- Queer Roots for the Diaspora: Ghosts in the Family Tree by Jarrod Hayes
Queer Roots for the Diaspora: Ghosts in the Family Tree maps, traces, and unearths the literal and discursive queer (im)mobilities and (un)settlements inherent in the idea of diasporic dispersal and the desire for roots. By utilizing multiple literary, cinematic, anthropological, and musicological archives around diaspora and a fascinating focus on the exigencies of diasporic rooting and rootedness, Jarrod Hayes offers critical and elegant [End Page 500] limnings of various compelling theoretical questions—specifically, the shifting notions of queer self-making and the normative boundaries that attempt to circumscribe them. At the heart of this study is a delineation of the shifting renditions of diasporic roots, its queer dimensions, and their eventual unraveling. In addition, Hayes continues and extends previous works by scholar such as David Eng, Gayatri Gopinath, and Kobena Mercer in juxtaposing queerness, minoritarian identity, and postcolonial/neoliberal contexts as they question and disrupt the linearity of personhood, familial and national filiation, and origins.
Homi Bhabha once engaged with James Clifford’s notion of travelling cultures by noting that while travel, movement, and mobility constitute one of the major pillars of diaspora and migration, this focus or major strand unwittingly downplays the problematic of roots and settlement whether by choice or by forceful, if not violent, prescription. Therefore, roots are not just anchors that emplace migrants and other subjects to place but are related to actions, histories, desires, and feelings that struggle to emplace and hook queer migrants into place. The compulsion to settle is complicated by the exigencies of nation and family, which often makes the ideals of roots and the processes of rooting impossible to attain. In the end, diasporic roots are really about queer rootings or the strained struggle in developing emotional and cultural anchors to tether the migrant to an ever-changing set of structures that are in the midst of their own erosion, uprooting, displacement, and very survival.
Jarrod Hayes does a magnificent job of exfoliating the queer processes of genealogical roots and rooting through a series of readings of diverse texts from a Francophone and Anglophone cinematic tradition and literary works from the Franco-Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Canada and the United States. The very organization of the texts follows, among others, Hayes’s biographical and professional trajectory so as to end with a kind of cultural and literal homecoming.
Hayes suggests that the yearning and anticipatory restlessness in settling and rooting oneself are productive for a theoretical and conceptual clarification of the complex ties between diasporic movement, settlement, and queerness. The Latina queer theorist Gloria Anzaldua, in her discussion of the border-crossing migrant, often joked about homophobia as the fear of home. Such negative feelings and the attendant violence around deviant sexuality, home, domesticity and family are the fueling forces that compel travel and movement away from sites of identification and rootedness. But they also conversely (and paradoxically) restrain, seduce, and induce [End Page 501] diasporic return. One of the fascinating aspects of Hayes’s readings is the weaving together of contradictory narratives such as the desire to leave home and the lure of return, sutured with a messy and paradoxical travel itinerary or route. Such desires traverse across and around mazelike paths yet always wind up returning to a destination that troubles ghostly ties and identities that are variously related to the trauma of racial difference, ethnic violence, material deprivation, and sexual aberration.
Hayes argues that queer diasporic dispersal and return do not necessarily lead to an affirmation of roots and routes but rather to a critical questioning of the absolute viability, truth, and reality of the queer migrant’s ontology and history. In other words, to follow the ghostly tracks of where one comes from is to realize that the point of origin is not as clear or pristine as one remembers it to be. Moreover, the need to narrate these roots or originary nodes comes not from the nostalgic desire to remember but from the desire to...