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Bona Fide Relationships

Through stories, essays, and poems, writers imagine new narratives that speak to Trump’s Muslim ban


This past June, portions of President Trump’s widely protested travel ban took effect after the Supreme Court weighed its constitutionality. The Court temporarily lifted legal blocks on the ban, and granted an exception for those individuals with “bona fide relationships” to the United States, defined by those who have “family members here, or a job or a place in an American university.”

But what is a bona fide relationship, anyway? Who counts as close family in the eyes of the state? The Court’s language, and the “bona fide relationships” clause in particular, immediately set off panic among migrants, immigrants, and other concerned individuals, including all of us here at AAWW. In the midst of the confusion over who and who wouldn’t be banned, the State Department established a set of guidelines:

“Close family” is defined as a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling, whether whole or half. This includes step relationships. “Close family” does not include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-laws and sisters-in-law, fiancés, and any other “extended” family members.

This piecemeal, seemingly arbitrary qualification of already vague language was deeply troubling, and at the same time, provocative. It compelled us to ask writers to respond to and question interpretations of the “bona fide relationships” clause, and how our relationships could transcend those set by the Court. Is it up to a legislative body to determine who counts as family to each of us? We wanted to imagine creative openings and new counternarratives as to what a bona fide relationship might be. We looked to others who were affected for their own interpretations, their own responses to the clause.

Over the next two weeks, we will publish stories, essays and poems that touch on these questions and imagine new futures in the aftermath of the court’s decision. We received work from authors whose families come from different corners of the globe and different ethnic and racial backgrounds, who speak across genre and cultural lines, and who have each tried to arrive at an interpretation or manifestation of what the clause means to them.

We’ve collected their work here, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear further arguments on the ban’s Constitutionality, and as President Trump calls even more extreme measures into effect, suspending entry to immigrants from eight countries in advance of the hearing (initially scheduled for October 10th, the hearing has been postponed as the Court scrambles to make sense of these latest proclamations).

Through art rather than direct argument, we hope to shed light on the ways that individuals and communities wrestle with this ongoing effort to delegitimize their presence in the United States, and undermine their sense of belonging.

The Bona Fide Relationships Portfolio was supported with support from the David Rockefeller Fund and the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics.

Please check back as we post more stories, poems and essays in our series here.

—Zaina Arafat




By Wael Morcos

A reaction to the travel ban by the President of the United States of America, the American flag is redrawn with the red stripes a repetition of the word “YES” in Arabic, instead of no—a positive affirmation of inclusion for Arabic speaking Americans in the fabric of the United States.



All My Grandmother’s Birds
By Moez Surani

“I ventured out one morning and, from the lawn, I stared at all of the green beaks. I tried to count all of them but there were more buried, slumbering birds in our garden than I knew numbers for. And I remembered how in winter they left us and the air was so quiet and empty.”




JFK Airport
By Celina Su

“As if I could get un-situated
this airport a bubble hovering
in a void between celestial bodies
in but not of
the country I stand in.



Process Questions
By Karthik Purushothaman

“Which poem can defeat

the fear of dying
a meaningless death

and how to write that poem
staring into the barrel?”




The Paperless “Palestinian” and the Russian P’liceman
By Phil Metres

The feeling of being claimed is halfway to feeling home, even if on the inside I’ve often felt like I didn’t quite belong.



Corona Halal Meats
By Bushra Rehman

The masjid wasn’t even close to finished, but our fathers were starting from the top and were building their way down.




So blonde
By Leah Silvieus

“Mine: thick & black, so coarse

when trimmed, the ends splintered
bare feet.



All Over the Place
By Hazem Fahmy

“A week before I graduate, I round up all my femme clothes
and stuff them in the Savers plastic bag
I’d gotten them in.”



In Two Days
By Siavash Saadlou

‘Shayan closed his eyes and played for a couple of minutes. His touch was impeccable. His timing was flawless. His body movements were graceful. He ended on a C flat with his eyes still closed.’






Coffee Diplomacy
By Nancy Agabian

A quest for Armenian coffee in the inauguration’s aftermath led one writer to ask, how much of ourselves do we need to let go in order to see ourselves in others?