Mae Ngai will deliver the 2019-2020 Hugh Hawkins Lecture, "'Mother of Exiles': Refugees in American History and Myth." Ngai is the Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and a professor of history at Columbia University. She is the author of the award-winning book Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America.
Emma Lazarus called America the “mother of exiles” in her poem “The New Colossus,” which graces the Statue of Liberty. This lecture will examine the enduring idea of America as a land of hope and refuge for the persecuted and oppressed. It goes beyond the familiar narratives of the Puritan settlers and the Statue of Liberty to think about how the idea of asylum has historically justified and obscured nation-building and racial agendas. It will compare the politics surrounding Cold War refugees from Europe, Cuba and Asia, and consider the contemporary recasting of Central American asylum seekers as undocumented migrants.