Codrescu’s Taxonomy

By Maria Di Mento '03 / July / August 2004
June 15th, 2007
When Romanian-born writer, poet, and NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu talks about the United States as a nation of immigrants, he recoils from the “melting pot” metaphor. It reminds him, he says, of being boiled in a pot of water. And the “tossed salad” analogy? “It makes me dizzy,” Codrescu told a Salomon Center crowd in his Jill Rose President’s Lecture. The talk, in late April, was part of the annual Brown/Providence Journal Public Affairs Conference, which this year focused on “Homeland Insecurity: the Changing Face of Immigration.”

In a thick, Vlad-the-impaler accent, Codrescu said he had devised an “immigrant taxonomy” as an alternative to those culinary comparisons. First, Codrescu said, was the Virtual Immigrant. This is someone who never gets near a U.S. border but who travels through the country via the Internet and the American culture transplanted around him in his own country; such an immigrant gathers a particularly distorted and myopic view of American life, Codrescu said. Then there’s the Potential Immigrant, which Codrescu described as, “everyone in the world who is unhappy at home because there is war and nothing to eat.”

Next is the Political Refugee, of which Codrescu, a professor of English at Louisiana State University, is exhibit A. He described coming to the United States in 1966 from communist Romania with his mother. His first order of business was to master English, in part because the poets he wanted to study were American, but also, he says, “because I was nineteen and I had to tell things to girls.”

As political refugees, the new freedoms of the United States were instantly obvious to Codrescu and his mother. But so were the sacrifices they had made to gain their freedom. Gone, Codrescu said, was their Romanian culture. “I made changes easily because I was young,” he explained, “but my mother didn’t.” He laughed and said that when he talks to her on the phone she still reminds him not to lose his accent. “She says, ‘Roll your ‘Rs’ harder. Don’t loose your livelihood.’ ”

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July / August 2004