community groups launched "40 Days of Action and Prayer for Families" on immigration reform with a demonstration and civil disobedience outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C

A nationwide Catholic Church initiative is aimed at raising awareness surrounding the plight of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States for September 2013

Bishop Carcaño, head of the California-Pacific Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, joined Claremont School of Theology for a special Immigration Prayer Vigil in Kresge Chapel on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013


If you enjoy this cartoon, take a look at these links for more of my political cartoons at my blog. You could also join my Jasper the Cat facebook page. If you'd like to email me, you can write a comment at alopezcartoons@yahoo.com

Jasper Walks With A Friend
A Cartoon for the 4th of July
A Cartoon on Government Surveillance
Jasper and Homeless Bob
Two Cartoons on the Economy
Two Cartoons on the Church
Jasper and the Church
Jasper and the Tea Partier
Jasper Writes A Blog
Conversations During The Holidays
Jasper and the Cop
The Parents Visit the Occupation
Cartoons About Occupy Wall Street
Jasper and the Moderate Republican
Obama and the Republicans
Jasper And the Homeless Veteran
Jasper Celebrates the 4th of July
Jasper Meets Howard Zinn
Jasper and the Nature Poem
The Reunion
Government and the Market Economy
Jasper Joins Two Protests
Bob the Nerd Vampire
Jasper Debates War
Jasper Finds His Way Home
Jasper Escapes the Detention Center
Jasper At A Detention Center
Jasper Meets a Poet
Jasper's Day
Jasper Tackles Health Care
Jasper Protests the War
Jasper and the Economy
Jasper Sings a Protest Song
The Road To Health Care Reform Cartoon
A Cartoon about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
A Cartoon about My Experience in an Evangelical Church
A Cartoon about Political Debate
A Cartoon On Gay Marriage


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