by Annie Isabel Fukushima

Here is a lecture I gave drawing upon Mae Ngai’s work, “Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America” – “What is an American? Genocide, Relocation, Citizenship and Making of the ‘Illegal’“ (September 23, 2016) at the University of Utah. The class: 100 students, majority students of color with many who have migrant narratives in their own histories and/or their family histories. It was important that we had a conversation about the making of the term “illegal.” Ngai’s work has been seminal for understanding the legal construction of citizenship and the “illegal.“

During the election period, living in a conservative state, where migrant communities are an integral part of the Utah context, discussing migration is ever important.

Lessons learned:

1. The term “illegal” has so much history, that even when you trouble it for students, they may still find it challenging. The legacy of “illegal” being synonymous with migrant and/or the dominant anti-immigrant sentiment make this a term that is difficult to move through, for some students. However it is critical that educators contend with the uncomfortable as a site of productive possibility.

2. It was important for me as an educator to link sentiments of immigration with colonial contexts. There is a historical need to trace how as the “illegal” is sustained through notions of citizenship furthered, cannot be delinked from colonial systems of governance.

3. To teach about migration, legality, citizenship, and coloniality, requires ongoing self-reflexive teaching practices. This lecture is not a perfect how to. It is an offering of what I did in one class. What I would change – this could have easily been three lecture. In the race for time and the need to crunch as much in as possible, I am left with what does not stick with the students?

4. I always make my lectures available after class. That way students may return to the notes and ask questions.

We all read:

  • C. Matthew Snipp, “The First Americans: American Indians.” Margaret L. Anderson and Patricia Hill Collins, Eds. Race, Class & Gender. An Anthology. Ninth Edition. Cengage Learning. 34 – 40.
  • Mae Ngai. “Birthright Citizenship and the Alien Citizen.” Fordham Law Review 75(5): 2521 – 2529.
  • Marie Friedmann Marquardt, Timothy Steigenga, Philip J. Williams, and Manuel A. Vasquez. “Living Illegal: the Human Face of Unauthorized Immigration.” Margaret L. Anderson and Patricia Hill Collins, Eds. Race, Class & Gender. An Anthology. Ninth Edition. Cengage Learning. 157-163.

Link to the Prezi (edited for this public audience).

Re-blogged from the Institute of (im)Possible Subjects’ flashread site. Please join us in discussion of Annie’s lecture, as well as the Introduction to Mae Ngai’s book “Impossible Subjects” on this tumblr:


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