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 1443863645, 9781443863643

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Southeast Asian Diaspora in the United States

Southeast Asian Diaspora in the United States: Memories and Visions Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Edited by

Jonathan H. X. Lee

Southeast Asian Diaspora in the United States: Memories and Visions, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Edited by Jonathan H. X. Lee This book first published 2015 Cambridge Scholars Publishing 12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2015 by Jonathan H. X. Lee and contributors All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-6364-5, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-6364-3

For my son, Owen Edward Jinfa Quady-Lee


Acknowledgements ..................................................................................... x Editorial Board .......................................................................................... xii About the Editor ....................................................................................... xiv About the Contributors .............................................................................. xv Preface ....................................................................................................... xx Foreword ................................................................................................. xxii Mariam B. Lam Introduction ................................................................................................. 1 Southeast Asian Americans: Memories, Visions, and Subjectivities Jonathan H. X. Lee Part I: Varieties of Homes Chapter One ............................................................................................... 14 Collective and Conflicting Memories in Narratives of Migration from Indonesia to the United States Dahlia Gratia Setiyawan Chapter Two .............................................................................................. 31 Balikbayan Paranoia: Tourism Development in Manila and the Anxiety of Return Eric J. Pido Chapter Three ............................................................................................ 47 Translation Counts: Comparative Analysis of Thai Texts for the 2010 U.S. Census Kanjana Thepboriruk


Table of Contents

Part II: Varieties of Religiosities Chapter Four .............................................................................................. 74 The Spirits You See in the Mirror: Spirit Possession in the Vietnamese American Diaspora Janet Hoskins Chapter Five ............................................................................................ 102 The Buddha, Spirits, and Protection: Cambodian Spiritual Practices in Long Beach Susan Needham Chapter Six .............................................................................................. 120 Acting Out: Thai American Buddhists Encounters with White Privilege and White Supremacy Jonathan H. X. Lee Chapter Seven.......................................................................................... 143 “Occupying” Religious and Cultural Spaces: Vietnamese American Catholics in New Territory Linh Hoang Chapter Eight ........................................................................................... 159 The Sorceress of Westminster Rossina Zamora Liu Part III: Varieties of Creativities Chapter Nine............................................................................................ 178 Pedagogy for Healing and Justice through Cambodian American Literature Mary Thi Pham and Jonathan H. X. Lee Chapter Ten ............................................................................................. 208 Altar Art: Binh Danh and the Cambodian Genocide Isabelle Thuy Pelaud Chapter Eleven ........................................................................................ 220 Silence and Void, or Double Trouble: Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s Visual Archives ViӋt Lê

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Part IV: Varieties of Cultures Chapter Twelve ....................................................................................... 236 Music and Indonesian American Experience: Gamelan, Angklung, and Dangdut Trikartikaningsih Byas Chapter Thirteen ...................................................................................... 250 Hmong Americans and Alzheimer’s Disease: Stimulating Remote Memories through Grandfather’s Story Cloth to Promote Personhood Linda A. Gerdner Chapter Fourteen ..................................................................................... 267 Examining 1.5 and Second-Generation Laotian American Achievement through Acculturation, Cultural Capital, and Social Capital Frameworks Krissyvan Khamvongsa Truong Part V: Varieties of Sexualities Chapter Fifteen ........................................................................................ 284 Embracing the Digital: Gay Filipino Men and the Possibilities of Technology and Self-Pleasure Raymond San Diego Chapter Sixteen ....................................................................................... 300 Cambodian/Cambodian American Same Sex Identities and Encounters: Possible Research Trajectories Karen Quintiliani Chapter Seventeen ................................................................................... 317 Epilogue: Re-Sighting Southeast Asian American Studies Cathy J. Schlund-Vials Index ........................................................................................................ 327


There are many people and organizations that I must thank for support during the planning of the Re-SEAing Southeast Asian American Studies Conference (March 2011), and for bringing this volume to fruition. First and foremost, I wish to acknowledge financial support from San Francisco State University’s Offices of the President and Provost, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, the College of Ethnic Studies, and the Asian American Studies Department, and my department chair, Lorraine Dong for her guidance and mentorship throughout the entire process. Secondly, I wish to thank the following conference sponsors: the Emmett R. Quady Foundation, the California Faculty Association, the University of California, Riverside’s Southeast Asia: Text, Ritual and Performance Program, the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network (DVAN), the Manilatown Heritage Center, and SRT Consultants. Individual contributions were gratefully received from: Ofelia Aragon; Jesus M. Aragon; John M. Aragon; Rick M. Aragon; Bank of the West, the Burmese Youth Association; Dana Berger; Marygrace Burns; Annalyn Chacon; Brenda Chau; Christopher Castillo; Christophe Chaubard; Sasha Colina; Wei Ming Dariotis; Wendy Darling; Dethankijo Inc. DBA Ar Roi Thai Restaurant; David Haines; Lorraine Dong and Marlon K. Hom; Edecia Esperon; Erlie Esperon; Colleen Fong and Carl Stempel; Tammy Fung; Daniel Phil Gonzales and Barbara Linda Palaby-Gonzales; Christine Harris; the Hmong Student Association, SF State; Tetsunori Ishida; Aiko Iwamuro; Patrick Krivens and Renee Chhoeur; Lois Lorentzen; Justine Luong; James Marcial; Yolanda Marcial; Mums-Home of Shabu-Shabu Inc. DBA Cafe Mums; Kathleen Nadeau; Catherine Ngo and Robert Hines; Mary Pham; Jiawen Qiu; Isaac J. Reed; San Francisco State University Bookstore; Reynald Santana; Valerie Soe; Phannette Sokhom; Joseph D. Sperske; Misako Sprout; Keio Stellar; Yvonne Tam; Joel Tapia; Khun Touch; Mitchell Bonner Ttee; Connie Ty; Tony Ty; Jon Vicencio; and Vicky Yeung. I also wish to thank members of the conference organizing committee, and all the students whose energy, enthusiasm, and service made the twoday conference a success.

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There are many individuals who deserve recognition—the list is too long for the limited space of this acknowledgment, but I wish to name several whose contribution made this volume possible: Sandra Sengdara Siharath, Founder and Executive Director of South East Asian Cultural Heritage & Musical Performing Arts (SEACHAMPA), Bonnie Hale, Mary Thi Pham, and my research assistant Sidney C. Li. Special thank yous to Carol Koulikourdi at Cambridge Scholars Publishing in gratitude for her ability to see the potential of this volume, and Amanda Millar and other staff at Cambridge Scholars Publishing for their attention and care during production. I also wish to acknowledge Chath pierSath, Cambodian American visual artist, poet, and social worker for allowing The Three Heads (2004) to be used for this volume’s cover. Last, but not least, I wish to thank the Editorial Board for their work on this volume.


Jiemin Bao, PhD University of Nevada, Las Vegas Vichet Chhuon, PhD University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Daniel Phil Gonzales, JD San Francisco State University Grit Grigoleit, PhD Technischen Universität Hamburg, Germany Hanafi Hussin PhD University of Malaya Stacy M. Kula, PhD Claremont Graduate University Mariam B. Lam, PhD University of California, Riverside Jonathan H. X. Lee, PhD San Francisco State University Bao Lo, PhD University of Wisconsin, Madison Kathleen M. Nadeau, PhD California State University, San Bernardino Thien-Huong T. Ninh, PhD University of Southern California

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Isabelle Thu Pelaud, PhD San Francisco State University Dion Peoples, PhD Mahachulalogkornrajavidyalaya University, Thailand Eric Pido, PhD San Francisco State University Christen T. Sasaki, PhD San Francisco State University Anantha Sudhakar, PhD San Francisco State University Christine Su, PhD Ohio University Nora A. Taylor, PhD School of the Art Institute of Chicago Linda Trinh Võ, PhD University of California, Irvine Nolana Yip, PhD Georgetown University and Corcoran College of Art and Design



Jonathan H. X. Lee, PhD, is an associate professor of Asian American studies who specializes in Southeast Asian and Sino-Southeast Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. He received his PhD in religious studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2009. He is the founder and program co-chair of the Asian American Religious Studies section for the American Academy of Religion, Western Region (AAR/WR) conference. His work has been published in Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice; Nidan: International Journal for the Study of Hinduism; Chinese America: History & Perspective, the Journal of the Chinese Historical Society of America; Empty Vessel: The Journal of the Daoist Arts; Spotlight on Teaching/American Academy of Religion; Asia Pacific Perspectives; Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies; JATI: Journal of Southeast Asian Studies; Amerasia Journal, and other journals and anthologies, both nationally and internationally. His works include Cambodian American Experiences: Histories, Communities, Cultures, and Identities (2010); co-editor with Kathleen M. Nadeau of the Encyclopaedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife (2011) and Asian American Identities and Practices: Folkloric Expressions in Everyday Life (2014), co-editor with Yuk Wah Chan and David Haines of The Age of Asian Migration: Continuity, Diversity, and Susceptibility, volume 1 (2014), and author of History of Asian Americans: Exploring Diverse Roots (2015). He has published extensively on Chinese, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Chinese-Southeast Asian, and Asian American histories, folklore, cultures, and religions.


Trikartikaningsih Byas, PhD, is an associate professor of English at Queensborough Community College, where she teaches the immigrant experience and serves as director of the Student Wiki Interdisciplinary Group project. Her research interests include cultural studies, crosscultural communication, e-Learning and e-Portfolio. Her work on Indonesian Americans has appeared in national publications such as Across Cultures (2011), Encyclopaedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife (2011), and Contemporary Issues in Southeast Asian American Studies (2010); while her work on e-Portfolio has appeared in The Journal of Environment-Behaviour Studies, and Procedia Social and Behavioural Sciences (2012). Linda A. Gerdner, PhD, RN, FAAN is an ethnogeriatric specialist at the Stanford Geriatric Education Center/Center for Education in Family and Community Medicine. Her doctorate is in Nursing in Aging with a cognate in Anthropology from the University of Iowa. Her research focuses on the perception and care of Hmong American elders with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. To provide a deeper understanding of the Hmong culture, Dr. Gerdner visited three Hmong villages located in Xieng Khouang, a rural province in northern Laos. She has more than 80 scholarly publications. Linh Hoang, PhD, is an associate professor of religious studies at Siena College and a Franciscan priest of the Holy Name of Jesus Province in New York. He earned his doctorate in historical theology from Fordham University. His dissertation was published as Rebuilding Religious Experience (2007). His works are published in The American Catholic Studies Reader, New Theology Review, Asian Christian Review, American Catholic Studies and Multicultural Review. His current writing projects are on a theology of migration and ministry in an intergenerational church. Janet Hoskins, PhD, is professor of anthropology at the University of Southern California, and author of The Play of Time: Kodi Perspectives on Calendars, History and Exchange (1994), which won the 1996 Benda Prize for Southeast Asian Studies; Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Story of People’s Lives (1998); and Headhunting and the Social


About the Contributors

Imagination in Southeast Asia (1996), as well as editor of Anthropology as a Search for the Subject: The Space Between One Self and Another (1999), and Fragments from Forests and Libraries (2000). Mariam B. Lam, PhD is an associate professor of comparative literature, media & cultural studies, cooperating faculty in ethnic studies, and director of the Southeast Asian Studies Research Program at the University of California at Riverside. She is founding co-editor of the Journal of Vietnamese Studies, chair of the Southeast Asian Archive Board at UC Irvine, and an advisory committee member of the University of California Humanities Research Institute. She has co-edited Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora (2014), a Southeast Asian American studies special issue of the journal positions: asia critiques (2013), and Vietnamese Americans: Lessons in American History (2001, 2004). Her monograph, Precariat Reckoning: Viet Nam, Archival Trauma and Strategic Affect (2014), analyzes diaspora, the postcolony, postsocialism and disciplinarity within and across Viet Nam, France, and the United States. Viet Le, PhD is an artist, academic, creative writer, and curator. His work has been published in Crab Orchard Review; Fuse; Amerasia Journal; Asia Art Archive; Newsweek Asia; and the anthologies Writing from the Perfume River; Strange Cargo; The Spaces Between Us; Blue Arc; and Love, West Hollywood; among others. Lê’s artwork has been featured at The Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada; DoBaeBacSa Gallery, Seoul, Korea; Cape Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts, USA; and 1a Space, Hong Kong; among other venues. Susan Needham, PhD is a linguistic anthropologist who has conducted ethnographic and linguistic research on symbols of community identity and the transmission of Khmer literacy, religious practices, and dance in Long Beach, California since 1988. She is the co-founder of the Cambodian Community History and Archive Project ( with Dr. Karen Quintiliani, CSU Long Beach. She has one book, Cambodians in Long Beach (2008), and several articles on topics related to the history of Cambodians in Long Beach and cultural transmission. Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, PhD is a professor in Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. She is the author of This Is All I Choose To Tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature (2010), and co-editor with Lan Duong, Mariam B. Lam and Kathy Nguyen of

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Troubling Borders in Literature and Art: Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora (2014). Her academic work can also be found in the Journal of Asian American Studies; Amerasia Journal; The Asian American Literary Review; Michigan Quarterly Review; and Mixed Race Literature. Her poems and prose poems have been published in Making More Waves; Tilting the Continent; Vietnam Dialogue Inside/Out and The Perfume River; and her essays have been published in Nha Magazine and The New Face of Asian Pacific America. Her art installations were exhibited at SOMArts Cultural Center, Driftwood Gallery, and at SF State University. She is the co-director and founder of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network (DVAN), an organization that promotes Vietnamese cultural productions in the Diaspora. Mary Thi Pham, MA, studied Asian American studies at San Francisco State University and received her degree in 2013. Her thesis, Vietnamese American Memoirs: Writing to Mourn, Reading to Remember, critically examines three Vietnamese American memoirs: Kien Nguyen’s The Unwanted: A Memoir of Childhood, Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh’s South Wind Changing, and Lac Su’s I Love Yous are for White People. Using these three texts as exempla, her thesis provides a pedagogical framework that can be used to integrate Southeast Asian American literature in the classroom. Karen Quintiliani, PhD, is professor and Chair of Anthropology at California State University, Long Beach. She has conducted ethnographic and applied research in the Long Beach Cambodian community since 1988. Her research, publications, and community engagement projects include: cultural history of Cambodian immigrant experience; social welfare policy; gender and sexuality; refugee health; youth cultures; and program development and evaluation. She is co-founder with Dr. Susan Needham of the Cambodian Community History & Archive Project ( Raymond San Diego, is a doctoral student in Culture and Theory at the University of California, Irvine. Ray's research interests currently include Filipino/American Studies, queer affect, performance and biopolitics. He earned his MA in Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, studying Filipinos and pornography. Additionally, he was a teacher with Pin@y Educational Partnerships at Burton High School, and at City College of San Francisco.


About the Contributors

Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, PhD is associate professor of English and Asian/Asian American studies at the University of Connecticut (Storrs). She is also the Director of University of Connecticut’s Asian and Asian American Studies Institute. She has authored two monographs: Modeling Citizenship: Jewish and Asian American Writing (2011) and War, Genocide, and Justice: Cambodian American Memory Work (2012). Dahlia Gratia Setiyawan, MA, MS, Ed., is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her work on Indonesian migrants in the United States has appeared in the online journal Inside Indonesia and in the Encyclopaedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife (2011). She is currently completing her dissertation on government monitoring of Indonesians in their homeland and the U.S. from the Cold War to the present, research made possible by a Fulbright grant and fellowships from the UCLA Indonesian Studies Program and the U.S. Department of Education’s Foreign Language and Area Studies program. Kanjana Thepboriruk is a doctoral candidate of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Hawai'i at MƗnoa. Her research focuses on Thais in Diaspora with special interest in language use and community building through the use of language. Her doctoral research focuses particularly on the tones, consonants, and vowels of the Thai language as spoken by two generations of Thais in Los Angeles, California. Other research projects include the culturally transformative aspects of the Phibunsongkhram regime, particularly the role of language reform and Lady La-iad Phibunsonkhram. She has presented her research at several international conferences, including the South East Asian Linguistic Society annual meeting, New Ways of Analyzing Variation, and the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Krissyvan Khamvongsa Truong, PhD is from the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University. Her research interests include immigrant acculturation and identity development, Southeast Asian American persistence and academic success, and education stratification in the U.S. and Asia. She has presented at various conferences, including the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Comparative and International Education Society, Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast, and The National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese Americans. She serves on the

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doctoral students’ editorial review board for the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement.


Southeast Asian Diaspora in the United States: Memories & Visions, Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow is the culmination of the Re-SEAing Southeast Asian American Studies Conference held in March 2011 at San Francisco State University. It was the third tri-annual interdisciplinary Southeast Asians in the Diaspora conference. For two-days, conference presenters and audiences explored memories (e.g., memories of homeland; memories of war; memories of childhood and growing up American; historical memories; embodied memories; intergenerational memories; technologies of memories; and imagined/ created memories) and visions (actual sightings and sites of Southeast Asian Americans and their communities, both real and imaginary). Several conditions and goals guided the planning of the conference: First, we wanted the conference to be inclusive of the diversity of Southeast Asian American communities and subjectivities, since the first two Southeast Asians in the Diaspora conferences were dominated by Vietnamese and Vietnamese American scholars, scholarship, and perspectives. We not only wanted inclusive representation of Southeast Asian American diversity, but also heterogeneity within ethnic specific heritage and national groups. One of the central goals of the 2011 conference was to separate Southeast Asian Americans from the automatic association with “refugees” from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia following the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Second, we wanted to give graduate students, community activists, artists, and young scholars an opportunity to share their work-inprogress in a safe and nurturing, yet critical environment. Third, we wanted to build bridges between academe and our communities: To open up dialogue, reconnect on shared issues and visions for positive social change. Although the conference succeeded in actualizing diverse and heterogeneous representation from among the Southeast Asian American communities, this volume did not achieve this goal to the degree that the Editorial Board had hoped. The conference had diverse coverage and representation of Southeast Asian American communities and subjects, but readers may see a higher ratio of Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans represented in this publication. This reveals several important conclusions that we must acknowledge and address: For one, there is a paucity of available published

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resources that comparatively examine Southeast Asian Americans and their communities. For another, more effort and purposeful work must be undertaken to increase diversity within Southeast Asian American studies in particular, and Asian American studies in general. Finally, as scholars, we need to aggressively promote newer Southeast Asian American communities and subjects, as well as non-Vietnam War refugee populations. Disclaimers aside, this is the first interdisciplinary and multimethodological volume that is solely dedicated to Southeast Asian Americans. The review process for this volume was vigorous. It included two rounds of blind-reviews. First, after the Re-SEAing Southeast Asian American Studies Conference, a call for papers was announced: sixty-four papers were submitted for consideration. The first round of blind-reviews consisted of double-blind reviews by members of the Editorial Board as well as invited specialists. From this round, twenty-two papers were provisionally accepted with revisions. The second round of blind-reviews was also a double-blind review by members of the Editorial Board and invited specialists. From this round, seventeen papers were accepted, with request for additional revisions. The chapters and contributors represent the disciplines of history, sociology, anthropology, Asian American studies, religious studies, art, queer studies, health, literature, visual studies, education, and American studies. It is my hope that this volume will start a tradition of robust and diverse publications following future Southeast Asians in the Diaspora conferences. Jonathan H. X. Lee Berkeley, CA


“Socrates: serious discourse… is far nobler, when one employs the dialectic method and plants and sows in a fitting soul intelligent words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, which are not fruitless, but yield seed from which there spring up in other minds other words capable of continuing the process forever.” —Plato, Phaedrus “The maroons know something about possibility. They are the condition of possibility of the production of knowledge in the university—the singularities against the writers of singularity, the writers who write, publish, travel, and speak. It is not merely a matter of the secret labor upon which such space is lifted, though of course such space is lifted from collective labor and by it.” —Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, “The University and the Undercommons” in The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (2013)

In 2005, the first Southeast Asians in the Diaspora conference, held at the University of California at Riverside (UCR), found its formulation and its funding at the intersection of Viet Nam studies, Southeast Asian area studies and Asian American studies. That first conference title, “30 Years Beyond the War: Vietnamese, Southeast Asian, and Asian/American Studies,” and its triangulated conceptualization, in part, highlighted the new initiatives and diverse methodological approaches of UC Riverside’s then young Southeast Asian studies research program, SEATRiP: Southeast Asia-Texts, Rituals, Performance, with its openness to critical terrain in arts and culture, diaspora and globalization, gender and sexuality, and race and ethnicity. The co-organizers of that conference, Fiona Ngo and I, wanted to provoke conversations between established Southeast Asian studies research agendas and, alternatively, strong ethnic studies analytics that could take both fields beyond familiar Vietnam War and Cold War paradigms, challenging existing epistemes about Southeast Asia with new engagements from the diaspora and beyond. At the same time, we wanted to recognize and highlight the divergent and circuitous

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intellectual and institutional paths Southeast Asian transnational and diasporic studies had to traverse at that moment in time. We were excited by both the diversity of the presentation proposals submitted and the variety of disciplinary locations from which the scholars arrived at their research. We were also struck by the coeval enthusiasm and frustration of what appeared to be a new generation of interdisciplinary thinkers struggling to articulate their wide ranging academic interests within the familiar traditional area studies and ethnic studies models of Kant’s Universitas. The former often elided concerns with acculturation difficulties, mainstream/minority politics and geohistorical amnesias, dismissing them as simplistic obsessions with “identity politics,” while the latter often chose projects with only very recent historical timelines that began in the West and neglected larger global political and older transnational entrenchments to avoid dealing with the war altogether. In 2008, Fiona Ngo and Mimi Nguyen organized the second Southeast Asian Diaspora conference at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign (UIUC), shifting its interdisciplinary identification toward ethnic studies and Asian American studies, with an emphasis on transnational cultural studies informed by critical theories of gender and sexuality, principally due to UIUC’s institutional academic strengths and sponsorship. Many of the pieces from this venue were collected and edited by Fiona, Mimi, and myself in a Southeast Asian American Studies special issue of the journal, positions: asia critiques (2013). Together with the third tri-annual conference in 2011 at San Francisco State University (SFSU), organized by Jonathan H. X. Lee and from which this Southeast Asian diasporic critical anthology developed, the intellectual momentum marks a significant leap forward in this emerging field. All three events saw a critical mass of often younger scholars engaged with the past decade’s concerns with the neoliberal university and their own professionalization, historical omissions and silences, affective archives, continued dislocations, and cultural nationalist negotiations. Even in 2005, however, we had to assemble opening and closing keynote speakers and a plenary panel comprised of scholars who had contributed disparate, but necessary, early work in creating the conditions of possibility for the inception of Southeast Asian diasporic studies. An ethnic studies matriarch, Yen Le Espiritu, our opening keynote speaker, spoke of the intellectual, infrastructural, social and emotional difficulty and isolation of the early years of ethnic studies, the near impossibility of even imagining a Vietnamese American cohort. On the Plenary, Southeast Asian/Americanist and education scholar Khatharya Um reframed earlier work to show its shortcomings; sociologist and Asian Americanist Hien



Duc Do cautioned us against the failures of institutional memory and a lack of self-referentiality about our community, oral history and activist projects; and U.S. Cold War historian Mark Bradley called upon the audience to continue vigilant pursuit of more scholarship around Southeast Asian ethnic diversity, gender, and sexuality. The only moment of heated exchange arose when a Viet Nam historian suggested that Southeast Asian Americanists, and more specifically Vietnamese Americanists, did not adequately engage with Southeast Asian languages or the more controversial internal ethnic politics around such incidents as the Vietnamese American community protests of the Oakland Museum’s curatorial exhibit that took place a few years earlier, with regard to the history of the Vietnam War. To the Asian Americanists in the room, this assessment recalled the historical refusal of traditional Asian area studies to conscientiously engage with ethnic studies scholarship and Asian American politics over “heritage” or “native” language politics, or any depth of understanding about race relations, or the institutionalized educational, economic biases and privilege complicit with the military-intellectual-industrial complex. In hindsight, I can see that all of the exhausting Platonic/Socratic seed sowing, the farming or “environmental” dialogic labor of these three professional conferences, contributed to the harvesting of alternative critical subjectivities, academic positionalities and intellectual socialities. There have been casualties; professional relationships can become fractured and lines of intellectual political dialogue break down at times, whether due to the jockeying anxieties of professionalization—the insecurities embedded within an insecure state apparatus obsessively compelled to secure itself by ensuring the undercommons stay in line with efficient upward academic mobility—or due to utter fatigue and overdue respite. Despite such absence or perhaps even as a result of it, subjectivities, positionalities and identity formation have become the foci of this critical collection. The university compels its subjects—those of us marooned by its restraints and disciplining tactics—to push forward with our fugitive planning. Jonathan H. X. Lee writes in his introduction, “It is our hope that a new discourse on subjectivity will form and follow this volume, one that takes subjectivity into new terrain, exploring new variables—physical and metaphysical, seen and unseen, verifiable and non-verifiable, human and ghostly, logical and illogical, reasonable and beyond reasonable explication.” Southeast Asian area studies have been dominated by military and colonial historians and anthropological designs. Those of us working out of, within, and against the gates of Asian area studies all too often find its

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gates shut rather tightly and its altitude somewhat stifling. Meanwhile, we see growing attention being paid to Southeast Asia within several nation or region-specific academic markets—in particular, those of post-Cold War afflicted nations and cultures (Viet Nam, Cambodia and Hmong studies all have newly founded academic journals)—as well as growing attention to Southeast Asia by its East Asian neighbors—Korean cultural tourism throughout Southeast Asia, Japanese comparative war violence and trauma scholarship, and Chinese post-socialist cultural and economic competition. How do the transnational intellectual offspring—the harvest and the marooned—of such histories and the newer interdisciplinary epistemes prove their scholarly worth and methodological rigor and maintain a radical political sociality and playful generosity, even with the trials and tribulations of bastardized accounting, shoddy reportage, uneven oral history, and occasional mediocre aesthetics confronting us at every turn? The positionality of Southeast Asian diasporic studies within Asian Pacific American studies has also been historically unstable when visible. During early periods of 1960s and 1970s anti-war activism and ethnic studies struggles, the focus on U.S. militarization in the Pacific gave some attention to the Philippines and Viet Nam in the form of the SpanishAmerican War, the Korean War, and the larger than life “Vietnam” televised daily in American households. However, throughout the Asian economic crises and influx of Asian immigration and refugee resettlement in the 1980s and 1990s, an emphasis on “claiming America” deprioritized and further alienated Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants from academic agendas. Pilipina/o American scholarship retained some presence when aligned with U.S. imperial history or early Asian American immigration history, but the other Southeast Asian American ethnicspecific groups were only to be found in sociological studies on population growth, resettlement and assimilation difficulties, delinquency and other dire straits. As the pendulum now swings back to U.S. empire and critical American studies in times of exceptionalism and terror, we also find a return of the repressed and debt-wielding gratitude of Southeast Asian refugees and their further neglected indigenous Pacific Islander neighbors. “Southeast Asia” and “Southeast Asians” are still missing. The rest of the diaspora beyond the United States is still missing. Similarly, within global cultural studies, there is increasing anthropological and sociological interest in comparative diasporic studies and transnational cultural critique. Nevertheless, this body of scholarship often reveals the unevenness of multi-sited research, in part stemming from a lack of research funding and in part from uneven training in interdisciplinary rigor. Foundations and other research organizations



continue to privilege the most needy and pathetic nation-state victims and the United States’ perceived assistance in their rapidly growing individual economies, while turning a blind eye to all the ongoing displacements of Southeast Asians elsewhere throughout the world. Scholarship available on Southeast Asians within the diaspora straddle the proverbial line between representations of their marginalization in relation to mainstream societies and poorly living up to the imposed cult of authenticity dictated by national and ethnic origin. The paucity of diasporic scholarship resides also in the negligible educational development and attainment opportunities for those isolated diasporics who manage to both maintain some language skills for ethnographic field data and succeed into higher education. But to conclude on a more heartening upswing, an end that is but another beginning, a new for(e)ward push, I am optimistic from what we can envision from the very outset of this volume. Part One’s three chapters respond immediately to the concerns above, addressing Indonesian memory and migration narratives, Filipino anxieties of return and tourism development, and the language politics of translation and census data for Thai Americans. I delight in the sheer diversity of scholarly interests. From the earliest Southeast Asian Pacific American scholarship by Peter Kiang, Lan Pho, and Thomas DuBois of the 1980s and early 1990s, until the fall of 2014, as Vichet Chhuon and Cathy Schlund-Vials, co-organizers of the fourth Southeast Asian Diasporic studies conference at the University of Minnesota, signal a return to questions of education, institutional memory, professionalization and the archive, we must continue to seek out the joys of intellectual life and radical sociality. Southeast Asian American and diasporic critique stands out precisely because of its penetrating stance on and familiarity with contentious race relations, state legislation and global regulation policies, and a plethora of community mobilization strategies. A critical mass is now fostering and facilitating new critical discussions and relationships between Southeast Asian studies and Asian Pacific American studies; “but certainly, this much is true in the United States: it cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment. In the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can. To abuse its hospitality, to spite its mission, to join its refugee colony, its gypsy encampment, to be in but not of—this is the path of the subversive intellectual in the modern university” (Harney and Moten 2013). Let us proceed together, then, if you’re feeling sinister.


I resist deliberately citing 2010 U.S. Census data on Southeast Asian Americans as evidence of the pluralism and heterogeneity that exists within and among Asian American communities. Instead, I invite readers to re-think or re-consider Southeast Asian American subjectivities, and the implications that arise from calibrating subjectivities from the intersections and internal-alchemies of memories, histories, and visions. No one I know who is from Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, or Malaysia consciously invokes the identifier “Southeast Asian” in reference to themselves—in Asia or in America. Instead, they invoke nation-state specific identities (i.e. Cambodian, Vietnamese) or ethnic-religio specific ones (i.e. Hmong and Cham). For Americans of Southeast Asian descent, subjectivity is experienced and/or interpreted, more often than not, as being embedded in ethnic-and-nation-state specific references (i.e. Thai American, Hmong American, or Cham American). As an academic discipline, Asian American studies originated from the demand for Asian American subjectivity, to know Asian Americans through history, art, literature, social sciences, and education, and as subjects of research. Four and a half decades later, matters of subjectivity are still central to Asian American lives—inside and outside of the academe. For instance, a common topic of discussion in my Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian, and comparative Southeast Asian American studies courses at San Francisco State University is identity. In particular, many Southeast Asian American youth express frustration with their inability to articulate—clearly and decisively—their entanglement with existential questions about their subjectivity apropos their ethnic, national, and cultural self-awareness. Their struggle between being Asian American and their own specific ethnic identity should not be taken for granted, and should not be dismissed as obvious or superficial. These perennial tussles



with self-awareness, being, existence, and form—are central matters of subjectivity: Subjectivity mattered then, and it matters today, and will matter in the future. Thus, this volume seeks to ask questions about subjectivities in general, but with particular emphasis on Southeast Asian Americans from inside-out as well as from outside-in. Identity formation is a complex process that is not lineal and not logically temporal. Identity work is the attempt, conscious or not, to define the undefinable. It does not follow a dialectical process of folding, unfolding, and synthesis, nor does it occur in the span of a certain period, but rather, over the course of one’s lifetime, and is subject to situational and relational conditions and circumstances. Identity is intelligible, yet sorely unintelligible and difficult to articulate in the vernacular or with academic jargon. This process holds much potential for creativity: from discoveries that stem from the interplay of the real and imaginary: It is the process of making the self. History, material artifacts, and cultures do not directly or explicitly, although they can, inform and inspire subjectivity, just as awareness of identity, its form and content, does not necessarily inspire creativity or creative works, although it is a potential muse. Identity is formed from the unformed, it is formed from the unspoken, it is formed from the absence of memory, it is formed in the presence of memory—it is revelation, and formed in the process of de-forming self. As such, memory—real, imagined, and faux—is central to identity work. Snippets of oral tales, cultural clues, human encounters, and moments of life are the units of memory that flow through the capillaries of visions of self in the past, present, and future. Our visions of ourselves or of others originate from dreams, trances, or ecstasies, and potentially from supernatural appearances. Our memories are encoded, stored, and retrieved from our minds, from our bodies—buried in layers of muscles and tendons—from history, from community, from institutions, and from a network of human relationships. Our memories are the building blocks of an apparatus: A web of experiences, both real and imagined, both physical and temporal, based on truths and non-truths, that anchors—securely or feebly, our own production of self, or our visions of self. Both visions and memories interface with identity work in a cyclical and multi-directional manner as visions become memories, stored or un-stored, and as memories become visions of self, which are limitless, yet limited by our exposures—actual, direct, indirect, imagined, or created. The product of identity work is not final and fixed, yet there is a strong desire for it to be continuous and stable. Identity is important because it is a window into our sense of self, our way to understand who we are in this

Southeast Asian Americans: Memories, Visions, and Subjectivities


world in relation to others, to time, and to our environs. Our memories are encoded, stored, and retrieved from our minds, our bodies, from history, from community, and from our social relationships. From this wellspring of memories and visions we can question (and question the questions we ask of) subjectivity, and engage in what Martin Heidegger describes as a kind of “hermeneutic circle” that relies on progressive acts of interpretations. This volume provides various exploratory interpretations on Southeast Asian American subjectivities, communities, histories, creativities, and cultural expressions, as they are revealed, informed, or infused with visions, dreams, and or memories of self in relation to others, places, time, and events—historically significant or quotidian. The interaction and interplay of visions, memories, and subjectivities is the focus of examination and interpretation, either directly or tangentially. It is our hope that a new discourse on subjectivity will form and follow this volume, one that takes subjectivity into new terrain, exploring new variables—physical and metaphysical, seen and unseen, verifiable and non-verifiable, human and ghostly, logical and illogical, reasonable and beyond reasonable explication.

An Overview of Chapters Part I: Varieties of Homes In Part I, Varieties of Homes, the authors examine how “home” is assembled or re-imagined in light of political, economic, and historical formations. Home is problematically questioned in relation to selfhood. In Chapter 1, Dahlia Gratia Setiyawan examines the ways Indonesian immigrants incorporated the collective memory of late-twentieth century national trauma in their homeland in narratives concerning their reasons for migrating to the United States. Setiyawan questions the way Indonesian migrants negotiated the theoretical and practical implications of self-identifying as either “immigrant” versus “refugee.” Setiyawan questions the possibilities and problems that arise once private and public narratives of self and migration conflict. In Chapter 2, Eric J. Pido examines the role of balikbayans, specifically Filipinos who return to the Philippines after living in the United States for several decades, and their positions and relationship to the economic development of their “home” country. The Balikbayan Hotel provides an illuminating case for understanding how emerging trends within the Philippine tourism industry, aimed at exploiting return-migration, have become a crucial means for propelling economic restructuring within the



larger Philippine economy. By transforming repatriating Filipinos into “retirees,” balikbayans see themselves as patrons of the state who, through decades of overseas labor, patronage, and performed duties to the Philippines, are entitled to enjoy various luxuries that they could not partake of in the United States. Pido argues that the complexities felt by balikbayans, and the ambivalence that they experience, represent the common challenges and contradictions confronting the Philippines as it attempts to situate itself in an increasingly globalized economy. Anchoring Thais in America in Chapter 3, Kanjana Thepboriruk investigates political subjectivities of Thai Americans vis-à-vis obtaining accurate Census data. Thepboriruk’s study compares instructions produced by the U.S. Census Bureau with translations produced by THAIS, Inc., a non-profit organization in Los Angeles, California. Thepboriruk shows that, in general, the Bureau preferred direct translations of Census instructions and a formal register, while THAIS, Inc. preferred indirect translation and a less formal register. The difference is critical, as the translation influences the message and the overall success of the Census in the Thai American community. The authors in this section direct our attention to individual subjectivity as an economic and political strategy of existence and as a means of governance that beckons us to reconsider and recast assumptions about the workings of collectivities and institutions.

Part II: Varieties of Religiosities The five chapters in Part II: Varieties of Religiosities, provide glimpses of Southeast Asian American religious subjectivities. In Chapter 4, Janet Hoskins presents data based on recent fieldwork among Vietnamese Americans in California, and explores the meanings of the mirror that spirit mediums gaze into, and why it is a required object on altars to the Vietnamese “mother goddesses,” whose worship has just had a resurgence in diasporic communities in California. Hoskins looks at religious ways of mediating displacement and re-forming an identity in the reflected glory of Vietnam’s imperial past. In Chapter 5, Susan Needham focuses on Cambodian Americans in Southern California. Needham contends that Cambodian Americans have recreated a variety of ritual and ceremonial practices in Long Beach, California, and cites two ceremonies as case studies: a chumruen preah parit (blessing ceremony) conducted at the Wat Khemera Buddhikaram in 2000 and; a pithi sampeah kruu performed to honor teachers and guardian spirits of dance and music in 2006. Needham explores how Cambodian

Southeast Asian Americans: Memories, Visions, and Subjectivities


Americans conceive of and interact with ancestor and guardian spirits in these ritual settings, and considers the extent to which these practices are being transmitted to a new generation. In Chapter 6, Jonathan H. X. Lee explores Thai American expressions of religious subjectivity, collective and individual, that unfolded during a community conflict between Thais in Berkeley, California, and their nonThai neighbors. Asian Buddhist communities have encountered xenophobia, American white ethnocentrism, Christian supremacy, Orientalism, and cultural imperialism, which have directly and indirectly transformed the shapes and contours of Buddhist communities and their practices in America. Working from similar themes of racialized religious subjectivity in Chapter 7, Ling Hoang, a scholar and an ordained Franciscan priest, documents Vietnamese American Catholics who employ religious work in civil protests: the Vietnamese American Catholic protest against Cardinal Pham Minh Man in Los Angeles, California; the protest against the owner of the Hi-Tek video store display of the Vietnamese flag and image of Ho Chi Minh in Orange County, California; and the protest against Bishop Pierre DuMaine on the formation of a Vietnamese Catholic parish in the Diocese of San Jose, California. The intersection and interplay between religion and politics is nested in a racial hierarchy, Hoang argues, that reveals the complex process of spatial production and the formation of subjectivity. In Chapter 8, Rossina Zamora Liu recounts the challenges she had in performing ethnographic research on Vietnamese fortunetelling and sorcery rituals in Little Saigon, Orange County, California. She examines the ways in which her family’s connections to the double murders complicated the research process and her attempts to reconstruct Ha Jade Smith’s life beyond rumors. What began as curiosity about the ritualistic nature of the crime inevitably led Liu to discover a world of magical plants that ate eggs; virgin ghosts that inhabited dolls; spells that cost $6000, and finally, despite efforts to avoid it, conflicting emic-etic roles that had to be negotiated. The inward journey begs Liu to ask questions of access: who really gets to write the story? What exactly does it mean to be an insider and outsider to a native culture that, at times, seems both foreign and familiar? How might these roles and the value systems that come with each position obscure and/or facilitate the research and storytelling processes? This chapter is about memories Liu does not have, but that she has inherited—visions of the victims’ bodies, of the white paint on their faces and hands, of their souls failing to unite with their bodies because they (the souls) could not recognize the faces to which they had belonged.



Liu mourns for their displacements, for the violence of being killed for multiple lifetimes, and asks for permission to tell the story. These authors show us the interplay between the individual and the community, thereby probing the dimensions and contours of intersubjectivity, revealing that religiosities provide a window into social relationships, and social existence.

Part III: Varieties of Creativities Part III delves into creativity: Starting with Chapter 9, Mary Thi Pham and Jonathan H. X. Lee explore the dimensions and interplay between Cambodian American literature and the pedagogy of social justice. Pham and Lee implore both cultural producers and appreciators to retire Cambodian American “victim narratives” by examining the negative affects they have within their communities, as well as throughout U.S. society. By exploring three texts that are exemplum of “healing narratives,” Pham and Lee advocate for the production and distribution of these types of narratives in order for Cambodian Americans to seek justice, heal, and empower themselves and their communities. It is anchored in a critical pedagogy that is informed by struggles for social justice, embodied in the texts, the readers, the authors, and the classrooms. In Chapter 10, Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, a scholar-activist-artist in her own right, probes the issue of interpreting works by Asian American artists that crosses troubling ethnic categories. More specifically, Pelaud asks, is Vietnamese American artist Binh Danh’s aesthetic and spiritual engagement with Cambodian American memories and experiences a betrayal and sign of disrespect for national memories, or can his representation serve the partial and forever incomplete rendering of missing testimonies? Pelaud’s examination of Binh Danh’s artwork on the Cambodian Genocide argues that such cultural productions open a spiritual and political space that invites personal healing and reflection across national boundaries through meditative remembering. The artwork pushes viewers to critically reflect on the vexed histories of the region and complicates the ways in which we think of subjectivity. In Chapter 11, ViӋt Lê, another scholar-artist, explores creative work and works that spring from national and personal memories. Lê’s chapter is anchored within the larger context of diasporic cultural production. Lê discusses Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s solo exhibition entitled The Past is a Distant Colony. Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s work, Lê argues, stitches across the torn seams between memory and loss, desire and void. National and personal memories, historical traumas, and colonial desires are undone, briefly

Southeast Asian Americans: Memories, Visions, and Subjectivities


pulled together, but the absences stretch open, creating an immense void. In Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s works, the past is ever-present in archival black and white, darkness and light. The authors in this section show how creative subjects may forge or foreclose their lives to reveal that which is most urgent or most “inspiring.” They explore how people’s inner states reflect their inner experiences within a world that is chaotic yet silent, in moments of transitions and decentering, in states of exception when morality and ethics are questioned and challenged, and presumed common knowledge is not assumed. Creativity lies in these moments, in the betwixt and between, in the reflection and remembrance of shifts and cycles of normalcy and states of exception wrapped by iterations of violence and calm, drama and quotidian, passion and dispassion, love and hate, recovery and lost, hope and despair, death and survival, selflessness and selfishness, and displacement and replacement.

Part IV: Varieties of Cultures The three authors in Part IV explore the intersection of cultural productions and expressions vis-à-vis memories and visions of self, home, and community. In Chapter 12, Trikartikaningsih Byas studies the heterogeneity of the Indonesian American community. Despite their diverse religious, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds, Byas argues, Indonesian Americans come together in religious, social, and cultural organizations that assist them in their adjustment, identity formation, and cultivation of understanding and harmony in their new land. Byas cites participation in three genres of Indonesian music—gamelan, angklung, and dangdut—as the conduit for Indonesian American reproduction of self, community, and home. In Chapter 13, Linda Gerdner, a scholar and medical professional, delves into the research on Alzheimer’s disease and Hmong Americans. Research has identified Alzheimer’s disease as an important but neglected issue for Hmong Americans. Children of family caregivers often have difficulty understanding progressive memory and behavioral changes. Families expressed a need for culturally responsive learning materials addressing this issue. Gerdner discusses Alzheimer’s disease in relation to memory, personal identity, and social relationships. Gerdner emphasizes the need to promote personhood in the care of persons with Alzheimer’s disease by creating a meaningful environment that maximizes preserved abilities within the context of human relationships. Gerdner offers basic principles of maintaining personhood that are combined with general



themes of family caregiver from interviews to discuss the creation of a culturally-responsive picture book for Hmong American children and family. In Chapter 14, Krissyvan Khamvongsa Truong explores how culturalcapital intersects and influences Laotian American students’ academic achievement while disassembling the stereotype of Asian American students as a racialized model minority. Truong argues that the model minority stereotype makes Laotian American students “invisible” while they struggle academically. Truong employs “social capital” as a conceptual framework to better understand the academic experiences of Laotian American students. Truong concludes that Laotian American subjectivity, as produced through ethnic “social capital,” plays a significant role in predicting Laotian American students’ potential for academic success. The authors in this section reveal that rather than being a variable, culture is relational. Culture is re-made, re-fashioned by individuals and communities—in time and through space. Subjectivity is intertwined with particular configurations of cultural forms apropos political, economic, and socio-historical circumstances. Cultural production and re-production cues us into visions of how people see themselves in relation to others.

Part V: Varieties of Sexualities The two authors in Part V explore queer sexualities, an often taboo subject among immigrant communities, as well as mainstream society. In Chapter 15, Raymond San Diego provocatively explores the ways gay Filipino American men employ digital technologies to produce their own explicit sexual self-representation and self-satisfaction within a spectral and material context of racism, colonization, and heterosexism. San Diego contends that such responses have developed through the growth and accessibility of viral websites such as, which provides space for do-it-yourself pornographers who can upload their sexual acts onto the World Wide Web and into the private spaces of voyeurs. Rather than viewing pornography through moral binaries of “good” or “bad,” San Diego utilizes Celine Parreñas Shimizu’s theory of “politically productive perversity” to extrapolate the possibilities of pornography and queer Filipino American sexual subjectivity and representations of self. Through a “close reading” of self-produced amateur pornography starring Filipino American gay men, San Diego proposes that the sexual acts can be interpreted as a technology-of-the-self that decolonizes the fetishized-andracialized bodies of Filipino American gay men.

Southeast Asian Americans: Memories, Visions, and Subjectivities


In chapter 16, Karen Quintiliani investigates the intersection of sexuality and gender among Cambodian Americans. Quintiliani argues that to understand Cambodian and Cambodian American sexual cultures, identities, and meanings requires a historical perspective of gender varieties in Southeast Asia. Quintiliani engages with the third sex/third gender theory, which seeks to broaden the conversation about genders and sexualities to include the way social actors themselves name their bodies, actions, and identities and how societal classifications and conditions shape these meanings. For Cambodians, the social role of the khtΩΩy could constitute a third sex/third gender that she explores as a possible research trajectory. The two authors in this section investigate expressions of sexual subjectivity as technology-of-the-self. They force our gaze on the body— physical and digital. Subjectivity emerges from the contours of bodies that are penetrated by the complexity of linguistic limitation, racialization, and Western-hegemony. Unwrapping the West—its mores, its standards, and its language—potentially liberates Southeast Asian American subjects. The final chapter in the volume is an Epilogue by Cathy J. SchlundVials. Schlund-Vials situates her closing thoughts on the future of Southeast Asian American studies that buttresses her own familial history and encounters with war, relocation, and migration.

References Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso, 1983. Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. Appadurai, Arjun, ed. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Appiah, Kwame. The Ethics of Identity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005. Bailey, Edward, ed. The Secular Quest for Meaning in Life: Denton Papers in Implicit Religion. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002. Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share, Volumes II & III, translated by Robert Hurley. New York: Zone Books, 1991. Bell, Catherine. “Performance.” In Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.



Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972. Bhabha, Homi K. Nation and Narration. 1st ed. London: Routledge, 1990. —. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. Biehl, João Guilherme, Byron Good, and Arthur Kleinman, eds. Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Card, Claudia. “Genocide and Social Death,” in Hypatia 18.01 (Winter, 2003): 63-79. Cheah, Joseph. Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Clifford, James. “Diasporas.” Cultural Anthropology, 9.3 (1994), 302-38. Desbarats, Jacqueline. “Thai Migration to Los Angeles.” In Geographical Review 69.3(1979): 302–318. Durkheim, Emile. Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans., Karen Fields. New York: The Free Press, 1912, 1995. Fanon, Frantz. A Dying Colonialism. New York: Grove Press, 1965. —. Black Skin, White Masks. Translation by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2008. Foucault, Michel. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978–1979, translated by Graham Burchell. New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2008. —. The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon, 1972. —. The History of Sexuality: The Use of Pleasure, volume 2, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1985. —. The History of Sexuality: The Care of the Self, volume 3, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1986. —. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books, 1994. —. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2010. Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. A.A. Brill. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1913. Giddens, Anthony. Modernity and Self-Identity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992.

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Haug, Frigga, et al. Female Sexualization: A Collective Work of Memory, trans. Erica Carter. New York: Verso, 1987. Heidegger, Martin. Basic Concepts, trans. Gary E. Aylesworth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981. hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, gender, and cultural politics. Boston: South End Press, 1990. Iwamura, Jane Naomi. Virtual Orientalism: Asian Religions and American Popular Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Jung, Carl G. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Collected Works, Vol. 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969. Lee, Jonathan H.X. ed. Cambodian American Experiences: Histories, Communities, Cultures, and Identities. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt, 2010. Lee, Jonathan H. X. “Cambodian American: Urban Legends,” in Jonathan H. X. Lee and Kathleen M. Nadeau, eds. Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. —. “Maintaining Patterns: Community Ritual and Pilgrimage in Diasporic Taiwanese American Religious Community.” In Asian Pacific: Perspectives 10: 1. April 2011. —. “Cambodian American Ethics of Identity Formation.” In Jonathan H. X. Lee ed., Cambodian American Experiences. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2010. Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 1974, 1991. Lincoln, Bruce. Discourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. Mirzoeff, Nicholas. An Introduction to Visual Culture. London: Routledge, 2000. Mitchell, Claudia, Teresa Strong-Wilson, Kathleen Pithouse, and Susann Allnutt, eds. Memory and Pedagogy. New York: Routledge, 2011. Schlund-Vials, Cathy J. “A Transnational Hip Hop Nation: praCh, Cambodia, and Memorialising the Killing Fields,” in Life Writing, Vol 5, No. 1 (April 2008). Sugiman, Pamela. “Memories of Internment: Narrating Japanese Canadian Women’s Life Stories.” The Canadian Journal of Sociology 29.3 (Summer, 2004): 359-388.



On a hot summer evening in 2005, “Hendra”1 stood on a Philadelphia sidewalk waiting to depart for New York and a one-way flight to Indonesia. After living in the United States for a little over five years, predominantly as an unlawfully-present day laborer, the twenty-six-yearold ethnic Chinese Indonesian migrant was returning home. Hendra had left Indonesia during the late 1990s’ Asian Financial Crisis and collapse of the Suharto regime. As jobs dried up, inflation soared, and unrest broke out, he and some friends applied for non-immigrant visitor visas to travel to Philadelphia, not as tourists, but as temporary economic migrants. Drawn to the city’s burgeoning Indonesian enclave and its day laborer agency networks, they quickly found under-the-table employment and began sending remittances to their families in East Java. Hendra soon heard that he could adjust his immigration status to permanent residency, maybe even citizenship, by petitioning for asylum. His factory co-workers told him that, like them, he should emphasize that as a Chinese and a Christian, he was a persecuted ethnic and religious minority in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. Subsequently, Hendra applied, citing that he had experienced discrimination growing up in Indonesia and feared returning there because he was a member of groups routinely targeted at times of national unrest. Although applying for asylum earned Hendra temporary legal residency, when his final appeal was rejected for insufficient evidence of past or future persecution, his hopes for legalization were defeated. To tell the truth, Hendra said, he never was actually afraid to return to Indonesia. In fact, he felt conflicted about the persecution narrative he had crafted and was looking forward to putting the whole thing behind him. As he gathered his bags, Hendra acknowledged that once he returned to

Collective and Conflicting Memories in Narratives of Migration


Indonesia, he would likely not come back to the United States. Smiling resignedly, he said he had no regrets. Even if his petition had ultimately failed, at least he had given the American Dream a try. After legally entering the United States as non-immigrant visitors during the late 1990s and early 2000s, many of the thousands of Indonesians who had migrated overstayed their visas to work as day laborers until conditions improved in Indonesia (Adib 2010: 12; Setiyawan 2005; Setiyawan 2010).2 A significant percentage of this wave, predominantly migrants from Indonesia’s second largest city, Surabaya, went to Philadelphia. By 2002, the Indonesian community there peaked at 6,000 to 8,000 people.3 Ethnic Chinese Indonesians constituted approximately 80 percent of the community.4 Christians (largely evangelical) and Catholics were the two largest religious groups, followed by Indonesian Muslims, who were largely Javanese. Pull factors were an abundance of under-thetable employment in the area, as well as inexpensive accommodations in the working-class neighborhoods of South Philadelphia. Depictions of Indonesian migration to the United States stressed that fears for their safety prompted the primarily ethnic Chinese Indonesians to leave their homeland (Cunningham 2008: 90; Sukmana 2009). These portrayals corresponded to accounts that Indonesian Chinese, among other minorities, fled during the late 1990s economic crisis in order to escape outbreaks of ethno-religious violence (Siegel 2001: 104; Purdey 2005: 21). Such analyses were accurate, at least in part. Anti-Sinicism, traceable to the Colonial Era, was particularly strong during Suharto’s New Order regime (1966 - 1998), when outbreaks of anti-Chinese violence were “not only seen as ‘normal’ but inevitable in certain situations” (Purdey 2005: 33). Seeing that ethnic Chinese were scapegoated during the economic and political turmoil surrounding Suharto’s rise to power, anti-Chinese violence reoccurred under similar conditions during the regime’s downfall.5 In several cities, the 1998 “May Riots,” interpreted as a manifestation of social “[h]atreds associated with the ethnic Chinese as corrupt and opportunistic,” resulted in rapes, looting, and the destruction of Chinese homes and businesses (Purdey 2005: 18). While the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya documented an increase in visa adjudications during the height of the ethno-religious unrest, the true surge came in 1999 and 2000, when the worst of the violence had passed, but as Indonesia’s monetary crisis (krisis moneter or krismon) intensified.6 Thus, contextualizing the migration wave of the late 1990s and early 2000s solely as a movement of people fleeing violence overlooks the economic push factors that drove many Indonesians,


Chapter One

including ethnic Chinese, to leave their homeland for Philadelphia and other destinations during that time. This chapter considers how, using collective memory, Indonesians have narrated their migration experiences, accounting for the factors that compelled them to temporarily live or permanently settle in the United States. A group’s collective memory of its shared past is developed within certain social frameworks that contribute to the articulation of this past and the group’s role therein (Halbwachs 1992: 38). Some scholars have emphasized that physical locations can become “the medium of transmission of…collective memories” for migrants in the diaspora (Lalich 2008: 57). Others have proposed that “migration rather than location is the condition of memory” (Creet 2011: 9). I adopt the latter perspective to show that the ways migrants evoked collective memory to (re)frame and account for their emigration to the United States can, and did, change depending on the audience of their migration narratives.7 Outside of their enclave, numerous Indonesians in Philadelphia classified themselves as refugees, albeit of a different nature than Southeast Asians who had arrived in the United States earlier.8 In their ingroup migration narratives, most self-identified as voluntary, temporary economic migrants. The refugee emphasis became the predominant narrative as numerous Indonesians began to apply for asylum. A number of the asylum petitioners who took this route indeed wished to leave Indonesia permanently because they did not trust their government to protect them should a crisis arise again (Sukmana 2009). Others had different objectives. As one participant of this study stated, asylum became “a way for people to stay here because with papers, ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents] would not arrest them” (Suparlan 2010). Original oral histories from more than thirty long-term study participants, as well as other supporting evidence, revealed that many migrants who applied for asylum sought to gain employment authorization and more time to work during krismon. They also sought the freedom to live openly and the ability to move between the United States and Indonesia that legal residency would provide. Once the risk of migrants’ unlawful presence increased following the 11 September 2001 Al Qaeda attacks on the United States (hereafter 9/11), seeking legal asylum became more urgent because pending asylum would mean exemption from the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). NSEERS was a post-9/11 initiative that required non-immigrant males from twentyfive predominantly Muslim-majority countries to register with immigration officials between November 2002 and April 2003.9 The odds

Collective and Conflicting Memories in Narratives of Migration


of being granted asylum were not in the favor of most of those who applied. Between 1998 and 2004, nearly 10,000 Indonesians across the United States filed for asylum.10 Immigration authorities approved 3,923 of their cases (U.S. Department of Homeland Security [DHS], Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2005 44).11 Among the many others that were denied, 1,000 applicants were formally found to have filed false claims of persecution (Prambadi 2004: 25). As per U.S. immigration law, an individual qualifies as a refugee because he or she suffered past persecution or has a “well-founded fear” of future persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion (Germain 2010: 25). Applicants must meet the burden of proof for establishing eligibility for asylum within one year of their arrival in the United States by demonstrating that there is a “reasonable possibility” that they have been or will be persecuted if they return home. Even if applicants have not experienced harm directly, by establishing a “pattern or practice” of persecution, they can demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear based on harm endured by others who faced similar circumstances. Applicants can otherwise show that belonging to a group “disfavored” by state actors makes them targets for persecution (Germain 2010: 106-7). Ultimately, applicants are deemed “credible” when they provide testimony that does not contradict generally known facts. Writing about asylum seekers’ narratives, Chowra Makaremi notes the incredible burden under which petitioners’ claims of persecution must be produced for authorities to believe the credibility of the narrative presented to them. Indeed, “narrations of memories evoked by border discourses have to confront, fit, avoid, and decode a national memory belonging to the ‘hosting’ country” (73). Accordingly, “credible narrative memory is the key to refuge and migration, yet must be produced under conditions of ‘mis/trust’ embedded in the national and political framework of controlling borders and mobility” (Creet 2011: 13). To exercise their agency in determining how they wished to portray themselves and, thereby improve their chances of gaining acceptance as refugees, Indonesians who were drawn to the United States by economic push-pull factors employed what I have termed appropriated and enhanced memories in the migration narratives they offered as testimony in their petitions for asylum. An appropriated memory is one that is taken from another source and claimed as one’s own personal experience or recollection. An enhanced memory is one that an individual did experience, but that is embellished or transposed upon a different time or context.


Chapter One

When publicly-articulated memories emphasizing Indonesians as refugees began to conflict with privately-articulated ones regarding economic migration push factors, various impacts upon the development and unity of the Philadelphia Indonesian migrant community resulted. These conflicts in turn caused tensions that would alter the community’s internal dynamics. Conflicting narratives also shaped outsiders’ perceptions of the circumstances that led Indonesians to migrate to the United States and the conditions that they faced in their homeland, promoting additional strains.

‘Why We Left:’ Collective Memory in Migration Narratives Indonesian migrants in Philadelphia widely cited a volatile and collapsing national Indonesian economy as a major factor that prompted many to come to the United States as temporary economic migrants. While krismon did not affect all migrants in the same way (indeed, a very small minority claimed that they were either unaffected or were able to profit from the experience), many migrants endured hardship. Common memories concerned difficulty securing work or long-term loss of employment, trouble paying expenses, and seeing their families’ financial solvency disappear. Indah Nuritasari, a migrant of Javanese and Sundanese heritage who emigrated from Jakarta in 2002 described the crisis years this way: The economic situation was really bad [as was] the social situation… because we [were shifting] from [a] really undemocratic situation to, I think, a democratic era… we had problems everywhere. The people were losing their jobs and the prices were really high and then inflation [led to] uncertainty in many areas like economic, social, and politic [sic] so people were not sure what to do. (Nuritasari 2007)

In their migration narratives, ethnic Chinese migrants typically emphasized the more immediate trauma of the May Riots, as well as their positions as second-class citizens during the New Order, as reasons for migrating to the United States. “David,” a Chinese Indonesian migrant from Surabaya who arrived in Philadelphia in 1999, cited both the riots and an overall sense of anti-Chinese animus among his Javanese neighbors as the non-economic reasons why he migrated: “I decided to leave Indonesia in 1998, after the May Riots, because the conditions were unstable… it was a time of chaos with minorities becoming easy targets… In Surabaya there were no riots, but I still felt afraid and intimidated [because] I’ve felt intimidated and harassed since childhood” (David).

Collective and Conflicting Memories in Narratives of Migration


Other Chinese Indonesians also cited intimidation and institutional discrimination (such as being denied full citizenship rights despite having lived in Indonesia for generations) to explain why they migrated to the United States. Although most remained unharmed during their country’s unrest, their strong collective memory of anti-Chinese animus during times of national trauma was enhanced by legitimate fears that they might become targets of violence. However, even those who feared future victimization ultimately stressed that they mainly saw themselves as voluntary temporary economic migrants. “Yohannes,” who came to Philadelphia from a town on the outskirts of Surabaya in 2000 with his wife, “Margaretha,” initially cited the anti-Chinese violence as his reason for migrating, but then later stated: “I did not leave because of the political crisis but because of krismon” (Yohannes). As the examples above illustrate, ethnically Indonesian migrants often began their narratives by stating that the economic crisis was the main motivation for migrating, while Chinese Indonesian migrants followed a different pattern. They initially pointed to the 1998 May Riots, as well as other state-endorsed incidences of anti-Chinese animus, as explanations for their departure, then gradually revealed that economic push factors prompted them to migrate. Indonesians who held expired visitor visas and who considered themselves temporary economic migrants faced difficulty in meeting the criteria for asylum because they had to win approval within a system that already challenged their right to inclusion. Legal parameters, therefore, forced migrants to “(re)construct their identities to gain the status that the law determines is most appropriate for them” (Aleinikoff 1995: 267). Experiencing the trauma of financial hardship during krismon, or experiences of discrimination did not amount to persecution in the eyes of U.S authorities. Thus, numerous migrants (re)constructed their migration narratives in an attempt to officially gain the status of refugees.

‘Why We’ve Stayed:’ Appropriated and Enhanced Memories in Asylum Cases The best documented and most widely publicized cases of memories having been appropriated from outside sources and used in asylum claims occurred in 2004, following a two-year federal and state agency task force investigation into a trans-regional fraudulent document ring.12 One of the ring’s leading brokerages, the Chinese Indonesian American Society (CIAS), included a branch in Philadelphia (Bahadur 2004: B6). According to the government’s charges against the twenty-six defendants (fifteen of


Chapter One

whom had been granted asylum), between 1999 and 2004, clients who paid upwards of $2,000 were provided with a fraudulent claim. They were then coached to “cry, plead, and avoid positive references to Indonesia” in order to elicit sympathy from asylum officers and immigration judges (U.S. Department of Justice Press Release, 2004). Chinese Indonesians were told to say that they had suffered a rape or other physical assault, robbery, or property destruction during the May Riots. The syndicate’s ringleader used a different strategy for his ethnically Indonesian clients. He instructed them to claim that they were members of pro-Suharto youth groups that political reformers persecuted following the fall of the regime (Prambadi 2004: 26).13 Although they were not CIAS clients, Yohannes and Margaretha said they submitted a case built on enhanced memories inspired by other sources. Aided by a friend, they filed for asylum in the spring of 2001. As the lead petitioner in the case, Margaretha cited her actual memories of discrimination, such as her parents’ obligation to prove their Indonesian citizenship to government authorities during the Suharto regime. However, she believed that such evidence did not constitute enough proof of persecution to satisfy U.S. immigration authorities. According to the couple, their friend, who was aware they had come to Philadelphia to look for work, recommended that they emphasize that they had suffered ethnic and religious persecution (Yohannes 2010). By enhancing memories of discrimination with fabrications of physical attacks, the narrative the couple eventually used centered upon a narrative that Yohannes and Margaretha were victims of anti-Chinese violence. By Margaretha’s account, the story that she provided to immigration officials was “forty percent true and sixty percent false” (Margaretha 2010). It was convincing enough to temporarily earn her and Yohannes work permits and Social Security numbers while their case wound through the immigration appeals process. However, the couple’s penultimate appeal was ultimately rejected on the grounds of insufficient evidence of past or future persecution. They were then given the choice to wait out the court’s final decision in an immigration detention facility or return voluntarily to Indonesia. Unhappy with either alternative, they decided to risk circumventing immigration authorities for as long as possible and keep working in Philadelphia. In 2007, Yohannes was caught in an ICE sting; after spending several months in detention he was deported. Margaretha subsequently returned to Indonesia to join him. They currently run a small business out of their home on the outskirts of Surabaya, a property paid for with earnings from their labor abroad.

Collective and Conflicting Memories in Narratives of Migration


David initially planned to use his tourist visa to work in Philadelphia, then return to Indonesia once conditions improved; however, following his arrival he changed his plans, thinking he would have more opportunities as a minority in the United States than in Indonesia. He was also fearful of the conditions that awaited him at home in a country still recovering from the dual traumas of economic crisis and widespread unrest. In 2000, David decided to apply for asylum so that he could remain in the United States longer as a legal resident. He sought the help of an Indonesian legal consultant who, “helped make up the story” that he used in his asylum application in exchange for a $1,000 fee (David). David suggested that his account of persecution drew heavily upon appropriated and enhanced memories. He stated it was based upon forms of discrimination he had experienced and intimated that he had been the victim of anti-Chinese violence. David lost his final appeal in 2006 on the same grounds upon which the court had rejected Yohannes and Margaretha’s claim: insufficient evidence of past or future persecution. Rather than submit his case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) or Federal Circuit Courts, he voluntarily returned to Surabaya. He is now a business owner who credits his success to the capital he accrued during his days as an undocumented factory worker in Philadelphia. Not all migrants whose persecution narratives authorities rejected ultimately were as fortunate as Yohannes and Margaretha or David. In 2001, Anwar Muhammad, a Javanese migrant from Surabaya, arrived in Philadelphia on a visitor visa with the intention of finding under-the-table work. Two years later he applied for asylum. He hoped a claim that a militant Islamic organization would persecute him if he returned to Indonesia would gain him legal residency. This was a terrible miscalculation. Arrested in 2005 as a suspected national security threat due to his self-proclaimed affiliation with an Islamic extremist group, he was imprisoned and then deported. This misfortune triggered a series of events that culminated in his children being taken into the custody of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services and his wife being committed to the psychiatric ward of a local hospital. In 2007, Anwar recounted his ordeal for the Indonesian newsmagazine, Gatra, revealing details already well known to many Indonesian migrants in Philadelphia (Prambadi 2007). His narrative, he said, was not true, but rather had been crafted from other sources at the behest of a legal advisor. He had devised it to avoid being deported once it was discovered during the NSEERS call-in registration that he had overstayed his visa. Knowing that other Indonesian migrants in Philadelphia had successfully petitioned for asylum influenced him to try the same method to obtain legalization.


Chapter One

What he did not foresee, he said, was that unlike many of his fellow migrants, applying for asylum would not end up helping his family but destroying it.14 As these unsuccessful case outcomes reveal, increasingly fewer Indonesians applying for asylum would be as successful as earlier petitioners were between 2000 and 2003. At least two causes were at the root of this decline. First, immigration judges and the BIA found that reports of improving conditions in Indonesia following the crisis years undermined most claims of future persecution. Second, a groundbreaking legal case filed with the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 2005 presented an obstacle to a large segment of Indonesian asylum seekers. In Lie v. Ashcroft, the Court said there was lack of evidence that robberies a Chinese Indonesian family (Lie) had experienced were motivated by religious or ethnic hatred, thus they failed to establish “a well-founded fear of persecution” if they returned to Indonesia. The Court upheld the BIA’s decision to deny them asylum. The case set a precedent for the rejection of subsequent claims of a “pattern or practice of persecution of Chinese Christians in Indonesia” (Lie v. Ashcroft 2005). Thus ended the asylum hopes of most Indonesian petitioners in Philadelphia.

Consequences of Conflicting Memories Well before immigration authorities intensified their scrutiny of Indonesians’ persecution claims, it had become common intra-community knowledge that numerous asylum applicants had submitted persecution narratives based at least in part on enhanced or appropriated memories in order to gain legal residency and authorization to work in the United States. As this occurred, certain tensions arose. On a personal level, migrants such as Hendra, whose story opened the chapter, felt conflicted about using appropriated memories to bolster their asylum cases. Others who did not engage in the practice felt uncomfortable or disagreed with those who did. Some experienced ethical dilemmas. As one Javanese Muslim religious leader in the community wrote in Gatra, “If I don’t want to help someone who has a legitimate right [to apply for asylum], then I’m wrong. But I’m just as wrong if I do help someone who has no right [to file]” (Munjid 2007: 42). Due to the significant differences between the migration narratives recounted to those outside of Philadelphia’s Indonesian enclave and the narratives known predominantly within the community, conflicting memories also resulted in intra-community fissures and mistrust. Some members of the community began to take advantage of others, as in the

Collective and Conflicting Memories in Narratives of Migration


case of the CIAS asylum fraud ring. Charging exorbitant sums of money to “help” asylum-seekers create narratives and to file their applications, the CIAS exploited fellow migrants who had non-existent, weak, or unverifiable claims of persecution, knowing that clients would simply pay for a better chance to legalize. Once some migrants were granted asylum, they occasionally used their new-found legality to threaten others. As Indah recalled: “People started fighting… ‘your case is weak and mine was real, once I get citizenship I can report you [to ICE] if you ever do anything to me’” (Nuritasari 2007). Hani White, an ethnic Betawi migrant who arrived in Philadelphia from Jakarta in 2001 concurred. Hani related that a woman who had acquired citizenship through a fabricated claim of persecution sought revenge over a workplace dispute by reporting a co-worker who was unlawfully present to immigration authorities (White). This was similar to an earlier episode instigated by a migrant named Edi, who stated to Gatra in 2004 that “Indonesians asking for asylum is getting to be too much… I’m sick of hearing about it.” He then recounted how he wrote to several U.S. immigration enforcement agencies to inform authorities of the practice (Prambadi 2004: 27). Multiple informants explained that with the increase of ICE raids targeting Indonesians in Philadelphia in the years following the call-in registration, mutual suspicions and even rumors that migrants were cooperating with the FBI to turn in visa scofflaws ran rampant. “Nobody talks about [their case details] anymore, it’s too private,” became the norm as suspicions crept up in the community due to these developments (Indah). Many Indonesians who remained in Philadelphia saw this breakdown in solidarity as one reason behind the decrease in the size and closeness of their community.15 By the early 2000s, advocates, service providers, and journalists began to view Indonesians in Philadelphia solely as refugees from violence, which influenced public response. Well-meaning, though uncritical, parties who came to the aid of Indonesians who they perceived to be persecuted ended up dividing ‘valued’ or ‘worthy’ ethnic and religious subgroups from the remainder of the population. Compounding and perhaps influencing this unbalanced support was the fact that so much of it emerged immediately after 9/11, a time when suspicion of Muslims and concerns about nations such as Indonesia ran high in the United States. In 2003, members of Philadelphia’s City Council, prompted by a leading organization that advocated for immigrants, submitted a resolution calling upon the mayor to provide Temporary Protective Status for the “mostly ethnic Chinese and overwhelmingly Christian and substantially Catholic” Indonesian migrants in the city (Cohen, Verna, and Kenney


Chapter One

2003: 1). The aim of the proposed resolution was to exempt “Indonesian refugees” in Philadelphia from reporting to immigration authorities as mandated by the NSEERS call-in registration (Cohen, Verna, and Kenney 2003: 1). As the petitioners argued, Indonesians’ “overwhelming” status as ethnic and religious minorities represented strong grounds for their exclusion from a registration process that predominantly targeted Muslims. Though smaller in number than ethnic Chinese Indonesian Christians, ethnically Indonesian Muslims are a visible and active presence in Philadelphia. It is thus notable that the Council members did not call the government’s profiling of all Indonesians, regardless of religion or ethnicity, unjust. This framing can be interpreted in at least two ways. At most, it seems to imply that the petitioners believed that Indonesian Muslims were not beyond suspicion, and, therefore, should register. At the very least, they appear to have been indifferent as to whether Indonesian Muslims registered or not. What is clear, however, is that the Council members directed their advocacy to the segment of the community to which they felt most sympathetic. Although the resolution proved unsuccessful, it marked an early episode of unbalanced support for Indonesian migrants in Philadelphia. Journalists also created, as well as reinforced among community outsiders, a perception that most Indonesians had migrated to Philadelphia solely to escape Muslim-perpetrated unrest. A 2003 Philadelphia Inquirer article entitled “Indonesian Refugees at a Crossroads” was one such story. Written on the eve of the call-in registration, the article addressed the dilemma of whether unlawfully present migrants should comply with the mandate to register with immigration authorities. Reporting that the 80 percent of Indonesians who self-identified as Catholic or Protestant all “fled… after [ethno-religious] violence in 1998,” the writer focused on the prevalence of “Islamic radicals” and “Muslim extremists” in Indonesia. In closing, he asked, “should they go to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and risk getting detained, go home and risk being attacked, or do nothing and hope for the best?” (Ginsburg 2003: B1). Two years later, a front-page feature story in the Philadelphia City Paper about a Chinese Indonesian family from East Java who were seeking asylum based on claims of persecution by Muslims enforced these perceptions. As stated in this City Paper piece: “These immigrants have a much more sinister fate awaiting them… A majority of Philly’s Indonesians… are Christians who fled their country because they were even more scared of the Muslims than John Ashcroft and the Justice Department” (Tobia 2011).

Collective and Conflicting Memories in Narratives of Migration


When narratives were publicized suggesting that a “sinister fate” was the sole cause of an entire group’s migration to the United States, unity among Indonesians in Philadelphia who internally shared a different understanding of their community’s origins was challenged anew. Migrants who might otherwise have forged solidarities based on mutual experiences concretized or reformulated ethno-religious divisions, hostilities, or stereotypes. These tensions compounded the existing fractures within the community that were caused by the widespread use of appropriated or enhanced memories in asylum seekers’ persecution claims. Another outcome was that some migrants began to fear being denied reentry to their country by Indonesian authorities unhappy with their perceived willingness to malign their homeland to gain legal U.S. residency. This particular concern is perhaps most revealing about Indonesians’ objectives as migrants in the diaspora. It shows that ultimately, those who plan to return home, whether or not they applied for asylum while in the United States, wish to maintain a good relationship with their nation regardless of the memories they privately, or publicly, share.

Notes 1

Names that initially appear in quotation marks indicate the use of a pseudonym for an informant who has requested anonymity. 2 The 2010 U.S. Census indicates that 95,270 total respondents self-identified as Indonesian (U.S. Census Bureau, “Race Reporting for the Asian Population by Selected Categories: 2010”). This total represents a 51 percent increase from the 2000 Census, which listed a total of 63,073 self-identified Indonesian respondents (Barnes and Bennett 9). Accounting for the large number of unlawfully present temporary migrants, however, the population of Indonesian who have lived in the United States during the past decade is actually much larger. 3 The lower estimate of 6,000 is derived from totals suggested by community leaders. The higher estimate of 8,000 was first published as an “educated guess” in a social worker’s report based on outreach conducted on behalf of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia (Mendez 4). 4 In Indonesia, the ethnic Chinese are a minority group. There, demographers estimate that the approximately 3 million Chinese Indonesians constitute 1.5 percent of the total population of nearly 250 million (Suryadinata et al. 79). 5 While institutional discrimination and racism against the Chinese followed the 1965-6 purge of the political Left, the anti-communist massacres upon which Suharto rose to power were not principally directed at ethnic Chinese, who constituted no more than 2,000 of the approximately 500,000 to 1 million victims of the mass violence (Coppel 58).

26 6

Chapter One

13,959 and 17,954 non-immigrant visa adjudications were recorded for 1999 and 2000, a notable increase from the 8,812 and 10,237 adjudications of 1997 and 1998, which was the peak of the ethno-religious violence (U.S. Consulate General Surabaya). 7 In this manner, Indonesians have articulated their migration memories in ways similar to other Southeast Asian diaspora communities in the United States. For instance, although they are otherwise a fundamentally different population, Indonesian migrant memory-sharing is similar to that of Vietnamese refugees who selected which of their memories to disclose to compatriots and relief workers and which to privatize in recounting their flight from Vietnam (Knudsen, Vietnamese Survivors 107-9). 8 Indonesians did not view themselves as refugees who held scant hope for repatriation as in the case of the “boat people” who fled Vietnam following the 1975 fall of Saigon (Knudsen, Vietnamese Survivors 104-5; Knudsen, “When Trust is on Trial” 19). Indeed, unlike the Vietnamese, they did not experience a sudden and dramatic break from their home country, nor were they compelled to live in transit camps or undergo a controlled migration process. Rather, as visa applicants, they chose the date and place of their departure, as well as their point of arrival in the United States. Once abroad, the migrants maintained ties with their homeland, keeping sustained long-distance contact with family and friends in Indonesia. 9 Indeed, petitions for asylum peaked during this time. While petitioners respectively submitted 1,684 and 1,604 asylum cases in 2001 and 2002, the number seeking asylum jumped to 2,808 when Indonesians were ordered to comply with the NSEERS registration in 2003 (DHS, Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service: 2001 102; DHS, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2002 69; DHS, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2003 60). 1,318 of these cases were referred to an immigration judge because the applicants petitioned for asylum past the one-year filing deadline following their arrival to the United States, a marked increase from the 327 and 219 such cases filed in 2002 and 2004, the years before and after the NSEERS reporting period (Ibid. 63; DHS, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2002 72; DHS, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2004 58). The fear and urgency the registration caused unlawfully present migrants is reflected in this spike. 10 This figure was reached by adding the yearly totals of Indonesians who filed for asylum between 1998 and 2004 as reported in the “Asylum Cases Filed… by Nationality” tables in United States Department of Justice, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service [DOJ] Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service: 1998 through DOJ Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service: 2001 and DHS, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2002 through DHS, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics:2004. 11 In 1999, during the height of the unrest in Indonesia, 1,546 applicants (out of a total of 2,330 Indonesian petitioners) were granted asylum, a considerable jump from the 15 asylum approvals (out of 168 applicants) from the previous year (DHS, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2005 44). After conditions improved in Indonesia, the number of applicants who were granted asylum steadily declined after 1999. 937 Indonesian applicants were granted asylum in 2000 (DHS,

Collective and Conflicting Memories in Narratives of Migration


Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2005 44). In 2005, a mere 97 cases were approved (DHS, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2011 44). A second spike in asylum approvals occurred in 2006-7, likely because of renewed religious tensions in Indonesia related to the government’s execution of three alleged Christian militants in Central Sulawesi. The numbers again declined, falling from a high of 567 Indonesians granted asylum during 2006-7, to 71 in 2010, and 84 in 2011, the most current DHS figure available at the time of this writing (DHS, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2011 44). 12 In addition to asylum fraud, the defendants were variously charged with multiple counts of labor certification fraud, identification document fraud, and conspiracy. Some of the false documents they provided included birth certificates, driver licenses, and baptismal records. They also provided clients with false identities and addresses. 13 It remains unclear whether syndicate members who supplied stock persecution narratives appropriated memories they had heard from actual people or other sources, or crafted narratives from the general collective memory of events during the crisis years. 14 One study participant who was personally acquainted with the family believes it unlikely that Anwar and his wife and children will reunite soon. While Anwar remains in East Java, unable to return to the United States, the informant states that Anwar’s wife, Khonik, has ceased contact with other Indonesians in Philadelphia and her whereabouts are unknown. At the time of this writing, both children remain in foster care. 15 Informants believe that these factors, combined with a strengthening Indonesian economy and a weakening U.S. one, caused nearly half of the 6,000 to 8,000 migrants who lived in Philadelphia to depart for Indonesia or other areas of the United States.

Works Cited Adib, Faishol. Living with Uncertainty: The Experience of Undocumented Indonesian Migrant Workers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. MA thesis. Ohio University, Center for International Studies, 2010. Aleinikoff, Alexander. “State-Centered Refugee Law: From Resettlement to Containment.” Mistrusting Refugees. Eds. E. Valentine Daniel and John Chr. Knudsen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995: 257-278. Bahadur, Gaiutra. “Woman Charged in Fraud Case against Immigration Group,” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 23 November 2004: B6. Barnes, Jessica S., and Claudette E. Bennett. The Asian Population: 2000. U.S. Census Bureau. February 2002. Web. 23 March 2012. Cohen, David, Verna, Anna C. and Kenney, James F. Council of the City of Philadelphia, Resolution No. 030104. City of Philadelphia 2003.


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Coppel, Charles A. Indonesian Chinese in Crisis. Kuala Lumpur, New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Creet, Julia. “The Migration of Memory and Memories of Migration.” Memory and Migration: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Memory Studies. Eds. Julia Creet and Andreas Kitzmann. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 3-28. Cunningham, Clark E. “Unity and Diversity among Indonesian Migrants to the United States.” Emerging Voices: Experiences of Underrepresented Asian Americans. Ed. Huping Ling. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008. 90-108. “David.” Personal Interview. 1 February 2010. Germain, Regina. Asylum Primer: A Practical Guide to U.S. Asylum Law and Procedure. 6th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Immigration Lawyers Association Publications, 2010. Ginsburg, Thomas. “Indonesian Refugees at a Crossroads.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. 18 February 2003: B1. Halbwachs, Maurice. On Collective Memory. Trans. Lewis A. Coser. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992. “Jatuhnya Domino Hans Gouw,” Gatra, 4/XI., 3 December 2004. Web. 28 March 2012. Knudsen, John Chr. Vietnamese Survivors: Processes Involved in Refugee Coping and Adaptation. Bergen: Migration Project, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen, 1988. —. “When Trust is on Trial: Negotiating Refugee Narratives.” Mistrusting Refugees. Eds. E. Valentine Daniel and John Chr. Knudsen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. 13-35. Lalich, Walter F. “Chinese Collective Memories in Sydney.” At Home in the Chinese Diaspora: Memories, Identities and Belongings. Eds. Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce and Andrew P. Davidson. Basingstoke, Hampshire, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008. 52-73. Lie v. Ashcroft. 396 F. 3d 530. United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit. 2005. Open Jurist. Web. 29 November 2011. Makaremi, Chowra. “The Waiting Zone.” Memory and Migration: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Memory Studies. Ed. Julia Creet and Andreas Kitzmann. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 68-92. “Margaretha.” Personal Interview. 24 February 2010. Mendez, Humberto. “Affirming and Building: The Indonesian Catholic Community of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.” Unpublished paper. 2001. Munjid, Achmad. “Asylum,” Gatra 26/XIII., 10 May 2007. Web. 29 November 2011.

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Nuritasari, Indah. Personal Interview. 20 December 2007. Prambadi, Didi. “Asilum Bodong Cerita Bohong.” Gatra 3/XI 4 December 2004: 24-27. Prambadi, Didi. “Kisah Anwar-Khonik di Negeri Mimpi,” Gatra 26/XIII., 10 May 2007. Web. 29 November 2011. Purdey, Jemma. “Anti-Chinese Violence and Transitions in Indonesia: June 1998–October 1999.” Chinese Indonesians: Remembering, Distorting, Forgetting. Eds. Timothy Lindsey and Helen Pausacker. Singapore and Australia: ISEAS Publications and MAI Press, 2005. 14-40. Setiyawan, Dahlia G. “Unity in Diversity: Identity Building and Community Development among Indonesian Immigrants in Philadelphia.” M.S.Ed. Thesis. University of Pennsylvania, 2005. —. “American Dreams.” Inside Indonesia 100. Indonesian Resources and Information Program, 25 April 2010. Web. 28 November 2011. Siegel, James T. “Thoughts on the Violence of May 13 and 14, 1998, in Jakarta.” Violence and the State in Suharto’s Indonesia. Ed. Benedict Anderson. Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2001. 90-123. Sukmana, Damai. “Game of Chance.” Inside Indonesia 95. Indonesian Resources and Information Program, 11 January 2009. Web. 28 November 2011. Suparlan, Fr. Ignatius. Personal Interview. 25 August 2010. Suryadinata, Leo, Nirvidya Arifin, Evi, and Ananta, Aris. Indonesia’s Population: Ethnicity and Religion in a Changing Political Landscape. Indonesia’s Population Series No. 1. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2003. Tobia, Peter J. “ICE Cold.” Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper, n.d. Web. 28 November 2011. United States Census Bureau. “Race Reporting for the Asian Population by Selected Categories: 2010.” U.S. Census Bureau American Fact Finder, December 2010. Web. 23 March 2012. United States. Consulate General Surabaya. Non-Immigrant Visa Records, 1997-2005. United States. Department of Homeland Security. Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2002. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, 2003. —. Yearbook of Immigration Statics: 2003. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, 2004.


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—. Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2004. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, 2006. —. Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2005. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, 2006. —. Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2011. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, 2012. United States. Department of Justice. “Press release.” Federal Bureau of Investigation, 22 November 2004. Web. 11 March 2008. United States. Department of Justice, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service: 1998. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2000. —. Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service: 1999. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002. —. Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service: 2000. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2003. —. Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service: 2001. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2003. White, Hani. Personal Interview. 18 November 2011. “Yohannes.” Personal Interview. 24 February 2010.


“Tourism, if it is nothing else, is the kind of travel, the kind of geocultural movement, that specifically leaves the place of the traveler’s home behind…The minute tourists begin to believe they have ‘come home,’ their identity as tourists falls into question, or, as with the Balikbayan, becomes plausibly deniable.” —Shelly Ann Ness (2003)

The Balikbayan Hotel The advertisements for the Mabuhay Manor Hotel, played repeatedly on The Filipino Channel (or TFC as it is commonly known in the U.S.), avoid mentioning the hotel’s immediate surroundings. Unlike more prominent tourist hotels, it is impossible to identify the Manor from Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, often referred to as EDSA, or Taft Ave., the two major thoroughfares in the city located on either of its sides. Rather, the hotel is situated along a dingy alley like street in Pasay City, hidden amongst a row of concrete walled apartments and bustling markets spilling out in front of the hotel’s orange-granite driveway. Regardless, the hotel has become somewhat of a popular destination for tourists traveling from the U.S. This became the case, not because of its accommodations per se, but more specifically for its targeted clientele: balikbayans, Filipinos returning to the Philippines. Apart from the vibrant pastel colors that only seem to accentuate the contours of the hotels’ diminutive shape, there are few elements that distinguish the Mabuhay Manor’s three-story structure as a place where Filipino American tourists would prefer to stay. The hotel’s outward style,


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with its flat, adobe-like façade and green-tinted windows, reflect an American suburban pastiche rather than the modern skyscraper hotels that tend to be associated with world travel. Furthermore, on one end of the narrow road where the hotel is located is the cluttered parking lot owned by the Pagcor Casino Club. Local residents rather than tourists tend to visit the club to try their hands at some baccarat or partake in a small game of poker. Towards the other end is one of the many Victoria Court motels scattered throughout Manila, a well-frequented hub within the city’s sex industry circuit. The narrative is askew. It becomes readily apparent that the Mabuhay Manor, whose advertisements tout it as the “first balikbayan hotel in the Philippines,” is far from being the “world-class for the world market” establishment depicted on TFC. The challenges posed by navigating around the hotel’s surrounding geography is a jarring metaphor for how the routes of global tourism in the Philippines are continuously hindered by sectors in the economy that are less mobile. The fractured and disjointed nature of Metro Manila continues to present a formidable challenge for a tourism industry scrabbling to draw foreign capital into the Philippines, particularly to the National Capital Region (NCR). As the Asian market evolves and expands at a quickening pace, the Philippine government looks to tourism as a fundamental strategy to ensure that the country’s economy keeps step with its regional neighbors. State administrators have charged the Department of Tourism (DOT) with the immense task of synchronizing a complex and disjunctive network of tourist agencies, hotels and motels, vacation resorts, and food retailers to help develop the struggling economy of the Philippines. In order to do this, the Philippine tourism industry has targeted one of its most unique assets—balikbayans—as a means of ensuring the country’s place within the larger global economy. This chapter examines how balikbayans have come to play a central role in the development of the Philippine economy, their negotiation around this new role, and the ambivalence produced by it. Particular spaces like the Mabuhay Manor represent, in a clear way, the unique and complex approaches that the State utilizes in order to exploit these differentially experienced ambivalences. With this in mind, I address two interrelated questions: as developing countries continue to compete within the global market: how does the Philippine government utilize balikbayans to increase its grasp upon the global property market? Furthermore, this chapter seeks to conceptualize how do balikbayans themselves wrestle with their ambivalence toward their former homeland and those who were once their neighbors?

Balikbayan Paranoia


Much of the literature on tourism focuses on the affects of globalization through the impacts that foreign bodies and capital are having on local economies and the consequences they induce on local communities. 1 However, the issue of what is “local” falls into question when it comes to contemporary forms of return migration or periodic returns to one’s home country. The term balikbayan is officially defined by the Department of Tourism (DOT) in the Philippines as “Philippine nationals who are permanently residing abroad...and it also refers to those of Filipino descent who acquired foreign citizenship and permanent status abroad.” As former Filipino citizens, balikbayans operate, as the Philippine historian Vicente Rafael (2000) says, “neither inside nor wholly outside the nation-state, they hover on the edges of its consciousness.” Yet, rarely are these individuals or families the transnational corporate agents who jet set between countries as a matter of business. Balikbayans are usually middle-class immigrants who were able to settle primarily in North America, Western Europe, and Australia due to immigration and labor policies that privileged their particular educational backgrounds and skillsets. Rafael was one of the first scholars to articulate the significance of distinguishing the first set of Filipinos, those who live abroad as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) and maintain their Philippine citizenship, from those who have acquired citizenship elsewhere. While both groups reside outside of the Philippines, the historian astutely observes that the latter are often viewed by Filipinos in the Philippines as “ugly” and “steeped in their own sense of superiority, serving only to fill others with a sense of envy.” These sentiments are owed partly to their ability to leave the country and the perceived success that balikbayans have achieved while working and settling abroad, especially in the United States.2 It is this group of former Philippine citizens that function as the focal point of this chapter. Framed above the concierge’s desk at the Mabuhay Manor, the title of an article reads, “Welcoming Living Heroes at The Mabuhay Manor.” The news article continues to say: TIME and again, the Philippines has hailed their Balikbayans as modern day heroes of the country. With over millions of dollars [sic] worth of remittance each year, Filipinos living abroad continue to help their families in the Philippines in particular and the nation in a general way. The Mabuhay Manor, the first Balikbayan Hotel in the Philippines has geared all their efforts and best intentions to welcome the Philippine balikbayan in a most special way by no less than giving their guests genuine Filipino hospitality evident [sic] of our timeless and valued traditions.


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Often, balikbayans do not mirror elite, jet-setting entrepreneurs, who are typical within narratives of transnationalism. Likewise, the term does not usually refer to the vast number of exploited Filipinos working globally as domestic labor or in construction. They are those fortunate few who are imagined as having achieved the “American Dream,” of owning a home and earning a sizeable income abroad. Balikbayans have come to be viewed by local Filipinos, paradoxically, as both “traitors” who have abandoned their home country and as “heroes” who have found success abroad and continue to support the Philippines by returning.3 As such, the subjectivity produced by these overlapping and seemingly paradoxical imaginaries have reconstructed the homeland as a place of danger and threat for the Filipino Americans who have now become tourists in their own homeland. As these newly-formed tourists seek to come to terms with the ambivalence around their return, reconciling their nostalgia for a childhood that no longer exists, more complex are the ways in which the State mobilizes these aspirations and the fear produced by their homecoming.

Balikbayan Paranoia As the “first balikbayan hotel,” the Mabuhay Manor functions as a poignant example, conveying the manner in which the contemporary Philippine tourism industry steers through political corruption and seeks out overseas capital. The relatively small resort is one of four newly-built hospitality centers owned by Legend Hotels International Corporation, which caters specifically to balikbayans. As a means of competing with larger and more widely recognized hotel chains, the Manor sells itself as an “alternative to the country’s major-corporate hotel chains, which lack the personal and cultural charm many Filipino’s seek out when traveling back to their homeland.”4 It does this by establishing a reputation based on providing “Christian service” and running a solely Filipino-owned and managed hotel. Bearing in mind the myriad of inconveniences and difficulties that travel in Manila poses to balikbayans, hospitality centers like the Mabuhay Manor provide a unique respite from the city before returning Filipinos embark on their journey back to their home provinces. Much like the function of multi-purpose enclaves in Manila discussed elsewhere5, balikbayan hotels like the Mabuhay Manor enable returning Filipinos to imagine themselves circumventing the immense emotional anxiety accompanying their return. While in its everyday usage paranoia tends to be interpreted as feelings of persecution or threat that are unjustified in reality, as Burgin (1991)

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explains, these feelings, whether actual or fictional, “produce real effects in the present.”6 Whether or not these fears and anxieties are grounded in reality, that is to say based on material evidence, what becomes critical are the ways in which the tensions exuded from these feelings are projected onto others, regardless of whether or not these projections are true or not. Burgin’s analysis points the way for imagining how paranoia becomes mobilized by fears and anxieties as a structure of feeling.7 In using the phrase “balikbayan paranoia,” I am not attempting to make the argument that crime and violence are non-existent in the Philippines, or to say that these occurrences are not prevalent. My concept of balikbayan paranoia seeks to illuminate how returning Filipinos have, like other elite and privileged communities, created a world for themselves built around these fears and anxieties that governs in many ways how they act in relation to Filipinos in the Philippines. 8 The phrase balikbayan paranoia allows me to emphasize the rationalizations and behavior exhibited by returning Filipinos and the exploitation of this logic by a litany of businesses in the Philippines, which together makes the paranoia a very real thing. These organized attempts at exploiting balikbayan paranoia occur regardless of the actual violence that exists throughout the Philippines. The Mabuhay Manor was specifically constructed to profit from this logic. While the modern design of the hotel’s interior layout and décor is clearly overstated, a nascent subtext of American colonialism permeates the hotel’s nostalgic surroundings, illuviating like clay from wet sand. From the front desk, for example, the concierges differentiate themselves from other staff by communicating in impeccably constructed American accents. Employees parlay between guests through sophisticated American colloquialisms. One also quickly discerns the sound of kundiman music, so characteristic of popular music during the ‘40s and ‘50s, playing throughout the hotel lobby and restaurant.9 From the paintings depicting Filipino farmers to jars of evaporated milk served beside the restaurant coffee dispenser, it becomes clear that the hotel is not only expressing an ideal depiction of traditional Philippine history, but also a particular moment in time when American colonialism still openly administrated the country’s affairs. All of these elements reflect a very particular moment in Philippine history. For returning Filipinos who left the country after 1965, the Manor’s surroundings are reminiscent of a time in their childhoods before the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ rule left many Filipinos feeling jaded and fearful of the country’s future. Visitors are transported even further into their childhoods when they enter the hotel’s restaurant, where amongst the buffet of typically Filipino


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breakfast fare is the hotel’s very own naglalako, who waits on each table with freshly prepared traditional desserts. Like little children, patrons light up at the sight of bibingka, puto, kutsinta, and cassava nestled inside of an aluminum bañera lined with banana leaves.10 I heard whispers as parents fondly recounted their childhoods while the chef folded each banana leaf and carefully sliced baked coconut indulgences as children impatiently listened-in. This imaginary space, suspended in time, demonstrates the manner in which the DOT is attempting to harness the values of leisure, economic opportunity, and patronage by providing services that allow visitors to transcend the immediate environ of Manila’s dizzying tempo and vexing geography in order to return to an idealistic homeland. The Mabuhay Manor provides a poignant case for conveying emerging trends in Philippine tourism that emphasize return migration as a means of propelling economic restructuring, particularly through the broader tourism industry. By transforming repatriating Filipinos into “retirees,” balikbayans see themselves as patrons of the state who, through decades of overseas labor, patronage, and performed duties to the Philippines, are entitled to enjoy various luxuries that they could not partake of in the U.S. This chapter examines the production of illusory memories through which returning Filipinos are able to straddle the space between new and former lives as they make the choice to repatriate into Philippine society. The construction of nostalgic space constituted within the Mabuhay Manor conveys techniques employed throughout the tourism industry that seek to attenuate balikbayan paranoia. I argue that this complexly felt type of anxiety and ambivalence represents a major hurdle that the DOT and its partners actively exploit while developing strategies to entice Filipinos to return, and ultimately repatriate, back to their homeland.

State Development and the Performance of Tourism One of the major campaigns implemented by the DOT is attempts to portray the Philippines through the “spirit” of mabuhay. Executives operating within and around the DOT have taken to the idea of transforming the practice of mabuhay and formalizing it into a “culture of tourism,” which is being taught to local governments and even barangay leaders in cities and provinces where tourists are prominent. For instance, many hotels and restaurants might offer two separate sets of rates, one for local Filipinos and one for foreign tourists. The DOT and partnering agencies have attempted to organize training programs in the culture of tourism to encourage hotels and restaurants to provide all guests with a single standard rate.

Balikbayan Paranoia


The term mabuhay, similar to the Hawaiian expression aloha, connotes several meanings. The literal meaning of mabuhay is “long live.” While the celebratory term is occasionally used for toasts like the word “cheers,” it is more often used to welcome guests, and as such, has been adopted by the DOT to embody a larger cultural attitude towards visitors to the Philippines, not only for non-Filipinos, but for balikbayans as well. Hotel managers in the Mabuhay Manor have confronted this dilemma by reconfiguring the practice of mabuhay into a concept of bisita sa bahay, or “visit home,” to stabilize the paradox of overseas Filipino tourism. Bisita sa bahay represents the contemporary configuration of a process that began three decades prior, and has led to a tourism industry that is becoming more and more intractable from its interests in drawing balikbayans back home. When examined more deeply, one begins to see the intense complexity and ambivalently experienced cultural nuances embedded within this concept. As Ness’ quote at the beginning of this chapter carefully points out, the culture of tourism is complicated by returning balikbayans. The mabuhay-focused tourism campaign produces an important paradox: balikbayans are simultaneously made to feel like tourists and celebrated guests who are also returning to their own homeland. It seemingly counteracts balikbayan paranoia by giving balikbayans the sense that they are at once “at home” but also abroad. However, the result is quite the opposite. As “retirees,” balikbayans are paradoxically transformed into guests in their own homeland and are forced to reconcile their ambivalence towards living in a society that is rapidly changing but is, in many ways, still the same. Amidst visually stunning levels of poverty and the perceived omnipresence of everyday violence, the Philippine government has continuously sought out innovative means to “welcome” Filipinos back and actively encourages them to “visit home.” While these inequities remain vividly clear and the threat of violence continues to haunt them, the touristic performances implicit within mabuhay and bisita sa bahay work together to conceal or even dispel the risks involved with visiting and/or investing in the Philippines. The result is another glaring paradox: while a miniscule fraction of the country’s local Filipino population are capable of experiencing the world of leisure promised by the tourism industry, balikbayans—Filipinos returning to the Philippines—are welcomed to enjoy the country’s unique offerings as privileged elite. Attempts to assuage negative perceptions of traveling to the Philippines began under former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who had been confronted with the challenges of attracting foreign


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investment in the face of a bankrupt economy and the imposition of Martial Law. In order to resurrect the country’s tourism industry, Marcos established the Balikbayan Program in 1973. Because the Marcos administration, through all manners of financial mismanagement and political corruption, had built an economy that was entirely dependent on debt accumulation, it implemented the program as a secondary means of securing the immense flow of foreign aid and remittance money already being sent by Filipinos living and laboring.11 The program subsidized the visitation of Filipinos living abroad to the Philippines through a number of travel incentives and customs concessions. It was at this moment that balikbayans became integrally linked to the country's tourist economy. At first, the true value of the Program rested, not in the material financial capital drawn from individual balikbayans who returned to the Philippines, but in the performance of various state and local agents whose labor depicted the country as politically and economically stable. Like his political use of tourism, Marcos was more interested in making certain that the Philippines appeared economically viable to investors rather than addressing the inequalities that had been sparking violence throughout the country. For these reasons, it is difficult to assess the early successes of the program. According to key figures in the establishment of the program, the economic losses brought on by the program were insignificant to the political role that the program had played. Administrators overseeing the institution of the Program acknowledged its heavy burden on taxpayers, but found consolation in its ability to inspire positive public sentiment. As a fervent supporter of Marcos’ project, the Assistant Director of the DOT’s Research and Statistics Division claimed that: The government of course, has lost and is losing a rather substantial amount of revenue from the program. But the benefits derived by the country are not only from the foreign currency spent here…it is also an effective means of rebutting through actual experience the lies they have spread about this country in foreign lands.12

Anna Tsing (2005) employs the notion of an “economy of appearances” to explain how the contemporary production and accumulation of finance capital is principally based on the performance of the country’s economic potential. She uses this concept in order to move away from the assumption that national value is determined by a country’s current political or economic shape. The role performed by the economy of appearances within the DOT clearly illustrates the manner in which development schemes rely on manufacturing and regulating public perceptions as a means of attracting speculative capital that will hopefully

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transform into larger economic returns. For example, the ideology implicit within these performative techniques was made patently clear by the country’s original “Reunion for Peace” program launched in early 1977. Influenced by similar initiatives implemented by the authoritative government in South Korea to inspire favorable reviews amongst compatriots living abroad, the program specifically subsidized the return of former World War II servicemen and their families living abroad. By funneling them into nostalgic tours of old battlegrounds and memorials like those in Corregidor and Bataan, the administration hoped to present the country as an independent and democratic nation-state that was committed to peaceful reconciliation.13 By 1978 alone, nearly one million Filipinos had utilized the governmental program, and more importantly, the positive reviews of various balikbayans were successfully transmitted to Filipinos residing in North America, Europe, and Australia (Richter 60). Confronting issues of poverty, pollution, and shortages in energy, water, and housing, along with the public shame around the country’s thriving sex industry and ongoing fiscal mismanagement by the Marcos administration, subsequent presidents have been challenged by the task of propping-up tourism in the Philippines and maintaining a semblance of new prosperity. One of President Corazon Aquino’s primary tourism policy agendas was to cut the budget of the DOT and ensure that the management of its finances was focused on national development rather than perpetuating a structure that had spent exorbitant amounts of taxpayer money and shifted economic gains towards private corporations and individuals. This moment marked the country’s paradigmatic shift away from totalitarian governmental rule to one of neoliberal governmentality.14 In particular, state administrators were keenly aware of the perception created by the country’s historical complacency towards foreign sex tourism in the Philippines. State-directed policies and publicly-endorsed initiatives were focused on transforming the face of Philippine tourism by ridding the nation’s capital of the majority of its most visible sex establishments. 15 From 1991 to 1994, under the direction of Aquino and her successor Fidel Ramos, city governments led the closure of sex establishments around Manila’s Tourist Belt, particularly in Ermita and Malate. For example, the first Secretary of Tourism appointed by Aquino, Jose “Speedy” Antonio Gonzalez, quickly implemented a program that brought upper-class Japanese women to tour the Philippines and partake in its thriving import economy. Gonzalez hoped that such tours would project an image of the country as a wholesome destination rather than a major node for sex tourism (Baguioro 2002). As such, Manila’s municipal government transformed previously bustling commercial sex districts,


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spaces that were deemed integral to the urban economy of the NCR, into vibrant commercial districts that seamlessly integrated with the emerging infrastructure of malls and high-rise projects already being built throughout Metro Manila. At the same time, the sex industry did not disappear, but was relegated to those cities and districts less significant to the core economy of Manila. Concurrently, the economic role of balikbayans increasingly played an integral role within the economic plans of the Philippine tourism industry. In 2009, during a meeting between the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) and executives from the Philippine Retirement Industry (PRI), who represent the private sector, leaders discussed the significance of balikbayans in improving the tourism industry and developing the larger Philippine economy. Leaders like former-PRA chief Edgardo Aglipay who explained that the entrepreneurial vision behind the creation of a retirement industry was to “become a large organization composed of multi-sectoral members from different lines of business relating to the housing, health, and lifestyle needs of retirees in the Philippines” (Alave 2007). The PRA chief also discussed the hindrances constraining the growth of both the tourism and retirement industries in the Philippines. He stated that media reports continually portrayed the Philippines as a crime-laden, chaotic, and dirty country teeming with kidnappers. “We have a bit of a problem here, because of perception,” he explained to members of the Philippine media. These “negative impressions,” the Philippine Retirement Agency (PRA) general manager Fernando Z. Francisco agreed, “have hampered efforts to get investors and retirees to visit.” “It's the negative impression. That's our biggest concern,” Mr. Aglipay said, “in trade missions abroad, the common question is how safe is the Philippines. More often than not the doubters have never been to the country” (ibid). The unease created by fears of crime and insecurity continues to impact the tourism industry and acts as a major impediment for balikbayans returning to live in the Philippines permanently, particularly in Manila. Ironically, one of the dominant responses adopted by the Philippine administration to counter these negative perceptions and anxieties around travel in the Philippines is to exploit them.

Returning Costs Balikbayans are often convinced that their status as privileged returnees makes them targets for con artists and thieves. As such, the price that balikbayans will pay for security represents both the financial commitment

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and emotional duties that many balikbayans justify having to pay in order to return and live in the Philippines. It is one of the hidden costs that deter many Filipinos from visiting their homeland or returning to live in the Philippines permanently. Even television shows played on TFC and Philippine newspapers marketed towards Filipino Americans constantly perpetuate these fears. For instance, the Philippine News (March 1989) printed a list of “tips” for balikbayans returning to NAIA and suggested that, “in Manila, minimize advertising yourself as balikbayan. Those boxes with the balikbayan letters emblazoned on them can be your discomfort or death.” Tales of airport dangers are widespread. Upon arriving to Manila, one of my interviewees Ezmeralda, who admits she is not immune to the paranoia, remembers feeling startled when her brother jokingly passed a warning along to her for when she arrived to Manila. Having just turned the retirement age of 65, it came time for her to leave the U.S. and her adult aged children and make her way back home to the Philippines. While saying good-bye to her family members and making her way to the airport’s security gate, her brother pulled her by her shoulder and joked, “You know there are only two things that you need to watch out for Ate, dengue and dengoy.” “I slapped him when he said that,” she laughed. Periodically, the Philippines become host to outbreaks of dengue fever and subsequently tourists are advised to take precautions for it before flying back to the Philippines (Tenorio and Narito 1998). Dengoy, on the other hand, is the colloquial term for swindling. Exemplifying the characteristic fondness that Filipinos have for puns and other forms of word play, Ezmeralda’s brother was comparing the threat of dengue with the ongoing threat of local Filipinos cheating balikbayans of their money—dengoy. The balikbayan paranoia that drives Filipinos to continuously seek guarantees against criminal malfeasance, corruption, extortion, and violence has long been characteristic of the Filipino journey back to the Philippines. This intense anxiety around the possibility that poor Filipinos will “take advantage” or “harm” balikbayans, predicated by and deeply enmeshed within very old notions of class difference, has been a continuous hurdle that the Philippine state and the country’s tourism industry has been vexed by. And upon arriving to the Philippines and witnessing the ever-present security economy and its legion of security guards, poorly crafted shotguns and handguns, and guard dogs, the apparent paranoia around returning to the Philippines might appear, at first, well founded.


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Additionally, cautions like “watch out for your valuables” posted along the walls of public restrooms, or the ominous warning to “beware of pickpocketers” clearly marked throughout the city’s Metro stations, heighten the anxiety and fears of tourists and locals alike. Even flyers encouraging passengers to “call this number to report erring taxi drivers” that are handed out at taxi stands common in any thriving metropolis, signal the particular culture of fear exuded throughout the Philippines. Balikbayan paranoia is ironically perpetuated by both balikbayans and local Filipinos. While this spectre of danger is enabled by a host of media outlets in the U.S., including Filipino American newspapers, television shows and movies, it especially finds its way throughout a host of media broadcasts in the Philippines. Each day, television shows sensationalize violent events and make them appear as if they were happening everywhere and everyday around the country.16 “It’s become so bad that I never take a taxi without my husband,” Ezmeralda explained, pointing out the particularly gendered nature of these anxieties. At the moment, Ezmeralda is staying in a two-bedroom condominium that she purchased with her husband, Rosario, near Quezon City. I don’t go anywhere without him. I don’t know how any woman would make the decision to come back here and retire without their husband. I don’t trust the people here. Without my husband, they would easily take advantage of me. You hear about it all the time on the news [in the Philippines]. My brothers and sisters in the Philippines call me all the time. Yes, in the Philippines. Even they are worried about how I am here. So I wonder if this was the right choice for me to come back. But I would never do it without my husband.

She freely admits that the transition to living in the Philippines has been difficult. Still without a car, she rarely travels at night. It is a glaring compromise and stark contrast to the life she lived as a woman in California, where she would frequently take evening dance classes without her husband or occasionally venture to the casino and play blackjack with friends till early in the morning. Ezmeralda is hopeful, however, that the retirement villa in Tagaytay that she and her husband purchased will bring back some of the familiarity she lost when returning to Manila. “Before we moved here, we thought we made a good plan. Now I see it’s more difficult to start a business here than I thought. Now that I might be able to open a store here, well, we’re banking on our new home [in Tagaytay].” Even though they have another year to wait before they can move into their new residence, the allinclusive amenities, constant security, and “good neighbors” are all

Balikbayan Paranoia


elements that compelled Ezmeralda and Rosario to invest a majority of their savings into the development. “I just want to have the life we had in the States back. But we can’t go back there so we just hope we can have it here,” Ezmeralda expressed, her voice sinking beneath the weight of her uncertainty. The emotional toll precipitated by returning home is extraordinary. Filled with uncertainty, the journey home is wrought with enormous unseen costs. While difficult to capture in their entirety, these anxieties are also manifested differently, not only across the differentiated class lines of balikbayans and returning OFWs, but between Filipino men and women who are returning. What had begun for Ezmeralda as a bright new business venture, was complicated by a very real sense of anxiety and fear of failure, thus ironically instilling in her a new desire to go back; not back home in the Philippines, but back to the U.S. At first, it would appear that enabling balikbayan paranoia would be counterproductive to luring balikbayans to visit on holidays or even return to the Philippines permanently. However, intertwined with sentiments of obligation and indebtedness, the balikbayan economy maintaining and regulating the flow of goods and Filipinos to and from the Philippines is also sustained and perpetuated by a culture of anxiety and paranoia. Not only are Filipinos in the United States compelled to ensure the basic safety of their family members by giving them money to pay for the construction of huge metal gates and other security services, but balikbayans who do return easily rationalize the excess expenditures for various services and goods to ensure their safety. Balikbayans continually fear the corruption of police officers and taxi drivers, the probability of having to bribe a public servant, or even the chance that they will be kidnapped. For those who can afford it, Filipinos who are forced to, or make the choice to return will gladly pay high prices for a luxurious hotel and resort accommodations, private drivers, and/or body guards, in order to ensure their safety. At the same time, developers, private investors, and state agencies are actively exploiting these compulsions, literally banking on the paranoia and balikbayans’ desire for security. Various agencies and programs have been developed to ensure the security of balikbayans who desire to return to the Philippines and enjoy various amenities without the fear of being robbed or swindled. The DOT and partnering agencies have gone to great lengths, establishing international trade shows and ad campaigns, aimed at luring financially attractive Filipinos living abroad to invest a substantial amount of money and retire in the Philippines. Built on promises of security and world class service, selling retirement to those who are capable of affording it has, over the last ten years, become an


Chapter Two

entire industry that functions specifically to develop the larger Philippine economy. 

Notes 1

See, for example, Smith for a comprehensive discussion on how global tourism often becomes an extension of contemporary modes of imperialism and subjugation of local communities in the Global South. 2 Rafael 207. 3 Rafael 207. ct of balikbayans, see Rafael 204-228. 4 Legend Hotels International Corporation, Legend Hotels International Corporation Homepage, 2007, (accessed April 7, 2010). 5 See Connell for a discussion on the importance of malls and elite residential enclaves as a means of maintaining class division in Philippine society. 6 On the ways in which nationalism and racism create “paranoid structures,” see Burgin 22. 7 According to Williams, a “structure of feelings” is produced by the culmination of various social processes (e.g. culture, politics, historical events, attitudes, etc.) constructing one’s social environment at a particular time. 8 For a similar discussion, see Caldeira’s study on fortified enclaves and the culture of hyper-segregation within São Paulo. 9 Kundiman, a genre of traditional Filipino love songs that were characteristic of Filipino music popular during the 1940s and 50s before Original Philippine Music (OPM) became popular. 10 Filipino street vendors, or naglalakos, commonly carry bañeras, small metal pots used to store food, slung over their shoulders, often balancing the pots on each end of a long wood pole. 11 See Szanton Blanc for a discussion on the inception of the balikbayan program and its political implications for the Marcos’ presidential administration. 12 Interview conducted by Richter 193. 13 See innovative work on the intersection of Philippine tourism and U.S. military expansion through the use of touristic pilgrimages to historic sites like Corregidor and Bataan. 14 Contemporary theorists have adopted Michel Foucault’s notion of governmentality to explain the increasingly seamless convergence of market principles, specifically privatization, with State apparatuses. This merging results in governmentally legislated policies and programs, which enable individuals within the populace to act as empowered agents of capitalism and less so individuals who are accountable to civic responsibility. See Barry et. al. for a comprehensive philosophical treatment of this political moment. 15 See Tadiar for a discussion on the significance of the sex industry within the Philippine economy.

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16 A recent example appeared in a New York Times article reporting on the number of senseless murders committed by perpetrators incensed by their victim's poor karaoke rendition of Frank Sinatra's classic song “My Way.” See Onishi 2010.

Works Cited Alave, Kristine L. “Retirement Haven Scheme Hampered by Image Issue.” BusinessWorld, 22 February 2007. Baguioro, Luz. 2002. “Never Mind the Rising Crime, Let’s Go Shopping; Manila Will Pitch Brand-name Shopping in Makati to Affluent Japanese Women in Its Latest Push for the Tourist Dollar.” The Straits Times, 25 October 2002. Barry, Andrew, Thomas Osborne, and Nikolas Rose eds. Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, Neo-Liberalism, and Rationalities of Government. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1996. Burgin, Victor. “Paranoiac Space.” Visual Anthropology Review 7.2 (1991): 22-30. Caldeira, Teresa. City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Connell, John. “Beyond Manila: Walls, Malls, and Private Spaces.” Environment and Planning A 31.3 (1999): 417 – 439. Gonzalez, Vicuna Vernadette. Securing Paradise: Tourism and Militarism in Hawai’i and the Philippines. Durham: Duke University Press. 2005. Ness, Sally Ann. Where Asia Smiles: An Ethnography of Philippine Tourism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. Onishi, Norimitsu. “Sinatra Song Often Strikes Deadly Chord.” New York Times, 6 February 2010. Rafael, Vicente L. White Love and Other Events in Filipino History. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000. Richter, Linda K. The Politics of Tourism in Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989. Smith, Valene L. ed. Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989. Szanton Blanc, Cristina. “Balikbayan: A Filipino Extension of the National Imaginary and of State Boundaries.” Philippine Sociological Review 44.1-4 (1996): 178-193. Tadiar, Neferti Xina M. Fantasy Production: Sexual Economies and Other Philippine Consequences for the New World Order. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004. Tenorio Jr., Bum D., Arguelles, Dulce and Narito, Florencio P. “30,000 Balikbayans Stay Away,” Manila Standard, 24 September 1998.


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Tsing, Anna. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975. 


A total of 150,283 people reported themselves to be Thai or part Thai in the 2000 U.S. Census, 32.7 percent of whom spoke a non-English language at home and spoke English less than “very well” (Barnes and Bennett 2002 and Reeves and Bennett 2004). This study compares Thai texts produced by the U.S. Census Bureau and THAIS, Inc., a non-profit organization located in Los Angeles, CA. The study shows that, in general, the Census Bureau preferred direct translations and a formal linguistic register while THAIS, Inc. preferred indirect translations and a less formal linguistic register. The translations affected the message and the overall success of the Census in the Thai community.1

Introduction The 2000 U.S. Census showed that a total 150,283 people self-identified as Thai or part Thai. Preliminary 2010 data showed a total of 237,583 Thai, nearly a 60% increase (U.S. Census Bureau 2011). According to Martorell and Morlan (2011: 9), approximately 60,000 to 80,000 Thais live in Los Angeles (LA) County alone. Thai community leaders blame a lack of awareness about the Census for the discrepancy between their estimate and Census data. Anderson (1989), and Bates and Pan (2010), both found that this unawareness has adverse effects on population enumeration. Kaeonil (1977) found that many Thais who arrived as students and tourists in the 1960s overstayed their visas and remained in LA rather than return to Thailand. As such, some Thais refused to participate in the Census because of the nature of their legal status in the United States.


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Some of those who did participate did not know how to report themselves as Thai on the survey. To report as Thai in the 2010 survey, respondents must first check ‘Other Asian,’ then write ‘Thai’ in the space provided below. Thai is one of the printed suggestions for the ‘Other Asian’ category on the 2010 survey form. In the 2000 Census, nearly 500,000 people reported themselves as ‘Other Asian,’ but with no further specification. Thais are relatively new immigrants, and subsequently have received very little government or academic attention. Given the general lack of demographic information on the population, the Census information is very important, despite the presumed undercounting. Martorell and Morlan (2011) divided Thai migration to Southern California into three main waves: First, pioneer migration began after World War II with mostly middle-class students who arrived in increasing numbers well into the 1960s. Second, after the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 lifted racial discrimination from American immigration laws, group migration began in earnest with a slow and steady increase. Third, mass and network migration began in the 1980s, with a shift from middle-class students to low-income workers in the garment, restaurant, and agricultural sectors. The majority of new arrivals today are low-income individuals working in these three industries. They tend to live in ethnic enclaves and are highly functional monolinguals. As such, new arrivals in Los Angeles do not need to have a good command of English and may not necessarily be motivated to learn the language. The United States Census Bureau (Bureau) considers a household to be linguistically isolated if “no person 14 years old and over speaks only English and no person 14 years old and over who speaks a language other than English speaks English ‘Very well’” (Census Bureau 2002: B-32). Approximately one-third of those who self-reported as Thai in 2000 were linguistically isolated according to this definition (Reeves and Bennett 2004). Linguistically isolated communities are ‘hard to count populations’ (Bates and Pan 2010: 4). Recognizing the need to reach Thai constituents, the Bureau produced Thai language census materials for the first time during the 2010 Census. Thai was one of five new Asian languages in 2010, along with Bangladeshi, Hmong, Laotian, and Pakistani (Census Bureau 2009: 2). This study compares Thai translations of census materials that were done by the Bureau with those done by Thai Health and Information Services, Inc. (THAIS), a local non-profit organization in LA. The analysis focuses on linguistic registers and aims to examine how instructional and emblematic phrases (slogans and taglines) were translated to reach Thai residents. The following discussion begins with a

Translation Counts


short history of the U.S. Census process. The next section outlines basic theories on translation methods. English source materials are then described with analyses of the corresponding Thai translations. Lastly, a discussion follows of the outreach efforts during the 2010 Census in the Thai community with concluding remarks on how the translation process contributed to the overall success of the 2010 Census in the Thai community.

Race, Ethnicity, and Census Undercounting The United States Census Bureau conducts a mandatory nationwide census every ten years as required by Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. It was first conducted in 1790, under the auspices of George Washington’s presidency, to accurately enumerate the population to assure representation in the newly formed Congress. Today, census information continues to be used to delineate Congressional districts, as well as to provide demographic and economic information to legislators at the federal and state levels for program policy reasons and for annual allocations based on population counts. Among other things, the census questionnaire asks for race and ethnicity information. Census undercounting, however, has been a problem since the very first census and disproportionately affects non-whites and the urban poor (Steffey 1997 and Duany 1992). To account for undercounting of non-whites, the Bureau began statistical adjustments and sampling after 1940. The Bureau also sent Spanish-language instruction sheets to areas having sizeable Spanishspeaking populations for the first time in 1970; thus officially beginning their efforts to reach non-white, non-English speaking populations. Methodological issues and socio-cultural behaviors both contribute to census undercounting. Anderson (1989) reports that the Black urban poor do not see themselves as stakeholders in the census process, and often view the survey as an invasion to privacy or legally threatening in various ways. Bates and Pan (2010) found that monolingual non-English speakers shared similar attitudes as the Black urban poor interviewed by Anderson. More specifically, new-arrival Asians were particularly sensitive to the threat of privacy. Immigrant Asians also lack general knowledge and familiarity about the census process (Bates and Pan 2010: 10). One direct effect of undercounting in 2000 was estimated to be more than $3 billion dollars of lost federal funding. The State of California lost nearly one billion dollars, with LA County accounting for approximately half of that amount (U.S. Census Monitoring Board 2001: 114-121). In fact, California’s population has consistently been undercounted for


Chapter Three

census purposes since undercounting figures have been available (Steffey 1997: 7).

Translation Theory and Methods Translators have long struggled with the intricate relationship between the source language and the target language. Vinay and Darbelnet (1995) categorize translation techniques into two main types: direct and oblique. Direct translation is when each element from the source language has roughly a one-to-one correspondence in the target language. This type of translation is possible when the two languages are similar in structure and/or culture. Direct translation methods include literal translation where source language texts are translated word-for-word, as well as lexical borrowing and phrasal calques. When direct translations results in a structural or semantic gap, translators must utilize oblique methods, such as adaptation. Adaptation is used when source language content has no cultural equivalence in the target language. For example, the Thai Å®ªo [wâ:j] greeting gesture may be adapted into a bow in English, where the lower both the bow and the Å®ªo, the greater the level of respect paid.2 Translators further recognize that different types of texts require different translation strategies, depending on the intended function of the text. Morini (2008) describes the three main functions in a text as performative, interpersonal, and locative. The performative function is the least difficult to translate and is apparent in texts that inform and have certain effects on readers, such as advertisements and instruction manuals, as well as eulogies and sermons. The interpersonal function shows whether the relationship between the writer and reader is explicit or implicit. Culturally-specific aspects of language such as politeness, humor, and gravity are all part of the interpersonal function, making interpersonal functions more difficult to translate. The locative function of a text contextualizes the content in a particular time and place, usually through the use of grammatical tense, mood, or aspect. Accurately translating the locative function can be challenging, even when the languages are similar, e.g., English and French (Morini 2008). It is even more difficult when translating between English, a language that uses tense, and Thai, that uses aspect.

Linguistic Register and Social Hierarchy in Thai Registers are a learned concept, even for native speakers. Registers are variances in language that depend on the context of discourse. Speakers

Translation Counts


intuitively use language differently in different social situations such as consoling a loved one or presenting at an academic conference. Speakers acquire linguistic registers according to their needs; violating the accepted norms of the register may result in adverse social consequences. Parents, for example, coach their children to speak politely, and new military recruits learn how to speak to ranking officers according to protocols. Agha (2001) considers registers to be culture-internal and argues that language users can choose according to accepted norms, for example, black-tie events require attendees to wear formal attire. The notion of register encapsulates, among other things, levels of politeness, differences in lexical choice, and degree of formality. Thai registers are particularly complex. The hierarchical nature of Thai is a manifestation of the social stratification in the culture. Speakers must choose from a rich inventory of personal pronouns, verbs, nouns, and particles in order to “index the [interlocutors’] concern for their mutual social relationship” (Iwasaki and Horie 2000: 524). Choices are made according to both the perceived and desired relationship between the interlocutors. The various forms in Thai help speakers hedge against loss of face and convey the intended level of politeness and intimacy. For example, the verb ‘to eat’ has the polite form šµœ [t‫ހ‬a:n] that is used in formal settings and with a person of higher social status, while the casual form „·œ [kin] is used in casual settings and with someone of equal social ranking. Speakers use the ecclesiastical form Œ´œ [‫ހݺ‬ӽn] with religious figures, and the royal form Á­ª¥ [sawԥࡊ:j] with members of the royal family. The vulgar form —„ [dæҒ :k] can be used between close friends or in a derogatory way. A similar hierarchy exists for pronouns. A female speaker can refer to herself as Á¦µ [raw] to her friends, or ®œ¼ [nԃ:] to her elders, or —·Œœ´ [di‫ހݺ‬án] to colleagues and in formal settings, or …oµ¡Á‹oµ [k‫ހ‬â:p‫ހ‬a‫ݺ‬âw] to royals. Second language learners and heritage speakers have a notoriously difficult time navigating these forms, often defaulting to the formal varieties they were taught when speaking or writing. Pronouns are also optional in Thai and their over-use is an indication of disfluency. Moreover, Thai registers are adaptable as the interlocutors negotiate their relationship and the content of discussion through their interactions (Iwasaki and Horie 2000: 523).


Chapter Three

The Study The two texts analyzed in this study are the Information Questionnaire and Language Assistance Guide (Guide) and the General Fact Sheet (Fact Sheet). Single quotation marks indicate translations, such as ‘do not count’ and English back-translations done by the author. Double quotation marks indicate words and phrases that actually occur in the English source materials such as “10 Questions 10 Minutes.” SMALL CAPS signify semantic concepts such as COUNT and MUST, and not the actual words as they appear in spoken or written language. Italics mark hypothetical words and phrases created for illustrative purposes in this study that do not actually occur in any of the texts. For example, went is the past tense of GO. Longer excerpts of Thai texts can be found in the corresponding endnotes for reference. Discussions of English texts and Thai translations will be concurrent in the following sections.

The Translation Process The Bureau and THAIS both had a multi-step translation process. It is important to note that the Bureau’s translations were made and tested for Thais throughout the United States, while THAIS’ translations were intended for Thai individuals and families in Los Angeles whom they serve. Additionally, the Bureau’s process spanned over a one year period, involved numerous paid translators, and had multiple stages of message testing (Pan and de la Puente 2005, Pan et al. 2007, and Pan et al. 2009). The translation process at THAIS generally took place over several days, and involved, at most, five volunteers. In their official guide for the Bureau, Pan and de la Puente (2005) listed two main approaches to questionnaire translation: direct translation and adaptation. Pan and de la Puente also suggested a translation team that included subject matter specialists, questionnaire design, program managers, as well as translators and reviewers. The translation should, furthermore, have three levels: word level, sentence level, and discourse level. At the base word level translators should focus on synonyms that may have different connotations to avoid coining new words. At the second sentence level translators should follow all grammatical rules governing tense, aspect, mood, and word-order. Lastly, translators must pay attention to the nuances of text styles and registers in the discourse level in order to impart the proper tone and ensure cultural appropriateness (Pan and de la Puente 2005: attachment A).

Translation Counts


THAIS also has a multi-step, team translation process.3 First, a team of first and second generation Thais separately translated the original English text. Second generation translators often utilized a computer-aided program, such as Google Translator or other similar software. Other center volunteers then had the opportunity to comment on the translations. Next, a first and a 1.5 generation Thai speaker cooperatively translated the original English text, incorporating different aspects of the translations made during the first step and taking all feedback into account. Lastly, the center director proofread the translation to ensure grammatical accuracy and desired level of fluency. According to Danny Dechartivong, the executive assistant to the director, the translation goal at THAIS was to communicate using simple words and avoid governmental jargon to best serve their constituents (personal interview October 13, 2011).

The Questionnaire Informational Guide The Questionnaire Informational Guide (Guide) is a six-page, doublesided document and the Thai Guide is a two-page, double-sided document. The Guide mostly contains imperatives that indicate who is to be counted for any household and how to complete the survey. Current analysis of the Guide is on the translation of positive and negative imperatives and the modal verb MUST within the explanation box, and not on the survey portion of the Guide. In the explanation box, darkened in gray for the Thai translation, there are seven instances of imperatives and two instances of the modal verb MUST.


Chapter Three

Figure 1. The first page of the English Questionnaire Information Guide.

Translation Counts

Figure 2. The first page of the Thai Questionnaire Information Guide.



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Figure 3. Enlarged image of the explanation box in the English Questionnaire Information Guide.

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Figure 4. Enlarged image of the explanation box in the Thai Questionnaire Information Guide.


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The Bureau translators preferred to translate the imperatives word-forword. English imperatives have no grammatical markers and use bare verbs. Thai imperatives are also bare verbs, but they are almost always accompanied by politeness markers. Given the two similar imperative structures (bare verbs), yet different register conventions, the translations of imperatives may offer insights into both the translation process and the translators of a text. The Bureau directly translated positive English imperatives into positive Thai imperatives, so that START is Á¦·É ¤ [rԥࡂ:m], USE is čo [‫ݺ‬ái], and count is œ´ [náp]. INCLUDE as in, ‘The Census must also include,’ became the highly formal ‡¦°‡¨»¤ [k‫ހ‬r‫ࡂܧ‬:pk‫ހ‬lum]. LEAVE as in, “Leave these people off your form,” was translated into Ťn˜°o Š„¦°„ [mâj t‫ܧ‬ғƾ kr‫ܧ‬Ғ:k] or ‘do not fill in (the information)’ because there is no semantic one-to-one correspondence in Thai. There are no accompanying pragmatic markers in the original text, thus, there are none in the Thai translation, resulting in a text that seems official and impersonal. The Guide also contains negations that precede the imperatives such as ‘do not count’. DO NOT is translated as ®oµ¤ [hâ:m] as in ®oµ¤œ´ [hâ:m náp] for ‘do not count.’ When used with another verb, ®oµ¤ [hâ:m] means ‘X is prohibited or forbidden’ as in ®o µ¤Á…o µ [hâ:m kҦâw] for ‘Do not enter.’ The written form of this particular prohibitive is formal with a grave tone and the form implies consequences for action taken. The original English text has neither the implied consequences nor the gravity of the Thai message. Overall, Bureau translators preferred direct translations and formal register when translating imperatives. When one-to-one correspondence was not possible, the translators translated the English word into a more straightforward and simplified phrase in Thai. THAIS translators preferred adaptation and a less formal register. The main difference between the Bureau’s and THAIS’ translations was how they negate the English imperatives. As opposed to the ®oµ¤ [hâ:m] chosen above, THAIS translators adapted DO NOT into Ťn˜°o Š [mâj t‫ܧ‬ғƾ] ‘It is not necessary to X’ or ‘X is not necessary’ where X is an action. For example, Ťn˜°o Šœ´ [mâj t‫ܧ‬ғƾ náp], ‘it’s not necessary to count.’ THAIS translators also favored indirect grammatical structure. The indirect structure employed by THAIS may be more effective because the more indirect the statement in Thai, the more polite the statement becomes. Additionally, indirectness in Thai loosely corresponds with the level of education so that educated Thais use more indirectness in their speech (Srinarawat 2005). THAIS translators achieved formal performative and interpersonal function by

Translation Counts


using indirect structure and simple vocabulary, whereas the Bureau used advance vocabulary and simple construction. The THAIS translation also thematically used œ´ [náp] or ‘count’ for both COUNT and INCLUDE while the Bureau used different forms, œ´ [náp] and ‡¦°‡¨»¤ [k‫ހ‬r‫ࡂܧ‬:pk‫ހ‬lum], respectively. COUNT also appeared in the sentence ‘leave these people off your form.’ The translation by THAIS changed the positive imperative ‘leave’ as in ‘leave these people off your form’ to the negative imperative DO NOT COUNT. The translation reads ‘Do not count these people….’ By repeatedly using COUNT within the translation, the THAIS text maintained a sense of semantic and structural continuity that echoed the original, despite having made several adaptive changes in their translation. The Bureau and THAIS translated the modal verb MUST in the same way. A direct translation of MUST is possible as it is a grammatical category in both Thai and English. Both the Bureau and THAIS translated MUST as ˜o°Š [t‫ࡂܧ‬ƾ] as in ˜o°Š‡¦°‡¨»¤ [t‫ࡂܧ‬ƾ k‫ހ‬r‫ࡂܧ‬:pk‫ހ‬lum] for ‘must include’ and ˜o°Šœ´ [t‫ࡂܧ‬ƾ náp] for ‘must count,’ respectively. THE CENSUS was translated quite differently by the Bureau and THAIS. The Bureau used …o°¤¼¨­Îµ¤³Ãœž¦³µ„¦ [k‫ܧހ‬ғ:mu:n sӽmmano: pra‫ހݺ‬a:k‫ܧ‬:n] or ‘the Census information.’ THE CENSUS in English can be interpreted to mean the physical survey form, the process of collecting information, or the Census Bureau itself. THAIS adapted the Census Bureau into „¦¤¦µ¥Šµœ­™·˜· [krom ra:jƾa:n sat‫ހ‬itì] or ‘the Bureau of Statistics,’ conceptually combining the American and Thai census structure, although such an organization does not exist. In Thailand, the National Statistics Office or ­Îµœ´„Šµœ­™·˜·Â®nŠµ˜· [sӽmnákƾa:n sat‫ހ‬itì hæҒ ƾ‫ހݺ‬â:t] is responsible for conducting the Thai Census and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, while the United States Census Bureau is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce.4 In summary, the Bureau preferred direct translation and a formal register to produce the combined effects of high register lexical items and concise prose. The translation has the locative function of conveying the seriousness and significance of the census process from the top-down. The THAIS translations tried to achieve the opposite. The tone of the text is polite, yet familiar, using colloquial construction and simple lexical items to avoid jargon, which resulted in a bottom-up locative function.


Chapter Three

General Fact Sheet

Figure 5. The front page of the English General Fact Sheet.

Translation Counts

Figure 6. The back page of the Thai General Fact Sheet.



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The Fact Sheet is a two-sided, single sheet brochure. The “10 Questions 10 Minutes” slogan and the tagline “To define who we are as a nation” are prominently situated as the header. At the bottom on the page, a small thumbnail of the survey accompanies the slogan “We move forward when you send it back.” The Bureau’s 2010 hand logo is located at the bottom right of the page, next to the page footer with the Bureau’s website information. The following analysis of the Fact Sheet focuses on the taglines and slogans. The Bureau began testing Thai language materials in 2009 for the 2010 campaign, following the five steps recommended by Pan and de la Puente. The campaign emphasized the simplicity and shortness of the survey with the tagline “10 Questions 10 Minutes” as well as the need for cooperation and participation, “It’s in Our Hands.” An additional tagline “We move forward when you send it back” encourages the respondents to return the completed surveys. The success of the campaign depends on its ability to reach as many people as possible while successfully communicating the desired messages. To ensure this, the Bureau conducted attitudinal research on their messages throughout the development period as deemed necessary (Pan et al. 2009).

Figure 7. Page header for the English General Fact Sheet shows symmetry in the message of “10 minutes, 10 questions” and the inclusive tagline of “To define who we are as a nation.”

The taglines’ performative functions are to inform and encourage. The interpersonal function is informal and direct. The Bureau is addressing the respondents, asking them to take ten minutes to answer ten questions. The messages also have the first person plural forms WE and OUR to convey a sense of cooperation and inclusivity. The use of the present tense locates the 2010 Census in the immediate present, giving the message a sense of urgency. The Bureau designed these messages to have the precise

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performative, interpersonal, and locative functions illustrated above (Census Bureau 2009). Two of the taglines are metaphorical and open to multiple interpretations. “It’s in Our Hands” conveys a sense of responsibility, although what IT is remains open to interpretation. This slogan is further enhanced by the use of an image of a hand throughout the 2010 campaign, which signifies cooperation. The second tagline relies on metaphors to signify progress and improvements, in addition to the word play between ‘forward’ and ‘back.’ The “10 Minutes 10 Questions” slogan was designed to be simple and symmetric. The Bureau used several indirect and necessarily adaptive translation methods to accommodate the metaphoric slogans and taglines. There are no possible one-to-one correspondences that would be grammatical and culturally appropriate according to the Bureau’s own guideline.

Figure 8. Page header for the Thai General Fact Sheet emphasizes the “400 billion dollars every year” and the non-inclusive use of “your” in the translated tagline “Answer 10 questions in 10 minutes to help your community.”

Census message testing at the end of 2009 showed that Thai participants “remained a bit confused and overwhelmed by what was perceived to be complicated information” (Census Bureau 2009: 7). Additionally, Thai participants had limited prior knowledge of the census and would benefit from simple facts like what the census is all about, who would benefit from it, and how individuals should complete the form. The tagline “Success is in our hands” was not well understood by the participants and needed more context in order to be effective.5 Finally, “an enhanced understanding of the Census and its benefits would serve to better engage this group and increase their positive predisposition [towards the Census]” (Census Bureau 2009: 7). The short slogan “10 Questions 10 Minutes” (To define who we are) was expanded after the second message testing and became ‘Help your community receive part of the 400 billion dollars every year’ and ‘Answer 10 questions in 10 minutes to help your community’.6 The main semantic structure of the slogan remained, although the translation contains a lot


Chapter Three

more information. Aesthetically, the header emphasized the ‘400 billion dollars every year,’ instead of the “10 Questions 10 Minutes” message emphasized in the original text. The translators also used ‡»– [k‫ހ‬un] for ‘you’ as in …°Š‡»– [k‫ࡊܧހ‬:ƾ k‫ހ‬un] ‘your,’ which is formal, but not overly so. The last tagline, “To define who we are” does not appear in any of the Thai materials. Instead, the Thai translation has ‘Answer 10 questions in 10 minutes to help your community.’7

Figure 9. Official logo and slogan for the 2010 Census with the hand imagery and tagline “It’s in our hands.”

The most significant difference between the English and the Thai texts here is the use of YOUR instead of OUR found in other messages from the

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Census. Contrast this with the translation of “It’s in our hands” that became ‘The future depends on us.’8 The inclusive implication here is absent in the first message and has a different interpersonal function from the original message. The Thai translation also removes the open interpretation of the English expletive IT. In the simplified and normalized text, “It” now equals “the future” and is devoid of metaphor. There is no hand imagery on the Thai Fact Sheet.

Figure 10. Official logo in Thai for the 2010 Census with the tagline “The future depends on us.”

The hand imagery does appear on documents designed for partner organizations, along with a direct translation of the tagline “It’s in Our Hands.” The two documents directly address community leaders and advocates, providing information from a leadership perspective and outlining


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ways they can help increase awareness and participation in the 2010 Census. Although the hand slogan and imagery did not test well with the general Thai public, its use with the Thai partner organizations was appropriate since the Census partners presumably understood the cultural context of both the metaphor and the imagery.

Figure 11. English tag line for the 2010 Census contains metaphoric use of “forward” and a contrastive wordplay “back”.

Figure 12. Thai translation of the tagline “We move forward when you send it back” translate as “Please send back the Census survey today.”

The “We move forward when you send it back” tagline became a plea for cooperation in the Thai Fact Sheet, being translated as ‘Please send back the Census survey today.’9 Different translations of the phrase appear

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on various brochures in an expanded form, but maintain the same core meaning.10 For example, it appears in the Confidentiality Flier as ‘Please send your Census survey back to us today.”11 Note the addition of “your” and “us,” which gives the text a less formal interpersonal function to instill confidence and maintain the original performative function. In both instances the translation fails to remain as a tagline and is simply a reoccurring message in the campaign. By producing content-centered translations and abandoning the form and effect of the taglines, the Bureau translators actually changed the performative and interpersonal functions of the original message. THAIS used both direct and indirect translations for the slogans. The tagline “It’s in Our Hands” was translated directly as °¥¼Än œ¤º°Á¦µ or ‘It’s in our hands.’ This translation is the only instance of direct translation done by THAIS. Elsewhere, the translators preferred adapting the English text into cohesive phrases complete with pragmatic markers to indicate a professional, yet less formal register. The “10 Questions 10 Minutes” slogan, for example, became ‘The survey has short questions that don’t take a lot of time to complete and send back by mail.’ The message seems to assume a lower Census knowledge base, as noted by the Bureau in their study.

Use of Translated Materials in the Thai Community The Bureau disseminated outreach materials starting in January 2010, although community awareness campaigns began in December 2009. In the LA Thai community, there were four main stakeholders: The Bureau, the Royal Thai Consulate of Los Angeles (Consulate); The Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC); and the Thai Association of Southern California (TASC). The Thai Complete Count Committee (CCC), while an integral part of the 2010 campaign, was not an organization, but was a group of community advocates. The CCC was a way for them to meet and strategize about the Census. THAIS, Inc. was not a main stakeholder, despite their active role during the Census campaign. They remained in the peripheries throughout the process, neither actively nor consistently cooperating with the other organizations. This pattern was true for all stakeholders during the 2010 campaign. All four main stakeholders separately produced various Thai texts in multiple formats to supplement the available materials from the Bureau, but generally did not share them with other community organizations. Each organization prominently placed their logos and information on all Census materials that they produced, discouraging their use by other


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groups. As such, there were multiple translations of Census materials circulating in the Thai community throughout the 2010 campaign. The Thai CDC reports that “the printed materials designed by the Census Bureau were not effective…and sometimes even not culturally and linguistically appropriate [and] were printed in an inappropriate Thai layout, which made the whole content meaningless in Thai.” The report concludes that the Thai materials produced by the Census were a waste (Thai CDC 2010). Danny Dechartivong, executive assistant to the director of THAIS, Inc., had similar observations. Like the Thai CDC, THAIS also deemed materials produced by the Bureau ineffective and inaccessible for their audience. The Consulate produced outreach materials and, in collaboration with the Thai CDC, a video public service announcement featuring the Thai Consul General, Damrong Kraikruan. The team translation process in the Thai community proved to be empowering, giving the volunteers a sense of ownership in the process, especially when they saw the end products put to use during the outreach efforts. The community translations also gave authenticity to materials that would not normally be well-received in the community because the message was from a community member and not from an outsider. In other words, the community translation was without official jargon or formality. In their final report on the Census project, the Thai CDC recommended that informational and outreach materials be produced by the community. Ultimately, “who would understand us better than the people from our very own community?” (Thai CDC 2010:16). This is certainly true for translations done by THAIS. For TASC, the translation process involved online exchanges between first and second generation Thais, indirectly facilitating intergenerational language and cultural preservation in the process. The translation discourse was lively, with both sides contributing equally. The different communicative needs of the two generations of Thai language users became more evident during these interactions and may help future TASC outreach efforts.

Conclusion The availability of Thai texts in the 2010 Census signaled the official arrival of Thais into immigrant discourse in the United States. This study compares the translation practices and resulting Thai materials produced by the United States Census Bureau and those by a local non-profit organization in Los Angeles, the Thai Health and Information Services, Inc. (THAIS). For the 2010 Census, the Bureau produced flyers, pamphlets, and posters aimed at the Thai community. THAIS produced

Translation Counts


pamphlets and information flyers aimed at their constituents who were mostly monolingual women and the elderly. The study found that, overall, the Bureau utilized direct translation methods, preferring a near word-for-word translation and expectedly used official vocabulary. In most cases, the sentence structures remained concise and simple, but the vocabulary was formal. The materials produced by the Bureau, albeit grammatical, were inaccessible and offputting, so much so that Thai organizations in LA did not use them in their outreach efforts in the community. In contrast, THAIS preferred indirect or oblique translation methods, utilizing paraphrasing techniques and more colloquial vocabulary. Translators at THAIS used structural indirectness as a way to maintain simple vocabulary while achieving a formal register. The organization and other local stakeholders, such as the Consulate and the Thai CDC, produced their own Thai language materials to better reach their constituents. Translating the Census materials contributes to a sense of agency and ownership in the Thai community as each organization created their own unique interpretation of the message that aimed directly at their immediate constituents. In doing so, the message of the Census was more likely to reach parts of the Thai community that could not otherwise be reached by the Bureau alone. The translation process also provides an indirect platform for intergenerational language maintenance between first generation and second generation Thais, highlighting the different linguistic needs of each group. The continued success of the Census and of the Thai community depends on these community-centered translation activities.

Notes 1

Utmost gratitude goes to Thai community leaders in LA (Khun Namphet, Khun Nongyao, and Khun Chancee) without whose time, generosity, and assistance this study would not have been possible. Also, thank you to Dr. Lucia Aranda for her gracious advice and guidance. 2 The Å®ªo [wa۱:j] gesture is a greeting that consists of a slight bow with both palms pressed together and elbows kept in against the body, where the height of the bow and the hand position in relation to the body indicates the level of respect being shown. For example, to show respect, the hands would be positioned in front the face with the thumbs approximately at nose level and given with a bow (male) or curtsy (female), the recipient of the gesture would answer with the hands at the chest level with a slight nod of the head but with no bow or curtsy.


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The author served as a volunteer translator for THAIS, Inc. from December 2009 – April 2010. The translation process described is from the author’s experience and observations as one of the primary translators at THAIS, Inc. during this period. 4 NSO website and U.S. Census Bureau website

5 Message testing was done before the tagline was changed to its final version, “It’s in Our Hands.” 6 nª¥Ä®o»¤œ…°Š‡»–Å—o¦´ ÁŠ·œžœ´ ­nªœ‹µ„ 400 ¡´œ¨oµœ—°¨¨µ¦rš»„ž¸ ˜°‡Îµ™µ¤ 10 ‡Îµ™µ¤£µ¥Äœ 10 œµš¸š‹É¸ ³nª¥»¤œ…°Š‡»– 7 ˜°‡Îµ™µ¤ 10 ‡Îµ™µ¤£µ¥Äœ 10 œµš¸š‹É¸ ³nª¥»¤œ…°Š‡»– 8 °œµ‡˜…¹œÊ °¥¼„n ´ Á¦µ ‘The future is up to us’ 9 „¦»–µ­nŠ‡ºœÂ¢°¦r¤…°Š„µ¦­Îµ¦ª‹­Îµ¤³Ãœž¦³µ„¦Äœª´œœ¸Ê 10 ‡»–nª¥»¤œ…°Š‡»–Å—oÁ¤ºÉ°‡»–˜°Â¢°¦r¤„µ¦­Îµ¦ª‹­Îµ¤³Ãœž¦³µ„¦ž¸ 2010 ¨³­nŠ„¨´¤µ ‘You can help your community by completing the 2010 Census survey and sending it back.’ 11 „¦»–µ­nŠÂ¢°¦r¤„µ¦­Îµ¦ª‹­Îµ¤³Ãœž¦³µ„¦…°Š‡»–„¨´¤µ™¹ŠÁ¦µª´œœ¸Ê

Works Cited Agha, Asif. “Register.” Key Terms in Language and Culture. Ed. Alessandro Duranti. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2001. 212-215. Anderson, Elijah. “Toward the Social Meaning of the Census to the Inner City Poor: Considerations for the Census Undercount.” Paper prepared for the U.S. Census Bureau May 14, 1989. Barnes, Jessica S., and Claudette E. Bennett. The Asian Population: 2000, Census 2000 Brief. Web. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 2002. Bates, Nancy, and Yuling Pan. “Motivating Non-English-Speaking Populations for Census and Survey Participation.” Statistical Research Division Study Series: Survey Methodology 2010-08. Web. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 . Dechartivong, Danny. Personal interviews. October 13, 2011 and January 30, 2012. Duany, Jorge. “The Census Undercount, the Underground Economy and Undocumented Migration: The Case of Dominicans in Santurce, Puerto Rico.” Ethnographic Evaluation of the 1990 Decennial Census Report #17. Web. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 1992. Preeya Ingkaphirom, and Shoichi Iwasaki. “Register and Pragmatic Particles in Thai Conversation.” Fourth International Symposium on Language and Linguistics. Ed. In Thongdee. Nakhon Pathom, Thailand: Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, 1996: 1197-1205.

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Iwasaki, Shoichi, and Preeya Ingkaphirom Horie. “Creating Speech Register in Thai Conversation.” Language in Society 29 (2000): 519554. Kaeonil, Narong. “The Thai Community in Los Angeles: an Attitudinal Study of Its Socio-economic Structure.” Unpublished dissertation: United States International University, 1977. Martorell, Chanchanit, and Beatrice “Tippe” Morlan. Thais in Los Angeles, Images of America Series. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011. Morini, Massimiliano. “Outlining a New Linguistic Theory of Translation.” Target 20.1 (2008): 29-51. Pan, Yuling, and Manuel de la Puente. “Census Bureau Guideline for the Translation of Data Collection Instruments and Supporting Materials: Documentation on How the Guideline Was Developed” Research Report Series: Survey Methodology, 2005-6. Web. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 2005. Pan, Yuling, Brian Kleiner, and Jerelyn Bouic. “The Impact of Instructions on Survey Translation: An Experimental Study.” Research Report Series: Survey Methodology, 2007-18. Web. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 2007. Pan, Yuling, M. Mandy Sha, Hyunjoo Park, and Alisú Schoua-Glusberg. “2010 Census Language Program: Pretesting of Census 2010 Questionnaire in Five Languages.” Research Report Series: Survey Methodology, 2009-1. Web. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009. Reeves, Terrance J., and Claudette E. Bennett. We the People: Asians in the United States, Census 2000 Special Reports. Web. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 2004. Srinarawat, Deeyu. “Indirectness as a Politeness Strategy of Thai Speakers.” Eds. Robin T. Lakoff and Sachiko Ide. Broadening the Horizon of Linguistic Politeness. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2005: 175-193. Steffey, Duane L. A Review of the Census Undercount Issue. Faculty Fellows Program, Center for California Studies, California State University, 1997. Thai Community Development Center. Thai Community of Southern California FACT SHEET. Unpublished Manuscript, 2004. United States Census Bureau. Summary File 3: 2000 Census of Population and Housing, Technical Documentation. Web. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 2002. —. C2PO 2010 Census Integrated Communications Research Memoranda Series, 15. Web. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009.


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—. QT-P8 Race reporting for the Asian Population by Selected Categories: 2010, 2010 Census Summary File 1. Web. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 2011. United States Census Bureau, Monitoring Board. Final Report to Congress. Web. Suitland, MD: U.S. Census Monitoring Board Presidential Members, 2001. Vinay, Jean-Paul and Jean Darbelnet. “A Methodology for Translation.” Trans. Juan c. Sager and M.-J. Hamel. The Translated Studies Readers. Ed. Lawrence Venuti. New York: Routledge, 2000: 84-93. Vongvipanond, Peansiri. “Linguistic Perspective of Thai Culture.” Presented at the Workshop for Social Scientists. New Orleans, Louisiana, Summer 1994.



In the detached garage behind a suburban house in Orange County, groups of Vietnamese gather on weekends to “serve the spirits” of imperial generals, mandarins, ladies of the court, highland princesses and playful children. Kneeling in front of a mirror, a spirit medium watches her face transform into that of a fierce warrior, a coquettish dancer, or a spoiled prince addicted to opium. Once she knows which spirit has descended upon her, she signals with a hand gesture to her attendants, dresses in the appropriate costume, and rises to feel her body shaking and her hands and arms moving in unfamiliar ways. Raising a sword or a lance, twirling scarves to choke her neck or entice a lover, she watches her hands and feet trace the characteristic gestures of a figure from Vietnamese history and legend. For two to four hours or more, she will incarnate two dozen spirits, offer gifts and blessings to her audience, and dance with both dignity and abandon. The last spirit is always that of the child prince, prone to tantrums and pratfalls, who impishly bows at the end of the ceremony as she collapses, both exhausted and energized, onto mats spread in front of the elaborate altar. This chapter draws on recent fieldwork among Vietnamese Americans in California to ask what is really represented by the mirror that a spirit medium gazes into, and why that mirror is also a required object on all altars to “the mother goddesses,” whose worship has had a great resurgence in diasporic communities in California, as well as in the homeland. Many excellent ethnographic studies have examined spirit possession and the mother goddess cult in Vietnam and in overseas communities (Endres 2011, Fjelstad and Nguyen 2006, 2011, Norton 2008, Pham Quynh Phuong 2009), but none so far have focused on the significance of the mirror in these rituals. By looking at the role of a

The Spirits You See in the Mirror


material object, I hope to draw attention to religious ways of mediating displacement and re-forming an identity based on the reflected glory of the imperial past.

Figure 1. A spirit medium in front of the mirror on an altar in Huntington Beach. (Courtesy of Janet Hoskins 2010).

Mirrors are of great significance in psychological theories of identity formation (from Freud to Lacan); in post-colonial studies notions of “mimicry” (Homi Bhaba, Michael Taussig); in ritual theories (from Aristotle onwards) that oppose mimesis (imitation) to diegesis (narrative); and also in our daily lives and in routines of personal hygiene. When I asked participants in these rituals what role the mirror played in spirit possession, I got a wide range of answers, from those who said “goddesses


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like mirrors just as you do, to look into,” to those who thought of the mirrors as representations for new levels of self-knowledge, selfconsciousness, or even the primeval void. I probe the significance of the mirror in a particular ritual context, and also in relation to wider questions about how rituals may serve to alter notions of identity, to imbue particular persons with a sense of connectedness to ancestral predecessors, and to reinforce ethnic identity in the context of displacement, marginalization and exile. Mirrors are placed on virtually every Vietnamese altar dedicated to a mother goddess, and may take the place of photographs of ancestors, tablets with Chinese characters, or statues in certain cases. The question of what is really reflected in the mirror (e.g., the person making an offering or “serving” the spirits, the invisible essence of the goddess herself, or the process of transformation) will be the central one explored through case studies of a number of different mediums, in both Vietnam and California, with whom I spoke over the past year. Three themes will be developed: (1) the mirror as an emblem of displacement, and the fact that spirit possession is a modality of religious experience in which one’s body is the carrier of a sacred geography made present through the possession itself (2) the relation of mirrors to ethnic fluidity, and in particular to distinguishing Vietnamese spirits from Chinese ones, “black” goddesses from white ones, and “Asian” spirits from newly racialized alternatives in the California context (3) the relation of mirrors to gender identity, expressed through forms of cross dressing, which also cross borders of age, class and nationality

Spirit Possession as a Religion of Displacement: “Vietnam was dancing inside my body” Half of the crowded one bedroom apartment of a relatively young male medium in Huntington Beach was devoted to his altar to the seventh princess (co loc), a goddess dressed in green who dances with especially rhythmic and vigorous swinging steps. He explained the reasons for his devotion to her this way: When I first came here, I was very lonely and missed my home. Everything was different and hard. Even the Vietnamese community was different from what I knew back at home. People were busy with other

The Spirits You See in the Mirror


things; they didn’t have time to talk. Everyone was working two or three jobs to get ahead. So I felt very isolated. Then I started going to ceremonies and serving the spirits. I did not do this in Vietnam, but my grandmother did. When the music began and I started to shake with its rhythm, I felt that Vietnam was dancing inside my body, that the spirits were speaking to me and helping me to move through my day even when there was no ceremony. I felt that the ancestors I prayed to when I burned incense had become real for me again.

Figure 2. “Vietnam was dancing inside me” Orange County medium. (Courtesy of Janet Hoskins 2010).

This form of ritual practice is especially favored by those who have been displaced and dispossessed, since it forges connections through visual and bodily practices, rather than through doctrine or discipline. It is both empowering and liberating, a new way to affirm one’s national origin and actualize its potency in a transnational space. The religious historian Jonathan Z. Smith argues that spirit possession is a survival strategy developed by religious practitioners who suffered displacement, since it allows the deities of their lands of origins to move into the bodies of their disciples, and does not require that they actually return to the cult house of origins (Smith 1993). The body of the possessed


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person becomes a new sacred space, the “seat” on which the spirits come to sit, and the platform through which they can come to teach. Spirit possession cults are famously developed among the displaced, for example, the African slaves who formed Vodou, Candomble and Santeria (Brown 2001; Matory 2009), the rural to urban migrants of the West African Hauka cult (Rouch 2005; Stoller 1995), Sudanese zar (Boddy 1988, 1994), and Northern Thai villagers crowding into Chiang Mai (Morris 2000). Jonathan Z. Smith avers, For the native religionist, homeplace, the place to which one belongs, was the central religious category. One’s self-definition, one’s reality was the place into which one had been born—understood as both geographical and social place. To the new immigrant in the diaspora, nostalgia for homeplace and cultic substitutes for the old, sacred center were central religious values…. Diasporic religion, in contrast to native, locative religion, was utopian in the strictest sense of the word, a religion of “nowhere,” of transcendence. (1993: xiv, emphasis in original)

Smith’s account of religion of Late Antiquity posits: “Rather than a god who dwelt in his temple or would regularly manifest himself in a cult house, the diaspora evolved complicated techniques for achieving visions, epiphanies or heavenly journeys. That is to say, they evolved modes of access to the deity which transcended any particular place” (1993: xiv). Moving the locus of religious meaning from a sacred space to the body of the practitioner is one way to achieve this transformation. For those living far from their homeland, it is necessary to create new sacred spaces, and also to acknowledge that these are only “shadows” or “reflections” of the original spaces once inhabited by the ancestors. The Vietnamese practice of spirit possession may have developed as a response to dispersion, the dispersion of rural villagers as they moved into urban centers, the dispersion of northerners who traveled to the south of Vietnam in the 1930s seeking economic opportunity, or in the 1950s fleeing the communist take-over in Hanoi. The earliest descriptions we have are from urban practices, despite the fact that many of the most important temples are in isolated rural areas. The idea of pilgrimage and of the enhanced efficacy of a distant temple seems to be a long established principle, as evidenced by the Vietnamese proverb: “The statues in the local temple are not efficacious.” Only statues in faraway temples will really reward your wishes. My experiences doing fieldwork during the summer of 2010 were that my research assistant and I would travel many hours on winding roads to go to a temple high in the mountains or in a remote area, only to discover other minivans and even video crews. We witnessed many elaborate ceremonies performed by

The Spirits You See in the Mirror


people from Hanoi or Saigon. These rituals were performed by urban people seeking out their rural roots, people living far from the land, asking the goddesses of heaven, earth, water and mountains to bless them so that they could be more prosperous in city-bound enterprises. What Jonathan Z. Smith calls “native” or “locative” religion could also be termed “indigenous religion,” since the most basic definition of an indigenous religion is one that is practiced in the land where it originated. In this sense, there is an implicit contradiction in terms of talking about “indigenous religions in the diaspora,” since if these rituals are practiced overseas, then the religion is no longer purely “indigenous”—even if the ritual practitioners are themselves displaced from their homeland and are evoking the spirits specifically to obtain guidance from their ancestors in a new world. The mirror is a marker of absence, it holds an image which appears only fleetingly and then disappears, an image of displacement—a thing seen in one place and then suddenly visible in another. The testimony of California mediums reflects on this theme as recognition of cultural identity through bodily movement.

Transoceanic Ritual Practices: Spirits That Cross the Seas Ĉҥo Mүu, “the way of the Mother Goddess,” became a transpacific religion after the Fall of Saigon in 1975, at the end of the Vietnamese war. Its traditions and spirits crossed an ocean, much as Matory argues the Vodou or Candomble “Black Atlantic Religions” had done centuries before. The devotees or disciples of transoceanic religions have “understood themselves as the simultaneous inhabitants of multiple nations, some territorial and some transoceanic” (Matory 2009: 232). In terms more faithful to their own ontology, “they have understood that beings of multiple nations inhabit the worshipper and that adequate communication with both the distant heartlands… and the host nation of America is a precondition for the worshipper’s health, good fortune and personal integrity” (Matory 2009: 232). For centuries, the Chinese spread their gods through imperial conquest of neighboring lands, and for roughly a thousand years they had dominion over Vietnam, conquering the once great Hindu empire of the Cham people. About 200 years ago, the Vietnamese began a march southward that eventually pushed Khmer kingdoms in the south aside, absorbing their gods into an imperial cosmology that blended Chinese characteristics with a more diverse pantheon of spirits associated with the ethnic minorities of the mountains and forests. The Ĉҥo Mүu pantheon represents this history


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as a series of statues on an altar in which the three great mother goddesses sit highest, usually hidden behind veils, with rows of generals, mandarins and princes in front of them, and side altars dedicated to the spirits of local rivers, hills and rock formations. Religions, as Matory notes, are “among the most widespread and institutionalized ways in which people employ the images and reality of faraway places and times as models of underlying ideas, or super-powered realities” (2009: 238). The spirit possession religions of the African diaspora have been re-conceptualized not as “African survivals” (a retention of cultural traits), but as practices that have emerged in the context of transnational flows. Yet “these religions of the translocal self” have also proved highly useful in the projects of territorial nationalists— native folklorists, anthropologists, and others who have framed them as “indigenous traditions.” In Vietnam, as in Brazil, Cuba and Haiti, intellectuals and cosmopolitans have defended these “folk traditions,” and argued that they should be respected by a once contemptuous Marxist state. One surprising element in a remote, but symbolically important temple, was a photograph of a scholarly conference. I could recognize anthropologists Laurel Kendall and Marjorie Balzer, who have studied shamanism in post-socialist Mongolia, meeting with Vietnamese scholars seeking to “legalize” spirit possession. International conferences validated the practice of spirit possession as a legitimate expression of “the original matriarchal Vietnamese culture,” and of egalitarian origins sacred to Marxist evolutionary theory. Diasporic religion is not an atavistic “survival,” but a form that needs to be enacted by currently embattled communities in order to fill their needs in new locations. The selective reproduction and transformation of Vietnamese cultural dispositions in Vietnamese California communities allows old gods and goddesses to be refashioned to serve new purposes. Homeland, then, is not only a physical location, but is also a concept and a desire—a place to return to through the imagination—a simultaneous doubling of psychic space wherein one can live in the body and elsewhere in mind/imagination. Ritual is performed in order to collapse these spaces into one and thus transport distant homeland into the body that is located in California.

Spirit Possession as a “Resistant Identity” with the Efficacy of Ethnicity Sitting here, in front of the altar filled with fruit and flowers, is when I feel most Vietnamese. I see the statues that I remember from my childhood, I

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smell the incense and the scent of roast pork from the kitchen, and I hear the spirit songs that shake our bodies and bring them down on the mat. —An older woman medium in Garden Grove, California

Since spirit possession is often a religion of the displaced, it has a complex relationship to ethnicity. For most of the people we spoke to in Vietnam and in California, serving Vietnamese spirits was a way to affirm a Vietnamese identity and feel an intensified experience of belonging. But the spirits worshipped are often themselves of foreign origin: Two prominent goddesses worshipped in southern and central Vietnam (Ba Chua Xu and Thien Y A Na) were once Hindu deities, who were “Vietnamized” over time, and turned into local goddesses who are expected to protect and help the people of Vietnam. Many others are explicitly dressed as members of ethnic minorities, and are praised for their knowledge of herbal remedies and martial arts, so it is perhaps not surprising that ethnic transformation is also a key element of participation in these ceremonies, and that the American context has added new elements to the mix. The Vietnamese American writer Tu Anh Vu describes Ĉҥo Mүu as forming a “resistance identity” (in the terms defined by Manuel Castells 1996), one that either resists or responds to Chinese influences, and which seeks to preserve an autonomous Vietnamese national identity. In making this argument, she relies on the work of Vietnamese folklorists and anthropologists (Ngo Duc Thinh 2010; Nguyen Thi Hien 2002; Pham Quynh Phuong 2009), who have struggled to raise the status of what used to be called “the Four Palaces cult” to that of a “religion” (ÿ̩o) on a par with Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism (ÿ̩o Ph̵t, ÿ̩o Nho, ÿ̩o Lão), so that it could be “accepted as equal to other imported religions and given legitimacy” (Phuong 2009: 181). In 2004, when a new government ordinance concerning religion was released recognizing the worship of Vietnamese saints, heroes, and ancestors as “patriotic,” their victory was celebrated. It reversed an earlier 1975 ordinance (“Instruction on the Implementation of New Ways of Life in Weddings, Funerals, Death Anniversaries and Festivals”), which explicitly forbade “the consulting of fortune-tellers, the reading of horoscopes, the practice of physiognomy, the conjuring up of a dead person’s soul, spirit possession, the casting of lots, the production of amulets, the worshipping of ghosts, the burning of incense, the buying and selling of joss-paper objects, and the use of magic to cure diseases” (Dror 2007: 172). We have witnessed all of these practices in temples in California, as well as in Vietnam, but several local Ĉҥo Mүu followers with whom we spoke after returning from our trip could not believe that all of these practices were once again “legal.”


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The Communist state was not the first to condemn these practices as “superstition;” many were also condemned by the heavily Sinicized imperial court, which wished to conserve its monopoly on access to the divine through an officially sanctioned Ministry of Rites. After French colonial conquest in the late 19th century, the suppression of official Confucian rituals was accompanied by a flourishing of popular religion, as well as the birth new nationalist and millenarian religions. The great diversity of religious practices continued in Southern Vietnam until 1975, but after “reunification,” many religious leaders were forcefully “reeducated” in labor camps. There is much more nervousness about the veneration of saints and heroes in southern Vietnam today than there is in the north. Tran Hung Dao is Vietnam’s most famous military hero nationwide, celebrated for defeating Mongol invaders in the 13th century, and his northern temple in Kiep Bac is so busy that when we visited, there were two competing spirit possession rituals being held simultaneously, with one set of drums, gongs and chants threatening to drown out another. But further south in Nha Trang, his temples were struggling to stay open. There was little official support, and their guardians (veterans who fought for the Saigon Republic) said they had not received permission to hold any rituals. For the overseas community, this history of suppression has meant that people are suspicious that visiting anthropologists might report their ceremonies to the authorities, which could result in the loss of Social Security benefits, or even the banning of backyard rituals. The older woman whose temple we have visited most often wondered why I wrote down the names of the spirits incarnated in their ceremonies, since it seemed “like the FBI.” For these reasons, we were, paradoxically, made to feel much more welcome, even as complete strangers, at a number of ceremonies in Vietnam, where studies by academics had helped to legitimize the practices, as opposed to Orange County, where recent immigrants and refugees still feel vulnerable to state intervention. The ethnic diversity of the Mekong includes substantial populations of Chinese, Muslim and Hindu Chams, and Khmer, who also play a role in Ĉҥo Mүu. Northern intellectuals presented the worship of heroes and heroines who defied foreign invaders as a fusion of the spirits of the natural landscape and a patriotic tradition of defending the homeland. But the Australian anthropologist Philip Taylor proposes a counter-reading of this history, in which he sees “the appropriation and positive evaluation of the accomplishments of other ethnic groups” (2002:85). Contrary to prevalent views of Vietnamese history as a saga of resistance to elitist

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Figure 3. Lina’s grandmother in a possession ceremony reaching for a candle. (Courtesy of Janet Hoskins 2010).

Chinese incursions and colonial subjugation, this view maps how “the powerful goddesses of the southern Vietnamese plain encode interpretations of the past with which orthodox cultural commentators have not been entirely comfortable, as they burst the bounds of ethnic Kinh cultural nationalism, giving efficacy a very different ethnicity, not always congruent with conventional Vietnamese myths of self” (2002: 102). In particular, he describes pilgrimages to the “Lady of the Realm” (Bà Chua Xú), whose very crowded temple we also visited in Chau Doc, noting that her extraordinary ability to bestow wealth and good fortune is linked to her Cambodian origins, since the Cambodians were the original owners of the land for all of the Mekong Delta. Taylor notes that the borderlands of Vietnam are conceived as having an unusual spiritual potency, since they both funnel in foreign beliefs and practices and delineate the qualities of “Vietnamese-ness.” The efficacy of a pilgrimage stems from the amount of effort involved, the planning, expense and hours of travel, which are expected to yield much greater benefits to the pilgrim. People in Vietnam were especially welcoming to us since we had come from so far away to honor the goddess, and that may also explain why Orange County


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followers were somewhat less impressed by our hour-long commute from Los Angeles. For Vietnamese immigrants, the move to a new country meant a confrontation with a new variety of ethnicities. Their own nationality was converted into a hybrid ethnic identity (“Vietnamese American”), a fact that many associated with feeling culturally and historically unanchored. Andrew Pham describes the great ambivalence he felt about his own identity in the memoir Catfish and Mandala: When he first traveled back to Vietnam, he thought his American self “was no thicker than his passport,” but he ended up discovering that it ran much deeper. He had internalized a racialized sense of inferiority, a sense that “beside these white Americans we look small, primitive, dark and weak,” and he wanted to feel more empowered by making contact again with his native land. But the feeling of empowerment proved elusive, and he ended up confronting the fact that his sense of selfhood would remain complex. He settles on the metaphor of the changeability of a chameleon, able to shift colors according to context, living in the present and renouncing any idea of an essential and unaltered self. The younger Vietnamese Americans we interviewed told us stories of settling first in the poorest American neighborhoods, often filled with African American or Latino families, who they immediately learned to identify as members of an underclass that their parents did not want them to join. They learned what it meant to talk in a “ghetto” style, or identify with gangs, and these new lessons were intimately linked to the ways in which they came to process notions of race and ethnicity. So when spirit possession rituals verged into encounters with these new categories of difference, there was bound to be a volatile re-negotiation of ethnic identity.

Mediums in “Black Face”: Two Stories of Racial Transformation The youngest member of one Orange County temple we attended is a lovely woman I will call Lina, who was initiated at the age of 12 after her hair suddenly turned kinky. Initiation into spirit mediumship is usually brought on by an affliction, a serious illness or an episode that we might describe as a nervous breakdown, or a spectacular form of misfortune. The affliction is a sign of căn—literally, a “spirit root” (Nguyen Thi Hien 2004), but sometimes also translated as a “destined aptitude” for the role of a spirit medium (Norton 2008). Other mediums we interviewed stressed the fact that spirit mediumship must come from the “heart soul” (tam linh),

The Spirits You See in the Mirror


but most people do not recognize this spirit calling, and only discover their real vocation through suffering. In an ideal model of the possession experience, the spirit medium moves from an involuntary and uncontrolled state of confusion about her identity to a conscious and deliberate practice in which she assumes other identities and dances out the possibilities that they present to her, nourishing the fluidity and variability in her personality and turning it into a source of intuition and understanding. Matted hair as a sign of “spirit selection” is common in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, where it is has become the trademark of the Indian sadhu or “holy man.” Its psychological significance has been explored in Obeyesere’s Medusa’s Hair (1984), a well-known study of female spirit mediums in Sri Lanka who describe themselves as married to a “dark lord” who makes their hair kinky and unmanageable. This familiar way of marking a spirit medium’s calling was given a particular meaning in the California context. Lina’s grandmother told us the story of her conversion by describing her hair as “like the hair of Black Americans” (nhu MͿ ÿên). With these words, the sign of spirit selection was also racialized and given a meaning quite specific to the experience of many new immigrants. Many Vietnamese parents told me that they worked hard to be able move out of “black neighborhoods” since they feared that their children would be “contaminated” by the rebellious unruliness of “ghetto kids” and lose the filial piety they saw as quintessentially Vietnamese. After she was initiated and began serving the spirits, Lina’s hair returned to normal, and is now smooth and black. Vietnamese spirits, in effect, were thanked for saving her from the dangerous possibility of racial cross-over. This salvation came at the price of a heavy commitment: Lina was raised by her grandmother for a number of years, following a common custom in which a medium or even a temple may “adopt” a child who is seen to be in physical or mental danger. Once she becomes an adult, the child still owes a great debt to her savior, and Lina is now required not only to hold a yearly ceremony (as other initiated mediums must do), but also to take care of the temple after her grandmother dies. At the ceremonies we witnessed, Lina was accompanied by a friend her own age, who she was teaching the procedures to so that she, too, could eventually receive both the blessings and the responsibilities which come with serving Vietnamese spirits in the Ĉҥo Mүu tradition. Perhaps the most dramatic story we heard about a spectacular transformation in appearance took place in front of the mirror in Orange County, where one woman’s ceremony was interrupted when the man responsible for the music went to the bathroom. This woman I will call


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Kim. The music (performed live by a group of 4–6 musicians in Vietnam, but presented on CDs in the US), provides auditory guidance for the possession experience, and once a person is in the proper frame of mind, the movements that we might describe as dance movements are supposed to be automatic and even unconscious, as the “body moves on its own” and the medium simply allows it to do so. Each spirit has specific songs associated with them, and these songs must be played as soon as the medium has become possessed and indicates, with a hand signal, which spirit has come into her body when she sat under the red veil. Kim told us of her anger and confusion as she sat, uncertain what to do, in front of the altar. She felt completely abandoned by the man who was supposed to guide her throughout the possession experience, and she reported that when the red veil was removed, her face turned black with rage. Many others also said they saw it turn a charcoal color, as if smeared with ash. She yelled at the music player when he returned, and he simply decided to leave the scene. Kim was very shaken by the experience, and had still not made peace with the musician who played the music at her ceremony, although he is one of the most respected and talented musicians within the community of those who serve Vietnamese spirits, and is also the owner of an important temple at his own house. She stared at her blackened face in the mirror on the altar and broke into tears, rushing off to the bathroom. There, she was finally able to scrub off the black color (perhaps caused by incense ash, since all spirits dance with high flaming incense sticks at an early stage in their incarnations). But afterwards, when she described this experience to us in a cafe in Little Saigon, she saw it as a moment of purification, since the blackish color washed off to reveal smooth, white skin that was almost glowing. Kim had been a devotee of a rather extreme form of spirit mediumship, practiced in her native Nha Trang, which involved fierce dancing while being possessed by male military figures (especially the national hero Tran Hung Dao), and even acts of self-strangulation: A long scarf is placed around the neck and pulled very tight, until the eyes bulge out and the features are distorted and swollen. This creates a “red face” (which we were able to witness in videos of ceremonies that she lent us from her trips back to Vietnam). The redness is seen as a positive feature, since in the Ĉҥo Mүu tradition, red is the color of celestial power, the color of the Jade Emperor and his heavenly court. By becoming very red she was channeling some of that hyper-masculine power into her own body. From a more critical perspective, there can be no more vivid image of a woman

The Spirits You See in the Mirror


choked by patriarchal authority than the usually lovely, feminine spirit medium strangling herself with the scarf of male domination. Kim was a troubled woman; she had been abandoned by her husband, escaped Vietnam under dangerous conditions, and then found that her husband was not even willing to sponsor her immigration to the United States. She had managed to make her own way over in spite of these many obstacles, and was the owner of a small shop. She was an attractive woman, usually very carefully made-up and fashionably dressed. But she told us that the spirits had told her that she would not be able to find permanent happiness with any mortal man. Her participation in these rituals, therefore, could be interpreted as a kind of consolation for loss in her private life, in which an intense experience of possession by domineering male spirits allows her to act out some of the frustrations she may have felt. While possessed, women mediums are also given license to drink hard liquor, smoke, and swagger about—behaviors that are not normally considered “feminine.” Spirit mediumship is explicitly presented as a way to preserve youth and beauty, and its older female participants praise its anti-aging benefits. As researchers, we were often told that our appearances had improved after we visited the temples, and with regular practice, could also prove advantageous if we needed assistance in finding a husband or improving the harmony of family life. Dancing while possessed by a younger woman’s spirit is said to teach the body gracefulness and flexibility. It is certainly true that it was amazing to see the strength and resilience of women in the seventies when they were performing as the spirits of impish young boys or mountain princesses. When Kim’s face suddenly turned black in the middle of the ritual, she may also have been invoking the power of the “dark goddess” who is worshipped in Nha Trang and also in Hue in Central Vietnam, the famous black-faced Thiên Y A Na. Scholars agree that her name is a transformation of the Cham goddess Yang Ino Po Nagar (herself a version of Uma, wife of Shiva), who is buried in splendid 8th century towers in the center of Nha Trang, once the capital of a vast Hindu empire. We interviewed many of her current followers, who see her as the exiled daughter of the Jade Emperor incarnated in a Cham area and who was married to a Chinese prince. She had returned to teach her people the arts of agriculture, weaving, and ancestor worship so they would become more “civilized” (which seems to have been equated with “Sinicized”). When her husband came back to claim her and their children, she drowned him and sunk his ships, asserting her independence and autonomy as a Vietnamese heroine who refused foreign domination.


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Figure 4. Statue of the black-faced goddess Thien Y A Na in Nha Trang, Vietnam. (Courtesy of Janet Hoskins 2010).

On one level, her worshippers adhere to the widespread idea of the foreign as divine: “Great rulers and royal dynasties originate from outside the society, and are not of the people that they rule” (Matory 2009: 246).

The Spirits You See in the Mirror


In a pattern described as the “stranger king” mythical paradigm (Sahlins 1985), the god or goddess arrives, makes a pact with someone from the community, and then leaves when the pact is somehow violated, turning into wind, lightening, or some extra-social force of nature in anger. We see this in the story of Thiên Y A Na, with the “feminist” twist that it is the woman who is the cultural hero, bringing skills that she learned in the kingdom of her Chinese husband, but then killing him when he comes looking for her and invades her homeland. What is the significance of Thiên Y A Na’s black face? Inside the Po Nagar towers, there is a statue that has a dark skinned doll-like ceramic face, marking this goddess as racially different from other Vietnamese goddesses. She has ten arms, which are hidden under gold robes, but what we can see today is apparently only the “shadow” of the original contents of the tower: According to local historians, there was once a golden statue there that was stolen by the Khmer in the 10th century, followed by a black stone sculpture whose head was stolen by the French and which is now on display in Paris at the Guimet Museum of Asian art—a veritable repository of treasures looted from French colonies. This poor goddess has been beheaded and displaced. It is quite possible that her suffering has contributed to both her efficacy and her perceived responsiveness to requests from worshippers, since it is believed that those who have suffered themselves will be more sympathetic. She stands at the center of a pantheon that also includes a woman born with a twisted leg, whose tragic inability to walk gives her insight into other women who feel trapped in destinies they did not choose. The exceptional attractiveness of goddesses in contrast to the male spirits of renowned historical personages (“warrior-scholar-official spirits”) seems mysterious, since often little is known about the goddess’s human existences and her identities are somewhat fluid. The tales that circulate give them a marginal existence and untimely death that left their potential largely unrealized. Philip Taylor (2004) argues that their extraordinary responsiveness to human requests is rooted in the popular conception that they are forever trapped in their karmic manifestations and depend on human bequests to sustain themselves. On a more theoretical level, their vague identities give them polyvalent qualities, which allows individual worshippers to substitute aspects of their personalities in order to bring them closer to their own concerns. The black face on other spiritual entities is usually associated with rage, but on this gentle goddess it seems to evoke a sense of a darkly shrouded past; perhaps as the survivor of a conquered people (since Central Vietnam is now overwhelmingly Vietnamese, and the Cham are a


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small minority), or as a Vietnamese version of what a Hindu goddess might look like. For Kim, it seems that her temporary black face was both a signal of distress and something expressed in a religious idiom that could have positive as well as negative connotations. The San Francisco-based Vietnamese American journalist Andrew Lam argues that in both Vietnam and in California, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them,” (2006: 44) and the images that spirit mediums come to see in the mirror may help to reveal some of that trapped history. A suddenly dark face or kinky hair can be both threatening and empowering in various ways, but the racial and ethnic landscape is already transformed for diasporic worshippers, and any interpretations we make of their experiences have to take this into account. In California mediumship communities (công ÿӗng lên ÿӗng), “serving the spirits” is seen as a practice that affirms a transnational Vietnamese identity without “playing the games of the government,” since stories of government suppression of the practice are often told. At the same time, members of this community travel back to Vietnam often to buy ritual paraphernalia (costumes, statues, altar decorations) and participate in rituals at particularly potent temples. Their transnational travels implicitly affirm the idea that Vietnamese people are empowered by mythic figures from their past, and can use these figures to both understand and model their own behavior. In Geertz’s famous formulation, the spirits are both “models of” and “models for” human personalities. Other studies of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants at a refugee camp in France (Simon and Simon-Barouch 1973), and in the Bay Area (Fjelstad and Hien 2006), indicate that the mirror ritual is practiced intensively in situations where Vietnamese identity might be seen as endangered, or threatened by being engulfed by other forces. In these circumstances, staring into the mirror seems to be a way of searching for an affirmation of an earlier self, but it is also part of a more generalized ritual pattern of mimetic practice. Placing these practices in the wider context of Vietnamese diasporic religion (Hoskins 2011, 2014, 2015), the use of the mirror is tied to evocations of goddesses of various kinds who can come to the assistance of displaced people. The mirror in front of the altar was used in all the ceremonies we saw in California (both in Orange County and in San Jose), and in all the ceremonies we saw in Hanoi, Northern Vietnam, and Saigon. But in the central region (Hue and Nha Trang), many people practice without a mirror in front of the altar. The medium puts the red veil over their head while standing and swaying from side to side, so “the goddess does not see you change in front of her.” When a spirit comes to “sit” on her disciple,

The Spirits You See in the Mirror


the body becomes rigid for a moment, and the veil is removed. The music starts and the medium begins to move with the rhythms of the new personality that speaks to the spectators through her gestures. Ceremonies that we saw in this area use other ways of “mirroring” both the spirit medium and the entities that possess her. The most striking of these was the use of paper effigies (giant paper dolls) that can represent the subject of the ritual herself (in some ritual contexts, such as the ritual to “cut ties of affection or attraction” to a deceased former lover), or the servants, soldiers, horses and elephants of the highest-ranking spirits. In the first case, a nearly life-sized paper doll is dressed in the clothing of the ritual subject, who generally has difficulty “finding love”. Her troubles are diagnosed as being caused by a ghost who continues to hold onto her affections. She can be formally divorced from this ghost, receive a formal decree, and a piece of cloth cut in two. She finds her final release when the paper image of herself is carried off to a great bonfire behind the temple where it, along with all the other colorful paper offerings, will be burned to send its spirit off to the heavens. In the second case, human disciples buy elaborate gifts for the spirit of a great hero (including boats, houses, and sets of paper clothes and hats) that are “signed” by the spirit medium to show that the spirit has accepted them and then they are burned. The finery that reaches the hero in his celestial home will be repaid with good fortune for his benefactor in his earthly life. In an initiation ceremony, or the woman’s ceremony for good health and a happy family life that we saw in Hue, the senior spirit medium mirrors the actions that his (or her) younger disciple should copy explicitly. He also performs several ritual acts that will tie her to the temple for life: He “cuts” a lock of her hair from the crown of her head by singeing it off with incense, cools the smoking site with water, then “washes” her hair, finally reforming it into a bun or pony tail. He works with the female altar mistress to place the younger disciple between their bodies, pressing her as they stand on either side, so that the heat of their skin passes into her and she feels the same spirit energy that they do. At the very end, she starts to shake with the sensation of a spirit coming into her own body, and he guides her gently with his gaze (and occasionally with his arms) to assume the proper postures. Mirroring is thus both the form of instruction in spirit mediumship and a way of presenting an objectified image of the mimetic process. The younger disciple imitates their master for much of the time, but eventually is supposed to move without consciously deciding to do so, because the spirit has come into them and is now in command of their body. The master medium stands in front of, and transfers the red veil from his head


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to the disciple’s, serving as a “living reflection”: The disciple sees the spirit in the master’s body first, then feels it in theirs. For Lina, she sees herself transformed as the costume is placed on her, and her facial traits suddenly turn more masculine and commanding, or more youthful and childlike.

Figure 5. Paper effigies imported from Vietnam, displayed at a ceremony in Huntington Beach and then burned to go up to the goddess. (Courtesy of Janet Hoskins 2010).

Other scholars have argued that mirror rituals highlight ideas of performance and spectatorship, since they exist in a “temporary world that players can create, elaborate and then leave behind” (Tucker 2005: 173). For some theorists, the spectral images in the mirror are a shadow self (“the dangerous, destructive part of the psyche”), a way of “confronting the specter of suicide,” a theme noted in an analysis of American college students playfully telling ghost stories in front of mirrors lit by candlelight. Tucker sees the ghosts in the college dorm bathrooms as ways of briefly descending to the realm of the dead so “they can move on with lives, strengthened by a richer perception of life’s boundaries” (2005: 197).

The Spirits You See in the Mirror


The ceremonies in Vietnamese garages and backyard temples draw on a very different cultural repertoire than the ritualized games played by college students, but in both cases the participants could be said to be exploring “racial tensions that they are struggling to understand” (2205: 198). The usual explanation of the appeal of these rituals is that the “survival of playfully imagined danger has given them a pathway towards the future” (2005: 197). Folklorists who have collected stories about ghosts in mirrors argue that by telling them, the “college students undergo a quasi-initiatory experience that facilitates their development of a more complex sense of self” (Tucker 2005: 468). They also play with complex transformations of sexual and racial identity, as demonstrated by Michael Jackson’s song, Man in the Mirror, a reflective piece often played at memorials of his death.

Spirit Possession and Gender-Bending, Activating a Fluid Identity What happens in the practice of spirit possession is that the spirit medium herself performs or embodies a number of different spirits: fierce generals, dignified ladies, flirtatious princesses, and impish children. As she does so, she develops her own reflexive consciousness, and her awareness of multiple perspectives. She not only embodies the spirits in the moment of performance, as she dances to the chau van music, but also in her daily life as she becomes attuned to other voices and other perspectives. She comes to perceive them at other times as well: when she is preparing food, getting dressed, driving on the 405, or speaking to her children. They become invisible presences who hover around her and offer her advice, support, understanding and empathy. By looking at her own life from their perspectives, she may come to understand her aloof husband or rebellious son a bit better. Looking in the mirror, she sees her own face transformed into the face of another. She is moved by that vision, and often a bit unnerved, but it becomes empowering when she feels that she has gained a certain control over these multiple perspectives. The early stages of a spirit medium’s calling resemble mental illness—the other voices are disembodied, they confuse her, she cannot put them in order or sort out the different messages they send. But as she gains mastery of her craft and comes to perform better, she realizes which spirits each of these different messages must be coming from, and she moves from moments of involuntary trance or disassociation to a deliberate transformation of her own personality to fuse it with that of one of the spirits.


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The spirit medium does not travel up to heaven to witness the world of these celestial beings like the shaman does. Instead, she invites them into her own body. She allows them a place within her where they breathe through her breath, and shake with the same rhythms as her stomping feet. It is the body, not the sky that is the ground of spirit mediumship. Mimesis has been discussed by Taussig as the capacity “to copy, imitate, make models, explore difference, yield into and become Other. The wonder of mimesis lies in the copy drawing on the character and power of the original, to the point whereby the representation may even assume that character and that power” (1993: xiii). For migrants who are far from their homeland, it is a way of taking spirits indigenous to Vietnam and inviting them into their bodies and into their consciousness, so that these spirits come to share their experiences, and offer their own thoughts about how to interpret them. The reflection that the spirit medium sees is both her and not her: It uses the landscape of her own features to highlight a different personality, a new set of gestures and facial expressions which interpret her physical form from a new perspective. “I looked into my own eyes and saw someone else there,” is something that the spirit mediums say. “I stood up and felt a strength I had never had before, a youthfulness and an agility that I thought I had lost.” A man may feel that he has suddenly become light and graceful, moving with a smooth, feminine energy that flows through his body and caresses his skin. A woman may feel that she is infused with a new sense of power and accomplishment. Vietnamese anthropologist Pham Quynh Phuong argues that professional women in Hanoi (including college teachers) are drawn to the practice because they bump into the “glass ceiling” that prevents even accomplished women from reaching the highest ranks of most professions (Phuong 2009). Spirit possession is an experience of fluidity in identity, of being drawn into moving as another being would move and feeling as another being might feel. Recent theorists have argued that second generation migrants are often working with multiple identities at the same time, a process which promotes flexibility and may have many advantages, but which can also prove confusing (Levitt 2008). The appeal of spirit possession is that it offers an immediate, intense experience of “being Vietnamese,” which can serve as an anchor for an identity that seems in danger of becoming unmoored. Gender shifts in mirror images can represent what Judith Butler calls “de-formity” and a process of re-signification that can undermine gender roles. Summoning spectral lovers breaks boundaries of safe and acceptable behavior, and cross-dressing and primping can draw social censure. The

The Spirits You See in the Mirror


images that some condemn as “unreal” may seem more intensely real than everyday objects. Evanescent images of phantom lovers, frightening warriors, and the victims of injustice (the Hue spirit woman born with only one leg) evoke the thrill of pushing boundaries. Spirit mediums are associated with unconventional, even transgressive forms of sexuality. In Vietnam, many of the most famous male mediums are openly gay. In California, congregations made up largely of older women found that most male mediums remained unmarried, something “typical” of those who served the gods, but the women did not seem to disapprove. When I took a young unmarried male graduate student with me to a ceremony, our 90-year-old grandmotherly guide insisted that she wanted to meet his mother to urge him to begin to practice himself. Barley Norton, an ethnomusicologist who studied Hanoi mediums and received sexual advances from some of them, notes that since it is supposedly the spirit who chose the mediums, “to suggest that the motivation for men to become mediums is dominated by a homoerotic drive would undermine spiritual efficacy, and it would also undermine the existence of the minority of male mediums who do not engage in homosexual activity” (2003: 72). Mediumship ceremonies provide a space for both men and women to defy conventional gender roles. Women can dance like fierce warriors, miming an aggressive assertiveness that they could not display in their daily lives, even if most female mediums are known to be “hot-tempered” and “sharp tongued.” Men can move as softly and gracefully as the imperial princesses, and the more effeminate they appear on the ritual stage, the more successful their ceremonies are supposed to be. Many male mediums make their livings running temples, while most female mediums are grandmothers and businesswomen who have a more private practice. The gender fluidity and flexibility played out in front of the altar during spirit possession also affects the daily lives of those who serve the spirits, but does not necessarily determine sexual orientation.

Mirrors Between the Generations: Motivations and Ambivalence When I was young I married, I had a child, and then my husband left and my child died. I was sick all the time, confined to my bed. And at night I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t yet know about serving the spirits, about getting to know them. Instead, I would lie in bed and see dozens of heads flying in front of me, swooping down to cover my face and stop me from breathing. It was the ghosts of my child and my husband, coming in another body to teach me. They came with the bodies of generals and princes from imperial


Chapter Four times. I had to learn to serve them, to let them come into me at the right time…. I have now served the spirits for over half a century, and now finally my daughter has come to join me in the practice. —Older woman born in Nha Trang, Vietnam When I decided to become a medium, my mother cried and could not understand. She refused to come to my ceremonies for many years. Now we have finally made peace, because she can see that it has helped me. But she thought that I was cursed, that I would never marry. She wanted me to be a Catholic, but I followed the way of my grandmother. —Male medium born in Saigon, now in California

Spirit mediumship appears to bridge generations; it calls younger descendants back to the ways of their ancestors, but the pathway of reconciliation is often fraught with troubles. For younger migrants born in Vietnam but growing up in California, these spirited encounters are appealing because they involve drama, bodily movement, and altered states of consciousness. For some of their parents, dabbling in this kind of activity is suspect; it can be dangerous and, if mismanaged, can threaten one’s wellbeing. They are aware that these practices were condemned as superstitious and backward by the Hanoi government, although for anti-Hanoi refugees this official condemnation can be part of their appeal since the rituals are associated with struggles for individual freedom. Younger, inexperienced mediums often crave an intense, uncontrolled form of possession trance, which older mediums may see as exaggerated and inappropriate. For the ritual masters, learning to practice spirit possession is learning to control yourself, to enter into each incarnation with skill and deliberation, and to recognize that the spirits are best served with dignity and decorum, not flailing limbs and rolling eyes. Vietnamese spirit possession ceremonies look, to an outsider, more like lively folk dance sequences than like the spasmodic movements associated with African diasporic spirit cults. They emphasize a stage of self-recognition and self-control, which I argue is tied to the use of the mirror, providing a moment of self-contemplation and self-recognition as part of the process of becoming a “servant of the gods” (lam tôi ngài). The medium is not simply lost in an involuntary series of movements, but comes to see herself moving under the influence of spirits that she considers her masters, teachers, and “lords” (ngài). Even the youngest and most impish of the spirits, the “Youngest Prince” Cұu Bé, is seen as “a child in heaven,” and a “spiritual master” to his youthful devotees on earth. The mirror is a ritual prop that focuses the practice on a reflective gaze. Devotees may bring small cosmetic mirrors and combs to the goddess as

The Spirits You See in the Mirror


offerings, since they say that “the goddess likes them”. These trinkets are also often distributed by the princess spirits to spectators at a possession ceremony, as are scarves, earrings, and small pieces of costume jewelry. The medium is elaborately dressed for the ceremony, and she generously shares bits of her costume with those who serve and observe her. But she needs to “see herself” as the spirit in order to learn from the spirit: The mirror actualizes an identification that has to be visually experienced in order to be “real.” Tensions that surround visual efficacy are highlighted in the many uses to which a mirror can be put: It can be a tool for introspection and selfcultivation, but also for vanity and self-absorption. On altars to the mother goddess, the mirror usually sits at the center, and devotees may explain its presence there as representing the “brightness” (quang) or glow of the goddess. At the same time, it is often at a height where those making offerings can see their own reflections, encouraging them to identify with the goddess, or to see an image of themselves on the altar. In the esoteric temple of Tam Tong Mieu (“The Three Great Traditions”) in Saigon, a mirror placed above the level of the viewing disciples is said to represent the primal void from which the Mother Goddess emerged to create humanity. Imitation lies, of course, at the heart of pedagogy, as students and disciples are trained to mirror the speech and body postures of their masters, and also to come to identify with these words and gestures and make them their own. Mimesis is, as Taussig, says, both a copying and a “palpable, sensuous connection between the very body of the perceiver and perceived” (1993: 21). While mimesis depends on alterity, the existence of an Other, it also comments on it. Seeing one’s own ethnic group, material objects and personal traits in the images produced by others is the basis of allegory and quotation. Studies of spirit possession can be divided into “instrumental” theories that emphasize the politics of possession as a result of “relative deprivation” and marginalization (Lewis 1971), and “expressive” theories that pay more attention to sensory expression and performance (Boddy 1994). For instrumentalists, the pursuit of ecstatic states is divided into central possession cults, where possession involves spirits who uphold the moral order (ancestors, culture heroes) and tend to speak through men, and peripheral cults, where spirits are more amoral and unpredictable, and tend to speak through women. Lewis’ model treated possession itself as an affliction, a form of social or personal pathology, which was used strategically by the oppressed to gain attention and struggle for social justice.


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Recently, several studies have challenged this model (Boddy 1994; Hien 2003; Phuong 2009) by arguing that the supposedly marginalized women who practice as mediums are also accessing images of power that earn them respect in the outside world. Others have challenged the category of spirit possession by trying to locate its messages more deeply within a locally meaningful world, showing the consequences of beliefs in a self that is permeable from without on everyday issues of personhood and identity. “Technologies of modernity,” such as cameras and video recorders, can call up spectral presences and project them in front of us in the form of spectacle, so Vietnamese mediums who use the technology of the body to re-create an ancestral presence may no longer seem as strange as they once did. For performance theorists, spirit possession is a creative act, an aesthetic reaction to the inadequacies of the world. The French phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty wrote: “It is by lending his body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings” (1964). It could also be said that it is by lending her body to the world that the spirit medium crosses a psychic ocean to unite her family and its members with the power of distant Vietnamese ancestors.

Acknowledgements This article is based on fieldwork in both California and Vietnam from 2008–11, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Grant # 0752511 "Ethnic Resilience" and Indigenous Religion: A Transnational Perspective on Vietnamese Immigrant Congregations in California. Thien-Huong Ninh shared all of the fieldwork and I am very grateful to her for her many insights into Vietnamese language, culture and social interactions. I am also grateful to Karen Fjelstad and Alison Truitt for providing me with helpful feedback on this paper, and to participants at the "Beyond Borders: Alternative Voices and Histories of the Vietnamese Diaspora" conference at the University of Washington, Seattle, on March 4–5, 2010.

Works Cited Boddy, Janice. “Spirit Possession Revisited: Beyond Instrumentality.” Annual Reviews in Anthropology 21 (1994): 407-434. —. “Spirits and Selves in Northern Sudan: The Cultural Therapeutics of Possession and Trance.” American Ethnologist 15:1 (1988): 4-27. Brown, Karen McCarthy. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

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Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1999. Csordas, Thomas. Transnational Transcendence. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. Do Thien. Vietnamese Supernaturalism. London: Routledge Curzon, 2003. Dundes, Alan. “Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Reflection of PrePubrescent Anxiety.” Western Folklore 57:2/3 (1998): 119-135. Ellis, Bill. Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004. Endres, Kristin. “Fate, Memory and the Postcolonial Consciousness of the Self: A Vietnamese Spirit Medium.” Journal of Vietnamese Studies, 3:2 (2008): 34-65. Endres, Kirsten W. Performing the Divine: Mediums, Markets and Modernity in Urban Vietnam. Copenhagen: NIAS Monographs #118, 2011. Fine, Gary Alan and Patricia Turner. Whispers on the Color Line: Rumor and Race in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Fjelstad, Karen and Nguyen Thi Hien. Possessed by the Spirits: Mediumship in Contemporary Vietnamese Communities. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006. Fjelstad, Karen and Nguyen Thi Hien. Spirits without Borders: Vietnamese Spirit Mediums in a Transnational Age. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011. Hoskins, Janet. “What are Vietnam’s Indigenous Religions?” for the Newsletter of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, 64 (2011): 3-7. —. “Folklore as a Sacred Heritage: Vietnamese Indigenous Religions in California,” in Jonathan Lee, ed. Asian American Identities and Practices: Folkloric Expressions in Everyday Life. New York: Lexington Books, 2014. —. The Divine Eye and the Diaspora: Vietnamese Syncretism Becomes Transpacific Caodaism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2015 (in-press). Ho Tai, Hue-Tam. Millenarianism and Peasant Politics in Vietnam. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983. Lewis. I.M. Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1971. Matory, Lorand J. Black Atlantic Religion. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. Marr, David. “Concepts of ‘Individual’ and ‘Self’ in Twentieth Century Vietnam,” Modern Asian Studies 34:4 (2000): 769-796.


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—. Vietnamese Tradition on Trial 1920-1945. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981. Merlau-Ponty, Maurice. “Eye and Mind” (tr. by Carleton Dallery) in The Primacy of Perception, ed. by James M. Edie. Northwestern University, 1964. Mus, Paul. Viet Nam: Sociologie d’une guerre. Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1952. Ngo Duc Thinh. Dao Mau Viet Nam. Hanoi: Nha Xuat Ban Ton Giao, 2010. Norindr, Panivong. Phantasmagoric Indochina: French Colonial Ideology in Architecture, Film and Literature Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. Norton, Barley. “‘Hot-Tempered’ Women and ‘Effeminate’ Men: The Performance of Music and Gender in Vietnamese Mediumship” in Karen Fjelstad and Nguyen Thi Hien, eds., Possessed by the Spirits. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003. Norton, Barley. Songs for the Spirits. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008. Obeyeskere, Gannanath. Medusa’s Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. Oliver, Victor. Caodai Spiritism. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1976. Pham Bich Hop. Ngѭӡi Nam Bӝ và Tôn Giáo Bҧn Ĉӏa The People of the Southern Region and Indigenous Religions Hà Nӝi: Nhà XӃt Bҧn Tôn Giá, 2007. Pham Quynh Phuong. Hero and Deity: Tran Hung Dao and the Resurgence of Popular Religion in Vietnam. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Mekong Press, 2009. Sahlins, Marshall. “The Stranger King” in Islands of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. Simon, Pierre and Simon-Barouch, Ida. H̯u ÿ͛ng—Un Culte de Possession Vietnamien Transplanté en France. Paris: Mouton La Haye, 1973. Stoller, Paul. Fusion of the Worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989. —. Embodying Colonial Memories: Spirit Possession, Power and the Hauka in West Africa. New York: Routledge, 1995. Taussig, Michael. Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. —. Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York: Routledge, 1993.

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Taylor, Philip. Modernity and Re-enchantment: Religion in PostRevolutionary Vietnam. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2007. —. Goddess on the Rise: Pilgrimage and Popular Religion in Vietnam. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004. —. “The Ethnicity of Efficacy: Vietnamese Goddess Worship and the Encoding of Popular Histories” in Asian Ethnicity 3:1 (2002): 85-104. Tucker, Mary. “Ghosts in Mirrors: Reflections of the Self” in Journal of American Folklore 118:468 (2005): 186-203. Vu, Tu Anh. “Worshipping the Mother Goddess: the Dao Mau Movement in Northern Vietnam,” Explorations in Southeast Asian Studies, 6:1 (2006): 27-44. Werner, Jayne. Peasant Politics and Religious Sectarianism: Peasant and Priest in the Cao Ĉài in Vietnam, Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, New Haven, 1981.


“I cannot tell you how or why I survived; I do not know myself. It is like this: love and music and memory and invisible hands, and something that comes out of the society of the living and the dead, for which there are no words.” —Daran Kravanh in Bree LaFreniere, Music through the Dark

One of the outstanding features of LaFreniere’s book, Music through the Dark, is Daran Kravanh’s description of the ongoing relationship he has with his family following their deaths during the Khmer Rouge.1 Daran’s parents and older brother remain present in his life as his guardians and protectors, providing the love, music, memory, and invisible hands that help him survive. The “society of the living and the dead,” described by Daran is part of a larger Cambodian cultural system within which the social, spiritual, psychological, and physical aspects of life and death are not separate categories, but are an integrated whole. Through proverbs, stories, rituals, and everyday social practices within families, communities, and the Buddhist temple, this system models the way people should ideally interact with each other and is the backdrop for a social community which includes “…both living and dead as part of one material-spectral world” (Langford 2009: 684). A variety of ritual practices within Cambodian Buddhism and folk religion are available to people to help them interact with their ancestors, to protect themselves from attack by malevolent forces, and to ensure good results in their daily lives. The view that the world is populated with spirits and that these spirits have the ability to interact with the living for both good and bad purposes permeates Cambodian culture (Ebihara 1968; Ang 1988) and remains strong among older Cambodian Americans. It is also being shared in limited ways with a new generation growing up in the United States.

Cambodian-American Ritual Practices in Long Beach, California


Very little has been written about the variety of ritual practices Cambodian Americans are recreating in the U.S. This chapter discusses two ritualized practices conducted in Long Beach, California, in which ancestor spirits are honored and protection is requested: 1) a chumruen preah parit (blessing ceremony) conducted by Venerable Kong Chhean, Ph.D., former Abbot at the Wat Khemera Buddhikaram, for a young man and his family in 2000, and; 2) a pithi sampeah kruu performed to honor teachers and guardian spirits of dance and music at the Cambodian Association of America in 2006. The purpose of this chapter is twofold: first, to explore how Cambodians conceive of and interact with ancestor and guardian spirits in these ritual settings and second, to consider the extent to which these practices are being transmitted to a new generation.

Cambodian Americans in Long Beach The Cambodian American community in Long Beach, California, began to form in 1975, shortly after the withdrawal of U.S. military troops from Southeast Asia. Many of the first Cambodian evacuees settled in the city, forming the core of what is today the largest population of Cambodians in the U.S. The early arrivals to Long Beach created networks of support through the establishment of mutual assistance associations, grocery stores, shops, restaurants, and Buddhist temples. Later arrivals to the U.S. were drawn to Long Beach for the weather, jobs, and to be with family and friends. The Long Beach community has since become an important political, economic, and cultural center having some influence on Cambodian culture abroad and within Cambodia (Needham and Quintiliani 2007). Cambodians have been in the U.S. for nearly 40 years. A generation of Cambodian Americans has been raised here, and they are raising the next generation. Cambodian traditional beliefs and practices have been modified over time in this new cultural context, but they have not disappeared. Long Beach is a major hub in a network of Cambodian families and communities extending beyond greater Los Angeles and Orange counties to California’s Central Valley and outward to communities throughout the U.S., Canada, France, and Australia. Within the network are Buddhist monks and kruu khmer (traditional healers) known for the efficacy of their ritual practices, which include fortune telling, the creation of protective talismans, soul calling, and spirit channeling.


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Cambodian Spiritual Beliefs and Practices The dominant religion among older Cambodian Americans is Theravada Buddhism. However, as with all major religions of the world, Buddhist doctrine was interpreted and modified using local cultural beliefs, values, and practices. Cambodian spiritual and healing practices reflect a synthesis of local indigenous folk religions (animism), Hinduism, and the Mahayana, Tantric, and Theravada branches of Buddhism (Ebihara 1968; Ang 1988; Mabbett and Chandler 1995). Although very important, Preah Put, as the Buddha is known in Khmer (Cambodian), is only one spirit aspect of an extensive holistic spiritual/social/healing system that includes a variety of practices and practitioners. The Buddha is placed at the highest spiritual and moral level in the hierarchy of spirits and divine beings, which includes local spirits and Hindu gods (Ang 1988). In addition to the Buddha and deities, there are guardian and ancestor spirits, which populate the landscape and protect homes, businesses, and temple grounds. Misfortune and illness may be the result of any number of causes, among them one’s karma, astrological influences, magic, and guardian spirits, ancestral spirits, house spirits, and ghosts. Additionally, social imbalance or moral disharmony among family members and individuals can lead to misfortune or physical illness. For example, if an individual misbehaves, the ancestor spirits watching over the family may become angry and cause another member of the family to become sick (Ebihara 1968; Chuth 2004). Ancestor spirits are also able to communicate material needs for food, clothing, or ceremonial activity with living family members through dreams (Langford 2009). A Cambodian American woman about 60 years old told me she had dreamed that she was shopping for clothes with her aunt who had died during the Khmer Rouge, “Maybe I haven’t done enough for her. Maybe she’s cold. I’ll bring clothes to the temple for her.” The offering and the ritual surrounding it are a demonstration of the affection and respect she feels for her aunt, thus soothing her aunt’s spirit and her feelings about her aunt’s death. At the basis of these activities is a belief in praloeung, animating entities that are found in all humans, animals, plants, and features in the landscape. Humans are believed to have nineteen praloeung, which are not securely attached to the body. Praloeung can leave the body for a number of reasons, such as sudden fright, or being captured by malevolent spirits, in which case the person becomes ill and in serious cases may die (Keyes 1995; Thompson 2005). A soul-calling ceremony can be performed that concludes by “tying” the praloeung to the patient’s body with cotton

Cambodian-American Ritual Practices in Long Beach, California


strings. In addition to healing ceremonies, the gesture of tying the souls to the body is part of many Cambodian life passage ceremonies including birth, ordinations, weddings, and funerals. It is also part of the rituals to be described below. When interpersonal problems, misfortune or illnesses arise, individuals, families, and sometimes entire villages will assess the situation and seek relief through a variety of possible actions. If necessary, a Buddhist monk or kruu khmer may be consulted. Kruu khmer help individuals interpret and, if possible, manipulate natural forces toward favorable outcomes. They may provide or recommend an expert in dream analysis, fortune telling, herbal treatments, spells, love potions, dermal tattooing, or consultation with a baromei (guardian spirit) through a medium (Ovesen and Trankell 2010: 134-5). The actual means used depends on the type and scale of the affliction and the skill of the individual practitioner. The degree to which individual Cambodian Americans are involved with these practices and beliefs varies with age, class, educational background, and personal experience. Additionally, the strength of belief in any given practice varies from person to person. Because the dominant Western medical and religious discourses in Cambodia, as well as the U.S., tend to devalue traditional healing and socio-spiritual beliefs and practices, these are of less interest to, and may even be a cause of embarrassment for, Western educated urban Cambodians and Cambodian Americans raised in the United States (Ovesen and Trankell 2010; Douglas 2004). However, most people have a protective talisman or shrine in their home or business, and the veneration of ancestor spirits has been so completely integrated into Cambodian Buddhist ceremonies that most lay people are unaware these practices are not part of formal Buddhist doctrine (Douglas 2004).

The Ceremonies Chumruen Preah Parit—Blessing Ceremony The Chumruen Preah Parit ceremony is conducted in Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism. This is the formal name for the ceremony; chumruen meaning to improve or become prosperous; preah meaning holy or sacred; and parit, meaning protective prayer. In Khmer vernacular, the ceremony is referred to as sout moan, meaning to chant a secret religious code or magic formula (Headley1977: 718), which is usually translated into English by the laity as “blessing ceremony.”


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Blessing ceremonies are a regular part of Cambodian Theravada Buddhist observances, including major annual celebrations such as the New Year and Pchum Ben, a ceremony held in late September to honor deceased ancestors. The blessing ceremony is also part of life passage rituals such as births, ordinations, weddings, and funerals. The ceremony is performed for individual families in the temple or in homes and businesses, and to bless new buildings, both public and private, and business ventures (Chhean 2007). Small scale blessing ceremonies may be performed at the request of an individual or a family for various reasons including illness, debilitating worry or fear, bad luck, or a string of accidents, any of which may be seen as being caused by the bad actions of humans or spirits. In terms of Buddhist practice, the ceremony is seen as having the power to “eradicate the corruptions that are obstructing the person from progressing on the path to Enlightenment” (Chhean 2007: 952). Among lay people, it is believed that participation in blessing ceremonies cleanses the individual, removes bad luck, provides protection, and brings happiness. The laity receives protection from the Buddha through the monks, who are seen as “living embodiments and spiritual generators of Buddhism” (Ebihara 1968: 375-376). As mediators between the Buddha and the laity, monks have traditionally held a sacred and exalted position in Cambodian society, even above the King. The institution of Buddhism and the monkhood remains highly regarded in the U.S.; however, people do express doubt about the purity and intentions of individual monks’ activities here. Many of the symbols and activities identified as establishing a monk’s sacredness in Cambodia have been difficult or impossible to sustain in the U.S., such as going barefoot and begging for their daily meal. Many monks now own computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices, which are seen by some lay people as a distraction from meditation (monks are not supposed to entertain themselves). Each temple has had to work out a way to adjust to life in the U.S., finding it necessary to relax some rules. However, these adjustments come at a cost to the monks’ status in the community. As might be expected, the laity has reacted to modifications with varying degrees of concern and at times voice suspicions about what else may be occurring in the temples. Individual monks have been accused of many serious infractions, which further tarnish their image. Nevertheless, the Cambodian Buddhist temples in Long Beach provide a critical space for administering to one’s ancestors’ needs, whether through offerings of food, clothing, or money, and blessing ceremonies remain important to older members of the community. There are monks in

Cam mbodian-Americcan Ritual Practtices in Long B Beach, Californiia


the region admired for their dedicaation to the Buddha and d for the effectivenesss of their channting, and peo ople seek them m out in timess of need. As such, thhe blessing ceeremony plays an importannt role in maaintaining physical, pssychological, and social well-being w am mong older Caambodian Americans. The blesssing ceremonny discussed here was perrformed by Venerable V Kong Chheaan, Abbot of Wat Khmera Buddhikaram m, for a colleg ge student who was abbout 20 years old, and for his h sister, whoo was about two t years younger. Thhe grandmotheer, parents, an nd two youngger sisters (agees 12 and 5), and a yyounger brothher (age 4), were w also pressent. In this case, the young mann had recently been in a number oof accidents and was experiencingg a great deall of fear. He requested thee ceremony in n order to change his lluck and receiive protection. His sister haad been with him h at the time of one of the accidennts, so was inccluded in the cceremony.

K Budddhikaram in Lo ong Beach Figure 1. Seccond floor altaar at the Wat Khemera (Courtesy of Susan Needham m, 2012).

The rituaal was perform med in front of o an altar on tthe second flo oor of the temple. A gold, seated Buddha occu upied the ceenter of the altar and


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Buddhas of varying postures, sizes, materials, and origins were on the two steps below. The altar also contained offerings of lotus buds, mixed flowers, candles, incense, fruit, water, and images of deceased monks who were important in Cambodian Buddhism. Canvas paintings, depicting two stories of the Buddha, adorned the wall behind the altar. The family knelt on mats on the floor in front of the altar and paid homage to the Buddha by performing a sampeah to his image. Sampeah is a Cambodian gesture used to show gratitude and to respectfully greet others, especially elders and people of higher status. It is performed by placing the palms together in front of the chest and bowing the head slightly. Degrees of respect are shown through the height of the hands relative to the body; mid-chest, face level, forehead, and above the head. To perform a sampeah of the highest respect, one kneels, places their hands in front of the forehead and bowing at the waist, touches their forehead and palms to the floor. The grandmother lit several sticks of incense. Handing one to each member of the family, they prayed silently to the Buddha and to the ancestors. To the east of the altar, Ven. Kong sat holding a lit candle with a bronze alms bowl of clean water in front of him. He motioned to the brother and sister to sit directly in front of him and called the four year old to sit next to him facing his older siblings. Reciting slowly, clearly, and deliberately, Ven. Kong led the siblings in recitations of the "Homage to Buddha," the “Three Refuges,” and “Requesting Protection.” All three prayers were conducted in Pali, without an explanation of what was being chanted. However, it was not necessary that those present know what the words meant for the chants to be effective. In fact, most people do not know what the words mean. Since women are excluded from becoming monks, they do not have the opportunity to study Pali and, although it is a cultural ideal for every young male to become a monk for some period of time, due to the disruption of their lives during the time of the Khmer Rouge and its aftermath, many have been prevented from fulfilling this obligation and so fewer men know the meanings of the chants. Following the three prayers, Ven. Kong chanted by himself at a much faster pace. About halfway through he tipped the lit candle over the bowl, letting melted wax drip into the water. As he came to the end of his chanting he extinguished the candle in the water. He then slowly stirred the now holy water with the loose end of a bundle of slender bamboo sticks. He flicked the whisk-like bundle over the heads of all those present, sprinkling them with the holy water, to “wash away bad things in their life.” Kong explained later, the water entered their bodies like the Supreme

Cambodian-American Ritual Practices in Long Beach, California


Power, relaxing them and bringing a sense of peace. Then he tied several pieces of protective string around the teenagers’ right wrists. The white cotton string had been brought from a temple in Cambodia, where it had been sanctified during a blessing ceremony. In addition to tying the praloeung to the body, the string will serve as a material reminder of the ritual and as a symbolic reminder of the power of the Buddha to relieve suffering and give protection. As Ven. Kong tied the thread, he continued chanting in Pali. He bid the bad spirits to leave, wishing the family to be free from stress and suffering, and to have good health and no accidents. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Ven. Kong had the young people select one of several tiny carved statues in the image of the Buddha and lotus flowers. The protective powers of these small carvings had also been activated through protective chanting and can be carried in a pocket, worn around the neck, or placed in the car to provide additional protection. Members of the community have told me that the artifacts from the ceremonies (cotton thread, charms, and other talismans) help people to “remember to be good,” a sentiment that is in keeping with the general Cambodian belief that behaving within social norms and properly respecting one’s family and ancestral spirits may avoid much trouble.

Sampeah Kruu—Ceremony to Honor the Teachers The Sampeah Kruu ceremony is conducted in Pali and in special Khmer registers used to talk with and about holy people and royalty. Sampeah kruu ceremonies are conducted by specialists who learn their craft as an apprentice under the guidance of a living or spirit master. In the past this included a wide range of occupations and trades, such as carpenters, tailors, blacksmiths, wrestlers, midwives, mediums, herbalists, and other ritual healers, and classical dancers and musicians (Va 2008). Through the ceremony, individuals honor and show gratitude for the knowledge imparted to them by their living and deceased teachers, Hindu deities, and the guardian spirits of the trade or occupation. During the ceremony individuals also ask for blessings, protection, and increased skill as they engage in their craft. The relationship between a kruu and a novice was held in the highest regard in Cambodia, and was similar to the close relationship between a parent and child. When taking on a new student, a kruu would consecrate the relationship with a sampeah kruu ceremony in which the novice was introduced to the master’s spirit kruu and/or guardian spirit (Sam 1987), thus becoming part of the kruu’s spirit lineage. As Shapiro described for classical dance, the sampeah kruu serves to remind the novice of the


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“spiritual dimension of the knowledge transmitted from teacher to student and the sacred nature of the relationship of master and pupil” (Shapiro 1994:44). This relationship did not end with the kruu’s death. As a spirit, the teacher is available to assist and protect the apprentice, much as Daran’s family was in his times of need. Classical dance has had an “essentially spiritual function” (Cravath 1986: 195) in Cambodia, and was integral to all aspects of life, accompanying the phases of the agricultural cycle and, like the blessing ceremony described above, dance is part of major life-passage ceremonies. Cambodians often say dance is the “soul” of the Khmer people, and they trace the origins of music and dance back to before the Angkor period (9th to 15th centuries). A 10th century inscription explains the Khmer people are descendants of Kambu, a wise man, and Mera, a celestial dancer given to Kambu in marriage by the Hindu god, Shiva (Phim and Thompson 1999: 1). As intermediaries who venerated the deities and asked for protection and blessings on behalf of the people, dancers had a central role in sacred rituals, which Paul Cravath (1986) argued predate the arrival of Hinduism and Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Throughout their recorded history, Khmer kings made gifts of musicians and dancers to the temples and have supported dance troupes in the royal palace until the modern era. In the U.S., classical dance is a potent symbol and reminder of Cambodian culture and history. Classical dance troupes have formed in nearly every major Cambodian community in the country. Dance troupes perform at Cambodian banquets, fundraisers, and during New Year festivities, as well as at cultural events held throughout the year for the general public. In Long Beach, dance troupes are organized and taught by individuals with varying degrees of expertise and are supported by a variety of institutions, such as Cambodian-led mutual assistance associations, public schools, and Christian churches. In most instances the focus of dance instruction and performance is the transmission and maintenance of Cambodian heritage and the creation of a Cambodian identity in the U.S. Most of these students are not training to be professional dancers, so instruction and performance has much less to do with the sacredness of the practice or the spiritual bond between teacher and student, so the sampeah kruu ritual is rarely performed. The sampeah kruu discussed here was hosted by the parents, teachers, and students of the Spirit of Khmer Angkor Dance Troupe (SKA) and held at the offices of the Cambodian Association of America (CAA) in Long Beach, California, on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 23, 2006. The date was selected because Thursday is the traditional day for holding a sampeah kruu for dance and music and, in the U.S., this was the one day

Cambodian-American Ritual Practices in Long Beach, California


of the year when most government offices, schools, and businesses are closed and the most people were able to attend. Formed in 2004, the SKA performs regularly at venues throughout Southern California. The troupe is supported entirely by the students’ parents, who organize the classes and dance performances, and provide food and transportation. They meet once a week to rehearse Cambodian folk and classical dances and at the time of this ceremony they were under the direction of Neak Kruu (female teacher) Nathalie Lor, for whom respect to the ancestor teachers who created the dance was just as important as the dance itself. Students in this troupe performed an abbreviated form of sampeah kruu before each rehearsal. SKA may be the only dance troupe in Long Beach to also offer instruction in the instruments and music of the pinpeat, a musical ensemble composed of wood xylophones, drums, brass, and reed instruments, under the direction of Look Kruu (male teacher) Ho Chan. Khmer orchestras have not proliferated to the same degree as dance troupes and few young people are learning how to play Khmer instruments. Because there are so few music ensembles, and because CDs are so much easier to use, dance performances are generally accompanied by recorded music. The few existing orchestras are composed of older musicians who are in great demand to perform at Cambodian weddings, but they rarely perform with dance troupes. The sampeah kruu held by SKA in 2006 was set up in a large carpeted meeting room, where dance rehearsals also were held. Six, 6-foot tables covered in white tablecloths were arranged in a U-shape, with the opening facing West. A 3-foot wide length of white cloth extended from the center of the altar toward the West wall. On it had been placed a white pillow; a bowl of popcorn; a tray with matches, perfume, candles, and a package of incense; a tray of rose petals; a bowl containing water; a bunch of leafy sprigs that had been tied with string; several strands of white cotton thread; and a candle. The Cambodian national flag and garlands of white flowers hung on a partition behind the altar. Masks, headdresses, carved figurines of deities and characters from dance dramas, photographs, musical instruments, costumes, and makeup were arranged on the tables along with flowers, candles, perfume, pairs of trays of fruit, cooked pigs’ heads, grilled fish, cooked whole chickens, bottled water, and a variety of desserts. Six pairs of baaysei (ceremonial objects) in gold, green, red, and silver foil paper were placed lengthwise along the tables, extending out from the central altar. A length of white cloth with flowers, a pig’s head, popcorn, trays of chicken, fruit, desserts and one pair of baaysei was spread on the floor between the altar and the pinpeat orchestra.


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Figure 2. Sam mpeah Kruu altaar (Courtesy of Susan Needham m, 2006).

When evverything andd everyone waas in place, thee Achaa (rituaal leader) and Neak Krruu, both dresssed in white with w white silkk kben (a typee of pants formed from m a single 6-fooot piece of clloth), indicateed it was time to begin. As parents llit incense andd the candles affixed a to eacch of the altar offerings and instrum ments, the stuudents perform med a sampeeah to their teachers, offering theem each five sticks of inccense and a ccandle, and reeceived a blessing in rreturn. Then, everyone e pressent performedd three sampeeah to the altar. Follow wing this, the Achaa began n to read aloudd the ritual tex xt of Pali and formal K Khmer. The students s vary in i Khmer speeaking ability; most are familiar witth Khmer term ms associated d with dance or music and d all have some underrstanding of everyday e Khm mer, but it is nnot likely thaat anyone knew the foormal vocabullary used in the t ritual, so their understaanding of what was gooing on beyonnd what they were w told beforrehand was lim mited. The Achhaa began by announcing the ceremonyy and its purp pose, and invited the sspirits to comee and enjoy th he offerings:

Cambodian-American Ritual Practices in Long Beach, California


Today is Thursday, the 23rd of November, year 2006. Today is an auspicious occasion when we pay homage to all our master teachers. Together we have prepared this sampeah kruu to offer to the supreme sacred teachers, venerable teachers, and all spirits whose names we may not know. Please come to receive this sacrificial offering, which we have all prepared. We have a variety of fruit, every kind of sweets, and every kind of savory foods, placed on the left and on the right according to ancient tradition. Please receive all these many offerings of excellent food and drink with love and great happiness.

This was followed by the “Homage to the Buddha,” repeated three times as in the blessing ceremony described above. Then the Achaa invited specific guardian spirits and spirit teachers of the instruments and singing to attend. Upon completion of this section, the pinpeat orchestra played the blessing song, Satuka. This was the first of thirteen musical offerings that would be performed throughout the ritual by the pinpeat. In Cambodia, the Satuka is played before all performances to invite the guardian spirits to be present, not only to observe and enjoy the performance but also to protect the stage area and the performers. The sampeah kruu ceremony continued in this manner with the Achaa inviting distinct groups of gods and guardian spirits of the dance and music, followed by a musical offering to them. Among the entities invited were the Hindu gods, Preah En (Indra) and Preah Prum (Brahma), the guardians of the four directions, and the spirits protecting the universe, the earth, the skies, waters, mountains, and underground regions. The list included both those that could be named and those that were unseen and unknown. None were excluded: demons and angels, good and evil, all were invited to join the ceremony and receive the offerings “according to each of their wishes.” When all the guardians had been invoked, the dancers elevated the offerings in the four cardinal directions to honor “the supreme minor and supreme major masters” as the musicians played Satuka once again. In the next portion of the ceremony, the deities were invited to bathe and adorn themselves for the occasion, and as the next song offering played, the Achaa sprayed perfume over the altar items and sprinkled lustral water over all the congregants. The Achaa then invited the supreme sacred masters to consume the food, sweets, the cooked and raw food, and various kinds of fruit. As the music offering played, a small amount of food from each of the offerings was placed on two trays to be set outside the ritual space for the “small spirits” who might become angry if they were forgotten. Finally, all kinds of priey (flying sparkling female spirits seen at night), were invited to the ceremony. As the next music offering was played, popcorn was scattered


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around the ritual space for the priey. When the music finished, the Achaa requested that the closing song, Chuut, be played to accompany the “holy and royal masters” as they returned to their dwelling places. At the completion of Chuut, five dancers performed Chuun Po, the “blessing dance,” facing the altar. Usually performed at the beginning of special occasions, the Chuun Po is one of the most frequently performed dances at private and public Cambodian events in Long Beach. The dancers held small silver bowls containing rose petals, which they sprinkled toward the altar during the dance. The petals symbolize blessings and wishes for good health, happiness, prosperity and success. The teachers and Achaa concluded the ritual with wrist tying. Sitting in front of the altar, they faced the students, parents, and guests. Those who wished to receive a blessing knelt in front of one of the ritual leaders and performed three sampeah. The leader gave advice and recited blessings as they tied several cotton strings, which had been sanctified during the ritual, around their right wrist.

Discussion All human groups have established rules structuring how we think about and interact with the living and the dead. In Cambodian culture, as in many cultures of Southeast Asia, the world is thought to be composed of a series of levels of existence, with deities on the plane above, and demons on the plane below humans (Keyes 1995; Eisenbruch 1992). The border between each level is not absolute and spirit entities are able to travel between them. The relative ease with which the praloeung can leave the body, and with which spirit beings can interact with the living suggests that in Cambodian worldview there is very little separating the living and the dead. In pre-Khmer Rouge Cambodian culture, the human level of existence was divided “…between wildness (prei, which means “forest”) and what is grown, civilized, arranged, predictable, like rice or families” (Chandler 2008: 32). It was believed that hierarchically-ordered patterns of people and things stabilized society, keeping it distinct from the wild. Stabilizing patterns include ritualized activities, such as those described here, which model patterns of behavior between people and between people and spirits. Among the most important stabilizing social patterns are the dichotomous interdependent relationships between people of lower status (“small people”) and higher status (“big people”)—for example, child/parent and student/teacher. Social order is maintained in these relationships through the use of proper language, respect for social roles,

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and appropriate behavior within the roles (Chandler 1992: 90). Ideally, “big people” have the moral responsibility to help those who are younger or have fewer means or skills by providing resources, guidance, and protection. In return, “small people” give allegiance and gratitude to the “big people” (Ebihara 1968). As Daran’s narrative at the beginning of this chapter reveals, relationships within families are based on profound feelings of affection, gratitude, and respect, as well as material and ceremonial obligations, which extend beyond the physical aspect of individuals to their spirit entities. A similarly close bond is formed between the student and teacher by means of the sampeah kruu ceremony. During the sampeah kruu, parents and teachers were explicitly linked as those in attendance were told to “pay homage to our mothers and fathers, who are our natural teachers.” Teachers, and their teachers before them, have given and continue to give, the gift of cultural knowledge, skill, and protection. In return, the students give respect, gratitude, and the promise to learn and remember, “so that nothing will be lost” (Shapiro 1994: 437). Both rituals described here model and reinforce how order is brought into Cambodian interactions, as well as how order is brought to the unseen and unpredictable forces affecting their lives. This chapter describes two formal rituals involving many people, but individuals can and do perform much smaller spontaneous ritual variants. One elder’s story during the Khmer Rouge is particularly illustrative of how this works: After being evacuated from Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge, Phea and her three daughters came to a village where they were told to make a shelter for themselves. Phea constructed a make-shift hut against the trunk of a tamarind tree. The villagers warned her that a pregnant woman had hanged herself in the tree, an act resulting in a ghost thought to cause illness. Phea did not believe them, but as a precaution she burned three sticks of incense and prayed to the spirit, “I don’t know if you are older than me and I should call you Ma or Auntie, or if you are younger than me and I should call you sister, but we are family, I make you family, we will share food; everything!” About two weeks later, in the middle of the night, Phea heard humming in the tree. Investigating the sound she saw the long black hair and white gown of the ghost in the tree’s branches. The next day the villagers told her to move, but Phea told them, “No, we are family.” Phea saw the ghost three more times, but she and her daughters were never harmed. Through this ritual act, Phea transformed a potentially dangerous spirit into a family member, binding it with moral obligations to provide mutual care and respect. The ghost became subject to the power of


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patterned social relations, which afford social beings protection from the wild. What do these rituals mean for Cambodian American youth? Cambodian American children are exposed to Cambodian culture in limited ways through their families, but they are growing up in American society, which pervades all aspects of their lives and presents a different understanding of social roles, families, and relations with the dead. American schools, peer groups, and the media strongly influence the socialization of immigrant children into the mainstream culture. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the dominant socio-medical discourse discourages the kinds of beliefs and practices described here. Nevertheless, some youth are internalizing aspects of Cambodian ritual practices, as evidenced by the young man who requested that the blessing ceremony described above be done on his behalf. Rituals are a powerful means for transmitting values, beliefs, and attitudes about the world and human relations. Additionally, exposure to and involvement in ritual practices adds new experiences, understandings, and ways of being as the following story of a 35-year old Cambodian American male illustrates: Vuth’s mother died when he was so young, he has no clear memories of her. He had been having a lot of trouble in his life and upon the advice of an aunt, went to see a female kruu khmer in Long Beach. The kruu told him his mother was safekeeping his luck for him, but because he was not honoring (sampeah) her, his mother was unable to help him. The kruu instructed Vuth to set up an altar with a seven-headed naga and showed him how to pray. Several times during the story, he told me he did not believe in such things before, but now he does; he can feel his mother’s presence, her affection, and her protection. As for the students of SKA, at least one has developed a strong sense of respect for the spirit of dance as documented in a short film by Johnny Mam (2011). The film follows a 20-year old Cambodian American classical dancer as she rehearses the lead in the Robam Tep Apsara (dance of the Apsara divinities) for the annual Cambodian New Year culture show at California State University Long Beach (CSULB). This young woman began dancing when she was five years old and is highly skilled, but she had never been given a lead before this. She was jubilant, but sorely aware of the social and spiritual responsibilities associated with this role. The Apsara dance has become a symbol of Cambodia, having tremendous significance for Cambodians throughout the diaspora. Additionally, the annual culture show performed at the Carpenter Center at CSULB is one of the oldest, best known, and largest Cambodian events in Southern California. Furthermore, this was the first time this troupe would

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perform the Apsara. They had made a significant investment of time and precious resources to bring costly costumes from Cambodia, and to build the sets. Two weeks before the performance, on the verge of an emotional breakdown, she decided she could not dance the lead. Tearfully, she explained, “To me Cambodian dance is so much more than choreography, than learning it and just doing it. It’s inexplicable. It’s a feeling, you know? It’s kind of a spiritual thing.” She didn’t feel she could fully embody the dance and to continue to do so would have been disrespectful. The rituals described in this chapter define and address the spirit aspects of the living and the dead, and in so doing link individuals to family, community, culture and history. The rituals demonstrate how Cambodian social roles are believed to bind the whole person, body and spirit, to others with obligations that continue beyond the material world. They create enduring interconnections and strengthen relationships according to Cambodian conceptions of social propriety. These two ceremonies represent a small sample of a rich variety of socio-spiritual practices that have been recreated in Long Beach. These practices continue to be important to the older generation of Cambodians, and in some limited forms are being transmitted to a new generation sincerely interested in learning about their heritage.

Note 1

Transliteration of Khmer is based on Franklin Huffman's system. Where the IPA character was not available, the closest Romanized spelling is used. Conventional English spellings are used for familiar place names and proper names.

Works Cited Ang, Choulean. “The Place of Animism within Popular Buddhism in Cambodia: The Example of the Monastery.” Asian Folklore Studies 47 (1988): 35—41. Chandler, David. A History of Cambodia. Boulder: Westview Press, 1992. —. “Songs at the Edge of the Forest.” At the Edge of the Forest. Eds. Judy Ledgerwood and Anne Hansen. Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 2008. Chhean, Kong. “A Buddhist Perspective on Coping with Catastrophe.” Southern Medical Association 100.9 (2007): 952-953. Chuth, Khay. “Ghouls, Ghosts, and Other Infernal Creatures.” In the Shadow of Ankgor. Eds. Frank Stewart and Sharon May. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.


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Cravath, Paul. “The Ritual Origins of the Classical Dance Drama of Cambodia.” Asian Theatre Journal 3.2 (1986): 179-293. Douglas, Thomas. Crossing the Lotus: Race, Religion and Rationality among Cambodian Immigrants in Long Beach and Seattle. Diss. University of California, Irvine, 2004. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2004. Ebihara, May. Svay, a Khmer Village in Cambodia. Diss. Columbia University, 1968. Eisenbruch, Maurice. “The Ritual Space of Patients and Traditional Healers in Cambodia.” Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient. 79.2 (1992): 283-316. Headley, Robert. Cambodian-English Dictionary. Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1977. Huffman, Franklin. Cambodian System of Writing and Beginning Reader. Ithaca: Cornell University, Southeast Asia Program, 1970. Keyes, Charles. The Golden Peninsula. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995. LaFreniere, Brea. Music through the Dark. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2000. Langford, Jean. “Gifts Intercepted: Biopolitics and Spirit Debt.” Cultural Anthropology 24.4 (2009): 681-711. Mabbett, Ian and David Chandler. The Khmers. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 1995. Mam, Johnny. The Spirit of Khmer Angkor. 2011. Web. 4 March 2012. Youtube video. Needham, Susan and Karen Quintiliani. “Cambodians in Long Beach, California: The Making of a Community.” The Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies 5.1 (2007): 29-53. Ovesen, Jan and Ing-BrittTrankell. Cambodians and their Doctors: A Medical Anthropology of Colonial and Post-Colonial Cambodia. Copenhagen S, Denmark: NIAS Press, 2010. Phim, Toni and Ashley Thompson. Dance in Cambodia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Ratliff, Sharon. Caring for Cambodian Americans. Florence, KY: Routledge, 1997. Sam, Chan Moly. Khmer Court Dance: A Comprehensive Study of Movements, Gestures, and Postures as Applied Techniques. Siem Reap, Cambodia: Khmer Studies Institute, 1987. Shapiro, Toni. Dance and the Spirit of Cambodia. Diss. Cornell University, New York. 1994. Ann Arbor: UMI 1994.

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Smith-Hefner, Nancy. Khmer American: Identity and Moral Education in a Diasporic Community. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. Thompson, Ashley. Calling the Souls: A Cambodian Ritual Text. Phnom Penh: Reyum Publishing, 2005. Va, Bophary. Pithi Sampeah Kruu Phleng Mahori at the Royal University of Fine Arts. MA thesis. Cambodia. Thailand: Mahidol University, 2008. Yamada, Teri. “The Spirit Cult of Khleang Moeung in Long Beach, California.” History, Buddhism, and New Religious Movements in Cambodia. Eds. John Marston and Elizabeth Guthrie. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004.


Melvin Urofsky counters the popular common idea that freedom of religion is a Constitutional guarantee that began with the birth of the United States. Urofsky argues that the pilgrims came to America to practice their religion freely, “not to allow other groups, which they believed to be in error, to worship as well” (Urofsky 2002: 2). Religious tolerance, Urofsky asserts, is an epiphenomenon. “The colonies and later the country first developed religious toleration and then freedom not because particular sects stopped believing they alone knew the true word of God, but because so many different groups came in search of a better life” (Urofsky 2002: 2). As such, the new frontier became more diverse and it became necessary for people to learn to live with one another peacefully; thus, they “learned tolerance as a necessity, and then turned it into a virtue” (Urofsky 2002: 2). The necessity and virtue of tolerance requires constant work to sustain it. Americans by-and-large subscribe to the idea that the individual has the right to choose his/her beliefs and practices, and that government has no business interfering with religious matters. A cursory examination of the interplay between religion and politics in the United States would indicate that it is not absolute. An underlying assumption of the freedom of religion clause is that individuals can practice their religion—as long as it is a Judeo-Christian variant. The religious landscape in America privileges Christianity; the racial landscape privileges white individuals. The intersection of race and religion here creates what Peggy McIntosh describes as the socio-cultural phenomenon of “white privilege” (McIntosh 1988). White privilege includes mundane

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quotidian effects, for example: the accessibility of being around other white people, the ability to rent or buy a house in any neighborhood that one can afford, and the freedom to go shopping at any time and be assured that one will not be followed or harassed (McIntosh 1988). McIntosh directs our attention to a subtle aspect of racism as being not mere individual acts of “meanness” but rather, as “invisible systems of conferring dominance on my [white] group” (McIntosh 1988). Since racial order is nested in a socio-political hierarchy that privileges white, Christian, male individuals and social groups, white privilege is inherently religious. Joseph Cheah describes white privilege in terms of an ideology of white supremacy, which he defines as “a hegemonic understanding, on the part of both whites and non-whites, that white Euro-American culture, values, attitudes, beliefs, and practices are the norm according to which other cultures and social practices are judged” (Cheah 2004: 1). Cheah’s insights are useful for how we understand race relations in the United States. White privilege does not replicate itself, but rather, is in a dialectical relationship with non-whites who also play a part in replicating white privilege, albeit implicitly and, perhaps, unconsciously. White privilege and the ideology of white supremacy are expressively written in movements that oppose the building of Asian religious temples in America. There are many cases of white majority neighbors that mobilized in an effort to stop the building of Asian religious temples in “their” communities. This article seeks to unpack their coded messages and reveal their underlying expressions of white privilege embedded in, and informed by, an ideology of white supremacy.

Building Asian Religious Temples in America There is a plethora of cases about white majority residents who mobilized against the construction of an Asian religious temple in “their” neighborhoods. The largest Chinese Buddhist monastery in North America, the Hsi Lai Si ( す ౗ ᑎ Coming West Temple) began construction in 1986, although the land had been purchased in 1978. The temple was completed in 1988. White Euro-American residents opposed the construction of the temple, citing that it would not fit in with the landscape of residential single-family homes, would increase traffic and noise, and would be a “jarringly inappropriate cultural presence” (Lin 1996: 110). Residents opposing the construction of the temple cited traffic as their greatest concern (Baker 1982). Opponents problematically acted out of ignorance as illustrated by their erroneous fear of animal sacrifices.


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Their list of complaints illustrates that they knew nothing about Buddhist beliefs and practices. Irene Lin notes: Other concerns resulted from the community’s misunderstanding of Buddhism and Chinese culture, including noise from chanting of sutras, gongs, and firecrackers; the “adverse influence” on the youth resulting from the unfamiliar clothing of Buddhist monks and nuns; the unfounded fear of animal sacrifices on the temple site (and thus the fear for neighborhood dogs because “the Chinese all eat dog meat”); and the worry that the children might be entrapped by the new “religious cult.” (Lin 1996: 110)

After six public hearings and more than one hundred meetings, the Hacienda Heights City council granted Hsi Lai Temple a construction permit. In the process, Hsi Lai Temple made several concessions, agreeing to: eliminate the pagoda and Buddha statue; restrict building height to only two stories; reduce the number of buildings (15 buildings were eliminated); and to reduce the overall size by 15,000 square feet (Birkinshaw 1983). Additionally, Hsi Lai Temple agreed to change the color of the roof and the buildings, taking extra measures to decrease fire risk from incense, and limiting its parking spaces to prevent too many people from attending the temple at once (Lin 1996: 110). Today, the Hsi Lai Temple encompasses 15 acres and a floor area of 102,432 square feet. The temple’s Ming Dynasty (1268–1644 C.E.) and Ching Dynasty (1644– 1911 C.E.) architecture is faithful to the traditional style of buildings, gardens, and statuary of traditional ancient Chinese monasteries, but not as brightly colored or opulent (Lin 1996: 90). Since the 1960s, other Asian American communities have experienced and encountered similar expressions of white privilege that maintains an ideology of white supremacy. A little more than a decade after the Hsi Lai Temple, the Sikh community of San Jose, California faced similar racially-charged objections against their efforts to build a new gurdwara, Sikh temple, on a 40-acre apricot orchard it had purchased. Similar to Hsi Lai Temple’s experience, the Sikh community purchased land in an affluent rural community (i.e., San Jose’s Evergreen foothills). The predominantly white neighborhood perceived the gurdwara as a “threat” (Singh 2003: 90). The opponents dubbed the temple the “Taj Mahal of the West” and cited concerns about increased traffic and the size of the giant onion-domed temple as their primary reasons for opposing the construction (Singh 2003: 90). Flyers with inflammatory statements such as, “A church the size of KMart is coming to the neighborhood, and it will create major traffic problems!” appeared throughout the community during the days leading up to the hearing (Singh 2003: 91). Opponents cited five reasons for

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objecting to the gurdwara: increase in traffic, noise from the temple, the architecture would not fit into the neighborhood landscape, the temple would be too large and would obstruct the view of the natural surroundings, and tourists would flood the area because of the novelty of the new gurdwara (Singh 2003: 92). “In order to accommodate their neighbors, the Sikhs had already agreed to putting a cap of 1500 people in the facility at any one time, as well as accepting restrictions on the operating hours of the gurdwara. In fact, no other site of worship in San Jose has any such strictures on time of services or size of congregation applied to it” (Singh 2003: 92). Opponents claimed their opposition was not on the basis of race or religious intolerance. But the Sikh community experienced it differently and viewed it as a “subtle” form of racism. “This constant shifting of grievances and proffering of new complaints once previous claims had been assuaged, manifests a powerful indictment of some members of the opposition. Their true dissatisfaction obviously lay in areas other than the ostensible objections they mouthed—and repeatedly changed” (Singh 2003: 94). During the city’s final approval meeting some opponents outwardly declared, “We don’t want it in our neighborhood” (Singh 2003: 92). “Nevertheless, the progressive political atmosphere in the region, as well as the general emphasis on supporting diversity by city officials and numerous faith-based community leaders, became a tremendous boon to the Sikh community as they sought support for the gurdwara project from non-Sikh members of the community” (Singh 2003: 92). The growth of Theravada Buddhist temples throughout the United States centered along the east and west coasts during the early 1970s. Sri Lankan and Thai Buddhist temples were the first to be established, with a concentration in California. “By the end of the 1970s, Theravada Buddhist centers had been established or initiated by Sri Lankans, Thais, Burmese, Cambodians, Laotians, and native-born Americans in the United States, and a native-born American had received higher Buddhist ordination on American soil” (Cadge 2005: 32). This growth was punctuated by encounters with racism as witnessed by Cambodians and Laotians, as well as by subtler expressions of racism and white privilege anchored in an ideology of white supremacy.

Building Theravada Buddhist Temple in America The 1970s have been described as a decade of stagflation, an unprecedented mixture of double-digit unemployment and inflation rates (LeMay 2003: xv). Those economic conditions impacted how Vietnamese, Cambodian,


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and Laotian refugees were received in the wake of the Fall of Saigon in April 1975. Theravada Buddhist temple building comes with backlash from xenophobic neighbors who, under the guise of zoning laws and regulations, invoke their privilege, supported by the ideology of white supremacy in attempts to stop the building of temples in their neighborhoods, as evidenced by an example in Silver Spring, Maryland, where, in 2008, neighbors counted cars and kept detailed records and photos of people visiting the temple during festival celebrations. The Maryland State Supreme Court denied the group, then known as the Khmer Buddhist Society, a permit to build a temple on Newtown Hilltop. Afterwards, the Newtown Zoning Board presented the Khmer Buddhist Society with an order to “cease all religious services and festivals permanently” (Hamilton 2008). In the late 1980s, Laotian refugees in Rockford, Illinois, a rural blue-collar town, faced extreme violence in their attempt to build a temple on a small farmstead on the outskirts of town. The Laotian temple was the target of a firebomb and drive-by rifle fire. Although Burmese Buddhist communities have not received the level of opposition with respects to their establishment of religious temples, the Alohtaw Pyayt Dhamma Yeiktha (APDY) in the City of El Sobrante, California, received complaints from its predominantly white neighbors soon after the home temple was established on November 1998 (Cheah 2004: 181). Joseph Cheah notes that members of the Burmese Buddhist community “received complaints from the city that there were ‘weird’ gatherings of people there and they were cultish” (Cheah 2004: 181). Here again, neighbors complained about noise, traffic, and parking. “Because most residents would declaim that they possess any discriminatory sentiment or religious bias against the presence of a non-Christian place of worship in their neighborhood, the words ‘traffic’ and ‘noise’ have, at times, become code words for covert racism” (Cheah 2004: 181). Unlike their Cambodian and Laotian neighbors, Thai Americans did not come to the United States as refugees. Thai migration to the United States was fueled in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s by several factors: social and political upheaval in Thailand, combined with changes in U.S. immigration policy that lifted the ban on immigration from Asia. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 also established a preference for skilled labor. Therefore, the first wave of Thai immigrants primarily consisted of doctors, nurses, and other white-collar professionals (Aurebach 1994, cited in Yahirun 2011). In particular, a shortage of nurses in the United States drew large numbers of Thai immigrants. In the late 1960s, the American government began to give a warm welcome to Thai nurses by offering them Green Cards as soon as they landed on American

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soil. Additionally, an increased number of Thai students immigrated for educational purposes, although that goal was not achieved as easily as expected. Thai exchange students faced financial hardships, and unexpected scholastic demands were compounded by language problems that made successful completion of a degree extremely difficult, if not impossible. Those who dropped out did not return to Thailand, instead, they found unskilled and semi-skilled jobs. Later, when their student visas expired, many petitioned for a change of status to permanent resident. After the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1984, a change in status became nearly impossible. Further, another group of Thai immigrants came as wives of U.S. service personnel stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Similar to immigrants from other parts of the world, Thai immigrants brought their religion and religious institutions with them. The growing number of Thai temples throughout the United States attests to the growing presence of Thai Americans. “Today 105 wats can be found scattered throughout North America in 32 states, including six temples in Canada” (Perreria 2011: 1110). Nearly 30 percent of the temples are located in California ( The development of Thai Buddhism in America unfolded in two phases. Initially it was a top-down formation that was spearheaded by royal, ecclesial, and civil authorities in Thailand, who in the mid-1950s and 1960s, sought to expand Thai Buddhism beyond its geographical and national borders (Perreria 2011: 1110). During that period, Thailand envisioned itself as a “world center of Buddhism.” As such, it funded the development of the first transnational Thai temples under royal patronage in India in 1959, with the construction of Wat Thai Buddha-Gaya, then in the United Kingdom in 1965, with Wat Buddhapadipa. There were also plans to construct a Thai temple in New York’s Staten Island, but the plan was aborted due to complications. Simultaneously, a group of Thai immigrants and American-born Buddhists successfully formed the Buddhist Study Center in New York as a legal entity in 1965 (Perreria 2011: 1110). This event, followed by the 1972 establishment of the first and largest Thai temple in Los Angeles, foreshadowed a new bottom-up, lay-centered approach to the institutionalization of Thai Buddhism in the United States. “In June 1971 [sic] a mission of Thai monks led by Ven. Phra Dhammakosacharn arrived in Los Angeles, and lay people began to raise funds to purchase land. In 1972, land was donated and construction began on a main hall, a two-story Thai-style building that was completed and dedicated in 1979” (Cadge 2005: 27). The bottom-up approach maintained close links with Thai royalty and high-ranking civil servants, but was financed and led by the growing Thai immigrant population in


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America. Wendy Cadge notes, “Buddha images for the shrine hall and two sets of scriptures were carried to the United States by monks and lay people from Thailand, and in 1979, His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen of Thailand presided over the casting of the principal Buddha image for the temple at Wat Po (officially called Wat Phra Chetuphon, or the Monastery of the Reclining Buddha) in Thailand” (Cadge 2005: 27). Throughout the 1970s, Thai immigrants established Thai temples in several metropolitan areas: Washington D.C., Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco. This expansion necessitated the formation of the Council of Thai Bhikkhus in 1977, who acted as liaisons for the missionary monks coming from Thailand to serve the growing community (Cadge 2005: 27). Cadge describes the general process of Thai temple building from the bottom-up approach: Most Thai temples followed similar patterns in their development. A group of lay people in a given city who were interested in building a temple first formed a committee to consider the issues involved. They often sought advice from the monks at Wat Thai L.A. or Wat Thai Washington, D.C., or from monks that they knew in Thailand. Often a monk came to the area to visit and meet with people, and then the committee started to collect donations from Thai people in the area. An apartment or single-family house would be rented or purchased and monks would take up residence, normally from Thailand rather than from another temple in the United States. Many temples remain in these original buildings now, while others, particularly those that continued to accumulate financial resources, purchased new buildings or land and often began to build Thai-style buildings…. Some temples, like Wat Phrasriratanaram Buddhist Temple of St. Louis, moved into existing buildings, in this case a former Assemblies of God church. In many cases, the traditional rules regarding the construction of temples were amended slightly, for example, when portions of temples normally housed in separate buildings in Thailand were combined for reasons of cost or practicality. The distinctions between commercial and residential zoning were particularly challenging for many Thai and other Asian temples, and many had to relocate to areas zoned for religious gatherings. (Cadge 2005: 33)

Because the majority of Thais in Thailand, America, and within the Thai diaspora are mainly Buddhist, Buddhist rituals and beliefs are key to being Thai in America. In Buddhist custom, people can go to a temple any day to offer food to the monk(s), as a part of religious practice called thumbun, literally meaning making merit. Buddhist monks (and nuns) are the most serious Buddhist learners and practitioners, providing a role model of Buddhism for common people. In addition to conducting Buddhist rituals,

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monks are supposed to lead and teach the way of Buddhism. Although there are some Thai-American-born monks, the majority of monks in the United States are invited from Thailand. Currently, there are more than 482 Thai monks in 105 temples across America. The greater the number of monks at the temple, the larger the community; and the larger the community, the greater the likelihood they will be a target of white supremacy and coded expressions of racism.

Berkeley’s Wat Mongkolratanaram Wat Mongkolratanaram, locally referred to as the Berkeley Thai Temple, was established in 1978, when a group of volunteers formed a small temple committee and invited two visiting monks from Thailand to serve as spiritual leaders and assist with building the temple. In 1981, the temple received non-profit status as a religious organization, and established the Thai Buddhist temple and cultural center at its current location on Russell Street in the City of Berkeley. By 2001, the temple was recognized as an official Thai Buddhist ubosoth, or place of worship, in full accordance with Theravada Buddhist doctrines. For nearly three decades, the Berkeley Thai Temple held a Sunday Food Offering—locally called the Thai Temple Sunday brunch—where members of the temple prepared and served food to Buddhist, non-Buddhist, Thais, and non-Thai visitors. Thai and Thai American Buddhists who volunteer at the Sunday brunch understand their work as an expression of thambun, or merit-making. Merit is counter to karma, which Buddhists believe chains all living creatures in the endless cycles of reincarnation and suffering, known as samsara. Merit may be gained primarily by supporting the community of monks and nuns, by assisting the needy, or through Buddhist meditation. Merit is also transferable. Hence, the living may perform rituals and offerings to earn merit, which may then be transferred to their beloved to assist them in the afterlife and in being reborn into the human realm. From a Thai American perspective, volunteers at the Berkeley Thai Temple engage in the religio-cultural practice of thambun, which in turn, sustains the temple for the community, and the livelihood of the Thai monks who reside there. In addition, the temple offers Thai language and cultural classes and programs.


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Figure 1. Wat Mongkolratanaram, September 13, 2011 (Courtesy of Jonathan H. X. Lee)

The popular Sunday Food Offering came under attack in 2008, when the Berkeley Thai Temple applied to the City of Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board to build a Buddha Hall (bood) larger than the size allowed by the Municipal Code. The Buddha Hall would be 16 feet wide, 24 feet long, and 44 feet high (including a 14-foot spire), and the proposed sanctuary would include three Buddha statues on a raised platform (Swan 2009). Nineteen neighbors who reside on Oregon Street gathered to protest the proposed expansion of the temple. In a letter to Greg Powell, City of Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board Land Use Planning Division, from opposing residents

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on Oregon Street (April 17, 2008), they argued that the “architecture” would change the character of the residential neighborhood. Additionally, upon discovering that the temple’s 1993 zoning permit only allowed for food to be served three times a year, Oregon Street residents used this opportunity to voice their concern about the Sunday Food Offering. They cited it as “detrimental” to the health of the neighborhood, and suggested that the food service be moved to a different site because it created noise, parking and traffic problems, litter in the neighborhood, and was the source of “offensive odors” (Sookkasikon 2010: 122-124). The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board investigated the allegations, and “. . . announced in June that the Berkeley Thai Temple had repeatedly exceeded the number of events allowed by its use permit. Although no one was able to ascertain just how long the temple had been violating its permit, the Board agreed to give the temple a chance to modify the original permit and address neighborhood concerns” (Bhattacharjee 2008b). Further, the Board urged mediation to resolve the conflict. A Save the Thai Temple press release noted that “The Temple immediately responded to these concerns by undertaking extensive measures to participate in three mediation sessions with the complainants, cut its Sunday service hours in half, implement a neighborhood litter patrol, relocate the preparation of its food items, secure an exclusive parking lot from a nearby retailer, and actively reach out to its neighbors” (Save the Thai Temple Press Release, November 7, 2008). Christina Jirachachavalwong, organizer of the website said, “We’ve reduced our early morning preparation hours, we’ve put up signs all over the neighborhood, reminding people not to park in driveways, not to litter, we’ve sent a trash patrol around the neighborhood… These concessions have ‘severely impacted our financial situation’ but have not satisfied the complainants” (Lee 2008). The temple’s weekly Sunday Food Offering is well attended by upwards of 600 visitors. Some Oregon Street residents said, “We believe we have a right to reside in peace, to enjoy our residential neighborhood without a large commercial restaurant in our midst” (Flower 2009). After the initial hearing about the zoning problem, the Berkeley Thai Temple was granted a zoning adjustment. While this was good news for the temple and its supporters, at the hearing there had been accusations that the foods served at the temple were drugged. Some opponents of the temple’s food service complained that they were forced to live with odors. Other complaints were more focused. As recorded in The Wall Street Journal:


Chapter Six “We have no opposition to Buddhism,” says Ms. Shoulders, the neighbor. “We have no problem with Thai culture. We even actually like Thai food.” All she is seeking, she says, is changes in the temple’s operations (Flower 2009).

Figure 2. Model of proposed new construction and Buddha Hall, September 25, 2011. (Courtesy of Jonathan H. X. Lee)

Other neighbors expressed their support of the temple’s Sunday Food Offering. As noted in a Save the Thai Temple press release: Since spring 2008, the steady outpouring of community support to preserve the Temple has attested to its 27 years of spiritual and cultural contributions to the Bay Area. Immediate neighbors from Russell and Otis Streets circulated a petition in favor of Sundays at the Temple and received more than 2,300 signatures, including 800 Berkeley residents and 106 neighbors residing in the immediate vicinity of the Temple grounds. Students from UC Berkeley have voiced their support through the student government, the Associated Students of the University of California [at Berkeley] (ASUC), which passed a Senate Bill in support of the Temple. Additionally, Asian Pacific Islander American community organizations like the Asian Law Caucus have rallied support for the Temple. Debbie Sheen, Housing and Community Development staff attorney at the Caucus

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said, “The weekly event is an important space for the Thai community in the Bay Area, and ending the Sunday Food Offering tradition is a detriment not only to the Thai community but also to the cultural diversity of Berkeley.” (Save the Thai Temple Press Release, November 7, 2008)

Martha Chazanoff voiced her support in a letter to the City Planner, saying, “As a homeowner on Otis Street, I would like to express my support for Wat Mongkolratanaram on Russell Street . . . . The brunch that is held weekly brings a wonderful element of community-minded, conscientious, and peaceful people to the neighborhood—both old and young. I will admit that parking is a little tight on Sunday, but I would attribute at least part of that to the Ashby Flea Market . . . .” (Martha S. Chazanoff’s email to Greg Powell, July 12, 2008). Chazanoff goes on to say that the Thai temple is “[a] wonderful, wonderful element of our neighborhood. Anyone that is upset by the hustle and bustle of the Sunday Brunch should consider that other 163 hours of the week when it is quiet at the temple and few people are noticeably congretating [sic] there. Their property is well maintained; their landscaping is better than most in the neighborhood” (Martha S. Chazanoff’s email to Greg Powell, July 12, 2008). Some may argue that the Berkeley Thai Temple has become a victim of its own success and popularity. Those who supported the Berkeley Thai Temple and wanted to save the food service argued that there is a direct connection between saving the food service and saving the temple because 80 percent of the temple’s total revenue was raised by the weekly food service. Chinda Blaschczyk, longtime volunteer at the Berkeley Thai Temple, states, “We are not a business; we rely on the donations we receive . . . . If we are not able to serve food on Sundays, I truly believe the temple will be shut down completely” (Lee 2008). In addition, the revenue was used to support Thai language and cultural classes offered by the temple, as Komson Thong, president of the Thai Association of Northern California, told the Planning Board, “[the] proceeds from the weekend fund raisers went towards subsidizing costs for students who came to the Thai temple to learn Thai, meditate and dabble in other cultural programs” (Bhattacharjee 2008a). Siwaraya Rochanahusdin, who teaches intermediate and advanced Thai to children and adults at the temple, said a large number of Thai Americans from the East Bay sent their children to the temple school to learn Thai and traditional music and dance (Bhattacharjee 2008b).


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Figure 3. Thai American youth learning Thai music, July 20, 2009. (Photo courtesy of Siwaraya Rochanahusdin)

Unlike the challenges to the Hsi Lai Temple and the Sikh gurdwara, the Berkeley Thai Temple had enjoyed relative peace in the neighborhood before the plans to build a large Buddha Hall sparked the community conflict. As Thai American youth activist, Christina Jirachachavalwong, says, “I’ve been coming here for over 11 years . . . and we’ve never had a complaint” (Lee 2008). Similar to opponents objecting to the construction of the Hsi Lai Temple and the Sikh gurdwara, residents on Oregon Street cited parking, traffic, noise, and crowds as their primary reasons for wanting a reduction on the food services as well as to block the construction of the Buddha Hall. The underlying racial privilege informed by an ideology of white supremacy is thinly masked as traffic and noise control, but is nonetheless, revealed in comments concerning food odors or comparison of the food service to a commercial restaurant. While speaking at the public hearing, an Oregon Street resident who described herself as a medical doctor compared the temple’s proposed Buddha Hall to McDonald’s Golden Arches and said the Sunday food was “addictive,” similar to McDonald’s fast food as seen in the documentary Supersize Me (Save the Berkeley Thai Temple YouTube). By disregarding, either

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willfully or out of ignorance, the religious dimension of the Sunday food offering, opponents secularize the Thai temple community and vulgarize their activity. A Thai American youth asked, “How many people would sign a petition to save a McDonald’s in your neighborhood?” (Save the Berkeley Thai Temple YouTube). Another opponent, Thomas Rough, wrote in his letter of protest to a senior planner in the City of Berkeley: The neighbors said the weekend cooking odors were overwhelming and unacceptable, and the ingress of hundreds each weekend overwhelmed their quiet streets and their expected lives. They insisted the feeding be very sharply reduced in numbers and frequencyʊor find another place to do this feeding. (Cited in Sookkasikon 2010: 124)

Pahole Sookkasikon notes that the use of the word “feeding” connotes the religio-cultural activities at the Thai Temple and of the Thai Americans themselves as being akin to livestock and, thus, “belittles” them as subhuman (Sookkasikon 2010: 125). I concur with Sookkasikon for noting that the rhetoric transgresses Thai American subjectivity and humanity. In addition, it highlights the necessity for tolerance that is susceptible to the forces of intolerance for religious pluralism that envelopes contemporary American society in the post-9/11 era.

Figure 4. Thai American youth at Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board hearing, February 12, 2009 (Photo courtesy of Pahole Yotin Sookkasikon)


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Thai American Youth Acting Out

Figure 5. Save the Thai Temple flyer (Photo courtesy of Pahole Yotin Sookkasikon)

In order to address the complaints lodged against their temple and their community, which Thai American youth activists viewed as a subtle expression of racism, they formed the Save the Thai Temple Campaign (Sookkasikon 2010: 113-117). Thai American youth acted as advocates for their parents, grandparents, and community elders who did not have a strong command of English, or an understanding of local codes and politics. Members of the campaign were youths who had grown up with the Berkeley Thai Temple. “They launched an awareness campaign to educate the general public on Thai Buddhist practices and the religious

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significance of merit-making (thumboon)” (Chatikul 2011: 70). They distributed Action Alerts, utilizing social media such as Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace to garner support to mobilize their supporters ( The Action Alerts encouraged supporters of the Berkeley Thai Temple to call all nine members of the Berkeley City Council and leave the following message: Hello, my name is [your name], and I’m calling to urge the Berkeley’s City Council to re-affirm the Zoning Board’s approval of the weekly Sunday Food Offering activities at the Thai Buddhist Temple. The Temple should be allowed to continue its religious practice of food-sharing and merit-making. I urge you to support this Berkeley tradition because it is vital to our community. (

In addition, they encouraged supporters to write emails to all members of the Berkeley City Council with the following message: Dear Council member: I am writing to express my concern at the possible appeal of the Zoning Adjustments Board’s decision of the weekly Sunday Food Offering at the Thai Buddhist Temple in Berkeley. I strongly urge you to support the ZAB’s judgment as well as this beloved 28-year-old Berkeley tradition because citizens like me have benefited from the Temple’s longstanding presence in Berkeley. 1. The Sunday Food Offering activities are an important religious practice for Buddhists. Food sharing is an essential aspect of contributing to and receiving Buddhist merit. The practice of creating a space where monks, volunteers, neighbors, and patrons alike can engage in food sharing is part of meritearning. The Food Offering activities have become the center of the Temple’s spiritual activities. 2. The Temple has been and continues to be a good Berkeley neighbor. During the past 27 years, no complaints have been filed against the Temple, until recent months. In light of the recent complaints, the Temple has not only addressed the specific concerns of the complainants, but it also has undertaken efforts to continue to be a considerate community partner through surveys and land use impact studies. 3. The Temple is a critical community institution for the Thai community. Shutting down the Sunday Food Offering activities would have devastating effects on the Thai community that relies on the Temple as a support network and the center of Thai culture. The Thai community urgently needs places like the Temple to allow the community to grow.


Chapter Six Berkeley is counting on you to save this important and dynamic part of the Berkeley community (

Figure 6. Save the Thai Temple supporters at the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board hearing wearing gold and green “I support the Thai Temple” stickers, September 25, 2008 (Photo courtesy of Siwaraya Rochanahusdin)

On September 22, 2009, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously (9– 0) in favor of the broader land use permits granted by the Zoning Adjustments Board in a decision favoring the Berkeley Thai Temple, Wat Mongkolratanaram. In a Save the Thai Temple press release, Siwaraya Rochanahusdin, a Thai American who had grown up at the Temple, said, “The Temple offers an invaluable range of services to an otherwise underserved population. Discontinuing the weekly food offering would deny this community access to spiritual and educational opportunities not readily found elsewhere” (Save the Thai Temple Press Release, November 7, 2008). Youth leaders and activists of Save the Thai Temple posted congratulatory comments on Facebook thanking all their supporters. One post called the unanimous vote “a stunner.” However, an over-the-top remark was posted by a Euro-American man who wrote: You people, leave the neighbors alone. Your clanging and monotonous chanting are annoying [sic] enough, and you want more? Go back to your

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trees because its [sic] not welcome here at berkeley [sic]. BTW haven’t you heard of Jesus [?]

This young man’s comments bespeak the continuation of a struggle to undo the legacy of white privilege and ideologies of white supremacy wrapped in Christian-centrism. This Christian-centrism subsumes Judaism “. . .under its doctrinal premises. . .” and rejects other cultures, religions, and ways of life as “. . .incompatible with Christianity” (Song and Sawyer 2006: 159). Abbot Tahn Manas, who has lived at the Berkeley Thai Temple for 24 years, makes it clear that the food service is a religious activity because it is a means of merit-making, which is central to Theravada Buddhist practice. “Our Sunday activity is pretty much like Christians going to church every Sunday,” says Abbot Manas. “Without it, it would be very difficult for us to continue merit-making” (Flower 2010). Thai American youth act Thai in their efforts to save their temple because they express bun khun. Bun khun is akin to the Chinese-Confucian virtue of xiao Ꮥ, filial piety, the belief that one possesses an obligation and indebtedness to one’s parents. In the vernacular it is known as the “milk-debt.” Thai males are expected to be ordained as novice monks as a means of ensuring merit for their parents. While daughters are unable to become nuns in Thailand, they are expected to care for their parents in their old age. In America, both sons and daughters repay their milk-debt by fulfilling the virtues of bun khun. They become caregivers of their parents’ and grandparents’ lifeways, and defenders of the American virtue of religious tolerance.

Conclusion Shortly after the Berkeley Thai Temple community conflict was settled, controversy erupted around the expansion of an existing Hindu temple in the nearby City of Livermore, southeast of Berkeley (Sohrabji 2010). Similar to other conflicts, residents in Livermore cited traffic, noise, and parking in opposition to the expansion of a Hindu temple. The Shiva Vishnu Temple community had proposed a plan to expand its 63,000square-foot temple. “But temple officials said they scaled the project down after multiple meetings with neighbors who expressed concern about the noise, odor, parking, dust, and traffic. Addressing the neighbors’ concerns has added an additional $5 million to construction costs . . . .” (Sohrabji 2010). This was followed by a national debate about the rights of Muslim Americans to build a mosque and community center near Ground Zero (Adler 2011). Critics dubbed the project a “monster mosque” and argued


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that it is part of the agenda to Islamicize America (Peyser 2010). Conservative political and religious leaders all joined the national debate, insisting that Muslim Americans are insulting America by building their mosque at Ground Zero (despite its being two blocks away). Moreover, they reiterated that America was a Christian country. The anti-mosque sentiment was so strong that President Barack Obama had to dial back “… saying that he supported the Muslim community’s right to build the mosque, but was not sure it was a good idea to build so close to Ground Zero” (Kirpalani, 2011). The forces that opposed the establishment of Asian religious sacred sites on American soil as evidenced in Berkeley, Fremont, Livermore, New York, and other communities across the United States, reveal a dominant ideology of Judeo-Christian-centrism and white supremacy. Singh rightly notes: As the country continues to diversify racially and religiously in the coming years, it remains clear that the issues of racial and religious bigotry towards minority religions—in a nation in which Christianity is the dominant, unofficial state religion—will continue to be a sore spot in nonChristian communities of color across the nation. In order to avoid increasingly rancorous conflict in the coming years, the centuries of Judeo-Christian tradition, morality, and dominance must allow space for the culturally distinct religions that accompany the increasingly racially diverse population of the United States. In addition, members of the dominant community must join with their fellow non-white Americans to battle the vicious combination of white and Christian supremacy which has plagued our nation since its birth. (Singh 2003, 104)

The community conflicts are not only about temple building itself—not merely about buildings or spaces, but rather, reveal the contours and politics within social relations that are configured by racial and religious hierarchies underwritten by white privilege and ideologies of white supremacy. Religious freedom, therefore, is not just about the free expression of Asian religious traditions, or about any non-Judaic-Christian traditions in the United States, but about a continual battle to exert one’s right to be fully American.

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Figure 7. Berkeley Thai Temple Sunday brunch tradition continues, September 25, 2011 (Photo by Jonathan H. X. Lee)

Works Cited Adler, Margot. “Developer: Plans for N.Y. Mosque Moving Forward, National Public Radio” NPR. Natl. Public Radio. Washington, DC. Web. 5 May 2011. Arax, Mark. “San Gabriel Valley: Asian Influx Alters Life in Suburbia.” Los Angeles Times 5 April 1987. Baker, Mayerene. “Buddhist Vision of Temple Complex Clashes With Real World.” Los Angeles Times 21 February 1982. Bao, Jiemin. “Merit-Making Capitalism: Re-territorializing Thai Buddhism in Silicon Valley, California.” Journal of Asian American Studies. 8.2 (2005): 115–142. —. “Thai American Middle-Classness: Forging Alliances with Whites and Cultivating Patronage from Thailand’s Elite.” Journal of Asian American Studies. 12.2 (2009): 163–190. Bhattacharjee, Riya. “City Tells Thai Temple, Angry Neighbors to Reach Middle Ground.” The Berkeley Daily Planet: The East Bay’s Independent Newspaper 25 September 2008a. —. “Berkeley Thai Temple to Ask ZAB to Allow Year-Round Sunday Brunch.” The Berkeley Daily Planet: The East Bay’s Independent Newspaper 18 September 2008b. Birkinshaw, Jack. “Buddhist Temple Gets OK to Build.” Los Angeles Times 2 June 1983.


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Cadge, Wendy. Heartwood: The First Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. Cadge, Wendy and Sidhorn Sangdhanoo. “Thai Buddhism in America: An Historical and Contemporary Overview.” Contemporary Buddhism. (May 2005): 6.1: 7–35. Chatikul, Virada. “Wat Mongkolratanaram and the Thai Cultural Center: A Model for Intergenerational Collaboration and Thai American Leadership Development.” Jonathan H. X. Lee and Roger Viet Chung, eds. Contemporary Issues in Southeast Asian American Studies. San Diego: Cognella Academic Publishing, 2011. Cheah, Joseph. “Negotiating Race and Religion in American Buddhism: Burmese Buddhism in California.” Diss. Graduate Theological Union. Berkeley, California, 2004. Desbarats, Jacqueline. “Thai Migration to Los Angeles.” Geographical Review (1970): 69.3: 302–308. Flower, Geoffrey A. “Brunch as a Religious Experience Is Disturbing Berkeley’s Karma.” The Wall Street Journal 10 February 2009. Hamilton, Elizabeth. “A Battle over Rites and Rights.” Hartford Courant 19 July 2008. Handley, Paul M. The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. Hsi Lai Temple (last accessed January 2, 2014). Kangvalert, Wasana. “Thai Physicians in the United States: Causes and Consequences of the Brain Drain.” Diss., State University of New York at Buffalo, 1986. Kirpalani, Reshma. “Ground Zero Mosque” Clears Legal Hurdle to Build. abcNews/u.s. (July 13, 2011) (last accessed January 2, 2014). Lee, Andrew. “Under Attack: Community Rallies Around Berkeley Thai Temple.” AsianWeek (December 29, 2008). LeMay, Michael C. U.S. Immigration: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Lin, Irene. “Journey to the Far West: Chinese Buddhism in America.” Amerasia Journal 22.1 (1996): 107–132. London, Ellen. Thailand Condensed: 2000 Years of History and Culture. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editors, 2008. McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” 1988. Nanongkam, Priwan. “Thai American Cultural Performance and Thai Identity in America.” Jonathan H. X. Lee and Roger Viet Chung, eds.

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Contemporary Issues in Southeast Asian American Studies. San Diego: Cognella Academic Publishing, 2011. Numrich, Paul David. Old Wisdom in the New World: Americanization in Two Immigrant Theravada Buddhist Temples. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996. Peyser, Andrea. “Mosque Madness at Ground Zero.” New York Post 13 May 2010. Perreria, Todd LeRoy. “The Gender of Practice: Some Findings among Thai Buddhist Women in Northern California.” Huping Ling, ed. Emerging Voices: Experiences of Underrepresented Asian Americans. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008. 160–182. Perreria, Todd LeRoy. “Sasana Sakon and the New Asian American: Intermarriage and Identity at a Thai Buddhist Temple in Silicon Valley.” Tony Carnes and Fenggang Yang, eds. Asian American Religions: The Making and Remaking of Borders and Boundaries. New York: New York University Press, 2004. 313–337. Perreria, Todd LeRoy. “Thai Americans: Religion.” Jonathan H. X. Lee and Kathleen Nadeau, eds. Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. 1109–1112. Save the Thai Temple, (last accessed January 2, 2014). Sawn, Rachel. “Food-Free Zone? Berkeley City Planners May Finally Resolve the Beef Over Sunday Thai Breakfasts.” East Bay Express 21 January 2009. Singh, Jaideep. “The Racialization of Minoritized Religious Identity: Constructing Sacred Sites at the Intersection of White and Christian Supremacy.” Jane Naomi Iwamura and Paul Spickard, eds. Revealing the Sacred in Asian and Pacific America. New York: Routledge, 2003. Sohrabji, Sunita. “Livermore City Council to Decide on Temple Expansion.” India West 23 April 2010. Song, Choan-Seng. “Asia.” John F. A. Sawyer, ed. The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. 158-175. Sookkasikon, Pahole. “Fragrant Rice Queen: The Hungry Ghost of Anna Leonowens and Thai/America.” MA thesis. San Francisco State University, 2010. Urofsky, Melvin L. Religious Freedom: Rights and Liberties under the Law. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010. Worawongs, Worapron Thina. “Thai Americans and the Mass Media: A Reconstruction of Cultural Identity.” Unpublished Master’s Thesis. Faculty of Communication, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA, 2005.


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Wyatt, David K. Thailand: A Short History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984. Yahirun, Jenjira. “Thai Immigrants.” Ronald H. Bayor, ed. Multicultural America: An Encyclopedia of the Newest Americans. Volume 4. Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2011. 2097–2133.


One night, late in April 1975, my father and mother, with six small children between the ages of 4 to 12 years old, drove from Saigon to the eastern coast of Vietnam. There my father hijacked a small fishing boat, holding the boat owner at gunpoint for four days as we drifted on the South China Sea. We were then rescued by a United States military ship, at which time the boat owner was released and returned to Vietnam. My family was transported to several military bases in the Pacific Islands on our way to a refugee resettlement camp in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. We remained there for several weeks until the United Methodist Church in Lebo, Kansas sponsored us. We arrived in Lebo to find a rural white community with no other Vietnamese or minority presence. As refugees, and also as practicing Roman Catholics in a town that did not have a Catholic church, we struggled to adapt. My family felt a filial obligation to attend the Methodist church, which was friendly but ultimately their services proved unfamiliar; eventually, my parents found a Catholic parish 30 minutes away that we then attended every Sunday. Nonetheless, we still participated in many other activities with the Methodist church such as youth group. Reflecting on my family’s transition to America, what became apparent was our negotiation between being Vietnamese Catholic refugees in a predominantly Protestant white community. My family’s resettlement has shaped my interest in understanding refugee religious experiences, especially from the perspective of the negotiation of religious and cultural markers.


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The encounter between religion and culture is a reality that any study of immigrant and refugees must consider since human lives are multidimensional and complex. The French social scientist Olivier Roy in his book Holy Ignorance endorses the fact that religious markers are easier to maneuver for immigrants since they are not as difficult to learn as cultural markers. This is particularly evident in the United States, where Catholicism acts as an umbrella for Latinos, as do the Protestant Churches for Koreans (some convert to Protestantism in order to reconcile integration and to preserve a Korean identity). Roy also observes that the distinction between religion and culture becomes problematic in the later generations (Roy 2010: 82). The second and subsequent generations tend not to connect religious symbols with a traditional practice, rather they see religious symbols as detached from any history, community, or even religious inspiration. This is contrary to religious symbols, which are grounded in history, tradition, and community in order to draw out deeper religious and spiritual meanings of inspiration. For first generation Vietnamese refugees, religion was instrumental in occupying a place within American culture; stressing the fact that religion is central for cultural interactions and social developments. In this chapter, I will examine three protest events in Vietnamese refugee lives that highlight the negotiation or occupying of religious and cultural markers: the Vietnamese American Catholic protest against Cardinal Pham Minh Man in Los Angeles, California; the protest against the owner of the Hi-Tek video store display of the Vietnamese flag in Orange County, California; and the protest against Bishop Pierre DuMaine on the formation of a Vietnamese Catholic parish in the Diocese of San Jose, California. These protests employ religious and cultural markers that helped form identity but also raised the issue of shaping space as an important instrument for creating meaning. Coincidentally, all of these events occurred in California, which itself is an intriguing study of spatial production in American history. My conclusions examine the larger Vietnamese American Catholic community in more detail, highlighting their transformation from helpless refugees to active players in creating a place in America. Finally, I will reflect on how race is an important aspect of understanding any religious formation in cultural spaces, especially in America.

Protests as Cultural Markers Protests are dynamic and organic because they are deliberately invoked and reinterpret preexisting practices and meanings of a particular issue or

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notion of justice. They also bring together people of similar belief and experience to exact change, making a difficult situation better. Protests can be well planned or they can rise up organically because of an intentional or unintentional action by an individual or group. The following descriptions of three protests illustrate the efforts of Vietnamese refugees negotiating their newly created places with home country issues. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles collaborated with the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) to become sister dioceses. This was marked by a simple signing ceremony in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles on July 1, 2008. Cardinal Archbishop Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, the Cardinal Archbishop Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City, and Reverend Nguyen Van Kham, a priest of the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City and Doctor Michael Downey (Cardinal Mahoney’s theologian), served as witnesses to the signing. It was a historic occasion but there was to be no celebration because quiet protests against Cardinal Pham Minh Man were mounting among the Vietnamese Catholics and seminarians in Los Angeles because of concerns about the Cardinal’s politics (Downey 2009: 1). Their protest was triggered by a letter of June 2008, from Cardinal Man to three Vietnamese bishops who would attend the World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, in August 2008. Cardinal Man spoke of the importance of World Youth Day as an occasion for the celebration of the Church’s unity and communion in Jesus Christ. The Cardinal offered a reminder to these three bishops regarding the use of the Vietnamese flag. In the past, waving the flag of the Republic of Vietnam (yellow flag with three red stripes symbolizing the three regions)—that is, the flag of the South before the fall of Saigon in 1975, signaled defiance towards the current Communist regime. The Cardinal gave no clear directive or command regarding the use of the flag. Rather, he offered a fraternal reminder to the bishops, on the basis of years of experience as a Church leader, on such a delicate matter as using national symbols in Church celebrations (Downey 2009: 1). His letter continues with another symbol representing the strength and resilience of Vietnam: the Lady of Vietnam in a long dress (ao dai). At times her dress has been white, at other times gold or red. But it is always the same strong and beautiful woman. The Lady of Vietnam is consistently courageous, resilient, and faithful (Downey 2009: 3). At the heart of Cardinal Man’s symbolic language is a keen theological insight: “There is an impermanence to any nation and every national identity—the dresses change. Permanence is to be found in a shared faith in Christ through the gift of the Spirit to the glory of the Father—the Gospel alone endures” (Downey 2009: 2). The Cardinal


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understands that God’s message must transcend, but he knows also the reality that culture plays an important role in the lives of the faithful followers that needs to be balanced. The letter written to three Vietnamese bishops to encourage unity and communion was quickly misconstrued and roundly misunderstood, largely by Viet Kieu, (Vietnamese living outside Vietnam). Some Vietnamese Catholics in the United States interpreted the letter of Cardinal Man as an insult, saying that the Communist flag, the flag of those from “the North” (Red) who prevailed in the War is just as good as the flag of “the South” (Gold), that is, the Republic that was defeated by the Viet Cong. For the protestors, Cardinal Man seems to dismiss those who shed their blood for the Republic of Vietnam—their sacrifices for freedom did not matter to him. They felt betrayed by the highest leader of the Catholic Church in Vietnam. He was a “Red Bishop,” collaborator with the Communists, who was only a bishop at all because he had been approved by the Communists (Downey 2009: 3). The passions and anger stirred by the flag speak to the enduring power of this symbol in the lives of not only Vietnamese Catholic refugees, but many Vietnamese refugees in America as described in the following protest set in Little Saigon. In 1999, a larger nationally televised protest took place in Little Saigon located in Orange County, California. The documentary film Saigon, USA vividly focused on the protest against the Hi-Tek video store display of the Vietnamese flag. Briefly, the shop owner, Tran van Truong claimed that he chose January 15, Martin Luther King Day, as the date to exhibit the poster of Ho Chi Minh and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam flag because he wanted to exercise his freedom of speech and also commemorate the federal holiday. In the days and weeks that followed, many infuriated Vietnamese refugees came to his store and took to the street in angry demonstrations. The protestors gathered and demanded that the owner take down the images. Their claim was that freedom of speech is not free, but rather, exacted a particular price. The lawyers for Mr. Tran’s landlord, whose lease included stipulation about violating the peace, declared that his act was akin to yelling “fire!” in a crowded movie theater. This argument implied that Little Saigon operates by rules of speech that are different than in other places, presumably because images of Ho Chi Minh or other references to communist Viet Nam incite intense feelings in places where Vietnamese refugees have settled. (Aguilar-San Juan 2009: 80)

The protestors were adamant about their hatred of Communism and the horrific struggles that remain etched in their memory. The audacity of Mr. Truong to stir up such emotions was intolerable and needed to be

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squelched. The broader implication of the protest was stirring up the deeply held sentiments of the Viet Kieu for the loss of their home country under the Communist regime. This incident drew attention to the major tension within the Vietnamese refugee community in America concerning on the one hand, the disdain and active protest against the Communist regime in Vietnam, and, on the other hand, the passive acceptance of the political situation. Both reactions speak to the fact that the Vietnamese refugees were finding their own voice within their newly created political situation. These protests highlight anti-Communist sentiments that have not only frozen a community in its past pains, but also have suppressed peaceful dialogue between the factions in America. The Vietnamese refugees continue to struggle with a traumatic past not easily healed. Many of the protestors were older Vietnamese refugees who endured the direct machinations of the Communist regime. The escape from a Communist regime and trauma of war continue to be serious issues among Vietnamese refugees. Many refugees have organized groups to continue the efforts to bring this awareness to other Vietnamese and the larger American society. Some have attempted to return to Vietnam and exact direct action against the Communist government. For example, the South Vietnamese Army veteran groups have several chapters spread across the United States such as Dallas, Wichita, and Oklahoma City. Their gatherings are not only for social and charitable works, but also become a reflection on the current situation of Vietnam and what they can do to alleviate the plight of their family and friends under the current regime. Furthermore, Saigon, USA focused interviews from the 1.5 generation (children who came to America between the ages of 5 and 12) and second generation. Their reactions were neutral towards the protest. They did not seem to completely understand the historical and emotional connections that their elders held. Their apparent distance from the hardened feelings against Communism was quite evident and in a way understandable because the second generation Vietnamese did not grow up in a communist system. Their attitude was reflective of living in an American environment where political involvement is not a priority. Even though the generational differences in attitude to politics are not reconciled, it does not diminish the second generation’s support for and solidarity with their parents and elders. The quick mobilization against Cardinal Man and the owner of the HiTek video store demonstrates the importance of enclaves in the protest itself. Similar to other Asian American ethnic enclaves, Vietnamese refugees utilize their enclave to mobilize their community. As refugees, the Vietnamese offer a compelling vision of mutual cooperation and


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support by moving into shared spaces. Even though their refugee status implies different circumstances in these ethnic formations, they did not want unwarranted attention. Many collaborated among themselves to form new households and businesses, sharing expenses, incomes and responsibilities. Carving out ethnic enclaves, the refugees produce a space that not only gives a sense of security, but also offers a space to create meaning, such as buying and selling commodities from the home country. These products are not only a reminder of their home country, but also a connection to tradition. The symbols and products wrapped in attractive packaging offer not only pieces of their ethnic tradition, but also alliances to the particular memory of their loss of home. Furthermore, the Vietnamese enclaves provide vibrant places to voice their political opposition even to a regime situated thousands of miles away. The networks formed in the enclaves have unified and mobilized into political action rallying against not only store owners, but also powerful leaders. The enclaves become the transnational space where the refugees’ voice can be heard and taken seriously. Their muted voices in the journey through difficult terrain now rings loudly in newly constructed spaces they built. The last example of organized protest occurred in 1981, when the new Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose was officially established. The newly appointed Bishop Pierre DuMaine created a Vietnamese mission (a mission provides sacramental services only) to accommodate the estimated 70,000 Vietnamese Catholics in the San Jose Diocese. Some Vietnamese Catholics met this with great approval, but it mainly faced resistance from many who wanted their own personal parish. A parish would ensure that their children would learn the Catholic and Vietnamese traditions in the United States. Some members of the San Jose Vietnamese Catholic community sent a petition for an establishment of a personal parish. The Vietnamese Catholic refugees stated that a personal parish would also be the best answer to the problem of assimilation. The Catholic Church’s Canon law allows the creation of a personal parish whenever worshipers have special requirements dictated by rite, language, or nationality. With support of the law, the petition further drew on the growing number of Vietnamese Catholics in the diocese. “We can worship God in a ‘personal’ environment with rites and traditions, we are familiar with, [and] in the language we can understand both cognitively and affectively” (Burns, Skerrett, and White 2000: 287). The petitioners made a plea to maintain traditional Church practices observed in Vietnam that were no longer practiced in America.

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The Bishop did not immediately answer the petitioners’ request, but instead, appointed a Vietnamese priest, Reverend Luu Dinh Duong, to the mission, creating more tension. By the summer of 1986, a group of lay Vietnamese Catholics opposing the appointment occupied the property of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Mission and prevented Rev. Duong from performing his sacramental duties. Hundreds of protestors heckled at the participants at mass and during Reverend Duong’s installation ceremony. The Bishop reacted to their disruptive tactics by excommunicating two protest leaders from the Roman Catholic Church. In an article by Teresa Baggot in The National Catholic Reporter newspaper, she quoted the protestors’ (who were labeled as dissidents) concern about the appointment of the priest as a ploy by the Bishop to destroy the unity of the Vietnamese Catholic community (Burns, Skerrett, and White 2000: 290). Baggot continued in her interview to state that the excommunicated leaders would be reinstated by the Bishop if they would publicly accept the appointment of Reverend Duong. The two men, Thien and Bai An Tran, said that the group’s actions had a “religious purpose” only; however, a spokeswoman, Sister Marilyn Lacey for the Diocese stressed that their actions were “political.” Sister Marilyn continued by stating that she did not expect this type of behavior from Vietnamese Catholics, especially since they have always been compliant and accommodating in their faith practices. She had heard that radio broadcasts and newspapers published in Hanoi the previous month had been “celebrating” the discord in the California Vietnamese community. “The word is all around San Jose that several of the inside-circle have known ties with the government of Vietnam,” she added, referring to the rebel protestors. They, however, emphatically denied any connection and were bewildered by this accusation, especially since the Catholic Church in Vietnam has strongly opposed the Communist regime. The result of these confrontations and accusations were the sale of the mission land to the protestors; the Diocese moved the Vietnamese mission to Saint Patrick Proto-Cathedral in downtown San Jose. After the sale, the Bishop prohibited the protestors from participating in any explicit Roman Catholic rituals on their newly acquired land and warned that any priests who ministered there would be reprimanded by the Bishop. This did not deter the group of protesters, who continued to hold religious services on the premises defying the demands of the Bishop. Another letter was sent to the protestors in 1993, from the Bishop to reiterate the prohibition enacted five years earlier. In the same year, the Bishop named Saint Patrick as the permanent site for the Vietnamese parish after more than twenty years of conflict between the protestors and the Bishop (Burns, Skerrett, and White 2000: 296-7).


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Today, there are several parishes in San Jose that have Vietnamese language masses and Saint Patrick remains the Vietnamese parish for the Diocese. The struggle of the Vietnamese Catholic refugees to establish their own personal parish revealed many issues that are important in the production of ethnic spaces. Even though the issue of communism, which was stressed in the first two protests, was roundly dismissed by the protestors themselves, reference was still made by outside observers. What is revealed is that those analyzing the situation from the outside blurred the religious and cultural markers. Where ethnic enclaves in themselves can be seen as already exclusive because they cater to a group’s culture, the personal parish heightens the exclusivity and further endorses it as a religious marker. What is interesting here is that the religious marker is interwoven with the cultural marker, such that, being Catholics identifies the Vietnamese refugees as authentically Vietnamese. In order to understand this point better, I turn to how the Vietnamese Catholic communities formed and thrived.

Understanding Vietnamese Catholic Communities What makes Vietnamese Catholic refugees distinctive is their strong observance of religious practices learned in their homeland. Vietnamese Catholicism has been characterized as communal, with a strong ritualistic flavor immersed in a formality that accompanies regular pious exercises: Walking through a Catholic village between nine and ten o’clock at night one can hear coming from every house the solemn, if somewhat monotonous, chant of evening prayers. …At five in the morning one can hear the lively peal of the Angelus. It is the official signal to rise. Immediately, every Catholic family recites morning prayers in a loud voice for at least a quarter-hour. Then some members of the family, if possible, go to church for mass. (Gheddo 1970: 216)

Important celebrations on Sundays and holy days bring great crowds for communal worship. Likewise, festivals and days of remembrance are special occasions emphasizing the importance of the community. “One of the traits that characterize the Vietnamese Catholics is the pride they show in being Christian. They are easily recognized everywhere by the emblems they wear visibly: crosses, medals, rosaries, scapulars” (Gheddo 1970: 217). Vietnamese Catholics possess a deep religious spirit, demonstrated practically by an experiential and formal sense of the sacred concretized in the material world. This public manifestation of the sacred also becomes

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private, as Catholic homes usually contained a small altar (bànthò), with religious items such as a wooden or ivory cross, a holy water bottle, and a rosary. Whenever people left their homes for long journeys, the altar would be disassembled and brought with them (Phan 1997: 345). Coupled with this strong devotion is the respect and loyalty paid to the priest. Vietnamese Catholics, similar to Catholics universally, truly believe that the priest is a representative from God. In the Vietnamese context, the priest becomes also the cultural leader. For example, when the village of Phat Diem fled during the strife between the north and south in Vietnam, it was the priest that led the whole village. Likewise, when villages fled from Vietnam in 1975, many priests were leading the charge to make sure that parishioners were safely transferred. Strong devotional Catholicism and reverence for the priest have been transported to the United States of America. Church life continues to be regulated by the priest and the people contribute to the well-being of the priest, then to the health of the parish community. Because of this approach, Vietnamese Catholics practice from mainly the institutional model of Church, which means a hierarchical model of the priest ministering to the people (Phan 2005: 217). Peter Phan, a Vietnamese American Catholic theologian, states that the Vietnamese American Catholics have not tried to incorporate other models into their imagination of Church participation (2005:31). The Vietnamese Catholics maintain a hierarchical model of Church that is not only supported by, but also applauded by, the universal Church. In some respects, what the Vietnamese Catholics created in Vietnam is not so different from previous Catholic immigrants to America. John T. McGreevy, a historian of American history, describes with keen insight how American Catholics understood God and their Catholic faith through the physical spaces and boundaries that they have constructed. He compares this physical endeavor of how Christ became specific and corporeal in the Eucharist to how these communities became Church. The communities with a physical boundary were much better equipped to understand themselves as Church. They would be reminded each Sunday, especially during the Eucharist—the sharing in the body and blood of Jesus Christ—that Incarnation is the physical reality of God. There was something they could touch and see. God’s presence was physical and bounded in a safe space of shared believers. McGreevy refers also to how the local people who were predominantly immigrants, in American Catholic tradition view the neighborhood as evidence of God’s presence. They came to know God as “geographically defined” (McGreevy 1996: 24-5). This new space marks not only a


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definite territory, but stimulates an image that in “some measure [is] equivalent to a new beginning, a new life” (Eliade 1961: 57). With this new life, the American Catholic immigrants would be able to negotiate the larger society while maintaining a firm place. [T]he Catholic vision of a city as a collection of parish enclaves was the process of neighborhood transition in American cities. The tension between an immovable parish and a mobile, ethnically diverse American populace had been evident since the late nineteenth century, as members of the original Irish and German parishes spread out across the northern states. (McGreevy 1996: 35)

The territorial factor of the parish as the administrative body and also social center made the parishioners more reliant on their parishes, creating a culture of weekly attendance and frequent calls to their pastors. But the ability to move and to create new spaces was important to the Catholic immigrants. This supports the reasons Vietnamese Catholics moved to be closer to their friends and family and also fought to build personal parishes as a means to maintain their identity. The newly created spaces also took on new functions beyond traditional religious practices, such as offering language classes and filling out government forms. A theoretical understanding of the formation of a space can help us understand the negotiation between religious and cultural markers. Creating a space discloses a set of power relations, a system of rules (dos and don’ts) through which social behavior is mediated. To avoid the artificial dichotomy between a spatial form on the one hand, and social behavior in space on the other hand, the two must be conceived dialectically as part of the same process, which French sociologist Henri Lefebvre calls the production of space (Lefebvre 1991). The concern of Lefebvre is to uncover the social relationship that is embedded in the space itself. He utilizes religious structures such as Roman Catholic architecture in his dialectical description of space, but does not draw explicitly on the religious meaning that can be extracted from such constructions. The more religious description by Mircea Eliade states that “the habitation always undergoes a process of sanctification, because it constitutes an imago mundi and the world is a divine creation” (Eliade 1961: 52). Lefebvre’s contention is that “space was not produced in order to be read but to be lived by people with bodies and lives in their particular contexts” (Lefebvre 1991: 143). He criticizes the fact that the study of church building and spaces has been text-based. The experiences of faithful believers were left out. The messiness of interacting with others and the nuances of life needs to be better addressed. The texts do not

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address this clearly or accurately. Moreover, “to underestimate, ignore and diminish space amounts to the overestimation of texts, written matter and writing systems along with the readable and the visible, to the point of assigning to these a monopoly on intelligibility” (Lefebvre 1991: 62). The full impact of space is lost when approached through the singular avenue of a text-centered study. The study of space takes on new significance when a spatial code is not simply a means of reading or interpreting space: rather it is a means of living in that space, of understanding it, and of producing it. As such it brings together verbal signs…and non-verbal signs (music, sounds, evocations, architectural constructions). (Lefebvre 1991: 42)

These spatial signs clarify why the building of parish plants, as McGreevey describes, created a meaning that gave an ethnic group an identity in a foreign land. The complexities of creating space are also complicated by race. This must be taken into serious consideration, especially when Christians are called to be transformative witnesses. The sacred texts they live by must be translated in the spaces that they created. With these newly designated parish plants, the wider establishment of Vietnamese enclaves need to be examined from race relations.

Race and Religion Religious discourse in America has been closely intertwined with the entities of race and culture. It played a pivotal role in the construction of the white race in America. In 1987, with the publication of the first truly popular book on comparative religion in America… James Freeman Clarke’s Ten Great Religions oriented the reader with the statement that ‘each race, beside its special moral qualities, seems also to have special religious qualities, which cause it to tend toward some one kind of religion more than another kind. These religions are the flower of the race.’ (Snow 269)

The task of the mainstream American population was to connect whiteness to rationalist Christianity and non-whiteness to heathen imagination and emotion, or else to spiritual wisdom transcending rationality. These links are no less prevalent, although perhaps more subtle in America today because of its recent concerted effort to separate them (Snow 269). Moreover, recent studies of post-1965, mostly European immigrant groups, have neglected to examine the role of race in their religious experiences. For example, neither of two major edited volumes (Gathering


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in Diaspora and Religion and the New Immigrants) on contemporary immigrant groups’ religions have treated race as a significant category for analysis. This may be contributed to the fact that religion tends to be seen as a garden for peacemaking rather than a patch for racism. David Yoo, an Asian American scholar, stated that “religion does not necessarily transcend the bounds of race” (Yoo xvii). The sentiment refers to the fact that race and religion have been so entwined that both must appear together in any discussion of American culture. But what is it about race that makes it a difficult and controversial topic in America? To answer that, one would need much more space, but I will give a terse description of the understanding of race used in this presentation. Briefly, race is understood as a social and cultural construction rather than a biological category; race is not primordial or rooted in biology. Social scientists have even documented processes by which racial categories have been re-conceptualized throughout American history (Gans 1999; Waters 1990, 2002). The Irish, Italians, and Jews who first came to America were not considered on the same level as AngloAmericans. Their struggles are well-documented by scholars on these groups’ effort to be considered white (Jacobson 1999; Roediger 2000). This is not so in the case of the Chinese immigrants, where it is a middle way which has been adapted. For instance, the Chinese in Mississippi changed their racial status from almost Black to almost white by attaining economic parity with whites through cultural and social practices. “Contemporary evidence suggests that the boundaries are again being stretched as Latinos and Asians pursue whiteness much as the Irish, Italians, and Poles did before them” (Lee and Bean 57). The change in racial classification among ethnic groups from nonwhite to white emphasizes the fact that race is a social rather than a biological category that has expanded over time to include newer immigrant groups. Race continues to be re-conceptualized in light of the new immigrants and refugees (O’Brien 2008). Also, its place in religious discourse continues to be necessarily examined. The complex interaction of religion and race shaped the lives of immigrants and the ideals of American citizenship. To become American translated into becoming Christian. Whites rallied around the hope that if Blacks, Native Americans, and the masses of immigrants could only be converted to genuine Christianity, they would also become Anglo-Saxon (Lee 104). This sentiment has lost traction, but continues to surface in some part of the American discussion. For the most part, Asians were automatically considered adherers to Eastern religions that deny the immediate authority of God (a Judeo-

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Christian God). Even if Asians were Christians or converts to Christianity, they were still suspect. The few contemporary American religious historians who give attention to Asian Americans gravitate toward either an assimilationist reading of the Asian American Christians, or a sentimentalized reading of “non-Christian” Asian religious communities. Through these interpretations, Asian cultural difference is neither erased beneath the canopy of white Christianity or constructed as the untouchable “other.” As racial minorities, Asian Americans often find they lack full acceptance by members of the dominant society regardless of their level of religious and cultural participation. For Asian Americans who are Christians, the designation of Christian as “assimilated” fails to recognize how individuals and communities have consciously forged a religious identity in opposition to the discrimination that they have faced and continue to face. The founding and ongoing presence of separate denominations and churches testify to the contested nature of Asian American Christianity (Yoo xvii). For Catholics, the different ethnic parishes and churches also support this fact. The ethnic communities still feel misunderstood because of their incorporation of indigenous customs and symbols in the liturgies, or they feel marginalized because they maintain more traditional devotions and practices. The Catholic Church response to racism and the Asian American experience has not been particularly innovative either. Besides incidents of racism in the Church, there are cautioned attitudes towards Vietnamese Catholics. One sentiment is that Vietnamese Catholics are traditional in their practices. This has a couple implications. First, the Vietnamese are better accepted by “traditional” Catholics because they maintain an old world Catholicism that distinguishes them as “white” Catholics. Second, “traditional” now entails that they are still part of an immigrant group that has not embraced the practices of contemporary Catholics. Vietnamese are compared to other minority groups who have become more contemporary or rather lapsed in their traditional practices. Thus, the Vietnamese Catholics straddle an in between place; on one side, their devout institutional Catholicism and on the other side their minority status. They are accepted and admired as being strong Catholics, but this does not translate into visible leadership positions to guide or influence the larger American Catholic Church. As discussed earlier concerning protests, second-generation Vietnamese Catholics also differ in their attitude toward the Church. First, the place of the priest as leader instead of servant is also reconfigured in the American context. Vietnamese men training for the priesthood in the U.S. encounter a pastoral, servant model approach to their ministries. The


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laity is becoming more visible as many are earning higher degrees in religious studies and theology; however, they still need the hierarchy to accept their role. Second, there are attempts to assert lay participation. For example, in 1993, the Vietnamese Catholic Congress was established to bring together clergy, religious, and laity. This Catholic organization was formed to inform and strengthen the Vietnamese Catholic presence in the United States. It continues to meet every other year under the sponsorship of the National Pastoral Center for the Vietnamese Apostolate and the Federation of Vietnamese Catholics in collaboration with the United States Conference of Catholic of Bishops (USCCB). Finally, there are efforts to train lay people to be administers of parishes in several dioceses in America.

Conclusion The pull to form ethnic enclaves was not new in American history, but the Vietnamese refugees created their own distinctive places. Through protests, the Vietnamese brought together issues of religion and culture to stress the importance of these markers and also to anchor their place in a new space. Home country issues reappeared in a heightened way through symbols such as the flag. The three protests discussed centered on the Vietnamese community’s understanding of how their refugee experience has shaped their connection to the homeland. In each of the protests, the issue of the Communist political system in Vietnam played an important role. Two cases—the flag used by Cardinal Man, and the one displayed in the Hi-Tek store, underscore deep emotional responses to a country transformed by colonial rule, war, and the exodus of millions of people. The third protest described how formation of a personal parish was meant to recapture a devotional Catholicism that was not readily found in America. What these protests emphasize was the ongoing negotiation of the Vietnamese refugees with culture and religion in America as well as in Vietnam. For Vietnamese American Catholics, the desire and ability to build distinct spaces within an established American Church structure speaks to the fact that religion and culture are intertwined. The struggle to create separate spaces to worship and gather for celebrations demonstrates that traditional practices of Catholicism were a way to maintain their Vietnamese culture in America. In some ways, this close association has not been absorbed by the second and subsequent generations that see a different church in America. The strict devotional and traditional ways of the first generation are lost on the subsequent generations. The American

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Church offers an opportunity for the later generations to engage, but needs to understand their history and background. It is a challenging task, but one that needs to be addressed further. Lastly, the complexities and complications of enclaves are not readily absorbed by the second and subsequent generations. They do not wholeheartedly embrace the ethnic enclaves since their adaptation into the wider society was relatively easy. What also happens for the subsequent generations is that religious and cultural marks are not as clearly defined. In order to maintain a transformative and transcendent factor, religion today must have a formula. One suggestion by Olivier Roy is to keep the separation between religious and cultural markers. “Successful religions…are founded on the complete separation of the religious marker from the cultural marker, and on a formatting that enables them to appear as a universal religion adapted to the new forms of religiosity” (Roy 2010: 170). These two markers, religion and culture, are kept separate because their close association has diluted the distinction of culture and the purity of religion. It also makes it more difficult for religion to assert its influence on the way society operates. Religion has been a transformative factor in the lives of people, which now becomes a blur within the social spaces. The subsequent generations will need to also negotiate the religious and cultural markers that first generation immigrants and refugees utilized in building the ethnic enclaves. The ability to negotiate within the American culture will involve being able to understand how race has developed through American history. Race within religion needs further examination as Vietnamese American Catholics strive to hold positions of leadership within the Church. For the Vietnamese refugees who created enclaves in America, many questions still linger about culture, religion, and race which are passed on to the subsequent generations of Vietnamese Americans who will continue to negotiate identities while occupying these newly formed places.

Works Cited Aguilar-San Juan, Karen. Little Saigons: Staying Vietnamese in America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. Burns, Jeffery, Ellen Skerrett, and Joseph White. Keeping Faith: European and Asian Catholic Immigrants. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2000. Downey, Michael. “The Church, Too, Wear Many Colors.” 2009. Web. (accessed November 5, 2012).


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Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard Trask. New York: Harper & Row, 1961. Gheddo, Peter. Cross and the Bo-Tree: Catholics and Buddhists in Vietnam, trans. Charles Underhill Quinn. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1970. Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. Lee, Jennifer and Frank Bean. “Intermarriage and Multiracial Identification: The Asian American Experience and Implications for Changing Color Lines,” in Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou, eds. Asian American Youth: Culture, Identity, and Ethnicity. New York: Routledge, 2004. Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1991. McGreevy, John. Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Twentieth-Century Urban North. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996. O’Brien, Eileen. The Racial Middle: Latinos and Asian Americans Living Beyond the Racial Divide. New York: New York University Press, 2008. Phan, Peter. Vietnamese-American Catholics. New York: Paulist Press, 2005. Roy, Olivier. Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. Snow, Jennifer. “The Civilization of White Men: The Race of the Hindu in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind,” Henry Goldschmidt and Elizabeth McAlister, eds. Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Yoo, David. “For Those Who Have Eyes to See: Religious Sightings in Asian America.” Amerasia Journal 22 (1996). xiii-xxii.


When news broke about the double, ritualistic murders in Little Saigon, people were stunned. They said, “My God, who could do such things?” They whispered, “It’s the devil’s work.” “The witch deserved it,” some of them said. “Live without mercy, die without mercy.” They thought about the woman’s witchcraft and dark powers, the ones so powerful that she charged $6,000 per spell to the long line of clients waiting at the door. People resented her, and yet they all knew that when their ailing mothers were dying, or when their cheating spouses were unyielding, she could rewrite their fates. “Ties to the dark side—that’s how her spells worked,” they said. “That’s how she was able to quit her job at the nail shop, how she was able to do sorcery and fortunetelling—fulltime and full pay.” On weekday afternoons the woman would sport around in a polished Mercedes sedan; she would frequent jewelry shops on the second floor of the Asian Garden Mall. “Always a spectacle, that woman,” they said. “That’s what eventually killed her.”

On April 22, 2005, Ha Jade Smith was found in a pool of her own blood, in her living room, next to Anita Vo, her 23-year-old daughter, her only daughter, a student at Orange County Community College and a church youth-group leader in Little Saigon. Both women were stabbed numerous times in the head and neck, their faces and hands were covered in white paint—from Walmart. Two people were arrested a month after the crime: a middle-aged Euro-Asian man, Phillipe Zamora, and his almost middleaged Vietnamese woman accomplice, Tanya Jaime Nelson. Phillipe was my uncle. In this essay I recount my ethnographic fieldwork and research on Vietnamese fortunetelling and sorcery rituals, focusing on my work in Little Saigon between May 2006 and July 2010, when I investigated the double-murders of a famous Vietnamese sorceress and her daughter. The project came about when I was finishing my MFA in nonfiction writing at


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the University of Iowa. At the time, I needed a story for my master’s thesis—one that was significant enough to cover the required 75-page minimum, but manageable enough to complete in a year’s time. Initially, the double homicides seemed too convoluted with competing focuses to qualify. Despite its narrative currency, I worried that my family connection to the tragedies would severely challenge the research process. How, for instance, would I reconstruct Ha Jade’s life beyond the rumors? What would her friends and family say were I to request an interview? Would they spit? Throw stones? Or both? Despite obvious obstacles, I could not seem to divorce myself from the story completely. I could not stop thinking about the women, about the white paint on their faces and hands, about their souls failing to unite with their bodies because they (the souls) could not recognize the faces to which they had belonged. I imagined Ha Jade and Anita desperately wiping and re-wiping their eyes and noses and cheeks, only to smear the white paint over and over again— from hand to face, from face to hand. I mourned for their displacements, for the violence of being killed for multiple lifetimes. In May 2006, I flew out to Little Saigon to conduct research on the double homicides. The goal was to focus on the ritualistic overtones of the crime and the alternative belief system from which it may have derived. If I could limit my research to these variables, I reasoned, I could also contain it; I could work around my family connection to the tragedies. But the research that summer (as with any creative intellectual pursuit) did not work out that way. What began as curiosity over the ritualistic nature of the crime soon evolved into discoveries of magical plants that ate eggs; of virgin ghosts that inhabited dolls; of spells that cost $6000; and finally, despite my efforts to avoid it, of conflicting insider-outsider (and in some cases, writer-researcher) roles that had to be negotiated. In fact, these conflicting roles were what compelled a series of persistent questions about my own systems of beliefs and place in the project. I met people during my fieldwork, for instance, who both helped and complicated my notions of faith, as well as my understanding of, and “right of access” to, the story. Who really gets to write the story? What exactly are the roles of the self as insider and the self as outsider to a native culture that, at times, seems both foreign and familiar? Similarly, what are the belief systems of the narrator—as an insider and as an outsider? How might these identities and their value systems obscure and/or facilitate the research and storytelling processes? In ethnographic work, ethical issues often arise between the self as insider and self as outsider. For this particular project, the predicament

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stemmed from my family ties to one of the perpetrators of the crime (my uncle), and my befriending of one of the victim’s siblings (Ha Jade’s sister). These were complications that I had not anticipated when I began my inquiries and I have since found it incredibly difficult to navigate between my roles and syncretic beliefs, and to do what is appropriate for the story and for the people involved. This essay, in short, explores the tensions between negotiating multiple roles and faiths during my ethnographic research process. I discuss the tensions in two forms: narratives of the research, and reflective meditations on the research. The details in both the narratives and meditations come from field notes, interview notes, literature notes, notes from my research journal, notes from crime scene photos, and notes from trial exhibits. Structurally, this piece consists of three parts, each guided by questions of faith: Part I examines what maintains and/or reinforces people’s faith; Part II considers what happens when people’s faith deceives them; and Part III explores the process of searching, re-accessing, and possibly finding ways to reconcile with faith. Within each section, I present research findings that reflect the respective question’s theme and also discuss my own writer-researcher and insider-outsider positioning and belief systems as they reflect that theme. For example, in Part I, I discuss subscription to fortunetelling in the Vietnamese community (particularly in Little Saigon) and the community’s belief in Ha Jade Smith’s authenticity. As I try to reconstruct the sorceress’s life and the circumstances surrounding hers and her daughter’s murders, I also look at my own insider-outsider conflicts and ponder on my personal ideas of faith. Was Ha Jade truly as powerful as the community said she was? What are my positions and views on folk practices like fortunetelling? As a natural progression of Part I, Part II explores the consequences of lost faith. What happens when people feel betrayed by their faith, be it in the form of a god, a friend, or a trusted one? Because of the magnitude of this particular double-murder case and the excessive details, I choose to present details of the murders in snapshots rather than narrate the entire story, highlighting only relevant events from the day of the crime, as well as from the weeks and months before the crime. I explore my perceptions of Phillipe’s and Tanya’s deceit, guilt and motivation. Finally, in Part III I examine my own acts of deception toward Loan (Ha Jade’s sister), asking whether my desire and need to interview her justified my nondisclosure. I talk about my visit to see Mary, the neighbor, and how this encounter led me to meet with Loan, to interview her, and to tour her sister’s house. Interrupting, or perhaps, paralleling the sequence of events are short reflections on my guilt and my desire to rewrite the tragic


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narratives as they were enacted in dreams, during which I conversed with the young Anita. In many ways, I see my need to access the “inside story” and rewrite Ha Jade’s and Anita’s narratives as a way to “reconcile” with my inherited guilt over the murders. Here, I do not pretend to claim that my writing the women’s stories could or would erase our sins, or that it would somehow justify the methods I used to acquire information. I hope only that by doing so, I might begin the healing process. I hope that by doing so, I might offer a fuller portrait of the women, particularly of Ha Jade, one that extends beyond cruel rumors of evil and witchery.

I. On Faith and Reinforcements: A Sorceress’s Appeal Years ago, when John Kerry was running for president, he received a letter from a client of Ha Jade. In the letter, the woman suggested that the presidential candidate permit the clairvoyant to cast a spell for him. Doing so, she advised, would surely win him the election.

The story of my research begins with “Thuy,” a manicurist at Queen Nails in Yorba Linda, California, and a believer in Ha Jade’s powers. Though not a regular client, Thuy shared that she had planned to see the clairvoyant about a love spell a few months prior to the tragedy. “Lady Ha was expensive, but she was also the best,” she said. “If you want a man to love you, she’d be the one you’d want to see. Even if he were married, she could make him leave his wife—because she’s a sorceress, a witch.” Thuy’s claims sounded definitive, but like many people with whom I had spoken during that first summer of research, her belief in Ha Jade’s powers was mostly based on hearsay and previous knowledge of witchcraft—a composite of what she knew of the matter from past experience with practitioners and what she had heard from conversations with fellow subscribers. “Everyone knows that Lady Ha was the real thing,” Thuy continued. “Unlike other fortunetellers, the woman didn’t even use cards—didn’t need them. One look—that’s all it took. She’d know everything about you. If you can get to that point, then you’re a master of the craft. That’s Lady Ha. She was a master.” Thuy looked up at me every now and then, as if she were waiting for a response. “You don’t believe in fortunetelling, do you?” she asked. I wasn’t sure how to answer. I grew up Catholic on the East Coast, in a Jewish community. We talked of the Virgin Mother Mary, of Baby Jesus, of New and Old Testaments. Fortunetelling was secular, the way of the devil. “I should confess,” I told her. “I’m not a believer.”

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Thuy gave a half smile. “You know, if you find a really good practitioner, that person could help you get anything you want—anything. That person becomes your friend.” I appreciated her positive spin and gave a light chuckle. “It just seems like playing with butcher knives,” I said. “Aren’t you afraid of messing with that?” Especially in the early stages of the research I would look for flaws, for proof that fortunetelling and spell castings weren’t real. I was too afraid to learn otherwise. By that line of reality, because of her supernatural powers, Ha Jade could theoretically still cast spells and curse her enemies—from the spirit world. What if the sorceress decided to haunt me (because I was niece to the man who brutally stabbed her to death)? What if she discovered my project and sabotaged it—because she didn’t think I should be the one to write the story? There were moments in my conversation with Thuy when I just wanted to tell her the truth about my fears—a Catholic confession, perhaps. But I couldn’t risk her judgments. Everyone in Little Saigon had heard of our family, and no one wanted our affiliation. Our blood was dirty as were our hands; tainted we were by Phillipe’s sin against a mother and a daughter, against the community, against God. I don’t think I quite understood the power of collective notoriety until that day—tongue-guarded and afraid of scrutiny by a woman I hardly knew. “I would only be scared if I had something to hide,” Thuy said. “The spells could work against you if you’re not pure. But my intentions for the spell were good.” Thuy’s eyes zoomed in on the hangnail off my pinky toe, examining it from left to right. Then without saying another word, she looked up and scanned the room. “It’s my son’s wife,” she whispered. She leaned in a little closer, her breast almost touching my shins. “I don’t like the girl. I want the boy to be with someone more appropriate—someone whose zodiac doesn’t conflict with mine. We can’t have two boars in the same family, you know. It’s bad luck.” A few years ago Thuy’s car flipped upside down in a ditch near her apartment. The trauma to her head was so bad the doctors had to put her in a coma for several days. Thuy was convinced the car accident was the result of her son’s marriage to another pig. “The wife has to go. It’s either me or her,” she said. Thuy’s fear, so definitive and so unyielding, gave me goosebumps. I couldn’t help watching closely as she clipped my cuticles; I wanted to be sure she didn’t keep any of my dead skin. Essentially, anyone could walk off the street (including Thuy) and say, “Hey Lady Ha, here’s a few grand (and some cuticles). I want you to put a hex on this girl because I don’t like her (or the way her nails grow).”


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“Seems a bit extreme—to buy a spell to fix your fate,” I said. Thuy shrugged her shoulders. “A small price to pay for happiness, I say.” Once, a fortuneteller-sorceress offered to sell me happiness, too. “Five thousand dollars,” she said. “That’s how much the real thing costs.” To entice the purchase, she flashed her ring at me and my sister. “See this? Only $50, a C-Z,” she said. “Now look at this one,” pointing to the ring on her other hand. “$50,000,” she said, “because it’s the real thing. Real things cost more.” The sorceress leaned back and smiled as if satisfied with her sales pitch. “Why don’t you reach under the table and pull out the box from under there?” she ordered. When I did, she directed me to shake the thing. “Do you hear that rattling?” she asked. “Know what’s in there? Magic. Magic is in there.” I raised my eyebrows. To me the rattling sounded more like puzzle pieces in a box, but what did I know about magic or what it sounded like? The sorceress knew that, I suspect, and was banking on the mystery. As far as she was concerned, she had just provided me with the visual, the tangible thing to concretize her service (or product), and I, the client, was either going to commit or walk. Ha Jade had a long list of clients who committed themselves to her, most of whom were women—all seemingly desperate, lonely, and hopeless. They came from all over the country, stretching from California to Illinois to North Carolina, seeking her spells, her readings, but mostly her advice and friendship. For many Vietnamese who subscribe to fortunetelling, the clairvoyant with whom they consult often serves multiple functions: as counselor, as life coach, and even as legal expert. During one of my sessions with a fortuneteller in Little Saigon, a woman actually called to seek legal advice from the clairvoyant. Her husband, she said, was scheduled to appear in court the following day and she needed to know if the date was agreeable with his zodiac sign. When the fortuneteller confirmed that it was not the most favorable date, the woman asked if she could purchase a magic spell, something to help her husband through the hearing. Although originally intended for romantic courting purposes, the fortuneteller suggested that she buy a bottle of his love potion. “This concoction serves other functions, too,” he assured her. “All your husband needs is one dab applied to the lower lip.” The potion, he explained, could make the most passive person assertive, and the most obnoxious person charming. “I guarantee it. Your husband will speak well tomorrow. He will convince the judge of his innocence,” he said. “For $1500, you could buy his freedom.” I was privy to the details of this call because the fortuneteller had placed the woman on speakerphone. At the time I wondered if it was all

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planned—a business ploy to advertise the breadth of his many skills: clairvoyance, spell-casting, astrology, law. And yet despite my eye-rolling and skepticism, when it came time for him to read my fortune, I deferred to my sister, my research sidekick and proxy-client for all the readings. I couldn’t risk it. What if, on the off chance, the guy was the real thing? Dressed in a mandarin-collar robe, and accessorized with a long, white beard and a long set of white eyebrows to match, the man reminded me of a sage monk in a Shaw Brother’s kung-fu movie. Although his wardrobe was excessive, the monk-ness of it—whether a façade—gave him credibility. I found myself especially cautious not to offend him for fear of his dark powers—those of which might, or might not, work. Nevertheless, of the various fortuneteller-sorceresses and sorcerers I have observed over the course of four years—the C-Z lady, the whitebearded monk—none of them elicited the same kind of mysticism and mystery as did Ha Jade. While they all had their “special ritual artifacts” to suggest their clairvoyance and spell-casting capabilities, most came off as caricatures—commercialized and clichéd. This is not to discount the effectiveness of their performances; many of them acquired clients steadily and maintained quite successful businesses because of (or in spite of) their stereotypical displays and practices. Ha Jade’s persona, on the other hand, seemed different and more unique. The clairvoyant didn’t have a storefront, for instance. It was as if she didn’t need one, suggesting that clients sought her service because they wanted to and not because she solicited their patronage. She also didn’t use the expected fortunetelling props (i.e., crystal balls, tarot cards). She had, instead, an altar in her living room, one that stretched across the wall. Dark wood and ornate, it resembled an ancestral worship shrine, a link to the spirit world. Although these were observations from photos of the crime scene, they chilled my bones nonetheless. It was as if Ha Jade really practiced witchcraft and sorcery regardless of a fortunetelling-spellcasting business—because the altars and artifacts were in her private residence, in the living room, among home furniture. I couldn’t stop connecting what I saw in the pictures to the stories I had heard about her witchcraft, stories of devil worshipping, demon plants, spirit-possessed dolls—stories that, upon first hearing, seemed too sensationalistic to ever possibly be true, but that were told with so much certainty and conviction that they could give pause to even nonbelievers. The woman worshipped demons, many of them. These figurines, like talismans, hung on walls, sat on shelves, lurked out windows.


Chapter Eight Hers was a magic plant sent by the warlock husband. He summoned only souls who suffered violent deaths to inhabit the roots—because those were the angriest. The plant ate eggs, sometimes chicken. Dolls possessed by virgin ghosts walked the altar at night. One in particular was a favorite. Young, he was, and therefore innocent, malleable, and obedient.

Told enough times, with enough backing and audience, these rumors became truth over time—unquestioned to the blinded faithful. More than the altar or any physical display of witchcraft, these tales of sorcery powers were the most powerful suggestions of Ha Jade’s abilities. They possessed cultural ubiquity and they had roots in well-known indigenous tales of witchcraft. Common, for instance, are practices of ancestral- and spirit-worship in Vietnamese traditions. That Ha Jade maintained an altar of demon figurines or spirit-possessed porcelain dolls may have been eerie, but not necessarily far-reaching or absurd. Similarly, the practice of using spirit-possessed plants for spell castings and other sorcery purposes are rituals often attributed to those of the Mien witches. That Ha Jade had knowledge of the ancient craft only heightened her reputation. As far as many clients were concerned, the woman was as authentic as witches came. In February 2005, Ha Jade sent Tanya Jaime Nelson a short note. In it, she said, “Sorry I cannot do this for you.” The details behind “this” remain unclear, but at the trial, Deputy District Attorney Sonia Balleste suggested that Tanya killed Ha Jade over a spell gone wrong.

II. On Faithlessness and Consequence: Tanya’s Wrath, Phillipe’s Loss, and a Family’s Insistence Years prior to her death, Ha Jade’s husband, a sorcerer, had advised her to move out of Bird Street. Although he resided in Vietnam, he could sense negative energy surrounding the house from the pictures she had sent. The fengshui of the property, he warned, was incompatible with her chi. That Ha Jade had been robbed once before in 2001 and was tied up during the invasion only further fueled his fears. The house would be the death of her, he thought. Next time it won’t just be $372,000 thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry and cash lost. But the clairvoyant ignored her husband’s warnings. She insisted on staying, and placed security bars outside the windows instead. At the crime scene, police found no signs of the forced entry. They suspected that the people who committed the murders were friends or someone the victims knew.

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1 On the day of the murders, Tanya and Phillipe visited Ha Jade under the pretense of a reading and a lunch outing. “Tell your daughter to come home and join us,” Tanya had suggested (in some variation) to the sorceress. At some point, both mother and daughter were in the house. At some point, Phillipe, in a panic, grabbed a knife and stabbed Ha Jade in the head and neck more than ten times. At some point, Tanya, with intention and frustration, stabbed the young Anita, too, because she would not, or could not, disclose where her mother hid her money. The details and order in which these killings occurred are unclear due to Phillipe’s varying testimonies. Clear only is that Tanya was the mastermind behind the crimes. Clear, too, is that afterward, while Phillipe cleaned off the blood, Tanya raided the house and the Mercedes for credit cards, cash, and jewelry. She found only a few things, mainly Visas and Mastercards, because she did not think to look inside the vacuum cleaner or the coffee maker. In those places she would have found the stash of cash, the diamond earrings, the necklaces, and the bracelets—hundreds of thousands worth in total.

2 Tanya received the death penalty for killing Ha Jade, the clairvoyantsorceress whom she had known for more than10 years. She was bitter that her friend wouldn’t (or couldn’t) complete the spell for her, the spell that was supposed to win back her lover, her brother-in-law, the man with whom she had an on-and-off again affair for 10 years. In earlier months, she had conspired and threatened to kidnap the man’s fiancée, cut off the woman’s fingers and mail the severed parts to him. And even earlier on, she had vandalized the outside of the man’s fiancée’s home. “Lover boy,” she inscribed, “Run before [she] sucks you dry,” and “Cocksucker.” Still stranger was when she broke into the man’s fiancée’s house, ransacked the place, and stole, of all things, a picture from an album. The picture was of the brother-in-law standing next to his fiancée—smiling, happy—it was the same picture found on Tanya’s body, in her wallet, at the time of arrest.

3 On the morning of the murders, Tanya took Phillipe to meet a friend of hers, a gay male friend. It was a matchmaking session that Tanya had


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arranged for Phillipe—it was the reason why Phillipe claimed he flew out from North Carolina to Southern California that week. For years he had been leading a double life that only Tanya, a mutual friend of his and his wife, knew about. Tanya facilitated his access to potential male partners. He, in return, obeyed her unquestionably. On the day of the murders, he claimed he acted on her wishes—because he could no longer think for himself. At the trial, on a couple of occasions, in various questions, he testified, “…at the time I didn’t know anything else. She asked me and I just did it.”

4 It was revealed during the trial and at several other occasions that after they killed both mother and daughter, Tanya and Phillipe drove to Walmart and purchased white house paint. When the two returned to the house, Tanya directed Phillipe to pour the paint over both women’s faces and hands. The conditions of the bodies left police in bewilderment. Was the crime of the occult? In some Vietnamese tribes, the punishment for adultery was to smear the face of the adulteress with white lime paste, a scarlet letter to signify her infidelity. Tribal leaders would send her down the river with the white face to be mocked and shamed. In traditional Chinese opera, the protagonist often bears a red-painted face while the villain wears a white-painted face to suggest trickery and cheat—someone not to be trusted. In modern-day crime, white paint, or any paint at all could be used to cover up DNA evidence. Vietnamese gangsters, especially in the 80s and 90s, would pour vegetable oil over their victims’ cuts as a way to distort any biological proof that may have bled out during the crime.

5 It is hard for me to believe that Tanya killed mother and daughter and symbolically shamed them over a spell, but that is because I am not a devout believer of fortunetelling. I would not place my hopes and dreams in the hands of another to change or alter my life’s course. As a Catholic, I have been taught about free will—that each person makes his or her own choices, each person is in control of his or her own life and its outcome. But then sometimes that seems hard to believe, too. It sounds like a double message; it projects a false sense of control, because as a Catholic I have

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also been taught to pray, to put my faith into another. The difference is that I cannot see this other. In this way, I don’t know what is harder to believe. And then there is Phillipe. He claimed Tanya directed him to “just do it.” He was only doing what he was told. This, too, seems hard to believe, until I consider his psychological dependency on Tanya. Tanya was the first person who seemed to understand him, the person who recognized him for who he was and did not judge him; instead, she rewarded him, validated him, and offered him hope. It was as if she were his god. It was as if he killed for his god. As a Catholic and as Phillipe’s niece, my assertions may sound blasphemous. My family, especially the aunts, would hate to know what I really think. This is because they do not believe that their brother intentionally killed the fortuneteller. “He was drugged,” they say. They also do not believe he is gay, that he received his first blowjob in his living room from a guy named Tam. “A coerced confession,” they say. “He had a wife and two kids.” My family places little faith in the authorities—the police, the prosecutors, the court—unless these figures were serving them. This is so hypocritical and inconsistent, I think, but then my attorney friend, a public defender, reminds me that truth is transient and malleable. “Detectives, prosecutors, and public defenders aren’t interested in the truth,” he says. “They’re just interested in gathering enough material to make their case.” Though discomforting, his comment begs me to wonder the same for this project. What case was I interested in building during the course of my research? What story, or “truth,” was I interested in telling?

III. On Re-access and Reconciling with Faith: Meeting Loan During the nights when I was alone, I would see Anita. She would be a child still, and she would tug at my hand always, as if directing me to follow her into a place that neither of us should enter. When we arrive, I would squeeze her hand and pull her back, as if saying, “You shouldn’t go in there,” as if pleading, “You must not.”

As I sat in Mary’s living room I could see the whole front view of 9561 Bird Avenue—the thin, white metal bars that surrounded the late sorceress’s front lawn, the security grids that framed her glass windows— closed off, unattainable. Mary, the older woman-neighbor of Ha Jade and Anita, had graciously welcomed me into her home on this particular afternoon. Truthfully, I hadn’t planned to visit her at all that day because for one, I didn’t know where her place was exactly located. The Orange


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County Register only mentioned that she lived across the street from the crime scene. This meant that hers could have been any of the five houses facing Ha Jade’s. Furthermore, this was the last day of my fieldwork for the summer and I was scheduled to fly back to Iowa for my final year in the writing program. The trip to Bird Avenue was just a last-minute decision; Mary’s place was a mere substitute, the closest I could come to the sorceress’s home. Dressed in a Hawaiian print mu’umu’u, Mary immediately reminded me of a heavier Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company, the friendly landlady who loved to talk. In fact, during the visit she talked openly about her relationship with the mother and daughter, particularly the bond she shared with the younger one whom she loved as a granddaughter. “Ha Jade was very strict with the girl, so Anita would always come over and hang out here,” she said. Mary would pause every now and then between recollections and offer disclaimers. “I shouldn’t judge the dead,” she would say. “I was only the neighbor. You should actually talk to Loan.” Loan, one of Ha Jade’s siblings, had been residing at the late sorceress’s house ever since her sister and niece were killed there. Mary didn’t know it, but I had tried contacting Loan for an interview earlier that summer, but to no avail. I had even purchased two English-Vietnamese dictionaries to craft my request for an interview with her. The letter took three hours to compose, in total, because I had to search and translate each word, one at a time. In my line of logic, it was the right and respectful thing to do. “Always speak Vietnamese with other Vietnamese folks,” my mother used to say. “It shows intimacy and properness.” I would learn subsequently, however, that my assumption was flawed. “The letter you wrote was in Vietnamese, which meant you were, too,” Loan later said. “I didn’t want to deal with another Vietnamese reporter. They’ve been the least kind, spreading rumors about my sister and her witchcraft.” And so ours was an impromptu meeting, really, one that happened only because of Mary’s grace and tenacity. “You have a special visitor here to see you,” she repeatedly told Loan over the phone. “It’s a surprise.” I remember cringing when Mary said “special” and “surprise.” The words made it sound like Loan had just won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes and I was Ed McMahon with the check. When we met, Loan spoke few words and offered fewer smiles. “Yeah, I know who you are,” was all she said to me, and awkwardly, “I’m sorry,” was all I said to her—in Vietnamese. Of course what Loan meant was that she knew I was the graduate student who requested an interview with her, the one conducting a research project on Vietnamese fortunetelling and folk practices—not the one who was Phillipe’s niece—and I knew this, but

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I naturally felt compelled to ask for forgiveness, anyway. It eased my nerves, particularly when she took a seat across from me and asked, “So what do you really want to know that the papers haven’t already mentioned?” It was her bluntness and the way she leaned forward from her chair with both elbows resting on her knees that made me feel especially apologetic. “I’m a writer.” My words vibrated pass my vocal cords. “I want to know about your sister beyond the rumors.” Unmoved, Loan gave only a slight upward nod. “People will say anything to get the dirt on my sister,” she said. “But you should know she was a human being above all things. No matter what people say about her, she was a human being. She was my sister. Can you understand that?” Loan’s head nodded a few times after she spoke. She gave a long exhale and stared out the living room window. “I’m sorry—” I said, this time in English, perhaps because I was no longer thinking strategically. “Look, those two bastard-demons killed her and my beautiful niece,” she said. “I cannot describe to you the pain I feel other than to say, if I could, I would punish them myself. I would have that guy stand out there on the street and anyone who believes he’s guilty could take turns stabbing him in the face. I want him to feel my sister’s physical pain. And his family, I want them to watch so that they could feel my pain, the pain of knowing that someone is torturing their loved one. Can you understand that? Is that what you wanted to hear? Is that enough?” I swallowed my spit and pushed both my hands under my buttocks, pressing all my weight down onto them. I did not say a word. I did not know how to, or what to, say. I wanted only to kneel, to beg for forgiveness—for Phillipe’s sin and for mine. I could not fully fathom the thought of Loan’s fantasy, of stabbing another—regardless of how welldeserved the punishment may be. I could not fathom the penetration from blade into flesh, the splitting of the skin, the gush of blood, the mixing of broken veins and torn organs. What would that yield, if not a concoction of irreversible self-loathing? Loan and I would talk in Mary’s house for almost half an hour before she asked if I wanted to see where and how her sister had once lived. An unexpected invitation, hers was, and one that I could not decline—even if it were enabled by half lies and deceit. Earlier that summer, I would drive by Ha Jade’s house and stare at its iron-cladding exterior from my car. I would wonder what it was like inside, if there were still blood stains on the walls, hints that two violent deaths had occurred a year prior. I would imagine walking up to the front door but never actually doing it—because


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I worried that those neighbors who hung out on their lawns, those three men who squatted on the curb, smoking, spitting, and cursing in Vietnamese, would point and whisper. “Hey, you don’t belong here!” they might say. “Scat, like the shit that you are!” I immediately took notice of the white carpet in the living room and wondered about the color choice—whether Loan was simply keeping faithful to the original décor, or whether she, for whatever reason, was being intentionally ironic. Much like the carpet, the walls were also pure white, decorated with a few impressionistic paintings. Loan had spent the last year scrubbing from floor to ceiling, she said, because she wanted to make the place livable again—for herself and for Ha Jade and Anita. At the center of one of the bedrooms, an altar for her sister and niece stood. Once an office, the room now housed a small table with framed pictures of the deceased and one rather large incense mortar. On the adjacent walls were old tapestries of various deities that belonged to the late sorceress. Rumor had it that she worshipped demons, but the figures on these murals looked no differently than any other Vietnamese folk god—red or black faces with long, majestic beards. Were they demons, I wouldn’t have known. I wondered as we walked through the house whether Ha Jade and Anita were watching, and if they were, whether they knew who I was and approved. It is strange to share this, and I know if I were to, people would roll their eyes. “No, you did not actually see Anita, not even in your dreams,” they would say. “You saw only a child and you thought it was her. You wished it was.” They would insist that ghosts do not exist. They would insist because they do not know that in one of the crime scene photos, the one of the exterior of the house, two white clouds of smoke were captured on film, floating nearby—watching, inspecting.

I spent three hours in Ha Jade’s home that afternoon, and during those three hours Loan did most of the talking, mainly about the tragedy, about her disbelief over the family’s loss, and she shared with me stacks of black and white photos of Ha Jade and Anita. “This was who my sister was,” she said, “a beautiful woman like no other.” I was drawn to her eyes, in particular, so deep and melancholic they were. Did she, even back then, know that she would die an early and violent death and was she mourning for it? “The gifted always die young,” Loan said. “My sister knew it. She just didn’t realize Anita would, too.” I hadn’t expected Loan to answer my thoughts, and I blushed. “Here, look at this one.” She handed me a small black and white print. “This was when my niece was about five.” In the picture, Anita wore a dress with a ribbon bow at the center. Her eyes, like

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her mother’s were deep and dark. They were also round—sunken black marbles. “I’ve seen her before,” I told Loan. “And when I do, she is always five and she is always wearing this dress. The bow in the middle is a light blue.” I paused, wondering if I had just offended Loan. What audacity did I have, after all, to befriend her niece, even if it were only in my sleep? But Loan offered little reaction. “Maybe it wasn’t a dream you saw,” was all she said. Especially in the early stages of the research, I would see Anita all the time—in mornings, in evenings, but mainly at night. She would come in my dreams and she would show me things, things about the murders that were too horrific and graphic to know while awake. When she was done, she would disappear and I would weep, awakened only by the dampened pillowcase. I welcomed these dreams, and yet I dreaded them—because nothing ever came of them. Nothing ever changed. Survival For days, Ha Jade had been carrying her four-year-old daughter, Anita, on her back through the Cambodian jungle. Two mornings prior, the mother and daughter pair had left Saigon on a bus, posing as vendors, and now they were in the middle of nowhere with a group of people they did not know—all refugees, all hungry. Ha Jade had brought only a small jar of shredded beef jerky and a few banh bao (pork buns) in the silk sack tied across her chest. Other than these bits of rations, she had brought nothing. “Don’t carry large luggage,” one of the escape organizers had instructed. “We move fast and we won’t wait for anyone.” Besides, all the money and jewelry Ha Jade had saved up over the years had gone to fund the escape—two large gold bars was the going rate. She had very few belongings other than food and the clothes she wore on her body. Initially Ha Jade had hoped for a boat route, but this was 1987, and it was known that the Vietnamese Coast Guard kept a tight watch on the waters. “There’ve been too many boat people,” was what the organizers had said. “The government knows our routes. It’s easier to cross the border by foot. You just have to be careful because we don’t guarantee your safety. Don’t conceal your gold or diamonds inside your body. The pirates know all your hiding places.” In the past, people would stuff their jewelry inside rubber tubes, much like condoms, and push them far up their anuses. They would refrain from going to the bathroom for days at a time. It wasn’t that hard to do since they would all be crowded on a boat with little to eat. Most people would just hope to arrive at their destinations—Thailand or Hong Kong—and


Chapter Eight then relieve themselves at the refugee camps. But the pirates had since caught on, and nowadays they would force spoiled eggs or molded rice down escapees’ throats. They would wait for the bellyaches and inevitable bowel movements, and then they would force the escapees to search through the excretion. “And one last thing,” the organizer had said. “Dress comfortably. Try to look as unattractive as you can—dirty and smelly, even. Jungle pirates are known to rape the women, and if that happens, we won’t even try to help. At that point, it’s every man for himself.” Ha Jade had heard all these stories before the expedition. She had known about the risks, and still, she had decided long ago that she would take them anyway—for herself, for her daughter, for their lives in America.

A mentor of mine once said, “If you don’t believe you can do it, that you are that person to do it, then no one else will.” Of course he was speaking from the perspective of a well-established and respected scholar. He was also speaking as a creative nonfiction writer. In the world of the narrative, at least for many of us, the objective is simply to get the story and to tell it as we see, hear, and experience it. Access and “the right to access” are rarely issues we question. This is not because we do not have ethical codes of conduct. Rather, it is because we do not always operate under the same set of rules and with the same set of priorities. Conscience is often secondary, a personal tension that we must negotiate on our own. This is not the case for researchers. Researchers are guided by principles and codes of ethics that are meant to protect not only informants and other parties involved, but also to guide our practices and perhaps, our conscience. As a writer who is fascinated with, and continuously curious about Southeast Asian cultural rituals and practices, I am naturally drawn to ethnographic research, and as a researcher I must strictly adhere to ethical codes of conduct. I am expected to outline my research steps, to reveal my sources and how I acquired them, and to spell out my intentions—usually at the forefront. These guidelines can be restrictive, I think, and at times during the research process, I have even blamed them for hindering my creative performance. Yet, these research rules and guidelines have also provided me direction when I was most lost. For the past four years of this project, I have played both roles. Sometimes I was the writer and sometimes I was the researcher—each role lent different strengths at different points in the research. What I have learned from this process is that the conflict between writer and researcher is one that must always be renegotiated. While the ongoing tension may paralyze the project at times, it can also serve as a tool that helps the writer-researcher self-navigate through decisions responsibly.

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I still do not know for certain if I could properly and adequately write this story. I do not know for certain if I am, indeed, the person to write it. That is a question, I think, that perhaps only each reader can answer. What I do know is that I have been referring to my fear as a way of avoiding scrutiny, and rationalizing why I should not tell it. Yet the truth is there are stories that do not have to be told, and then, there are those stories that must be told, that demand to be told—and Ha Jade’s is one of them. In the time I have spent researching her death and trying to reconstruct her life, this, I am most certain of. Ha Jade Smith was not just a fortuneteller or a sorceress. She was, in fact, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and above all, a survivor. Hers is a story that has to be told, that needs to be told—fully, roundedly, and responsibly. Permission In my dream, she is five, a child still. She does not look like the pictures in the papers, the way I know her. But, there is no mistake. It’s her nose— round and wide across her face. She is standing by me in the middle of a living room, the same living room I always dream of when the dead come to visit me. Here, I have seen deceased relatives and even spirits I do not know. It is late morning and the house is lit by sun coming through the half-opened vertical blinds—tall, thin bars of light with floating dust, as visible as air will ever get. From afar, I hear the sound of thin metal hitting wood and I glance down at the little girl to see if she knows what’s going on. But she says nothing as she makes her way across the room. “Wait,” I say. “Please slow down.” I follow her into a small square kitchen where a middle-aged woman stands by the stove with a cleaver and dices vegetables. The woman does not look up, but I recognize her from the side. It’s the hair—a deep black shoulder-length bob and short straight bangs. Like Cleopatra’s. “My daughter has been waiting for you,” she says. She sets down the knife and looks straight at me, her expression blank and tired. I hear only her long exhales, a heaviness in the rhythm like my mother’s when she is worried. Then, as if she has said all she wanted, she turns her attention to the child. “Go show our guest what you want her to see,” she says. The little girl’s round pair of hands, like cushions, tugs at my wrists. “Come.” She leads me to a short, narrow hallway by the kitchen, where the washer-dryer sits along one of the walls. “Shhh,” she whispers. “This is where they wait.” I squeeze her hands tightly inside mine until the sweat loosens up my grip and I am forced to let her go. “You must not come home that day,” I say. “Disobey your mother just once and do not come home that day. Understand?”


Chapter Eight But the little girl does not answer, she doesn’t even look up. I have heard somewhere that the dead can talk but they can’t hear. They are the ones with things to say; we, the living, are here to listen.



Introduction I write 4 men, women, and children. any1 who ever felt alone, any1 who ever felt disowned, i write for the bones buried in a country call home, i write for u the listener so listen up .... i write for inner city street kids struggling to find their place in a world to (sic) concern with race .... so i write to the few hoping i get trickled down to the masses i wanna spark the world and get reborn in its ashes i wanna unfog their glasses and make em see the sons and daughters they abandoned to be bastards .... so i write from a place of pure bass all the five elements put together to produce faith .... ~Kosal Khiev, Why I Write

Why must a poet write for others? What ethics or obligations compel an artist to create and speak on behalf of others? Kosal Khiev,1 a poet, spoken word artist, and Cambodian American deportee, elucidates on why he writes verses, demonstrating that creative literary production is essential to healing and justice. He begins by asserting that he writes for those who have felt “alone” and who have been “disowned” (l. 1). The operative word in this line is “disowned.” It holds accountable those who have the power to protect, but chose to abuse their power and abandon their responsibilities out of greed, hatred, selfishness, and ignorance. These social conditions may have incapacitated these men, women and children

Poetic Justice: Cambodian American Literary Visions


from voicing their social disease. He then moves from writing for the (disenfranchised) living to writing for the dead. The “bones buried in a country [I] call home” (l. 2) alludes to the Cambodian autogenocide during the Khmer Rouge regime. Writing becomes a vehicle for the living to memorialize the dead. Healing and justice become the objectives of creative literary expression. The speaker immediately hails the readers into the text through interpellation: “i write for u the listener so listen up” (l. 3). Khiev’s command for attention situates the writer/speaker as the authoritative voice offering something valuable to the listeners. His wisdom, generosity, and compassion unfold in the following lines as he writes for “inner city street kids” (l. 6), subalterns unable to speak for themselves, and he reveals the social inequalities that stem from a “world to (sic) concern with race” (l. 7). Social phenomena such as xenophobia, white supremacy, imperialism, and colonialism all have roots buried in racist ideology. Writing, such as Khiev’s, exposes these social evils and exculpates the innocent. This type of writing demands to know who is responsible for these social dis-eases and holds culprits accountable. Further into the poem, Khiev declares: “i wanna spark the world and get reborn in its ashes” (l. 26). He alludes to the phoenix, a mythical creature associated with self-generative powers (Broek 1972: 188) and eternal life (Broek 1972: 55). The phoenix as a stand-in for the poet is apropos because its cries are known to make beautiful song (Broek 1972: 200), just as Khiev does during his spoken word performances.2 The phoenix, in Christian traditions, signifies new beginnings and is a harbinger for happiness and good fortune (Broek 1972: 113). Khiev’s optimism to transform and liberate the world from suffering is exuded in his poetry. Toward the end of his poem, Khiev draws upon the Five Elements (most likely from Chinese philosophy) as a means to elicit faith from a generation that has been abandoned and bastardized. Once again, the theme of “(re)creation” is invoked by the five elements3 (Yu-lan 1934: 20). “These elements (hsing) represent movement (hsing)” (Yu-lan 1934: 21). They have the power to give birth to the element following it and are overcome by only one (Yu-lan 1934: 22). For example, wood creates fire, and fire creates metal, but metal is overcome by wood and water overcomes fire (Yu-lan 1934: 20-22). “Heaven, Earth, the yin and yang, and wood, fire, earth, metal and water, make nine; together with man, they make ten. Heaven’s number is made complete” (Yu-lan 1934: 19). This cycle of creation and balance calls forth new life and equilibrium. Khiev’s


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invocation of the heavenly elements is a moment of poetic justice meant to “produce faith” (l. 76) in order to heal a world full of social suffering. Khiev’s spoken word poem upholds a new standard for creative literary cultural producers. His writings challenge the hegemonic victimhood narratives that are prevalent in Cambodian American communities. It is this type of literature that we seek to excavate from a haunted Cambodian past; to illuminate an American society that has long misunderstood, misrepresented, and mishandled Cambodian American communities, and pushed them into the margins of humanity. Through explorations of Cambodian American “healing narratives,” we attempt to undo the internal colonization, “the patterns of exploitation and domination of disenfranchised groups within the United States” that have been a part of the narratives of Cambodian Americans (Spivak 1990: 792 emphasis original). We invite readers, scholars, writers, Cambodian and nonCambodian, to retire Cambodian American “victim narratives” by spotlighting narratives that heal and empower. Jonathan H. X. Lee notes that: For many Cambodian Americans, first generation refugees, 1.5 and second generation Cambodian Americans, comfort and ease are often far from their lives. Seen—if they are seen at all—as perpetual victims, as refugees, their social and economic struggles with gang activities and welfare dependency dominate the discourse about them, pointing out and blaming their recent history as the origins of their ‘plight.’ But they have survived, and even with scars, they thrive, and in so doing, have brought their wealth of culture, their wealth of community, and their tremendous strength that was gained through their struggle to survive. (2010: xiv)

Since Cambodian American literature4 is starting to grow, the scope and breadth of this article is limited to Sharon May’s5 interview with Soth Polin, published in a journal called Manoa;6 Anida Yoeu Ali’s poem, “Absence, Part 2: Crying;” Chath pierSath’s poem, “Reunion;” and Peauladd Huy’s poem, “I am here.” This article shifts our focus from the Cambodian American “victim narratives” to the production, promotion, and distribution of “healing narratives.” First, the cultural and social terrain of Cambodian American history is laid out. We argue that Cambodian Americans are “socially dead” and are, therefore, unable to connect to their traditions, cultural lifeways, histories and social institutions because of the legacy of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal campaign. Having experienced “social death,” Cambodians and Cambodian Americans are hindered in their attempts to seek justice and heal from the evil of the Khmer Rouge regime. However, we argue that shifting the narrative and popular imagination of Cambodian

Poetic Justice: Cambodian American Literary Visions


Americans from being “victims” is a central step towards becoming “socially undead.” This part requires that we, as scholars, writers, and readers, focus on the production and transmission of “healing narratives.” Before articulating the differences between victim narratives and healing narratives, we explore, albeit briefly, the interconnection between this narrative shift in discourse with what we term a pedagogy for healing and justice. One central question we invite readers to explore with us is: “What’s at stake in the continual production and perpetuation of Cambodian American ‘victim narratives’ in society?” We juxtapose this question with a delineation of “healing narratives” through an examination and explication of several Cambodian American literary texts that fall under this category. This article actively engages in expanding the concepts of language as a healing agent and its functions to (1) raise awareness, (2) seek justice, and (3) transmit hope to the next generations. Lastly, the relationship between literature and society will be explored, ultimately, proposing the integration of Cambodian American literature into the U.S. classrooms and literary spheres.

Cultural Historical Background The Cambodian autogenocide, which lasted for three years, eight months, and twenty days, between 1975 and 1979, when the Khmer Rouge held power in Cambodia, has been described as one of the most radical and brutal periods in world history. It was a time of mass starvation, torture, slavery, and killing. Imagine children being separated from their families, and killed if they attempted to return to the parents. Imagine children being trained to be soldiers and then ordered to kill, not just strangers, but their own parents. Imagine being guilty for crimes that you have not committed and being forced to admit guilt, then sent to re-education camps and labor camps as punishment for said criminal activities, or being sentenced to death. The Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot, the nom de guerre of Saloth Sar, attempted to copy Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward in China, and to create an agrarian utopia based on rice agriculture. This leap would create the “cleanest, most fair society ever known in our history,” as stated in a propaganda radio broadcast (Hinton 2005: 8). However, what the message failed to mention was that in order to create this “cleanest” and “most fair” society, it required the destruction of families, social relationships and bonds, traditions, culture, religion, arts, and literature. Invoking the concept of “social death” defined by Claudia Card as “…central to the evil of genocide… [the] loss of social vitality is loss of


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identity and thereby of meaning in one’s existence. Seeing social death at the center of genocide takes our focus off body counts and loss of individual talents, directing us instead to mourn losses of relationships that create community and give meaning to the development of talents” (2003: 63). For Cambodian Americans, social death was compounded because war and genocide was followed by a mass migration of refugees seeking safety and life. This movement resulted in radical life changes as refugees faced culture shock, survivor’s guilt, and the challenges of adapting to a completely new, modern society. Fleeing their homeland does not simply represent the leaving of a physical space and security, but also the disconnect that thereby occurs from one’s sense of self, one’s culture, and one’s history. The loss is physical, somatic, cultural and symbolic. The number of Cambodians who died under the Khmer Rouge remains a topic of debate: Vietnamese sources say three million, while others estimate 1.72 million deaths. More than three decades later, Cambodians worldwide are still haunted by this grim chapter in their history—collective and individual. Collective and individual experiences and encounters with trauma among Cambodian Americans are transmitted across multiple generations silently and unconsciously. First generation refugee-survivors remain quiet about their experiences, and transmit social death—the inability to sustain and maintain connections to traditions, community, and history—to their second generation Cambodian American children. The birth of children to subsequent generations in which the community has been destroyed and ties to past generations have been severed through separation and death is termed natal alienation (Card 2003: 74). Card states, “Those who are natally alienated are born already socially dead” (2003: 74 emphasis original). Cambodian American children who experience natal alienation grow up with a superficial understanding of their heritage, their families’ histories, parents’ culture, and roots because their access to cultural resources (rituals, symbols, language, and extended family) is limited. While not the case for all, or to the same degree, for some refugees of the Cambodian genocide who immigrated to the United States, social death and natal alienation are applicable concepts that highlight the link among psychological, social, and cultural traumas.7 How can Cambodian Americans employ literature and other forms of creative expressions to become “socially undead” and hence to reengage with society, community, and self? We argue that Cambodian American literary expressions provide one path towards becoming “socially alive” which is part and parcel of the complex process of healing and search for justice.

Poetic Justice: Cambodian American Literary Visions


Pedagogy for Healing and Justice Among Cambodians, those living in Cambodia, and the Diaspora (i.e. the United States, Australia, France, Canada, New Zealand, and Vietnam), peace is elusive, since justice may never be achieved. “How is justice possible if Pol Pot is already dead?” many survivors asked after 1998. In 2003, The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was established through an agreement between the government of Cambodia and the United Nations, with a mandate to prosecute senior members of the Khmer Rouge for war crimes and crimes against humanity, during the time the Khmer Rouge held power. The ECCC is a hybrid court composed of Cambodian and international judges and prosecutors working with Cambodian and international laws, under a French-style system. The ECCC is as significant as the war crimes tribunal since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg. This eight-year-old court is fraught with disputes among prosecutors, judges, funders, and officials in the Cambodian government. Today, many of the surviving victims and their descendants fear that the majority of the Khmer Rouge leaders and other low level Khmer Rouge personnel will go unpunished because the judicial process is being manipulated by the current Prime Minister, Hun Sen, himself a known former Khmer Rouge leader. In fact, Prime Minister Hun Sen declared in October 2010 to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that no new cases will be investigated.8 On June 27, 2011, Case 002 opened and is currently proceeding, with no planned successor. The four defendants are: Nuon Chea, 84, Pol Pot’s second in command; Khieu Samphan, 79, the regime’s head of state; Ieng Thirith, 79, former minister of social affairs; and her husband Ieng Sary, 85, who was the foreign minister. Unlike the defendant in the first case against Khaing Guek Eav (alias Duch), all four reject the charges against them and maintain their innocence. Khieu Samphan has also refused to cooperate with the court.9 In court, Nuon Chea said, “I am not happy with this hearing.” The legacies of this period and the taste of injustice are powerful and affect the lives of Cambodians at home and in diasporic communities abroad. Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights acknowledged that even though the Khmer Rouge crimes were committed more than thirty years ago, “…they remain ingrained in Cambodia’s collective psyche.” Virak’s conclusion about the collective psyche of Cambodian subjects illustrates that they are subjects suspended in an inbetween state of ambivalence and fear, which exemplifies the victim narrative. We argue, that, however accurate Virak’s statement may be, that


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writers, students, teachers, peacebuilders—Cambodian and nonCambodian—shift their focus on the impossibility of justice, to the possibility of transformation, and by extension, to the possibility of other forms of justice. Although judicial justice is slow and may be impossible to achieve in post-conflict Cambodian and Cambodian American communities, we argue that small but meaningful progress towards achieving other forms of social justice and healing is possible through literary expressions as evident in Cambodian American literature. Teri Shaffer Yamada documents how Cambodian American writers employ memoirs as a way to not only record history and tell their story, but to transform trauma from pain and terror to socially engaged efforts to demand justice for survivors of the Killing Fields (Yamada 2005, 2010). Similarly, Cathy Schlund-Vials writes about praCh Ly, a Cambodian American hip hop artist who employs Khmer musical styles and techniques, with movies about the Killing Fields, and family narratives to construct not only an identity as Cambodian American, but a transnational subjectivity that situates the self in a vexing position between two worlds: America and Cambodia (Schlund-Vials 2008). Jonathan H. X. Lee argues that 1.5-generation and second-generation Cambodian Americans will creatively employ the works of Cambodian American writers, artists, and musicians coupled with their own family narratives to (re)create, (re)discover their history and construct a self that is simultaneously consciously and conscientiously Cambodian and American. These creative expressions are central to healing and becoming socially undead that lies beyond judicial justice (2010:343-353). We, therefore, envision a pedagogy of healing and justice that is inspired by bell hooks’ conception of “liberatory pedagogy” (1990: 9) and Paulo Freire’s concept of “humanizing pedagogy” (2010: 68). A pedagogy of healing and justice is achieved when students, teachers, and authors— Cambodian and non-Cambodian—are exposed to Cambodian American literary expressions. Analysis of this genre of literature authenticates Cambodian Americans as human as opposed to “victims” which, invoking Freire requires “action and reflection” as a praxis that is capable of transforming the world (2010: 125). In regards to the case at hand, this praxis of action and reflection can transform Cambodian Americans from “victims” to human beings who are agents of their own destiny, who will the power to transform their past and dictate their own futures. As Freire suggests, “The important thing, from the point of view of libertarian education, is for the people to come to feel like masters of their thinking…” (2010:124). For Cambodian Americans, this means the

Poetic Justice: Cambodian American Literary Visions


possibility of piecing together the fragments of identity that was shattered under the Khmer Rouge. Rebuilding Cambodians’ lost and damaged sense of identity and belonging is an important starting point upon which to tackle individual, community and national healing.

Cambodian American Victim Narratives10 Before we begin exploring alternative Cambodian American literature, it’s useful to examine a “victim narrative” and inspect how its features differ from a “healing narrative.” There are no clear markings that determine whether a text is a “victim narrative” or a “healing narrative” and each reader experiences a text differently. In this article, a text’s valuations of whether it’s a “victim narrative” or a “healing narrative” are based on Kosal Khiev’s criteria for poetic justice. One example of a “victim narrative” can be found in Sharon May’s interview with Soth Polin11 in the Manoa journal. The tone of this particular interview dampens the human heart.12 Throughout the interview, Polin shares his love for literature and his writing career, but even within these narratives, they are clouded by fear and despair, and lingering visceral haunting(s) of the Khmer Rouge. Polin tries to explain to May the crippling effects the Khmer Rouge has on the imagination and states: Even if we had more writers of my generation, we could not succeed if we continued writing as we did. There is something that we cannot get past. It just kills the imagination. It is the atrocity of the Khmer Rouge. Even if you are reaching in your imagination for a new destination, you cannot get past their cruelty. When you try to write something without mentioning the Khmer Rouge, you can’t. The next generation will forgive that, they will forget, but for us, we cannot forgive it. (2004: 16-17)

Polin’s answer speaks to his generation’s creative energies being stymied by the memory and trauma of the Khmer Rouge regime. He also distinguishes between the experiences of his own generation, who actually lived through the autogenocide, and juxtaposes it against that of future generations who may still be affected through intergenerational trauma. However, unlike his generation, they are still able to transcend the loss through literary production; Polin no longer has any hope left for his generation. This sense of hopelessness is further reflected when May asks Polin: “What advice do you have for young writers?” he replies with a hopeless question, “That is difficult to answer. I cannot give advice to myself. How can I advise other people?” (2004: 16) Although Polin’s answer is honest


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and authentic, it also reflects a person who is lost and unable to lead others. He is in despair and lacks personal agency. When May probes Polin to disclose how the Khmer Rouge affected him, he concludes by saying: As I said before about the Khmer Rouge: you cannot get past it. You resuscitate a painful past, and you have to talk about it. You cannot pass over it. That is a lesson for humanity: not to let it happen again—that atrocity and that cruelty. Maybe this is why I cannot finish my writing: because of this story. Because of this, I lost my inspiration. Because the reality surpasses the imagination. (2004: 20)

Polin has admitted defeat as a writer and cultural producer. The Khmer Rouge won. There are no stories of victory, healing, or moving forward in this text. The personal and collective pain is so strong it has incapacitated Polin’s imaginative and narrative power. The best that he can do is talk about it with May in an interview and hope that she will take up the work that he is no longer capable of performing on his own. Polin’s subjectivity engulfs the reader’s optimism and deflates the reader’s spirit. Based on Khiev’s criteria for poetic justice, this text’s lack of healing and justice signal a “victim narrative.” What purpose lies in making distinctions between a “victim” and a “healing” narrative? In Kelly McKinney’s article, “‘Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence’: Testimony, Traumatic Memory, and Psychotherapy with Survivors of Political Violence,”13 she raises challenging questions for psychotherapists who use the “testimony method” to heal survivors of political violence and critiques the reframing of the trauma story in the way it attempts to portray “historical truth” by casting patients as “innocent victims, paradoxically denying a sense of their full moral and psychological agency rather than restoring it” (Haaken in McKinney, 2007: 267). Victims are being painted in a one-dimensional lens untainted by evil intentions or vengeful thoughts. The creation of this “false, pure victim identity” that some of the clinics practice in their healing sessions are detrimental because the patients lose their “authentic selves” and must suppress their desires for revenge or violence—out of shame; this suppression is ultimately destructive because the patients have been retarded from tapping into their personal agency (McKinney, 2007: 267). McKinney’s findings are significant because it challenges popular beliefs that the simple re-telling of a “victim narrative” elicits liberation and results in fewer victims to burden society. This is the effect of the “victim narrative” that we expose and caution against. The creation and re-creation of these “victim narratives” perpetuates a cycle of helplessness and

Poetic Justice: Cambodian American Literary Visions


victimization in which the patients may not be able to move forward or access their personal agency. In addition to perpetuating victimization, the production and reproduction of Cambodian American “victim narratives” uses Cambodia’s historical past as a scapegoat and simultaneously legitimates that the U.S. is based on meritocratic values while denying the existence of racial inequality. For example, in The New York Times, Patricia Leigh Brown reports on sex trafficking of Southeast Asian American minors with a focus on Cambodian American girls. However, she does not explicitly show that there’s a direct correlation between high crimes and poverty. Instead, she links the vulnerability of Cambodian American girls to being raised by emotionally distant parents affected by the Khmer Rouge. While this is not to understate the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of those who have been affected by the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror and genocide, we are showing how the framing of this reporting is misleading. She not only briefly mentions poverty, but Brown relays that “the Polaris Project, a national advocacy organization, estimates that a stable of four girls earns over $600,000 a year in tax-free income for the pimp. Drug dealers here are increasingly switching to prostitution, inspired by the bottom line and fewer risks” (2011). This huge figure gears readers’ mind frames toward profit rather than poverty. This kind of reporting elides the real issues that many Cambodian American communities are facing: high poverty and crime and low funding. Furthermore, Brown cites organizations like Asian Health Services and Banteay Srei which suggest that the Cambodian American girls are already getting all the social help they need, therefore, no further resources are required for under resourced and unprivileged Cambodian American communities. It has been nearly four decades since the Khmer Rouge regime, and yet, they are still being blamed for all social unrest within Cambodian American communities, including: poverty, unemployment, social maladjustment, educational underperformance, and discrimination. This tendency to use the Khmer Rouge regime as a scapegoat is disproportionate from the actual Cambodian refugee experience in the U.S. and must be challenged and re-examined critically in order to assess the situation accurately and aid Cambodian American communities in ways that are effective. Ownership of our social problems is necessary to ensure a society based on democratic values. Furthermore, since we are all interconnected, this can only profit all communities and society as a whole because empowerment has a direct correlation with victimization. This means that as more Cambodian Americans are healing and being empowered, the result will be a lesser presence of victimization in our


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society and a healthier, more functional, democratic nation-state. Despite the gravity of this subject, there is hope because there is a solution. This is an invitation to retire “victim narratives” and to counterbalance them with the cultural production of “healing narratives.”

Cambodian American Healing Narratives Does literature have the capacity to incite social change? David Morris posits that suffering exists beyond language (1996: 27), but that literature is a safe, alternate space that’s more distant from the writer and reader, and hence, suffering becomes more accessible (31). According to his assessment of the functions of literature, it can be used to tap into suffering in ways that are inaccessible through the basic “transmission model.”14 If suffering can be accessed, then, it also allows for the opportunity to heal. Morris concludes that: The content of the utterance while crucial to its writer or speaker, matters less in suggesting what literature can tell us about suffering than the sheer act of speech itself: affliction has at last broken through into language. We are finally in the presence of words that cross over from the other side of torment. (1996: 30)

Morris suggests that voice is a promising tool for healing because it opens up a portal for the suffering to finally be released. He asserts that literature, then, becomes the perfect medium to take on this type of work. Morris’ assessments of literature coupled with Khiev’s demand for poetic justice are good measures for recognizing “healing narratives.” Morris warrants that studying certain elements of literature can aid us in the way we think about suffering within and beyond literature. We deviate from Morris’ hypothesis in the elements that it examines. Morris suggests studying voice, genre, and moral community, whereas, we examine the interplay among history, literature, subjectivity, cultural production, and social suffering, justice, healing, and empowerment for self and community.

Poetry: Writing for Self, Writing for Others “The world changes the poetry, and the poetry changes the world,” says U Sam Oeur15 during an interview with Sharon May (2004: 189). Similar to Polin’s previous assertions, Oeur’s statement is also reflective of the “victim narratives” that were produced after the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime. A sense of hopelessness prevails over Cambodian and

Poetic Justice: Cambodian American Literary Visions


Cambodian American literature. As Oeur notes, before war broke out in Cambodia, poets were preoccupied with pastoral poems that celebrated the female form, blossoms, and beautiful things, but after the war, the poems were bathed in the aftermath of genocide and became about suffering and loss and pain and grief (2004: 189). The second half of Oeur’s quote that “poetry changes the world” articulates the potency of poetry to transform ourselves, our communities, and ultimately, the world. Nearly four decades later, although Cambodian American poetry still addresses feelings of hopelessness, some of the poems’ tone and landscape are gradually shifting towards healing, empowerment, and justice.

Poet: Anida Yoeu Ali16 An example of a “healing narrative” can be found in Anida Ali’s poem “Absence, Part 2: Crying.” In the poem, Ali begins by trying to capture the essence of “absence” through various metaphors. Absence is: crying for home, leaving, loss of ownership, separation, shadows, silence, mourning deaths, another landmine tragedy, witnessing tears, tightly wound face, remembering home, sacrifice, etc….(ll. 1-20). These and many more losses and pain are cited as metaphors of “absence.” Taking on multiplicity of meanings, “absence” doesn’t merely connote a state of being away or a state of deficiency; “absence” is also the consequences of the Khmer Rouge’s destructive regime and this poem serves as documentation of the crimes against humanity. Initially, the poem may seem like a “victim narrative” because of the endless depiction of tragedies, but there is hope. Partway through the poem, Ali asserts that absence is “the heart’s unrecorded ache,” but as this is uttered, the poem becomes self-reflexive and creates a space for the heart’s unrecorded ache (l. 21). In the process of telling, Ali uses her poem as a means to record these losses; her use of form reinforces and echoes the contents of her message by giving legitimacy to grief and by acknowledging the suffering of the victims of the Khmer Rouge. By revealing the absence that is felt when the suffering of millions continue to go unacknowledged and newborns, who are born natally alienated, are embedded in a “dying generation / of living memories,” the poem becomes a space for healing and seeking social justice for first, 1.5, second, and future generations (ll. 42-3). In a couple of instances, Ali addresses the suffering of her father and “unpolitical” mother. This poem is reflective of the promising “healing narratives” that are beginning to emerge from 1.5 and second generation Cambodian American artists like praCh Ly17 and Laura Mam.18


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According to Jonathan H. X. Lee’s “ethics of identity formation,” 1.5 and second generation Cambodian Americans have a responsibility to record their family histories because they would be better candidates than the first generation to “lead the way to inter-generational recovery, since they did not directly face the horrors of the Khmer Rouge like their parents did, and can therefore more easily confront the past and move through it” (2010: 351). Ali demonstrates the “ethics of identity formation” in the way her poem keeps and produces history so that future generations will not experience the “amnesia of history” that’s prevalent in many race/ethnic groups that have been subjected to severe trauma. In this way, “Absence, Part 2: Crying” is a poem that fits both Morris’ valuations of literature as a portal to social suffering, in the way it addresses and heals personal and cultural wounds, and Khiev’s standard for poetic justice.

Poet: Chath pierSath19 Another example of a “healing narrative” can be found in Chath pierSath’s poem, “Reunion.” This poem is about the poet who imagines his own death in order to reunite with his mother. In the first stanza, pierSath paints serene, pastoral images of his homeland the way he remembers it in his childhood before the atrocities of war and autogenocide in Cambodia. Then, in the next stanza, he conjures up strong women who demonstrate against the massacre of their innocence. In the third stanza, the poet asserts that he shall do a celebratory dance in the monsoon for all the loved ones he never got to know while his mother’s embrace shall unite them all. The poem closes with a solo line declaring: “Having known her is my sorrow and my inheritance” (l. 14). This is also the last line of his book of poems. pierSath’s poem lends complexity to the “healing narrative” because it occupies both joy and pain. The title “Reunion” conjures both happiness and sorrow because while it speaks of the possibility of a reunion, it simultaneously connotes separation: the absence of his mother through her death and his survival. However, rather than being a “victim narrative,” the poet acknowledges the suffering, but ultimately takes ownership of his inheritance and chooses to celebrate life. Despite the eeriness and morbidity of imagining his own death, pierSath skillfully and successfully uses poetry as a vehicle to imagine a happy reunion with his mother by expanding our familiar notions of “death.”20 The theme of death appears four times in the poem and possesses multiple meanings. In each of these instances, death yields positive connotations. The first death refers to the speaker’s mother. However, rather than depicting her death, he breathes life into his mother through his

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poetry and through the afterlife. In this way, he is able to memorialize her. Rather than endanger her safety, the speaker conjures his own death. pierSath’s second allusion to death engages in poetic license in the way his death embodies agency through its purpose to reunite him with his mother. Here, death doesn’t take on the traditional meaning of dejection and surrendering; instead, it represents a means to “eternal peace” (l. 3). The third reference to death occurs in juxtaposition with the “thatchedroof house full of strong women / raising their fists against the massacre of their innocence” (ll. 8-9). The “massacre of their innocence” alludes to the Khmer Rouge’s autogenocide, but the speaker does not depict helpless victims in submission. On the contrary, he uses powerful activist imagery to re-imagine the tragedy in a way that transforms the suffering into demanding justice, thus creating a path towards self-empowerment. These images are displays of anger (not despair) which have not been appeased because of the lack of justice. As Frank Stewart explains, the function of writing is a means in which “individuals are able to maintain their humanity and resist evil—and, therefore, why the freedom to write is always a threat to authoritarian regimes” (2004: xi). Lastly, the poet alludes to death once more when he dedicates a dance in the monsoon for all of his “loved ones [he] never got to know” (ll. 11-12). In this way, pierSath’s remembrance of these deaths through his writing resists crimes against humanity and re-humanizes the dehumanized by paying homage to the innocent lives that were lost. Moreover, he memorializes the death of the innocent who were not provided a proper burial. This “funeral” releases the souls of the dead and allows them a possibility of rebirth. As Buddhists, the dead who are not properly buried are doomed to suffer in the hell realm as “hungry ghosts.” Through literary expression, pierSath reunites social bonds and allows for souls to be reincarnated.

Literature Performs “Socially Undead” Ceremonies In addition to setting the souls of the dead free, the act of telling history is a claiming of public space (Tonkin in Sugiman, 2004: 384). Elizabeth Tonkin’s research (1992) takes Morris’ argument on voice further by suggesting that testimonial discourse not only involves using language to orient oneself to the topic and audience, but also places a claim that one should be listened to (Tonkin in Sugiman, 2004: 384). The selected poets in this chapter voluntarily locate themselves in history and assert their testimonial discourse (in poetic form) into a public narrative. In Pamela Sugiman’s research on Japanese Canadian internment experiences, she hypothesizes that ultimately, the “literacization of memories is always a


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political act” (Sugiman, “Abstract”). These acts are significant the way they claim and create their own subjectivity. Similarly, we propose that the act of resurrecting these personal/national memories/histories has the power to move the Cambodian American communities forward psychologically, socially, and ultimately—politically. Through producing, publishing, and reading the reconstructed accounts of these untold stories, through poetry and other literary forms, we have collectively chosen to challenge and respond to the “socially dead” effects of the Khmer Rouge regime. Literary production has the ability to perform “socially undead” ceremonies within Cambodian American communities in the way it revives these social connections that the Khmer Rouge regime demolished. This act of defiance is also an act towards liberation. As Paulo Freire states, “Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly” (2010: 47). Writers and readers of literature are not merely appreciating and adding to the collection of art; we can make a conscious decision to use “healing narratives” as an agent to heal, seek justice, and transmit hope. With each act of production and reading, we are staying informed, reconnecting with history, and seeking and claiming our freedom. The following explication of Peauladd Huy’s poem, “I am here,” makes clear the power of literature to heal and undo the “socially dead” effects by the Khmer Rouge.

Poet: Peauladd Huy21 Huy’s poem, “I am here,” demonstrates poetry’s ability to raise the dead in order to speak about the crimes against humanity that the Khmer Rouge inflicted upon the once living. The poem is split into three sections with the same speaker using different tones in each section. The speaker unambiguously states that breaking silences and seeking justice are the main objectives. However, each section uses different devices to achieve this affect. The tone in section one reminds readers that this is not a matter of “what’s already done” (l. 5). The speaker was once alive, a functioning human being like us. Due to the Khmer Rouge take over, s/he experienced an unnatural death. The crimes against humanity committed by the Khmer Rouge are reinforced at the end of the first section when the speaker poses a rhetorical question to the perpetrators: “What more can you do? / Piss on my bones again?” (ll. 14-15). The “piss” informs the reader of the cruel conditions under which the speaker lived and died. Moreover, since the opening of the poem is in present tense, the surprised ending jolts the reader into the realization that the speaker has come back from the dead in

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order to speak. This is an instance of literature performing a “social undead” ceremony in the way it allows the dead and living to commune. This exchange defies the “social death” effects of the Khmer Rouge in its attempt to reconstruct relationships between the dead and the living and the past with the present. The next section begins with a direct address to the reader: “Don’t be alarmed, Reader” (l. 16 emphasis original). The speaker’s act of interpellation, hailing to the reader, creates an unnerving response from the reader and makes the text self-reflexive. Not only is the reader being reminded that s/he is reading, but now, something more is at stake; the writer’s political act becomes the reader’s. The speaker declares: “I am here to speak / because they are too afraid / to remember, still too stunned to speak out” (ll. 17-19). By confiding in the reader, the speaker breaks down the wall between the printed words and the reader. We are made aware in this section of the poem that reading is no longer an act of enjoyment and complacency, but a conscious attempt to invoke compassion in others’ suffering and plight and to bear witness to this speaker’s testimony. To read is to attest to the writer’s truth. The final section begins with a bold warning: “Reader discretion is advised” (l. 30 emphasis original). The warning gives readers a chance to back away from the poem or to continue reading at their own risk. Carrying the same message as the last section, the speaker reminds us that reading is not a passive activity and not for the faint-hearted, either. This last section divulges the gruesome details as to why victims are still traumatized and unable to speak. Unthinkable horrors such as cannibalism lurk in the subconscious of these victims. The speaker asks: “What do you make me of?... / …a ewe / to be gutted-up for your experimental / eating pleasure” (ll. 31-4). This last section is arranged in such a manner that the culprits have been arraigned to answer to their indictment and the speaker and readers serve as the judge and jurors. What the judicial system has failed to achieve, poetry may still avail. These unfathomable cruel acts consume and erode the life sources of these victims. They have become numb and socially dead, but poetry addresses and heals important personal as well as cultural wounds and tensions. The tone in this section is more urgent and forceful. It effectively uses interpellation to put the perpetrators on trial: “You, you, and you over there / in council chair” (ll. 34-5). The speaker fearlessly identifies the culprits responsible for the horrors these victims were subjected to. S/he asks these murderers: “do you think I don’t know / how many gall bladders it took to dye your eyes a permanent yellow?” (ll. 35-7). Jonathan H. X. Lee notes that among the Cambodian/Cambodian American


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communities, it is known that some former Khmer Rouge personnel ate the gall bladders of their victims. As a result, there is an urban legend circulating among Cambodian American communities that maintains that those who have yellow eyes may be former Khmer Rouge personnel who practiced cannibalism (2011: 217-219). Similarly, this poem alludes to these inhumane practices and seeks to confront and find a voice to transcend these crimes against humanity. This poem forces readers to confront the ethical question: “What are our responsibilities as readers, as witnesses, and as citizens of the human race?”

Cambodian American Literature in U.S. Classrooms22 Despite the inevitable grim tone that is perpetually present in the discussion of the Khmer Rouge and their victims, we propose that there are ways that we can help heal, seek justice, and transmit hope to future Cambodian American generations; the solution begins in our classrooms. Cambodian American literary criticism as a field is diminutive.23 Tremendous effort is being made by survivors turn authors, poets, and scholars, such as Sharon May and French translator Christophe Macquet, to excavate Cambodian literature from the ashes of the Khmer Rouge regime, but not enough energy is directed towards creating literary criticism for Cambodian American literature. The complaint for a more inclusive and representative literary canon is an old, ongoing debate in the U.S. educational system. Spivak’s article critiques the U.S.’s English Literature classrooms and pedagogical styles. She proposes that a new canon must be created in order to include literature that’s representative of a transnational cultural studies and that currently (even though her article was published in 1990, her concerns are still relevant today), the structure of the canon and pedagogy in the U.S. is reflective of an “internal colonization.” Cambodian American literature is therefore tokenized as “ethnic literature” and marginalized in U.S. English Literature courses and departments. It has been 20 years since Spivak’s article was published, and yet, there are no clear signs of improvement within the U.S.’s canon in the English Literature Department or the practice of cultural sensitivity by the educators. Improvement must not only be made towards erasing the “victim narratives” from 1.5 and second generation Cambodian Americans’ psyche, but also by encouraging the study and creation of literary criticism for Cambodian American literature in the U.S.’s curriculum and classrooms. This negligence demonstrates both a demand for this field as well as evidence that Cambodian Americans have not been faring well in the U.S.

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in terms of academic progress and scholarship that goes beyond “victim narratives.” As cultural healers and social scientists, we believe that the study of literature is also the study of social forces, and therefore, the remedy to healing social suffering is through mapping the various discourses that break silences and liberate social groups that have been muted by the hegemonic forces of the dominant group. We assert that it is possible to honor “victim narratives” as historical documentation without having to transmit and prorogate the victimization mentality. By using “victim narratives” as a pedagogical tool to terminate its crippling effect, a portal for social progress is paved for self- and community-empowerment. In order for this to be possible, society as a whole must take responsibility to bear witness to social suffering, commit to an anti-complicity campaign, and engage in activist work that improves the communities that have been disadvantaged by social/historical/political policies and historical formations. We must begin by promoting and producing “healing narratives.” However small our contribution may be, our hope is that it creates a ripple big enough to audiences who champion literature and see the value in reading, studying, talking, and writing about Cambodian American literature. We invite all to join us in creating an all-inclusive conversation within a literary sphere which includes Cambodian American literature not as a subgroup, but as an equally fascinating, thrilling contribution to our existing human narratives.

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Appendix Why I Write By: Kosal Khiev I write 4 men,women,and children.any 1 who ever felt alone, any1 who ever felt disowned, i write for the bones buried in a country call home, i write for u the listener so listen up take a step back and imagine the bigger picture cuz i write the real so feel me i write for inner city street kids struggling to find their place in a world to concern with race i write for the momz and pops shops strugglng to stay atop cuz the dopeboyz got the block on lock cant compete with the drama so i write soap operas about single mothers and brothers about the struggle and hustle the bustling city where empty bellies rumble like silent earthquakes we shake hungry like young lions we defying the the odds prayin to God Lord give us the strength to carry on so i write to redefine the stars naw, none of that hollywood glitz and glamour or them stones that shimmer and glimmer but some of that earthy residue that comes thru when one is being true so i write to the few hoping i get trickled down to the masses i wanna spark the world and get reborn in its ashes i wanna unfog their glasses and make em see the sons and daughters they abandoned to be bastards know that we grow like mollasses i point to the north like davie jones compass just follow the sounds of trumphets and listen up i write for love for wind chimes when they dangle and jangle moving passionately like two doing the tango i write for the sweet taste of mangos cuz this is that tropical heat sun blistering skin glistening while drinkin coconuts under the cabana while i listen to the sound of ur sleep

Poetic Justice: Cambodian American Literary Visions beauty like the everglades i write to the beat drums of runaway slaves engrave in the ecthings of oaktrees so even when time pass we last like classic oldies weathering the elements yeah i write for the essence of soul for the old cuz experience is wisdom and wisdom is gold Behold i write for the gorillas in the congos for the nomads in the jungles following the rythm of the bongos yeah i write for the warriors stretched out in the far corners of asia malaysia,cambodia,afghan,iran,iraq,and deep africa i write for the souls lost i attica i write for california the golden state where we holding weight struggling to hold on to faith cuz they steady packing us in prisons til we’re old and grey so i write for those in blue thats doing all day tehachapi,new folsom,corcoran,pelican bay all the way to susanville,high desert,and back down this way calipat,lancaster,soledad,ironwood and so many more built into cesspools so i write about wats less cool less fake so less take a moment of silence for the fallen and press pause okay thats enough lets get back to the cause lets get back to these walls built to separate and generate hate built to execute and induce waste so i write from a place of pure bass all the five elements put together to produce faith i write for men women and children anyone whoever felt alone anyone whoever felt disowned i write for the bones in a country i call home i write for u the listener so listen up take a step back and imagine the bigger picture i write the real so feel me


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198 Absence, Part 2: Crying By: Anida Yoeu Ali

absence is an inaudible gut wrenching bellow for Home, our eyes averting a public remembrance, the shape of my name left behind in a scurry. a family home left permanently unlocked. a change of ownership on claimless land. family reunions separated by years and miles of tears. shadows we were born with but had mistaken for silence. mourning over first born sons a year after his death… then 30 years later, the familiar sound of a stranger humming a foreign tune, vibrations felt in newsprints from another landmine tragedy, witnessing my father’s vulnerable tears. absence is my father’s tightly wound face when I ask him to remember Home. a generation’s blood swathed in sweat sacrificed for another generation’s hopes. the heart’s unrecorded ache. redolent tears from survivors forgiving their torturers. the tight-jaw clench of my tourist face arriving Home. a face wounded open from the remembering. a face wounded open from the leaving. a face wounded open from the returning. a cycle of leaving and returning. the sudden death of 2 million people and still dying…somewhere else. my unpolitical mother’s letter filled with her triggered memories. my unpolitical mother’s concern for women and children in overcrowded refugee camps. 20 million people in our world with no place to call Home and still counting… absence is the borrowed legacy of the refugee. every moment left unnoticed. a newborn birthed into a dying generation of living memories. absence is a dying generation of living memories.

Poetic Justice: Cambodian American Literary Visions Reunion By: Chath pierSath From the womb of life to death I shall return To the majesty of my mother’s presence in the here of eternal peace, I will know the joy of childhood again. Her ancestral warriors shall lead me back to where I belong, to the land of my birth, in the milk of rice and wine of palms, to the memory of a thatched-roof house full of strong women raising their fists against the massacre of their innocence. I, a child in the body of a man, think of loved ones I never got to know. But I shall dance for them in the monsoon’s cleansing rain, my mother’s embrace uniting us all. Having known her is my sorrow and my inheritance.


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200 I am here By: Peauladd Huy -for my momma, my hero. 1

There is a reason I am here in the world. I can no longer wait to be acknowledged by someone believing that this is only for matters concerning the earth and what’s already done. I am somebody – once speaking face to face, man to man, but you dismissed me, kicking me in my chest and head, again and again, when I appealed to you speaking the same language in the routine of torture. You said, shut up, if you cry, you’ll get more. What was I to do but stand up for myself. Your threats no longer affect me. Do you hear me? I am beyond reproach. What more can you do? Piss on my bones again? 2 Don’t be alarmed, Reader. I am here to speak because they are too afraid to remember, still too stunned to speak out what are making them cry out at night. (Children, mothers and fathers now, are still shaking awake between damp sheets in the a.m. hours. Refusing sleep to deny a life of nightmares.) I am not like them. Did you think that I would shut down that easily? That I would crumble again and yield (to bury the hatchet) because now you said impunity for the Khmer Rouge defectors. That their slates are wiped clean, each killing dismissed, each life meaningless.

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3 Reader discretion is advised. What do you make me of? An animal again before my frightened children: a ewe to be gutted-up for your experimental eating pleasure. You, you, and you over there in council chair, do you think I don’t know how many gall bladders it took to dye your eyes a permanent yellow? You, you, you, you, you. Whoever is left, you know who you are. Shame on you, even now, still having the gall to deny us our part in our own history book? We’re a saga, an era of mass slain. What are you afraid of– that your own children will see you as monsters?

Notes 1

Kosal Khiev was born in a Thai refugee camp in 1980. His family escaped the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge and came to the U.S. in 1981 only to be relocated to public housing with harsh conditions and few social services. In his teenage years, Khiev got embroiled in gang activity. His involvement in a gang fight at 16 led to his arrest. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to 16 years in a state penitentiary for attempted murder. While serving 14 years in prison, a Vietnam War veteran introduced Khiev to spoken word poetry and it has been a creative avenue for transformation. The laws of deportation for criminal immigrants had undergone draconian measures since the Sept. 11 tragedy and as a result, upon his release, the U.S. government deported Khiev to Cambodia in 2011, a country he had never been to. 2 Kosal was invited to represent Cambodia in Poetry Parnassus in London for the summer of 2012. He has performed at numerous venues in Phnom Penh and is Studio Revolt’s first Artist-in-Residence. 3 In Chinese philosophy, heaven has Five Elements in the following order: wood, fire, metal, water, and earth (Yu-lan 20). 4 Our definition of Cambodian American literature is broad because we believe that any publication of any genre related to Cambodian American experiences has an effect on the reception and perception of their communities. 5 Sharon May now goes by Sharon Brown. She researched the Khmer Rouge for the Columbia University Center for the Study of Human Rights. She was a guest editor for Manoa’s Cambodia issue during the summer of 2004. In this volume,


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she interviewed four Cambodian American writers and three Cambodian women writers: Soth Polin, Loung Ung, praCh Ly, U Sam Oeur, and Pal Vannariraks, Mao Somnang, and Pollie Bith. 6 Manoa is a journal from the University of Hawaii that was launched in 1989 and it strives to bring the literature of Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas to Englishspeaking readers. 7 According to various international clinical psychological studies 11 per cent of the Cambodian population older than 18 years is suffering from symptoms of probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): recurrent nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, mistrust etc. Cambodia, a country that seems so peaceful to visitors, harbors a high prevalence of drug abuse and domestic violence. Second generation trauma is hardly researched but Cambodian youth still seem very affected by what has happened (Sonis 2009; Van Schaack 2011). A Cambodian psychologist, who is skeptical about the applicability of PTSD research methods in his culture, developed his own approach: His diagnosis for many of his people is “baksbaat” —to have a broken courage. 8 In April 29, 2011 the judges prematurely closed the investigation into Case 003 that targeted two top military commanders, Sou Met and Meah Mut. Met and Mut participated in the purges that killed tens of thousands of people and until recently, served as top officials in the Cambodian military. International prosecutors complained that judges did not question the suspects nor did they visit the scenes of the alleged crimes. Critics alleged that Hun Sen’s interference in the operations of the ECCC stems from the fact that many former Khmer Rouge officials, like him, are now in government. Therefore, Hun Sen and company fear that investigators could dredge up new evidence of war crimes, and thus new defendants. 9 Duch was the director of Tuol Sleng (S-21)—a notorious secret prison at a former school in the middle of the capital, Phnom Penh—ended with a guilty verdict in July 26, 2010. The court found Duch guilty of charges involving pre- meditated murder, torture, rape and enslavement. Duch was sentenced to 35 years in prison, which was reduced by sixteen years as a remedy for his unlawful detention by the Cambodian Military Court prior to his transfer to the ECCC in July 2007 and time already served. Duch’s verdict was not received well by Cambodians who viewed it as an “insult to victims.” Duch oversaw the torture and killing of 17,000 victims: Only seven survived. In order to make the Duch verdict accessible to ordinary people in Cambodia, the ECCC printed and distributed 17,000 copies of the summary of the verdict and 10,000 copies of the complete verdict in Khmer. 10 It’s important to make the qualification that just because a text has been categorized as a “victim narrative” does not make it less valuable or less deserving of attention. A “victim narrative” can speak the vulgarities of human suffering in the way a “healing narrative” may not have the capacity to do so. Furthermore, juxtaposing the genres “victim narrative” and “healing narrative” is useful because they share a dialectic relationship in the way one function to illumine the other’s capacity. Regardless of whether it’s a “victim narrative” or “healing narrative,” the nature of a printed text is to break silences and document history (or entertain). In this way, both genres share similar functions.

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11 Born in 1943 in Kompong Cham, Cambodia, Soth Polin grew up in a middle class setting which privileged him to speak both in French and Khmer and to study classical literature of Cambodia, as well as, Western literature and philosophy. Polin founded Nokor Thom, a newspaper and publishing house, in the late 1960s. Polin was a militant nationalist who supported the politics of Lon Nol and promoted both an anti-Sihanouk and anti-Communist campaign. 12 Sharon May and Soth Polin conducted several interview sessions over the phone. There are no visual documentations of their conversations. We are aware of the limitations of studying conversations as an authored text and as a piece of literature; it’s also problematic to give precedence to the printed word over the verbal utterances of the interviewer and the interviewee, but we feel that much can still be gained regardless of our imperfect methodology (Cissna and Anderson, 203-205). We are relying upon Sharon May’s transcript of their interview published in Manoa’s 16th Volume as the most accurate documentation (that’s publicly accessible) which preserves the essence of their conversation (since there is a different, edited version that was reprinted in Manoa’s 18th Volume for their special edition on Asian Writers on Their Work). 13 The “testimony method” consists of the therapist “coaxing” the patient to disclose his/her trauma story through a series of sessions. Underlying this method is the belief that the victim can only heal after his/her trauma story has been told. 14 The basic “transmission (communication) model” is the conventional way of thinking about the functions of communication; this model implies that we use communication to exchange information (Spano, 6). Morris’ scholarship suggests that unlike the “transmission model,” literature is able to assess human suffering, and aid in the healing of social suffering. 15 U Sam Oeur was born in Svay Rieng Province in Cambodia in 1936. He was sent to the U.S. in 1962 to study industrial arts, then, poetry. He returned to Cambodia and was elected to Parliament. He served in the military until the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975; he survived the Pol Pot regime. In 1992, he returned to the U.S. and in 1996 he published a book of poetry called Sacred Vows translated into English with American Poet Ken McCullough. Since he’s the first prominent Cambodian poet to write in free verse, he has also been called the Walt Whitman of Cambodia and has also translated Whitman’s “Song of Myself” into Khmer. 16 At the time of publication, Anida Yoeu Ali went by Anida Yoeu Esguerra. 17 Known as Cambodia’s first rap star, praCh Ly uses his music to inform the public about Cambodian and Cambodian American history, challenge the U.S.’s political involvements, celebrate his heritage, and memorialize those who’ve lost their lives to the Khmer Rouge regime. praCh’s fame began when, in 2000, he recorded his first album in his parents’ garage for the Khmer New Year celebration, and unbeknownst to him, his album made it across the Pacific to Cambodia. Since then, he has been featured in various magazines, such as: Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, and New York Post. 18 Through, a social phenomenon occurred which allowed for the beginning of Laura Mam’s musical career to go public transnationally. Americanborn with Cambodian parents who escaped the Khmer Rouge, Mam incorporates


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her family history in her music to heal, inform, and inspire other Cambodians across the globe and Cambodian Americans to rise above their traumatic pasts. 19 Chath pierSath was born in Cambodia in 1970 and came to the United States as a refugee in 1981. He is a self-taught artist, poet, writer, social worker, and activist. 20 pierSath also uses tremendous imagination and innovation through combining sound, imagery, and diction. We chose to emphasize death in the poem because it’s easy to mistaken the speaker’s desire to die in order to reunite with his mother as a “victim narrative.” Far from being a poem about defeat, pierSath uses narrative power to heal the speaker’s “temporary” separation from his mother, since he will join his mother when he eventually dies. Poetry, a vehicle that transcends the speaker’s reality, can take him on an imaginative journey to his mother and dead relatives; this empowering narrative feature makes this poem a “healing narrative.” 21 Peauladd Huy was born in Cambodia and lost both of her parents by the Khmer Rouge. She came to the U.S. after staying in several refugee camps in Thailand. 22 Please note that English Literature is deliberately being privileged with an upper case “L,” whereas, Cambodian American literature utilizes a lower case “l” to demonstrate its valuations, marginalization, and current neglect within the literary sphere. 23 See the following texts for further readings on Cambodian American literary criticism: Monique Truong, “Vietnamese American Literature” in An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature; Teri Yamada, “Cambodian American Autobiography: Testimonial Discourse,” in Form and Transformation in Asian American Literature edited by Xiao-jing Zhou and Samina Najmi; “Modern Short Fiction of Cambodia: A History of Persistence” in Modern Short Fiction of Southeast Asia: A Literary History edited by Teri Shaffer Yamada; “Trauma and Transformation: The Autobiographies of Cambodian Americans (1980-2010)” in Cambodian American Experiences edited by Jonathan H.X. Lee; Lorraine Dong, “Crossing the River and Ocean: A Review of Cambodian American Literature for the Young,” in Cambodian American Experiences edited by Jonathan H.X. Lee; Susan Needham “Reports from the Edge: Cambodian American College Students’ Narratives of Experience” in Cambodian American Experiences edited by Jonathan H.X. Lee.

Works Cited Broek, R. Van Den. The Myth of the Phoenix: According to Classical and Early Christian Traditions. Trans. I. Seeger. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1972. Brown, Patricia Leigh. “In Oakland, Redefining Sex Trade Workers as Abuse Victims.” The New York Times 23 May 2011: n. pag. NYTimes. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. . Card, Claudia. “Genocide and Social Death,” in Hypatia 18.01 (Winter 2003): 63-79.

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Cissna, Kenneth N. and Rob Anderson. “Public Dialogue and Intellectual History: Hearing Multiple Voices,” in Rob Anderson, Leslie A. Baxter, and Kenneth N. Cissna, eds. Dialogue: Theorizing Difference in Communication Studies. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2004. 193-207. Esguerra, Anida Yoeu. “[RE]Visions.” Limited Edition: USA, 2004. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2010. Hinton, Alexander L. Why Did They Kill?: Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. hooks, bell. Yearning: race, gender, and cultural politics. Boston: South End Press, 1990. Huy, Peauladd. “I am here.” Connotation 12.2 (August 2011). Web. 14 Aug. 2011. . Khiev, Kosal. “About Kosal.” Spoken Kosal. Studio Revolt. 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 6 Aug. 2012. . —. “Resume.” Kosal. Studio Revolt. Web. 11 Aug. 2012. . —. “Why I Write.” Spoken Kosal. Studio Revolt. 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 6 Aug. 2012. . Lee, Jonathan H.X. ed. Cambodian American Experiences: Histories, Communities, Cultures, and Identities. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt, 2010. —. “Cambodian American: Urban Legends,” in Jonathan H. X. Lee and Kathleen M. Nadeau, eds. Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. —. “Peace Profile: Laura Tevary Mam and The Like Me’s,” in Peace Review (2011). McKinney, Kelly. “‘Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence’: Testimony, Traumatic Memory, and Psychotherapy with Survivors of Political Violence.” ETHOS 35.3 (2007): 265-299. May, Sharon and praCh Ly. “Art of faCt: An Interview with praCh.”Manoa 16.1: In the Shadow of Angkor: Contemporary Writing from Cambodia (Summer 2004): 73-82. May, Sharon and Soth Polin. “Beyond Words: An Interview with Soth Polin.”Manoa 16.1: In the Shadow of Angkor: Contemporary Writing from Cambodia (Summer 2004): 9-20. May, Sharon and U Sam Oeur. “Ambassador of the Silent World: An Interview with U Sam Oeur.” Manoa 16.1: In the Shadow of Angkor: Contemporary Writing from Cambodia (Summer 2004): 189-194.


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Morris, David B. “About Suffering: Voice, Genre, and Moral Community.” Daedalus 125.1: Social Suffering (Winter 1996): 25-45. pierSath, Chath. “After: Poems.” New York: Abingdon Square Publishing, 2009. Schlund-Vials, Cathy J. “A Transnational Hip Hop Nation: praCh, Cambodia, and Memorialising the Killing Fields,” in Life Writing, 5.1 (April 2008). Seth, Mydans. “Cambodia’s Past on Trial” International Herald Tribune 28 June 2011. Sonis, Jeffrey et al. “Probable Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Disability in Cambodia. Associations With Perceived Justice, Desire for Revenge, and Attitudes Toward the Khmer Rouge Trials.” The Journal of the American Medical Association: 302.5 (2009). Spano, Shawn. Dialogue Resource Guide: Dialogue and Diversity Facilitation Workshop. San Jose: San Jose State University, 2010. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “The Making of Americans, the Teaching of English, and the Future of Culture Studies.” New Literary History 21.4: Commonwealth Center for Literary and Cultural Change (Autumn 1990): 781-798. Stewart, Frank. “Editor’s Note.” Manoa 16.1: In the Shadow of Angkor: Contemporary Writing from Cambodia (Summer 2004): xi. Sugiman, Pamela. “Memories of Internment: Narrating Japanese Canadian Women’s Life Stories.” The Canadian Journal of Sociology 29.3 (Summer 2004): 359-388. Van Schaack, Beth et al. Cambodia’s Hidden Scars: Trauma Psychology in the Wake of the Khmer Rouge. An Edited Volume on Cambodia’s Mental Health. Documentation Center of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, 2011. Yamada, Teri Shaffer. “Trauma and Transformation: The Autobiographies of Cambodian Americans (1980-2010),” in Jonathan H. X. Lee, ed., Cambodian American Experiences: Histories, Communities, Cultures, and Identities. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt, 2010. —. “Modern Short Fiction of Cambodia: A History of Persistence,” in Teri Shaffer Yamada, ed. Modern Short Fiction of Southeast Asia: A Literary History. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, 2009. —. “Cambodian American Autobiography: Testimonial Discourse,” in Xiaojing Zhou and Samina Najmi, eds. Form and Transformation in Asian American Literature. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005. Yu-lan, Fung. A History of Chinese Philosophy, Vol II. The Period of Classical Learning (From the Second Century B.C. to the Twentieth

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Century A.D.). Trans. Derk Bodde with introduction, notes, bibliography, and index. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953. Trans. of History. Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1934.


Reviewers often look for works by Vietnamese American writers and artists to represent the refugee experience after the end of the Viet Nam War and to provide resolution to this unresolved conflict. This practice poses a problem for the 1.5 and second generation Vietnamese Americans who have little or no memory of Viet Nam before 1975, or those who want to speak to the experience of the broader group of Southeast Asian Americans. How to interpret, for instance, works by Vietnamese American artists like Binh Danh on the Cambodian Genocide that spill over ethnic categories? According to Yen Le Espiritu, “to engage in war and refugee studies is to look for the things that are seemingly not there, or barely there; and to listen ‘to fragmentary testimonies, to barely distinguishable testimonies, to testimonies that never reach us.’ It is analogous to writing ghost stories” (2005: XX). The assumption for many is that ghosts remain in one country, and their stories will be told by a person whose origin can be traced to that nation. But do ghosts travel across national borders? If so, who can ethically tell their stories? By ghosts I mean persons or events to which the living remain emotionally attached to, regardless of time and space. Ghosts are no longer ghosts when the living can let go of the anger, sadness, guilt and remorse attached to their memories. Does Binh Danh’s aesthetic and spiritual engagement with Cambodian American memories and experiences display disrespect for national memories, or can his representation serve the partial and forever incomplete rendering of missing testimonies? Binh Danh’s artwork, I argue here, does the later, as it opens a spiritual and political space that invites personal healing and reflection across national boundaries. In the process, the artist asks viewers to critically reflect upon the vexed history of the region while complicating the ways in which one thinks of identity.

Altar Art: Binh Danh and the Cambodian Genocide


Technique Binh Danh is one of the most established Vietnamese American artists in Northern California. One of his series consists of portraits of Cambodian victims imprinted on leaves through a method he invented, called “chlorophyll printing.” This photographic technique prints an image onto a leaf or blades of grass by using the photosynthesis process of the plant.1 For this particular series, Danh used digital negatives of portraits taken by the Khmer Rouge of a few of their 1.7 million victims and placed the transparencies onto leaves whose tips had carefully been dipped in water to prevent them from dying. Danh placed the leaves between two pieces of thick glass called contact-printing frames. He exposed the leaves and negatives to sunlight for several weeks, until the chlorophyll pigment under the dark part of the negative turned yellow and revealed the highlight of the images. Typically, only about one out of 20 leaves holds the desired image, but in those cases, it looks as if the images have become part of the leaf. The leaf is then dried and cast in half or two-inch-thick blocks of resin to keep it from decaying. The very process of making these pieces is “ghost-like,” and like the end result, it holds transparent and elusive qualities.

Crossing of Ethnic Boundaries Binh Danh’s artworks do not seek to reflect the perspectives of Cambodian victims and are not motivated by a guilty conscience. His art is not produced from a voyeuristic, exploitative lens either. Instead, the portraits on dead leaves work against what Cathy J. Schlund-Vials calls the “Cambodian Syndrome,” naming “a transnational set of amnesiac politics revealed through hegemonic modes of public policy and memory” (2012, 13) and post-war compassion fatigue intricately linked to the legacies of French colonialism, the Viet Nam War, and the Cold War. These images have not, however, attracted the same attention as artworks by other Vietnamese American artists who speak directly of the Viet Nam War, such as Dinh Le’s “The Farmer and the Helicopter” or even Binh Danh’s own leaf artworks on the Viet Nam War.2 Art by a Vietnamese American artist with no memory of the Viet Nam War, who engages with events outside of Viet Nam, is not readily incorporated in the narrative of the nation. With a minor in Asian American Studies from San Jose State University, Danh is acutely aware of identity politics and understands the risks he takes, career-wise, by focusing on a war other than his “own”: “I


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do this because I really believe in the importance of the historical legacies for people of color in general,” he explains.3 Why do reviewers neglect to write about this work and such an artist, who emigrated from Viet Nam when he was two years old and insists that he feels a sense of connection with Cambodians and the theme of war because of race?4 The only critic who speaks of this work is art historian Boreth Ly. Ly sees Binh Danh as someone who is part of “a global world in which artists are increasingly becoming ‘nomads,’ and cultural citizenship and [where] identity politics are increasingly flexible and negotiable” (2008). From Binh Danh’s perspective, this nomadism, or crossing of national boundaries from Viet Nam to Cambodia, makes sense. His father is Cambodian, and he was born near the Cambodian border. He has photos of himself with his family and Cambodians in the refugee camp of Pulau Bidong in Malaysia, and he grew up in a dilapidated apartment building in San Jose where Cambodian and Laotian Americans lived together. “We were all together in the refugee camps and also when we first settled in America,” Danh says.5 If Cambodian and Vietnamese Americans have drastically different national histories, their commonality is that they shared forced dislocation and resettlement following American military intervention in the region. Although they were not on equal footing in regard to refugee policies, in part of because of the secret wars in Cambodia and Laos, they shared spaces of disenfranchisement shaped by race and American militarization in Southeast Asia.

Borrowed Images The original images of the Genocide victims reside in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school in Phnom Penh that was used as a prison by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. Between 17,000 and 20,000 people were imprisoned there, many of them repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed. Danh titled some of the leaf works taken from those images “Found,” because the original photos were found when the Khmer Rouge regime ended. He explains: I made photographs of the real photographs on the wall as an act of bearing witness to my experience while visiting the Museum. Photography is about memory. A person photographs to remember an event. So my act of making pictures of these pictures was a way for me to remember the many times I visited this museum while in Phnom Penh. If they looked like someone in my own life, perhaps an uncle or aunt, or a mother or father, I would select them. This gets very personal.6

Altar Art: Binh Danh and the Cambodian Genocide


Figure 1. Memory of Tuol Sleng Prison. Child 6. 2010. (Courtesy of Binh Danh)

Danh’s work stems from a sincere and intense refusal to forget what he saw at the Museum. He chose portraits intuitively, some of them presenting a certain familiarity, based on resemblance to members of his own family. Reflecting on this process, he further asked himself: “What would I do or how would I respond if those faces on the wall were my family members?”7 His Genocide series stands as Danh’s personal and


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aesthetic response to this question. In them is inscribed the vital need to remember in order to comprehend, connect and heal. From the walls of a former prison, whose name translates as “Hill of the Poisonous Trees,” Danh created an art form, which, like the leaf of a tree, sits quiet and beautiful. The ghost-like quality of the images suggests that the leaf still holds poison, and that in order to act upon them for the purpose of healing, empathy across ethnic boundaries is not so much a choice as an obligation to a past that keeps surfacing and still haunts the living, regardless of national borders. When printed on leaves, the images gain spiritual dimensions. By using photos of the photos displayed on the walls of the former prison, Danh’s artwork, unlike the leaf of a poisonous tree, does not call for outrage or revenge, but creates what I call “AltarArt,” or an art space where one can pay homage, pray and reflect upon one’s connection with the events. Danh explains: I borrowed the images to pay respect to the dead by creating altars (leaf prints) to the victims so that in my imagination they could move beyond photographs of victims or mug shots to members of an extended family. The images, as altars, would reside in our collective memories as we experience the leaf prints. In other words, in keeping the images as mug shots, they would always be mug shots, unable to escape that cycle of life. But to make them artwork is to transcend them into something more holy.8

For him, art plays a crucial role in processing collective memories of incomprehensible magnitude. The imprinting of borrowed images into leaves resembles the act of building a family altar, something that is sacred and offers the possibility of ending karmic suffering for those whose images are on display. Unlike a monument, which represents the mourning of a group, this altar-art creates a space that is deeply personal. This gesture contrasts sharply with memories organized in a framework of the nations and states, which according to Jenny Edkins, always attempts to recount genocides and famines as triumphs, and recuperate victims as having sacrificed their lives for the generations that follow (2003: 117). As in front of a family altar, viewers are called upon to deeply reflect on and connect with their unique relations to the images and history evoked in front of them. They are invited to be active participants through humility and remembrance, and ultimately ask how and why a genocide of such a magnitude could have taken place. Binh Danh indeed believes that: After visiting any memorial or genocide museum, one must do something creative about what one experiences while there. To do nothing is to become a spectator, to objectify the deceased. But to make a work of art, by using words, visual language, by moving the body in a dance, or just by

Altar Art: Binh Danh and the Cambodian Genocide


the shear act of meditation, one forms his or her own memories of the past, and the past becomes the present moment.9

Figure 2. The Leaf Effect: Study for transmission #10. 2005. (Courtesy of Binh Danh)

By “doing something,” Danh calls the spirits of those portrayed to cease to be ghosts to those who see, feel and acknowledge their existence. To remember while letting go, to denounce while praying, to be active through the stillness of meditation, and to see the connection one has with


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the past, all point to the blind eye the international community turned toward Cambodia during the worst of the atrocities. The calls for seeing recall the Khmer Rouge destroying prisoners’ vision10 and blinding its population, as they commonly used the phrase “if you want to live, grow a Koh tree in front of your house.” According to art critic Boreth Ly, the threat was implied by a play on words—the Kobak tree is a pun on the Khmer word Koh, meaning “mute.” “Angka’s advice,” he says, “was to watch your words, stay mute, and be blind” (Ly 2008: 118). The imprint of the gaze of the victims looking at those who will soon kill them on the leaves and displayed in an altar like space, counters the Khmer Rouge’s acts of taking the photos in the midst of egotistical and nationalistic fervor fueled by French colonization, and subsequently by American bombing of the land.

Resonances of Truth The layers of resonance, memory and discovery that emanate from Danh’s Altar Art come from their ability to evoke the memory of the land. His borrowing of the portraits differs from that of the coffee-table-book titled The Killing Field (1997). Danh does not here claim to reflect the victims’ states of minds, nor to capture the real. In his own words, the very “act of selecting the pictures and printing them on leaves is a way to resurrect the dead into something living.”11 The leaves function as what Dinh Le calls “ritualistic symbols”12 and point to what Moira Roth calls the “tangibility and intangibility of the act of memory” (2001: 11). An active viewer may indeed ask why, unlike the Viet Nam War, the American bombing of Cambodia was kept secret, arguably facilitating the emergence of the Khmer Rouge regime and previewing the resistance to granting refugee status in the United States to Cambodians at the end of the Viet Nam War (Haines 1996; Coleman 1990; Chan 2004). “Nature is the final place where memory lies,” Danh explains. “I imagined that through my interaction with the landscape I could flush those memories out, particular traumatic events like war,” he adds.13 The printed leaves carry images of a tree, a tree that may have stood near a mass grave, witnessed the killing and continued to live through one generation after another, withstanding storm after storm. The perspective of the leaf, its neutral presence independent of national borders, suggests that the consequences of choosing to see or not to see can be enormous. Unlike the photos in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum used increasingly to perpetuate for tourists and for profit an atrocity-driven memory of the Khmer Rouge, Danh’s re-appropriations of the images

Altar Art: Binh Danh and the Cambodian Genocide


contribute to a transnational cartography shaped by elusivity that allows for alternative narratives of remembrance and empathy.14

Reception Reception of Danh’s Altar Art has been varied. The faces and gazes of victims on the leaves bear witness to personal stories and collective histories that, for most, are in Trinh T. Minh-Ha’s words, “an embarrassment for everyone, because they expose ‘power politics in its most primitive form […] the ruthlessness of major powers, the brutality of nation-states, the avarice and prejudice of people’” (Trinh 2011: 30). Through the pores of the leaf emanate resonances of truth that shame. With shame comes uneasiness, if not guilt. Reviewer Kenneth Baker asks: “Can we, should we separate admiration of [Binh Danh] pieces as artworks from contemplation of them as remembrances of genocide?” (2006). Reviewer Dennis Rockstroth writes: “The work of Binh Danh is beautiful, haunting—and a warning” (2002: 2BF). For those who have supported governments that did not intervene against the Cambodian Genocide nor denounced it very loudly, uneasiness comes when looking at victims’ faces peacefully looking back at them. Not remembering is no longer an option. A few Cambodian Americans have found these representations offensive and others have found solace in them. Soon after their first showing, a Cambodian American man criticized the work on a Khmer blog, faulting Binh Danh for representing the Genocide, but not being a Cambodian survivor. Danh wrote back immediately, recalling that the Khmer Rouge had killed many Vietnamese living in Cambodia and near the border, stressing that the Khmer Rouge regime had risen in the tragic aftermath of the Viet Nam War. On the walls of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, snapshots of both Cambodian and Vietnamese victims hang, he said. Vietnamese were furthermore deeply affected by virtue of proximity and the interconnections of geopolitical events and decisions. Binh Danh does not claim authenticity, but rather insists on the possibility of representing the events that haunt him, a haunting shaped by the confluence of military history and geography. Boreth Ly, art critic and Cambodian Genocide survivor, sees the artworks as healing. For him, “the power of Danh’s art lies in its aesthetic, scientific, and philosophical ability to provide one with (at least for a brief moment) a poetic closure to the reoccurring emotional pain that one might experience in any posttraumatic period” (Ly 2008). Ly suggests that the acts of remembering


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through art may have the power to bring momentary restfulness to traumatized viewers.

Figure 3. The Botany of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum #3. 2008. (Courtesy of Binh Danh)

Altar Art: Binh Danh and the Cambodian Genocide


Battles over ideologies occur powerfully through culture. The yellow leaves with faces staring back prod those who take the time to see, pause and reflect to consider what would have happened if Cambodia had been considered more important to North America from a geopolitical and economic standpoint as, for instance, in the Middle East. Binh Danh’s Altar Art has validated survivors’ suffering, offended others, while also raising difficult questions in regard to American exceptionalism. The U.S. administration bombed Cambodia without the permission of Congress, and as a result, facilitated the emergence of a charismatic and destructive leader.15 To mask its secret war, a much smaller number of refugees were able to emigrate from Cambodia than were allowed from Viet Nam. The United States did not intervene in Cambodia during the Genocide, but the Vietnamese government did in 1978, and regrettably stayed there until 1989. In Binh Danh’s work, the human cost of superpower decisions to be involved in foreign affairs, or not, lingers. The images etched on the leaves are slightly faded and seemingly fragile. Inscribed in such a delicate and impermanent process are commentaries about the fragility of life and the connection that exists between human beings across nations. If human acts can fade away by design, nature and what nature holds, remain eternal. To borrow from nature in a gesture of empathy and as a vehicle of remembrance, mourning and meditation about forces that blind, is important. That these images are still provoking uneasiness, anger or momentary closure suggests that Cambodian ghosts are here and that more about the Cambodian Genocide needs to become visible.

Notes 1 Leaves need light to produce chlorophyll. The more light a leaf receives, the more green is the chlorophyll pigment; the less light it receives, the more yellow the leaf becomes. The chlorophyll printing project uses this natural phenomenon. 2 In “Immortality: The Remnants of Vietnam and the American War” at San Jose State University (2001), Binh Danh’s first series of leaf photographs included wellknown Vietnam War images. Although it is popular in the Bay Area, Binh Danh’s art is not mentioned in Asian American art related books. It is not discussed in Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (because Southeast Asian Americans came to the U.S. in large numbers during and after 1975). It is also not introduced in Fresh Talk Daring Gazes: Conversations on Asian American Art (2003) edited by Elaine Kim, Margo Machida and Sahron Mizota, nor in Margo Machida’s Unsettled Visions: Contemporary Asian American Artists and the Social Imaginary (2008). 3 Personal interview with Binh Danh, February 20, 2011, Palo Alto. 4 Danh recently spent a year in Virginia to create artwork about the American Civil War.


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Personal Interview, 2011. Danh, e-mail interview, 2012. 7 Danh, e-mail interview, 2012. 8 Danh, e-mail interview, 2012. Emphasis added. 9 Danh, e-mail interview, 2012. Emphasis added. 10 The term “scopic regime” was borrowed from Martin Jay’s essay, “Scopic Regimes of Modernity,” 3-28. 11 Danh, e-mail interview, 2012. 12 This phrase is borrowed from Dinh Le speaking of his less known artwork titled “The Texture of Memory,” in which he had people embroidered in white thread portraits of Khmer Rouge victims borrowed from the same location. Boreth Ly, “Of Performance,” 120. 13 Julie Thi Underhill, “Vietnam War Images.” 14 Cathy J. Schlund-Vials draws a similar analysis in regard to certain Cambodian American cultural productions. 15 North Vietnamese established base camps and supply routes along the VietnamCambodia border. While later investigations showed that these did not have great military significance, President Nixon secretly attacked the bases and routes by land and air, without congressional approval, for 13 months in 1969 and 1970 (Karnow, 1983). There was also heavy bombing by the U.S. Air Force in 1970 and 1971. The bombings hit populated areas, but the U.S. kept relief efforts for Cambodian refugees to a minimum. By August 1972, the war had displaced 700,000 Cambodians, with 60 percent clustered near the capital of Phnom Penh. According to Jeremy Hein, “the bombings created more than 1 million refugees in a population of 7 million, and the United States provided the most limited aid to these refugees under the pretext of not intervening in Cambodian affairs” (Hein 2223). 6

Works Cited Baker, Kenneth. “Lazzarini’s Distorted Sewer Covers Pop Off A Cultural Lid.” San Francisco Chronicle. 16 Sept. 2006. Campomanes, Oscar V. “Filipinos in the United States and Their Literature in Exile.” Reading the Literature of Asian America. Eds. Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Amy Ling. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992: 62-124. Chan, Sucheng. Survivors: Cambodian Refugees in the United States. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2004. Coleman, Cyntia M. “Cambodians in the United States.” The Cambodian Agony. Eds. David A. Ablin and Marlowe Hood. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1990: 354-374. Danh, Binh. Personal Interview, February 20, 2011, Palo Alto. —. Follow-up e-mail interview. March 10, 2012.

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Edkin, Jenny. Trauma and the Memory of Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Espiritu, Yen Le. “Thirty Years Afterward: The Endings That Are Not Over.” Amerasia Journal 30 Years After WARd: Vietnamese Americans & U.S. Empire 31.2 (2005): xx. Jay, Martin. “Scopic Regimes of Modernity.” Vision and Visuality. Ed. Hal Foster. Seattle: Bay, 1988: 3-28. Le, Viet. “The Art of War: Vietnamese American Visual Artists Dinh Q. Le, Ann Phong and Nguyen Tan Hoang.”Amerasia Journal 30 Years After WARd: Vietnamese Americans & U.S. Empire 31.2 (2005): 22. Ly, Boreth. “Of Performance and the Persistent Temporality of Trauma: Memory, Art, and Visions.” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 16.1 (Spring 2008): 109-130. —. “The leaves of (race): the things Binh Danh Carries.” Life, Times, and Matter of the Swamp (exhibit material), March 31-May 2, 2008. Haines, David. Refugees in America in the 1990s: A Reference Handbook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Hein, Jeremy. From Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia: A Refugee Experience in the United States. New York: Twayne, 1995. Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Penguin Books, 1983. Pelaud, Isabelle. This is All I Choose To Tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011. Rockstroth, Dennis. “Exhibit Leaves Imprint About the Pain of War.” San Jose Mercury News. 26 Nov. 2002: 2BF. Roth, Moira. “Obdurate History: Dinh Q. Le, The Vietnam War, Photography, and Memory.” Art Journal. 60:2 (Summer 2001): 38. Schlund-Vials, Cathy J. War, Genocide and Justice: Cambodian American Memory Work. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Trinh T. Minh-Ha. Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event. New York: Routledge, 2011. Underhill, Julie Thi. “Vietnam War Images Photosynthesized.” DiaCritics, July 5, 2012. Welaratna, Usha. Beyond the Killing Fields: Voice of Nine Cambodian Survivors in America. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993.


The total result looked for by colonial domination was indeed to convince the natives that colonialism came to lighten their darkness. —Franz Fanon As a viewer, I’m constantly looking for my family. For me, the process of going through the archives, there’s always the process of looking for family members and not seeing oneself there. —Hӗng-An Trѭѫng1

A forty-something tender-eyed friend tells me about constellations and his family, his parents who died during wartime. I imagine him as a child with the same eyes, gazing with his mother and father at the night sky, orbs glowing. Darkness and light. As an exiled adult, he couldn’t bear to look heavenward in the dark, the memory of loss unbearable, a black void. He too is looking for his family, himself; they cannot be seen, found—they are forever lost in the dark. At night he dreams of gaping holes in the undone sky that he tries to suture together, the gaps immense. Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s artwork also stitches the torn seams between memory and loss, desire and void. National and personal memory, historical trauma, and colonial desires are undone, briefly pulled together, but the absences stretch open, immense. In her works, the past is everpresent in archival black and white, darkness and light. So are the historical periods of ViӋt Nam, demarcated by the presence of Others— French colonialism, the American war: crisp white linen suits, somber Catholic tunics framed by white hands, white artillery sparks in a black sky. The legacy of Enlightenment and Cold War discourses upon “darkskinned” people remains spectral, stereoscopic: carte postale Paris,

Silence and Void, or Double Trouble


camouflage and colons. Dark jungles and wide white boulevards, black robes and white heat. For Trѭѫng, the process of locating oneself, dislocating the gaze of colonialism and the Hollywood machine, is an ambivalent, spectral, spectacular process of endless deferral. *** Within the larger context of diasporic cultural production, I discuss in this chapter Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s solo exhibit entitled The Past is a Distant Colony, which features a video-installation (video sculpture) Furniture to Aid in the Viewing of the Lover (2009) (1:44), and a video trilogy entitled Adaptation Fever (2006-07) that is comprised of The Past is a Distant Colony (9:00), It's True Because it's Absurd (3:00), and Explosions in the Sky (Ĉiên Biên Phu 1954) (3:00).

Sporadic Diaspora For diasporic subjects, the gaps between official history and individual memory are immense. Personal narratives are often rendered invisible within public discourse, a mute void. But what constitutes history and memory, home and exile? The eternal process of looking and not seeing oneself reflected, refracted constitutes loss, liminality. Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s ongoing search to find traces of her family and herself within historical archives possibly points to melancholic mourning. Freud’s melancholic subject endlessly grieves her loss, revisiting the site of absence. Postcolonial scholars David L. Eng and David Kazanjian reconsider the melancholic’s position and reformulate loss as a potentially productive space.2 Writer and performance artist lê thi diem thúy also searched for hints of recognition and familiarity in old postcards of Vietnamese colonial subjects found in Parisian flea markets. These images of strangers reminded her of her family, of herself. Instead of mourning the archive, lê proclaims, “I thought of these images as my inheritance.”3 These artists’ liminal positions—as diasporic subjects living and working in between physical and psychic spaces and times—offers them a unique critical vantage point. In mining visual archives of black and white colonial postcards and grainy celluloid footage, nostalgic and horrific, Trѭѫng suggests that things are not so, well, black and white. Following current reformulations of diaspora that address many migrations rather than one-way conceptions of “home/exile,” Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s palimpsest work recognizes that identity is not binaristic, highlighted by the “doubled” vision created by the split screen repetitions


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in some of her videos. Scholars such as Lisa Lowe, Gayatri Gopinath, Rey Chow, Kobena Mercer, Martin Manalansan, Paul Gilroy, among others, have shifted the discourse on diaspora away from essentializing binaries to one that addresses repeated geographic crossings. This approach reflects an unexpected and vigorous multiplicity of movements, influences and identifications. Experimental video artists, including Peter Fung, Patty Chang, Ming-Yuen S. Ma, Paul Wong, Erica Cho, NguyӉn Tân Hoàng and so on have used various strategies in their artwork to address the tensions of complex cultural negotiations and histories.4 Coming of age in the shadow of 1990s multiculturalism, Trѭѫng creates work that destabilizes fixed notions of nation-hood and identitarian politics. The ghost of multiculturalism darkens “white cube” spaces in the form of exhibitions featuring carefully selected cultural representatives. While occasionally (institutionally) championed as an artist of Vietnamese descent, Trѭѫng’s work is not about claiming a singular personal or national narrative, but the construction and blind spots of those narratives. She examines how subjects are varyingly constructed and interpellated through religious and state institutions. Speaking of Adaptation Fever, Trѭѫng states, I was looking at Catholicism in terms of it being a very obvious and powerful process of colonization, and an irreversible part of the war. At what point does colonization become not objectifying. I was thinking about it in the context of politics and the wars, and Catholics who stayed in the North and what their sympathies are because we assume that all Catholics left and moved to the South. I wanted to break down what we think about Vietnamese politics and identity. (Võ 2009, italics mine)

Adaptation Fever is informed by many migrations: colonial movements of laborers, clergy and colons (colonial settlers); the 1954 internal exodus of Vietnamese (largely from North to South ViӋt Nam) after France’s defeat and withdrawal from its former colonies; and more recent resettlements both internally and overseas. Currently, there are approximately three million overseas Vietnamese, which can be roughly divided into four groups. Prior to 1975, many Vietnamese settled in neighboring countries such as Laos, Cambodia and China. Vietnamese who settled in France as part of the legacies of colonialism also fall into this first grouping. The second–and largest–set consists of Vietnamese who left ViӋt Nam after 1975 as refugees to settle in North America, Australia (159,848–2006 census), and Western Europe. Of this group there are two “waves” of immigrants. The “first wave” relocated after the Fall/Liberation of Sài Gòn (April 30, 1975); the “second wave” emigrated as political refugees following 1977.5 Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s family belongs to this second “wave,” as does my own. There’s always the

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process of looking… and not seeing oneself there. Our families, our own bodies, are rendered both invisible and hypervisible as stereotypical boat refugees, gangsters, model minorities within Western mass media. Trѭѫng and I are part of the “1.5” generation of refugees and returnees, caught in between history, memory and uneven modernities. Diasporic artists such as ĈӍnh Q. Lê, Jun NguyӉn-Hatsushiba and AnMy Lê have challenged ViӋt Nam’s metonymic function within the Western imagination—noteworthy only as a site of U.S. military intervention. Sài Gòn-based ĈӍnh Q. Lê has gained prominence for large photo-weavings which splice Hollywood ViӋt Nam War films with vernacular images of the Vietnamese, forming a complex response to the representations of the war; his recent video project also deal with similar themes.6 Fellow Saigonese NguyӉn-Hatsushiba’s lush underwater video projections (variously of suspended cyclo drivers and dragon dancers) serve as memorials to the legacies of the ViӋt Nam War as well as a commentary on ViӋt Nam’s current rapid socio-economic development. Vietnamese American An-My Lê’s black and white photographs of ViӋt Nam War reenactments in Virginia and U.S. soldiers rehearsing the Iraq War in California deserts (Small Wars series), and stark, silent videos of American soldiers amidst solitary landscapes draws parallels between unpopular U.S. wars then and now.7 As these artists deal with the long shadow of the audio-visual carnage of the ViӋt Nam-American War and its current echoes, Trѭѫng’s elegantly elegiac, disquieting gaze focuses steadily instead on the “scopic regime” of French Indochina (Jay 1988). The counter-memories of the colonial era are disquietingly disremembered and dismembered, evoking other visual histories of decolonization and struggle such as The Battle of Algiers (1966). This “regime” of colonial narratives is cast in tragic relief against the carpet-bombed destiny awaiting ViӋt Nam. The future, now past, is ever-present.

Au Bon Pain, or Nostalgia without Pain The term Indochine triggers Orientalist visions of disappearing verdant (neo-) colonial splendor—the good life on plantations and villas across Viêt Nam, Laos, Cambodia—in the imagination of authors, auteurs, gourmands and globetrotters alike (NguyӉn 2009). This “Pearl of the Orient” past is also evoked in chic dining establishments (French bread and wine, Vietnamese crepes, nѭӟc mҳm) across several continents for today’s cosmopolitan consumers. Global franchises such as Louis Vuitton, Au Bon Pain (founded and headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts), and fashion mega houses including Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Lacroix,


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Gaultier and so on attest to the potency of the allure of French civility, a civilizing capacity gracious and melancholic as it thrives amidst its own decay in distant jungles, distant Casbah labyrinths. In their essay “Nostalgia without Pain,” Laura B. Kennedy and Mary Rose Williams look at the packaging of tourism towards first-world (Western) foreigners in ViӋt Nam. They posit that although all tourist development must be state-sanctioned, the state has largely ceded the process of image-making to international developers who are hawking visions of pre-modern Edenic tours of rural areas, as well as invoking a nostalgic French colonial past updated for the postmodern tastes at luxury hotels in urban areas in which locals are submissive servants. Communist revolutionary fervor has given way to capitalist French rebranding fever— Hôtel Metropole, Lê Royale, Hôtel de la Paix are a few of the many fivestar places to indulge one’s neocolonial appetite in Southeast Asia. In another variant, the traumatic sites of the ViӋt Nam-American War catering to foreigners “trivialize it,” making the painful past manageable, digestible, consumable. If nostalgic Indochina pleases the culinary and cinematic palate, Trѭѫng’s appropriated, disjointed documentary footage (sometimes literally showing disjointed humans) questions this force-fed diet, this insatiable cannibalistic hunger. Carnal appetites are addressed in Trѭѫng’s Furniture to Aid in the Viewing of the Lover. In order to view the piece, one must bend forward and lay face down on a worn wooden table to peer through a “peephole.” One can see bits of bifurcated, lushly colored scenes. From this vantage, powerfully gazing through the hole below, vulnerably splayed from behind, one sees, framed in black widescreen format, fragments from Jean-Jacques Annoud’s 1992 adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ semiautobiographical 1984 novel L’Amant (The Lover), the story of an illicit affair between an impoverished adolescent French girl and a rich Chinese playboy in 1930s SàiGòn. In split-screen, the film’s narrative is distilled: the Chinese man picks up the French girl in his sleek chauffeurdriven sedan; a medium interior shot of him timidly reaching for her hand in the vehicle; they arrive in the Chinese quarter. On the left panel: a zooming shot of a large room in dusky late afternoon, their abstracted limbs sex-entangled as passerby cast shadows on wooden blinds. On the right panel: a medium interior sedan shot at night—the man, selfpossessed, grabs her hand as she looks forlornly at the bustling traffic; they do not speak. The only sound audible is of one’s body upon the table, one’s own breath. Silence and void. I am reminded of Marcel Duchamp’s site-specific installation Étant Donnés: 1. La Chute d'Eau, 2. Le Gazd’Éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall,

Silence and Void, or Double Trouble


2. The Illuminating Gas) (now permanently installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). The father of conceptual art’s infamous last work— described recently by art critic Holland Carter as a “monument to eros”— consists of a blockaded room, visible through slim peepholes in a large antique door. Instead of lying down, one must stand up to peer through the slivers. Looking through a hole, one sees trees and hills, a waterfall in the distance. In the foreground, a nude wax woman lies upon branches, her one arm raising a gas-lamp, her face obscured, her legs spread open revealing “oddly malformed genitals” (Carter 2009). In both Duchamp and Trѭѫng’s pieces, the climactic moment, so to speak, is of a nude, white woman’s legs akimbo. The latter artist is keenly aware of its racial and gender politics. Other artists have also paid homage to Duchamp’s Étant Donnés. Notably, Simon Leung has linked Duchamp’s peephole voyeurism to the “glory hole”—a fixture of gay sexual practice in public bathrooms or “tearooms.”8 Trѭѫng takes the voyeurism a step further. In order to achieve visual satisfaction, the viewer must bend across the wooden table to peer into the aperture, hence assuming the position for corporeal punishment across the backside—as if to receive the punishment the French schoolgirl evades—while simultaneously taking the passive, desirous posture of being penetrated from behind. Within the gallery space, the viewer simultaneously embodies the “penetrating gaze” and becomes a performer—seeing and seen.

Mirror, Mirror The Past is a Distant Colony is formally striking in its symmetry— uncanny archival images of French-occupied ViӋt Nam play across from one another, mirroring each other, framed by black borders. Dealing with the formation of colonial subjects and their ambivalent subjectivity, the video features panning shots of benediction, mass, and ecstatic gestures and smiling faces at what seems to be political rallies or celebrations. A few images repeat: two boys, barely beyond babyhood, awkwardly learning to cross themselves, one unsure, glances in slow-motion at the confident movements of his companion; a woman grieving, looking over her shoulder with an indeterminate expression hovering indefinitely between surprise and fear, a white-clad torso behind her; a rakish, elegantly suited Vietnamese man—perhaps anti-colonial leader and former Vietnamese prime minister Phҥm Văn Ĉӗng in his youthful prime— striding a cobbled, columned courtyard. As the video unspools, the scenes move from the colonial periphery to the metropolitan, radiating center— kaleidoscopic shots of a teeming fin de siècle Paris: boulevards, the Arc de


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Triomphe and Benjamin’s arcades are interrupted, only briefly, with a burning Vietnamese village, French lessons scrawled with white chalk on a blackboard (which brings to mind Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s disjunctured dictation lessons in Dictee), an Egyptian-themed musical spectacular, a graceful corpse lying in long grass, a glamorous close-up of chanteuse La Baker, decapitated Asian heads in baskets… This is the “frenzy of the visible”—modernity’s emphasis on visuality and conquest above all else (“to see is to conquer”) (Jay 1988). Trѭѫng mines the debris of Indochinese popular culture (postcards, lavish film productions, documentary footage) in similar ways that media artists Bruce Yonemoto and Patty Chang use the rubbish of American popular culture. Yonemoto appropriates the vernacular of mainstream movies and television (fifties Americana, eighties soap operas). Chang upends cultural and gender stereotypes through humor and parodic performance, inhabiting pop icons ranging from Bruce Lee and Anna Mae Wong to Chinese acrobats. As well (art-) schooled (post?) postmodernists, all three use irony to various ends in their work. Trѭѫng’s ironic stance seethes below the surface. Chang’s and Yonemoto’s often playful work is at turns witty, wry, elegant and bombastic. However, Trѭѫng relies on serious, subtle understatement rather than mischievous overstatement to make her point. For Chang and Yonemoto, Walter Benjamin’s angel of history is a drag diva; for Trѭѫng he is a melancholic (perhaps with a dry, dark sense of humor), endlessly examining history’s wreckage, looking for loved ones, for oneself. The excesses of empire are revealed—things fall apart; the center cannot hold.9 And so every image splinters from itself, peels apart precisely at the center, pulling away into indeterminately true mirroring doubles of itself. Even as the center fails, the object demonstrates its infinite reproducibility: but what do we do with endless “truths” beating like wings of the dark angel? The “true” visual center of The Past is a Distant Colony—“a thin demilitarized zone between opposing images” as ViӋt NguyӉn describes it—is void. Moving images mirror each other on the periphery—East and West, North and South ViӋt Nam. Desire and void, darkness and light. The legacy of the “scopic regime” of Enlightenment rationality, a singular Cartesian worldview, with its overarching mono-focal vision of civilization’s grand vistas is disrupted, doubly troubled (Jay 1988). The verbal soundtrack for these disconcerting images are two women speaking intermittently in Vietnamese and in French, with the only subtitles briefly stating, “A nun talks about her suffering,” and “A woman talks about her childhood in French Viet Nam (Indochina).” They are not even subtitles, but spare indexes. In between the brief monologues is

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silence and void. The refusal to translate is important. Trinh T. Minh-ha has also dealt with the politics of translation, gender, representation and the nation-state in experimental films such as Surname Viet, Given Name Nam and theoretical texts including When the Moon Waxes Red. The voices of Minh-ha’s women (dis)embody multiplicity, remaining unplaceable, implacable: characters and voices shift onscreen. Minh-ha’s commentary about metanarratives, Derridean logos and the failures of language and representation is dealt with on a more intimate and direct manner in Trѭѫng’s video. Misrecognition, mistranslation is central. Trѭѫng’s two female protagonists are disembodied voices; they never appear onscreen as they do in Minh-ha’s work. In overlapping narratives, the Vietnamese Catholic nun speaks in a Northern dialect about the fear of religious persecution, spiritual desire and religious ecstasy whereas the French woman speaks of sexual desire and ecstasy (“Since I was a young girl I knew I wanted to help those in pain . . .”; “I was a sad girl who always wanted something . . .” “I kissed the statue of the Virgin Mary in SàiGòn . . . What do I want? The Virgin Mary is what I need . . . ”; “He stripped me naked, this is what I wanted . . .”).10 Corporeality and spirituality, mind and body, Cartesian duality. Several scenes feature the 1954 exodus of Northern Vietnamese on barges to the South in hopes of escaping religious persecution. Shots of the wide sea, clouds and rafts visually echo the later exodus of “boat people” in the aftermath of the ViӋt Nam War. The French voiceover states, “We were lying in bed smoking cigarettes. We were caressing each other. The sea was motionless and quiet. The smoke was billowing ahead like small clouds . . . We parted in silence.” The irony is apparent only to those who understand French. This French text sounds vaguely familiar, perhaps culled from the sultry voiceovers of the film L’Amant (The Lover). Later, the same French female voice states, “I wanted to disappear in his gaze until I disappeared myself.” Desire and void. What possesses this woman, to enunciate with so much ennui, the careless demand implicit in colonialism’s totalizing gaze? The female voices reflect a double consciousness—a stereoscopic, stereophonic, perhaps schizophrenic subject.11The final sequence, spoken in Vietnamese and subtitled faithfully into English reads, “What we are constantly moving towards/ but never quite reaching/ is some sense of union with the ultimate being/ a constant revelation./ Like looking in the mirror at someone who is me/who is not me.”12 This doubling, mirroring speaks of how colonial (and religious) subjects are formed as well as the process of disidentification. Postcolonial theorist Franz Fanon has written


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about how the colonized mirror the actions and agendas of their colonizers. Yet the mimicry is imperfect, the mirror’s reflection refracted, distorted. In the mirror’s gaze, there is misrecognition. . . . the process of looking . . . but never seeing oneself there. For psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan, the mirror stage is a crucial stage in establishing the formation of the ego, of distinguishing the imaginary from the Real. But what is real and what is fantasy in the colonial imagination? Michel Foucault notes that the mirror is a symbolic space of absence and presence, both a heterotopic (real) and utopic (imagined) space. It is a liminal position in which one’s image is negotiated, negated and constructed. Describing his vantage point, Foucault writes, “I see myself there where I am not . . . I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent . . .”13 This space is both a reflection of reality and a site of fantasy and projection. Perhaps it is finally a way of seeing oneself, a process of self-recognition. One is both object and subject of the gaze. Like looking in the mirror at someone who is me/ who is not me.

Truth or Dare It’s True Because It’s Absurd also features a female voice recounting a personal narrative: a retelling of a true story Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s mother told her about witnessing a child playing with a gun shoot his mother accidentally: “ . . . I was standing there holding your hand. She was standing next to me holding a baby and the baby fell . . .” The background sound drones; in the distance, soldiers can be heard. The processed voice speaks in a measured cadence, belying the measured distance of recollection and its unreliability. The voice sounds like a ghost in the machine. In Vietnamese governmental policy, as well as cultural representations (Western and Eastern film, literature, visual art), the Vietnamese female body and psyche becomes the contested site of ideological tensions. Exemplars of the nation, Vietnamese womanhood becomes mythologized as long-suffering and/or tragically heroic, as in the case of KiӅu (the 18th century epic poem of woman who sells herself to save her father and brother from prison), the Trung sisters (1st century anti-Chinese resistance fighters who killed themselves after defeat), as well as contemporary representations. Women are often objects, not subjects. Postcolonial critic Panivong Norindr notes that the legacy of French colonial conceptions of Indochina, particularly ViӋt Nam as an “exotic and erotic” entity still

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lingers.14 Trauma and desire. Mainstream cultural productions featuring American involvement in ViӋt Nam such as The Quiet American, Apocalypse Now, Miss Saigon, Heaven and Earth, and so on, allegorize ViӋt Nam as a female protagonist in need of salvation or as an unyielding, mysterious, feminized landscape to be dominated.15 In Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s work, Vietnamese womanhood is neither exotic nor erotic. The gaze is reversed, reflected. Trѭѫng’s women are not mute witnesses, victims of history or unwitting subjects; these women have agency, however circumscribed It’s True Because it’s Absurd opens and closes with a black-and-white shot of a dirt road between rice fields—soldiers hidden in the roadside foliage suddenly appear in a long column; the footage rewinds and they are again invisible in their cycle of camouflage. In between this looped footage, the viewer sees planes dropping rations; close-up footage of urban streets during wartime—debris and dirt, children staring vacantly with their packed possessions, their home vacated; a young man lying bloodied on the street, still alive with a woman crouched next to him; smiling children playing with a gun; two identically dressed women in front of a political sign. One cannot tell exactly what year, what decade this is, only that it is wartime. Instead of literally mirroring and doubling images, the images are uncanny, full of doubles. Let’s revisit them: two parallel rows of soldiers, visible then invisible; two children with their tongues sticking out playing stick-up; two women in white hats and outfits, their gaze blocked by sunglasses. “Do you remember?” the disintegrating voice asks again and again. This is the way memory works: it loops back upon itself, mental images replay, rewind, and become distorted. She says, “I remember it later, afterwards . . .” Trѭѫng’s mother is perhaps the sole bearer of these memories, not the artist, not the woman who got shot by her child. All of the details have been forgotten; the documentary footage sutured together forms another recollection, both imagined and real. What is the truth and what is fiction? And do we dare unearth the “truth”? The initial site of shock and trauma is later reconstituted in memory, reconstructed verbally and visually. The forgotten past suddenly appears, like the anonymous soldiers once hidden in the spare cover along the straight road leading through the ricefields, a hiding place we did not even know could exist until the hidden reveals itself. ***


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Darkness and light. In Explosions in the Sky (Diên Biên Phu 1954), a black screen suddenly reveals white explosions, a French cannon positioned in the forest, shooting heavenward. The white blasts become strobe-like as the tempo of the soundtrack picks up, a Vietnamese cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 smash “Sounds of Silence.” The familiar, haunting melody and lyrics become unnerving. “Hello darkness my old friend . . .” Written as a song about youthful alienation, it was subsequently claimed by an American generation as an anti-Vietnam War anthem, although that was not the songwriter’s original aim (Kingston 69). For this flower generation’s Vietnamese counterparts, the song embodies the ambivalent legacy of the American War in ViӋt Nam—the smoky mental image of dimly Sài Gòn bars blasting American songs, American and Vietnamese soldiers memorialized by Hollywood war epics. The refrain echoes, “The vision that was planted in my brain still remains . . .” Trѭѫng’s use of popular culture—particularly music—has a more somber cadence and affect than NguyӉn Tân Hoàng’s campy/poignant use of found footage and war-era songs sung by an exiled Khánh Ly or French love songs covered by Thanh Lan in videos such as PIRATED! and Forever Linda! The Vietnamese lyrics anonymously sung in Explosions in the Sky are not a direct translation of the original “Sounds of Silence”: “Tung ng˱ͥ iÿi qua bóng t͙i ÿ͉n/cͯng c̯m tay ÿi vͣi nhau . . .” I imagine South Vietnamese soldiers—perhaps my then-fresh faced uncles who have since survived reeducation camps—half-lit by fire strumming this song in Vietnamese, their voices echoing in the dark. The half-life of longing and loss. “Hello darkness…”Their voices make me homesick, but I don’t know where home is. Perhaps homesickness is “the process of looking for family members and not seeing oneself there.” Their voices echo in the present, softly reverberating in the small living rooms (altars of memory and incense) in Little Saigons all over the world. Their voices echo outwards, forwards to the grainy distant past, flashes of brilliance. Then void. The past, indeed, is a distant colony. The French lost the 1954 Battle of Diên Biên Phu to the ViӋt Minh, foretelling the demise of its colonial empire and the bifurcation of ViӋt Nam into North and South (Berndard 469). The dividing line of history and memory is blurred. The ever-present past is not represented by a barricade of images, but by an abstract barrage of black and white—flickering ghosts. Again we are looking at the night sky. Voices echo; desire and void. I cannot bear to look at Trѭѫng’s sky. I am heartbroken. The artillery fire— darkness and light—rends gaping holes in sky; it slow burns constellations in my mind’s eye. We suture what remains, the gaps immense.

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Notes 1

For an insightful discussion of Hӗng-An Trѭѫng’s Adaptation Fever, please refer to the online artist interview by VõHӗng Chѭѫng-Ĉài: Thanks to VõHӗng Chѭѫng-Ĉài for her generosity and friendship. 2 In Freud’s 1917 essay, “Mourning and Melancholia,” there are two different forms of grief in response to loss: 1) “normal” mourning and 2) “pathological” melancholia.2 Both display similar symptoms: “profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, inhibition of all activity.” Nonetheless, mourning is a natural, healthy process—the mourner grieves for a period of time and then recovers. The lost object is eventually replaced, substituted. Noting that grief will eventually subside, Freud states, “after a lapse of time, it will be overcome.” In contrast, melancholia does not have resolution—it becomes a pathological affliction. The melancholic cannot overcome his/her grief—it is endless; the lost object/ subject cannot be substituted, replaced. Reconsidering Freud’s conception of melancholia in the Loss anthology, editors David Eng and David Kazanjian propose that this melancholic position is a productive one; this is a space in which individual and collective guilt, shame, love, rage, hope can be articulated through ethical responses and aesthetic production which highlights ambivalence and loss. They propose a framework which “ . . . generates a politics of mourning that might be active rather than reactive, prescient rather than nostalgic, abundant rather than lacking, social rather than solipsistic, militant rather than reactionary.” In short, loss is recast as a “creative” rather than a negative force. 3 lê thi diem thúy explores family, memory, and colonial representation in her performance piece Carte Postale. lê t. d. t. (2010). Personal discussion with the author, April 18, 2010, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 4 For more on diasporic identity and experimental videos including the practice of Ming Yuen S. Ma, Trinh T. Minh-ha and NguyӉn Tân Hoàng, see Mimura. 5 In the United States, California (418,249), followed by Texas (107,027) comprise the largest number of Vietnamese living abroad. The third group includes Vietnamese studying and working in the Soviet bloc who remained after the end of the Soviet Union. The fourth group includes recent economic migrant workers who work in regional Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan. This group also includes Vietnamese mail order brides who live in South Korea and Taiwan. See Grieco. 6 As noted, ĈӍnh Q. Lê has expanded his practice to include video projects. His latest project is a synchronized three-channel video installation, “The Farmers and the Helicopters” (2007), which is a collaboration with two artist-filmmakers, Hà Thúc Phu Nam and Tuҩn Andrew NguyӉn. The multi-faceted and complexly layered narrative that drives this filmic experience is composed of an intricate weave of archival footages of helicopters during the war as well as those derived from iconic Hollywood representations such as from Apocalypse Now and Born on the Fourth of July, oral histories of farmers and other Vietnamese interviewed by the filmmakers themselves and evocative landscape images animated with dragonflies. The farmers’ interest in promoting the peaceful use of helicopters is


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complicated by the deeply-rooted negative associations in the lingering memories of the war. Art historian Moira Roth has written extensively about Lê’s output. 7 A PBS documentary and images of An-My Lê’s work can be found on the PBS website: A discussion of ĈӍnh Q. Lê and An-My Lê’s work appears in the transPOP: Korea Vi͏t Nam Remix catalogue. Jun NguyӉn-Hatsushiba is represented by Lehman Maupin Gallery in New York: 8 Simon Leung’s 1996 solo exhibition at Pat Hearn Gallery in New York entitled Call to Glory…Or Afternoon Tea with Duchamp pays dual tribute to Duchamp and glory holes. For more, please refer to the following online reviews: Kley, E. (1996) Simon Leung at Pat Hearn, New York: Artnet Worldwide Corporation. Online. Available HTTP: (accessed November 2, 2009); Glueck, G. (1996) ‘‘Art in Review’’ New York: New York Times. Online. Available (accessed November, 2 2009). 9 This line is from William Butler Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer . . . Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold . . .” 10 This is an inexact translation of the French woman’s narrative: “He stripped me naked, this is what I wanted. I desired him more than anything else. I couldn’t help but look for him. I couldn’t help but do otherwise… I wanted to disappear in his gaze until I disappeared myself . . . The sheets were soaked with blood… We were lying in bed smoking cigarettes . . .” A heartfelt thanks to Professor David Picart for his help with French translation. 11 I borrow this term from W.E.B. DuBois, coined in his text, The Souls of Black Folk. “After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world—a world which yields him no true selfconsciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self . . .” Excerpted from the chapter “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” (italics mine). 12 Italics mine. 13 In his lecture entitled Of Other Spaces, Foucault states that between utopias, “unreal spaces” and heterotopias—“real sites” of which he includes cemeteries, prisons, museums, theaters, libraries, brothels, ships (changeable in their forms, but more or less cohesive in their respective functions)—lies the mirror, a space of absence and presence, both utopic and heterotopic. 14 See Norindr.

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15 For more on American filmic representations of the ViӋt Nam War, see Sturken, Marita. Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, The AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Print.

Works Cited Benjamin, Walter. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings. New York: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1978. Carter, Holland. “Landscape of Eros, Through the Peephole,’’ New York: Art Review, The New York Times. Web. 27 August 2009. Duiker, William J. Ho Chi Minh: A Life. New York: Hyperion, 2001. Duras, Marguerite. L'AmanteAnglaise. Paris: Gallimard, 1967. Eng, David L. and David Kazanjian, eds. Loss: The Politics of Mourning. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Fall, Bernard. Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu. New York: De Capo Press, 2002. Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1961. Foucault, Michel. ‘‘Of Other Spaces.’’ Diacritics 16 (Spring 1986): 22-27; trans. Jay Miskowiec. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1986. Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud; trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1955. Friedberg, Anne. Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. Grieco, Elizabeth. “The Foreign Born From Vietnam in the United States.” Washington DC: Migration Policy Institute, 2002. Web. 1 May 2008. Gordon, Avery. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Jay, Martin. “Scopic Regimes of Modernity,” in H. Foster, ed. Vision and Visuality. Seattle: Bay Press, 1988. Kennedy, Laura B. and Mary Rose Williams. ‘The Past without the Pain: The Manufacture of Nostalgia in Vietnam’s Tourist Industry,” in Hӗ Tài, HuӋ Tâm, ed. The Country of Memory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Kingston, Victora. Simon and Garfunkel: The Biography. New York: Fromm International, 1988. Kyung Cha, Theresa Hak. Dictee. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.


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Lacan, Jacques.The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book 11). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988. Lê, ViӋt. “The Art of War: Vietnamese American Visual Artists ĈӍnh Q. Lê, Ann Phông and NguyӉnTânHoàng,” in Y. LêEspritu and TH.NguyӉn-Võ, eds.“Thirty Years AfterWARd: Vietnamese Americans and U.S. Empire,” Amerasia Journal special issue, 31: 21-35. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2005. Lê, ViӋt and Yong Soon Min. “Curatorial Conversations/ Correspondences,” curatorial essay, transPOP: Korea Vietnam Remix. ViӋt Lê and Yong Soon Min, eds. Seoul: ARKO Art Center, 2008. Mimura, Glen. Ghostlife of Third Cinema: Asian American Film and Video. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2009. NguyӉn Tҩn Hoàng. Forever Linda! Vancouver: Video Out Distribution, 1996. —. PIRATED! Vancouver: Video Out Distribution, 1996. NguyӉn, ViӋt Thanh. “Seeing Double: The Films of R. Hong-an Truong” in Postmodern Culture. 17.1 (September 2006). Norindr, Panivong. Phantasmic Indochina: French Colonial Ideology in Architecture, Film and Literature. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. Roth, Moira. “Obdurate History: Dinh Q. Lê, the Vietnam War, Photography and History.” Art Journal 60.1 (Summer 2001). Roth, Moira. “Traveling Companions/ Fractured Worlds.” Art Journal (1999). The Battle of Algiers. Dir. Gillo Pontecorvo. Italy: Rialto Pictures, 1966. Film. Trinh T. Minh-ha, dir. Surname Viet, Given Name Nam. New York: Women Make Movies Distribution, 1989. Film. —. When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender, and Cultural Politics. New York and London: Routledge, 1991. Võ Hӗng, Chѭѫng-Ĉài. Interview with H͛ng-An Tr˱˯ng by Võ H͛ng Ch˱˯ng-Ĉài. San Francisco: Diasporic Vietnamese Artist Network, 2009. Web. 9 July 2010.



At the dawn of the third millennium, many Americans are still not familiar with Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world. This Southeast Asian archipelago, which runs along the equator the distance from Maine to California, was thrust into the “war on terror” discourse after a series of bombings in Bali and Jakarta (Bond 2005). Inaccurately portrayed in the right-wing media as a radical Muslim country, this democratic nation, which in its short 66-year history was once led by a female president, has not seeped into the American consciousness. Indonesian migrants are overlooked because their country does not receive U.S. governmental assistance (Cunningham 2008a: 90), or because Indonesia has no wars or colonial ties with the U.S. (Setiyawan 2010: 216). Very few Americans know that Indonesia is a secular country, which, despite having the world’s largest Muslim population, recognizes six religions. The followers of different religions lived side-by-side and banded together in fighting for and declaring the Country’s independence from the 350-year Dutch occupation. The first decade of the third millennium witnessed significant growth in the Indonesian American population in cities such as New York. Despite this growth, Indonesian Americans comprise less than one percent of the total American population. Nearly invisible, many Indonesians struggle quietly to adjust to their new home. Many draw comfort from their participation in religious, social, and cultural activities organized by Indonesian American communities. Indonesian Americans turn to these activities as their “source of comfort” (DiMaggio and Kelly 2010: 8) in their struggle to fulfill their basic needs and to maintain or create selfidentity. These communities enact, recreate, and represent the traditions and performing arts of Indonesia, which include three genres of music:

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gamelan, angklung, and dangdut. Despite their distinct histories, purposes, characteristics, audiences, and lengths of existence, these three music genres help weave Indonesian Americans into the pluralistic American life. Participation in these activities allows Indonesian Americans to relive and reshape their communal experience, reclaim their identity, and (re)present their heritage while also giving Americans an opportunity to develop awareness and understanding of Indonesia and Indonesian Americans.

Indonesian American Migration and Population Indonesians migrated to America in three waves. The first wave consisted of the Indos—a mixed-race with European descent—who chose to leave Indonesia after the country’s Independence in 1945, and world recognition in 1949. Rejected by the native Netherlanders, approximately 60,000 Indos immigrated to the United States, facilitated by the Pastore-Walter Refugee Relief Act (Asrianti 2010; Cunningham 2008b; 722, Schram 2009: 132). The second wave occurred after the alleged coup d’état by the Communist Party of Indonesia. Fearful of being tortured or falsely accused, many Indonesians who had any contact with the Communist Party, including the Chinese, fled the country. The third wave came after the Jakarta Tragedy in May 1998, as a result of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Following the collapse of Thai baht in July 1997, stock markets and currencies of many East and Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, drastically depreciated in value, triggering financial crisis and economic disruption in the region (Radelet and Sachs 1998: 19-23). Indonesia’s crumbling economy, food shortages, and rampant unemployment erupted into antigovernment demonstrations, which brought down Soeharto from his 32year reign as president. In Jakarta, the riots shifted to targeting the Chinese, who were accused of unjustly dominating the economy. The crisis and social unrest prompted many Chinese Indonesians to flee the country in search of economic opportunities and to avoid harassment, violence, and crime. The three waves of Indonesian migration to America did not result in a drastic increase in the Indonesian American population. Although Indonesian Americans in New York City increased 67 percent during the past decade (Asian American Federation), their population remains under one percent of the total American population of over 300 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). They form communities in several states, including Arizona, California, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia (Setiyawan 2010: 515). They live close to each other or blend in with


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various ethnic enclaves since “there are no established Indonesian American ethnic enclaves” (Améredia 2010). Indonesians also maintain a stable number of applications for visas, permanent residency, and citizenship. Between 1990 and 2008, only three percent of Indonesian Americans applied for citizenship (U.S. Department of Homeland Security). This low citizenship application rate might result from Indonesian Americans’ reluctance to relinquish their family ties and Indonesian citizenship. Indonesian law prohibits dual citizenship, except for children of a mixed marriage under the age of 18. Many Indonesian Americans, like many political exiles who currently live in different countries, wish to return to Indonesia (Burhani 2010), which has been relatively stable socially, economically, and politically. Hence, many Indonesians maintain their citizenship and resort to permanent residency when available.

Indonesian American Organizations Indonesian Americans established many religious, social, and cultural organizations, including 120 churches, 2 mosques, 72 student clubs, and 123 Gamelan groups. These different groups do not compete with each other; rather, they preserve their heritage and collaborate with each other in advancing the cause of Indonesian Americans and their respective communities in Indonesia. When natural disasters struck Indonesia, such as the Asian Tsunami in 2004 and West Sumatra earthquake in 2009, these organizations collaborated in collecting and sending aid to the victims and survivors. Some organizations have mailing lists, websites, and newsletters to facilitate communication with and among members. In addition, community bilingual publications (Actual Indonesian News, Indonesian Journal, Indonesia Media, and Kabari in four California cities; and Kabar Kilat and Dunia Kita in Philadelphia) help connect immigrants to each other and to Indonesia. Published articles focused on Indonesia, adjusting to life in America, immigration, employment, health, and politics. Most articles about Indonesia are written in the Indonesian language, while articles about the U.S. and world issues are in English; most of the ads appear in both languages. These bilingual publications help second generation Indonesian Americans and other Americans who are learning the Indonesian language. Religious affiliation helps immigrants deal with the challenges of adjusting to a new lifestyle, finding jobs or schools, and reclaiming or remaking their identity. In their home country, Indonesians follow Islam (86 percent), Protestantism (5.7 percent), Roman Catholicism (3 percent),

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and Hinduism (1.8 percent) (CIA World Fact Book 2010:19). Since Indonesian Americans are primarily Chinese, Batak, Minahasan, and Indos, their religious affiliations likely correspond to the American Religious Identification Survey data on Asian Americans’ religious affiliation, where Christianity (38%) exceeds Islam (8%) (Kosmin and Keysar 2009: 14). Immigrants often find their religions “mean more to them away from home, in their diaspora” (Warner 1998: 3). Indonesian Americans are no exception. They join religious organizations as a way to forge relations with their compatriots, as well as to pass down the religious values to their offspring. When the members of a religious organization increase, the group establishes houses of worship. In America, houses of worship often serve as the first line of defense for immigrants; places where they can preserve their identity. The first Indonesian church was established by Indos in Los Angeles (Cunningham 2008a: 97). Currently, more than 120 Indonesian churches operate in America, including 59 in California and seven in New York (Newsantara 2007). Indonesian Muslims established two mosques—Al-Falah in Philadelphia, and AlHikmah in New York City—in addition to organizations such as the Indonesian Muslim Society in America. Indonesian Hindus and Buddhists may still be too few and scattered to have their own temples, and thus join existing temples established by co-religionists from other countries of origin. For the 7,500 Indonesians enrolled in American colleges and universities, organizations such as Perhimpunan Mahasiswa Indonesia di Amerika Serikat (PERMIAS), Indonesian student clubs, or the Association of Indonesian Students on their campus or in the area can be their lifelines. Currently, more than 46 Indonesian student organizations exist in American universities and colleges (PERMIAS Nasional). In addition, ethnic organizations such as the Karo American Association, the Indonesian Chinese Association, Jawa Plus, Krama Bali, Kawanua USA, Rantau Minang and Minang USA, and Dutch-Indonesian Community help reconnect Indonesian Americans to their ethnic heritage. These groups regularly participate in various Indonesian performing arts as part of their rituals or social events.

Indonesian Performing Arts in America The performing arts are an essential part of human life; they “evoke cognitive and emotional responses in human experience and lead to an implicit exchange of meaning between those who share the arts experience” (Dandavate 2006: 26). Indonesian performing arts, in particular


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three genres of music—gamelan, angklung and dangdut—pave the way for the exchange of meaning between Indonesian Americans and the larger American society. These music genres connect Indonesian Americans to their ethnic heritage while simultaneously raising awareness of Indonesian Americans and Indonesia. Gamelan is a traditional musical ensemble from Java and Bali that generally consists of metallophones, xylophones, gongs, drums, and twostringed bowed lutes, which can “range from a handful of portable instruments, played by three or four musicians, to a large array of instruments with up to twenty-five players and fifteen singers” (Susilo 2010: 4). Gamelan performances usually serve as a part of a ritual, as background music to ceremonies and dances, or as an accompaniment to theatrical (wayang) performances. Gamelan was first introduced to Americans in 1892, during the Columbian Expositions in Chicago. A century later, many colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations acquired gamelan ensembles from Central Java, West Java (Sunda), and Bali. These organizations and the Indonesian artists they invite introduce gamelan music and related performing arts to Americans. In 1984, an international journal on gamelan music and related performing arts called Balungan was published by the American Gamelan Institute, whose website also lists 123 gamelan groups in America: 63 Javanese, 49 Balinese, and 11 Sundanese. At present, there may be more than 200 gamelan groups in the U.S. (Campbell 2011: 4). Besides gamelan, Indonesian Americans also introduced angklung, an intangible Indonesian heritage that dates back to 1031 (History of Angklung). An angklung consists of “two to four bamboo tubes suspended in a bamboo frame, bound with rattan cords. The tubes are carefully whittled and cut … to produce certain notes when the bamboo frame is shaken or tapped” (UNESCO 2010: 1). Like most Indonesian musical instruments, angklung is traditionally tuned to pelog and slendro scales (Indonesian Cultural Exhibition 2011). In 1938, Daeng Soetigna expanded the angklung notations to include the Western diatonic scale that allows angklung to accompany popular tunes. At the opening of the 1955 AsiaAfrica Conference in Bandung, an angklung ensemble performed in an orchestra format. During the 2011 Indonesia Festival, held at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Indonesian Embassy gathered 5,182 expert and neophyte angklung players representing diverse cultural backgrounds. On July 9, 2011, those multicultural players set the Guinness World’s Record as the largest angklung ensemble when they performed “We are the World” under the direction of maestro Daeng Udjo (Saung Angklung Udjo 2010).

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A newer genre of Indonesian music—dangdut—has also reached the United States. Dangdut is a combination of Melayu, Hindustan, Middle Eastern, and rock music, popularized in the 1970s by Rhoma Irama. This genre is named onomatopoeically for the distinctive drum (kendang) sounds (Weintraub 2010: 22). In its early development, dangdut was regarded as unsophisticated; however, as it matured, dangdut has gained popularity and attracted diverse listeners and performers. Many musicians of other genres have tried their hands at it by producing a dangdut song or album. It is now considered one of Indonesian’s unique music genres. KDI Star, a television program modeled after American Idol, propelled dangdut’s popularity in 2003. The show ran for eight seasons, drawing contestants from all over Indonesia as well as from neighboring countries. Dangdut has also been embraced in America. In 1991, Yampolski edited an Indonesian music collection, including dangdut, for the Smithsonian Folkways Series. In addition, Frederick (1982), Wallach (2001), and Weintraub (2010) have published research on dangdut, while Weintraub’s Dangdut Cowboys group has performed and introduced dangdut music to American audiences since 2007. Similarly, Rissa Asnan and NSR Productions organized two rounds of Dangdut in America auditions to identify an American dangdut singer. The auditions discovered Arreal Tilghman, who became the first American-born dangdut recording artist (NSR Productions 2008).

Performing Arts in Indonesian American Life Performing Arts and Adjustment Many performing arts groups, such as Gamelan Taman Budaya Indonesia in Monroeville, PA, start as informal cultural productions to maintain the values, languages, and traditions of their families or communities (Moriarty 2004). When Sumarwan visited his son’s family, he wanted his grandchildren to experience and to learn the gamelan, which was a part of his cultural identity. Since no gamelan groups existed in the area, he spent three months constructing a 14-piece gamelan ensemble from materials he bought from local home improvement stores. The family then invited children of other Indonesian families in the area to join the practice sessions. After three years, the group grew into a multicultural children’s gamelan, inspiring the University of Pittsburgh to open a program on Southeast Asia music. At present, this gamelan group also offers lessons to adults (Indonesian Cultural Exhibition 2011).


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Art helps immigrants make sense of their changing environment as they adapt, maintain, or establish their identities. Many immigrants find that the familiar cultural world they create or participate in “provide[s] a lens through which they make sense of the world around them” (Stern, Seifert and Vitiello 2008: 8). For these immigrants, cultural expression is not a commodity, but a process of cultural engagement that helps them define who they are. Afi Wulandana, a 12-year-old member of the Gamelan Taman Budaya Indonesia, stated that her playing gamelan made her unique, while another member said that he learned about his heritage by joining the group (VOA Indonesia 2011).

Performing Arts and Identity Indonesian performing arts groups have become valuable resources for Indonesian Americans to reconnect with their roots and with other Indonesian Americans, and to introduce Indonesia to Americans. The gamelan that his father made has allowed Handono, his children, and other Indonesians in the area to build and strengthen their connection to Indonesia. On its website, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, a San Francisco–based Balinese gamelan group, asserts that it offers important “cultural connections to help [the Balinese members] retain a strong sense of Balinese identity” (8). Other Indonesians feel a sense of belonging by becoming a part of a group that (re)presents Indonesian values and culture. Indonesian Americans from diverse ethnic groups join performing arts groups to learn Indonesian performing arts and to relate to other Indonesians. Frith argues that “Music, like identity, is both performance and story; describes the social in the individual and the individual in the social, the mind in the body and the body in the mind” (1996: 109). Indonesian Americans who do not have access to or interest in gamelan or angklung, which requires a complete set to make music, might feel more comfortable with dangdut, which only requires a guitar and a kendang. They might attend dangdut performances organized by Indonesian Embassy or Consulates for Indonesian celebrations or festivals, or immigrants who live in areas without access to these resources may create an informal form of dangdut, using whatever is available to replace the kendang—cardboard boxes, tables, or plastic drums. When they learn about the Dangdut Cowboys group, Dangdut in America auditions, or Arreal Tilghman, dangdut enthusiasts experience a sense of belonging. When they see Americans appreciate dangdut, they feel comfortable about their music preferences. Some immigrants, among others notorejo1981, chimot4,

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gandhoel, and damarwulan68, have recorded their own or other people’s casual dangdut performances and posted them on YouTube, which in turn creates opportunities for connecting with other dangdut enthusiasts. Dangdut USA, a video posted by gandhoel featuring three friends singing about the fire that destroyed their apartment to the popular tune of Burung Dalam Sangkar, attracted more than 4,000 viewers, some of whom left comments sympathizing with their tragedy or complimenting their creative lyric.

Performing Arts and Cross-cultural Encounters Participation in Indonesian performing arts introduces participants to other aspects of Indonesian American life. Most participants will learn the language of the art forms. Gamelan members will learn the terms—in the regional dialect—of the art forms, in the same way that the dangdut participants had to learn to not only pronounce the Indonesian language, but also the dangdut style to sing the songs. Tilghman, who knew nothing about dangdut or the language before the audition, learned to break away from his “American mind frame” and immersed himself in the Indonesian culture to explore the energy and feeling of dangdut music (Merina 2010). He received an award as the first American-born dangdut artist to record dangdut songs in both Indonesian and English. Besides language, there are many other things that participants in the performing arts learn. For example, the members of a gamelan group tasted Indonesian snacks and food from Central Java that a member brought to their practice session during the Ramadan fasting month. Sharing food led them to also share their culture, traditions, and thoughts about their respective faiths. Finally, a gamelan or an angklung ensemble represents the principles of collaboration, unity, and humility. In a gamelan, with the exception of gongs, most of the instruments are laid out on the floor where the players will sit while playing. A successful performance requires all players to collaborate in creating a harmony of sounds. It is important that each player remains humble and does not attempt to show off. Most gamelan members refer to equality and collaboration as important characteristics of gamelan. Gamelan philosophy can be summarized as, “every part is required to realize the composition, with no one part being more important than another” (Susilo 2010: 4). Angklung music also requires harmony and collaboration. UNESCO noted that, “… playing the Angklung promotes the value of teamwork, mutual respect and social harmony” (Culture Sector 4). Marketing and communications leader Charles Greene (2011) pointed out the importance of team effort, “You’ll never see a one-man


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Angklung band. Playing a song with the angklung always takes teamwork and cooperation. … as our Guinness World Record is about number, having a cooperative team of 5,182 [people] was critical” (6). Thus, while practicing and performing, gamelan and angklung group members learn and share among themselves—and with the audience—the value of harmony and collaboration that are central to Indonesian, and by extension, Indonesian American, life.

Performing Arts and Understanding Expressing the artistic vision of a community can help build understanding. Therefore, participation in an artistic experience—either as a member of the audience, or as artists, producers, and stewards—is an important element in developing understanding between different groups and cultures (Stanley 2006: 7). Indonesia is rich in artistic expressions, and many U.S. performing arts organizations have introduced and offered Americans opportunities to experience Indonesian performing arts, which in turn helps increase Americans’ awareness of Indonesia and builds understanding. Through their performances, performing arts groups showcase Indonesian culture, and offer opportunities for audiences to see and appreciate the arts. The appreciation might open doors to other aspects of Indonesian culture. Colleges and universities that include gamelan and angklung in their curricula have introduced Indonesian culture to students, who often become interested in learning more about the arts or the community. On its website, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, whose 65 members are mostly non-Indonesian, boasts its role in providing valuable cross-cultural benefits to the local community, stating that it “introduces Balinese arts for the first time to thousands of people each year, many of whom later develop further interests in Indonesian culture and arts.” Andrew McGraw of Gamelan Dharma Swara is a perfect example. He disliked the sounds of Balinese gamelan when he first listened to a recording during his college years. But after seeing a live gamelan performance, he grew to love it. He continues to conduct research, teach, and compose for Balinese gamelan (Wein 2010). Similarly, after spending time in Indonesia researching dangdut, Weintraub formed the Dangdut Cowboys in 2007. He continues to introduce the music to his students, his community, and to other Americans. Cross-cultural communication among diverse participants was evident when the previously mentioned 5,182 people set the angklung record. Charles Greene had never heard of angklung prior to his participation in the World Record event. In his July 24 blog, he wrote about important

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angklung principles—unity and collaboration—among the multicultural participants. Most Indonesian American participants expressed a sense of pride. An Indonesian mother who participated with her American-born children and husband, who hailed from Africa, felt proud of her heritage upon hearing the sound of angklung performed by thousands of people of various backgrounds. She was also pleased that her children and husband, who had never played angklung, enjoyed participating in the event. The performing arts groups and their activities also provide an opportunity for Indonesians to share their Indonesian culture and heritage. Many gamelan groups invite master musicians from Indonesia to teach and lead workshops for members and the community. Although dangdut is new to America, during the past five years, four dangdut artists, including Rhoma Irama, Ikke Nurjanah, and Thomas Djorghi have performed for and introduced dangdut to Americans. Furthermore, Ambassador Dino Pati Djalal outlined his plan for “Dangdut goes to USA”—a reality show featuring Indonesian dangdut artists who would travel to several American cities to promote dangdut (Djalal 2011). Developed in collaboration with an Indonesian TV station, the show was launched on January 31, 2012, during the Evening with Friends of Indonesia at the Indonesian Consulate in Houston, Texas (Maruli 2012). Finally, in July 2011, Daeng Udjo, the maestro of angklung, came to America to share his angklung expertise and to direct more than 5,000 Indonesian Americans and Americans in the record-setting angklung performance. These musicians teach and share their experiences, while also learning about American values and culture. They will in turn share their experiences in America upon returning to Indonesia, which will build bridges of understanding.

Indonesian Performing Arts, the American Way Performing arts are not static, and Indonesian performing arts have been open to new influences, as seen in the development of angklung, dangdut, and keroncong in America. Most American gamelan groups traditionally purchased a gamelan ensemble, which is produced and tuned as a set in Indonesia. However, a few groups—Gamelan Sons of Lion, Gamelan Si Betty, and Gamelan Taman Budaya Indonesia—combine different instruments or produce their own instruments, using local materials. Moreover, sharing and collaborating among different groups has encouraged further development of gamelan in America. Many gamelan groups have included compositions by their American members, which enrich their own and the larger gamelan repertoire. Over the years, not only has the number of people exposed to and participating in gamelan


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ensembles increased, but more American gamelan groups have participated in arts festivals in Indonesia. Gamelan Sekar Jaya and Gamelan Dharma Swara, for example, participated in the 32nd Bali Arts Festival in June 2010 (Wein 2010). Similarly, the blending of American elements with Indonesian tradition occurs in both angklung and dangdut. The participants of the Festival Indonesia 2011 learned to play angklung to tunes familiar to American ears, in diatonic scale. Also, the Dangdut in America winners incorporated their unique talents in performing dangdut songs in the Indonesian language. Arreal Tilghman and Andrew Weintraub enriched the dangdut repertoire through their interpretation and style while performing and recording dangdut songs in the Indonesian language. Most Indonesian listeners appreciate Tilghman’s and Weintraub’s performances, even though they sound different from Indonesian singers. Commenting on Weintraub’s performance on YouTube, one of the 137,169 viewers, Rengga Angger, wrote “WOW AMAZING, 4 THUMBS UP for DANGDUT COWBOYS.” The American influence on Indonesian performing arts will eventually create unique adaptations of Indonesian performing arts as they become fused with American elements.

Conclusion Indonesians migrated to America at different times, under different circumstances, and from diverse religious, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds. Despite their differences, they come together in religious, social, and cultural organizations that help them adjust, form new identities and cultivate understanding and harmony in their new land. Participation in three genres of Indonesian music—gamelan, angklung, and dangdut—provide opportunities and experiences for Indonesian Americans to reclaim their identity, relive the communal experience, and develop harmony among the diverse Indonesian American groups and with other communities in multicultural America.

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Asrianti, Tifa. “Dutch Indonesians’ Search for Home.” Jakarta Post. 10 Jan. 2010. Web. 15 Aug. 2010. Bond, Christopher S. “Indonesia and the Changing Front in the War on Terrorism” Heritage Lectures. 15 Apr. 2005. Web. 15 Dec. 2011. Burhani, Ruslan. “KandidatDoktor: Tuntaskan Status Pelarian Politik 1965.” Antaranews. Jul 29, 2010. Web. 15 Aug. 2010. Campbell, Brett. “American Gamelan’s Pioneering Flower Still in Full Bloom.” San Francisco Classical Voice. 15 Aug. 2011. Web. 15 Dec. 2011. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook: Indonesia. 2010. Web. 20 Jul 2010. Cunningham, Clark. “Unity and Diversity among Indonesian Migrants to the United States.” Emerging Voices: Experiences of Underrepresented Asian Americans. Ed. Huping Ling. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008a. Cunningham, Clark. “Indonesian Americans.” Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2008b. Dandavate, Rohini. “Building Cultural Understanding through Cultural Exchange,” unpublished dissertation, Ohio State University, 2006. DiMaggio, Paul, and Patricia Fernandez-Kelly. “Introduction.” Art in the Lives of Immigrant Communities in the United States. Eds. DiMaggio & Fernandez-Kelly. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010. Djalal, Dino P. “Open Letter from Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal.” 2011. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. Frederick, William H. “Rhoma Irama and the Dangdut Style: Aspects of Contemporary Indonesian Popular Culture.” Indonesia 34 (1982): 103– 30. Frith, Simon. “Music and Identity.” Questions of Cultural Identity. Eds. Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay. London: Sage, 1996. Gamelan Sekar Jaya: Music & Dance of Bali. “Profile.” n.d. Web. 12 Jun. 2011. Gandhoel. “Dangdut USA.” Online video clip. YouTube. 14 Mar. 2007. Web. 16 Dec. 2012. Greene III, Charles G. “4 insights on successful presentations – Angklung anyone?” Presentation Magician. 24 Jul. 2011. Web. 20 Aug. 2011. Indonesian Cultural Exhibition 2011. “Gamelan Taman Budaya Indonesia.” 2011. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. Kosmin, Barry, and Ariela Keysar. American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008 Summary Report. Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, Mar. 2009.


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Maruli, Aditia. “Ada dangdut di KJRI Houston.” ANTARA News. 1 Feb. 2012.Web. 7 Feb. 2012. Merina, Dorian. “Arreal Tilghman: Finding His Voice in ‘Dangdut’.” Jakarta Post. 4 Apr. 2008. Web. 15 Jun. 2010. Moriarty, Pia. Immigrant Participatory Arts: An insight into communitybuilding in Silicon Valley. San Jose, CA: Cultural Initiative Silicon Valley, 2004. Newsantara. “Indonesian Churches in America.” 2007. Web. 12 Jun. 2010. NSR Productions. “Dangdut in America.” 2008. Web. 10 Sep. 2010. Permias Nasional. “The Permias” n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. Radelet, Steven, and Jeffret Sachs. “The Onset of the East Asian Financial Crisis.” unpublished manuscript. Harvard Institute for International Development. 1998. Web. 12 Dec. 2012. Saung Angklung Udjo. “Orkestra Angklung di Washington DC Pecahkan Guiness Book of Record.” 11 Jul. 2011. Web. 15 Aug. 2011. —. “History of Angklung.” 23 Feb. 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. Schram, Breann. “From Indonesian-Dutch to Indonesian-Dutch-American: Irene’s Journey to ‘The Land of Opportunity.’”Amerasia Journal 35.2 (2009): 129–36. Setiyawan, Dahlia G. “Indonesian Americans: History, People, and Culture.” Encyclopedia of Asian American: Folklore and Folklife, Vol 2. Eds. Jonathan H.X. Lee & Kathy M. Nadeau. Santa Barbara: ABCCLIO, 2010. Stern, Mark. J., Susan C. Seifert, and Domenic Vitiello. “Migrants, Communities, and Culture.” The Reinvestment Fund. 2008. Stanley, Dick. “Introduction: The Social Effects of Culture.” Canadian Journal of Communication. 36 (2006): 7-15. Susilo, Hardja. “Toward an Appreciation of Javanese Gamelan,” n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2010. UNESCO. “Indonesian Angklung.” 2010. Web. 20 Aug. 2011. U.S. Census Bureau. “USA QuickFacts.” 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 2008 Yearbook of Immigrant Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, 2009. VOA Indonesia. “Indonesia Cultural Expo dan Gamelan Anak Pittsburgh.” Dunia Kita. 2011. Web. 20 Dec. 2011. Wallach, Jeremy. “Ska Dangdut? The Cultural Politics of the Indonesian Ska Craze.” Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Meeting. 25 Oct. 2001. Web. 20 Aug. 2011.

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Warner, Stephen. “Introduction.” Gatherings in Diaspora. Eds R. Stephen Warner and Judith Witter. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. Wein, Gail “American Musicians Make Balinese Gamelan Their Own.” VOA News. 1 Jul. 2010. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. Weintraub, Andrew. Dangdut Stories: A Social and Musical History of Indonesia’s Most Popular Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Weintraub, Andrew. “Dangdut—Dangdut Cowboys.” Online video clip. YouTube. Dec. 19, 2007. Web. 5 Aug. 2010.


Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory In 2010, the Alzheimer’s Association estimated more than 5.3 million Americans had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The disease is characterized by an irreversible progressive decline in cognition, memory and function. The hippocampal complex is one of the first areas of the brain affected by AD (Rabins 2011), causing impairment of recent or short-term memory. In contrast, remote or long-term memory, especially with a personal reference, such as autobiographical memory, and memories that have a strong emotional component remain relatively intact into the advanced stages of the disease (Chung 2008; Gluseppe, Smitz, Sorcinelli, and Dunn 2004; Rabins 2011). Memory is an integral component of personal identity (Conway 2005; Conway and Pleydell-Pearce 2000; Young 2010). Personal identity may be compromised by the progressive decline in cognition, short-term memory, and function associated with AD (Naue and Kroll 2008; Westius, Kallenberg, and Norberg 2010). Personal relationships may also be compromised due to cognitive impairment associated with the disease. For example, a pioneer study conducted by Creasely and colleagues (1989) found that children perceived poorer relationships with grandparents who had AD compared to children whose grandparents were considered “healthy.” Werner and Lowenstein (2001) expanded upon this research by exploring the meaning of

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grandparenthood, within the context of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD), from the perspective of both the grandparent and grandchild. Grandparents with dementia and their corresponding grandchildren reported talking less about important topics compared to “healthy” grandparents. All too often, AD and the corresponding losses become the focus of attention, leading to depersonalization and disempowerment of the afflicted person (Kitwood 1997, 1998). In contrast, Tom Kitwood (1993, 1997) describes the need for person-centered care, in which maintenance of personhood is the primary objective. Personhood is defined as the “status that is bestowed upon one human being by others, in the context of relationship and social being” (Kitwood 1997: 8.). Within this definition, Kitwood highlights the interplay between neurological impairment and personal psychology for maintenance of personhood. To further explain, neurological impairment imposes “upper limits” on the person’s ability to perform (Kitwood and Bredlin 1992). Therefore, care of the person with AD needs to emphasize preserved abilities, such as remote memory. Research findings support the use of activities that stimulate remote memory in persons with mild to moderate dementia, as a means of promoting self-identity (Cohen-Mansfield, Golander, and Arnheimer 2000; Gilles and Johnson 2004; Hydén and Örulv 2009; Westius, Kallenberg, and Norberg 2010; Young 2010) and improving quality-of-life (Cohen-Mansfield, Golander, and Arnheimer 2000). Secondly, personal psychology is placed within context of the social psychology surrounding the individual (Kitwood and Bredlin 1992). The social component emphasizes the person as part of an interdependent social relationship. This premise is consistent with various cultures, such as the Hmong, who maintain a core cultural value of interdependence within family, clan, and community members In summary, promoting personhood involves creating a meaningful environment that maximizes preserved abilities within the context of human relationships (Kitwood 1993, 1997; Kitwood and Bredlin 1992). Sharing remote memories through reminiscence is one means of promoting personhood in individuals with ADRD (Kitwood 1997).

Hmong Americans and Alzheimer’s Disease AD affects persons of all racial and ethnic groups, but there are no statistics specific to the prevalence of AD in Hmong Americans. There are no words in the Hmong language for the diagnostic term of AD. However, the basic concept is not unfamiliar to Hmong people, as reflected in this


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long-standing proverb: Ntoo laus ntoo khoob, neeg laus neeg tem toob. Conceptually translated, this proverb compares an elder with memory impairment to that of a tree that has been hollowed with age (Gerdner, Xiong, and Cha 2006). The meaning implies that the person is a shell of what they used to be or that cognitive impairment has slowly deteriorated personal identity. Cultural values and beliefs about ADRD that are held by elders and their family affect caregiving behaviors (Janevic and Connell 2001; Yeo and Gallagher-Thompson 2006). The majority of research on family caregiving of persons with ADRD has focused on large ethnic groups who have a long-standing presence in the U.S. Gerdner (2001) conducted the first in-depth ethnographic study to explore the perception and care of Hmong American elders with dementia (i.e., AD). An increased understanding of Hmong elders with dementia and the family caregiving experience will facilitate the development of educational materials and programs of care that are culturally responsive. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss how general themes from caregiver interviews were combined with basic principles of personcentered care (Kitwood 1993, 1997) to create a culturally responsive picture book for Hmong American children and their families. The story focuses on the relationship between a young boy and his grandfather, who has AD. The story introduces the idea of using a story cloth to stimulate Grandfather’s remote memory to maintain and/or promote his personhood and well-being by validating his personal, social and cultural identity. The chapter continues by discussing memory from within the historical and cultural context of a specific cohort of Hmong Americans. This lived experience has been preserved in the creation of story cloths that may be used as a stimulus for remote memory. A synopsis of research findings are presented and synthesized with basic concepts of person-centered care to discuss the creation of a culturally responsive picture book entitled Grandfather’s Story Cloth. An in-depth discussion follows.

Memories of Historical and Cultural Significance The Hmong are an ethnic minority from China and Southeast Asia. Those living in the U.S. originated from the remote highlands of Laos where they lived in small villages with extended patrilineal households (Cooper, Tapp, Lee, and Schwoerer-Kohl 1998). Aging parents usually lived in the home of a married son. Elders were treated with great respect and were revered for wisdom acquired over a lifetime. Grandparents contributed to the household by caring for their grandchildren.

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The Hmong people originated as an oral culture. A written Hmong language was not developed until 1956. The majority of Hmong in Laos maintained this oral tradition. Elders, such as grandparents, played a key role in orally transmitting their rich cultural heritage to younger generations, often beginning when the child was as young as four years of age. This legacy helped to maintain cultural identity and strong family bonds (Thao 2006). The Hmong people lived a relatively peaceful agrarian lifestyle until the war in Vietnam extended into Laos. As a result, Hmong men and boys were recruited to serve in the war by the Royal Lao Army and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on one side, and by the Communist Pathet Lao on the other. Those serving the U.S. effort monitored the Ho Chi Ming Trail, gathered intelligence information for the CIA, and rescued U.S. pilots who had been shot down by the communists. Following the U.S. withdrawal from Laos in 1975, those Hmong who had served the U.S. were forced to flee Laos or suffer persecution or death by the Communist Pathet Lao. Many escaped by crossing the Mekong River and fled to refugee camps in Thailand until resettlement opportunities became available in host countries, such as the U.S., France, and Canada (Hamilton-Merritt 1993). Hmong Americans are a growing segment of the U.S. population (Pfeifer, Sullivan, Yang, and Yang 2012). The events described above are the lived experience of a cohort of Hmong, now living in the U.S. For these Hmong Americans, this lived experience has become an important part of their personal history. There is an intimate interplay between one’s personal history and one’s personal self that is crucial to understanding autobiographical memory (Wang and Brockmeier 2002). An understanding of these shared memories is critical to personhood. These shared memories of cultural heritage have been preserved for future generations through the creation of story cloths.

Story Cloth as Stimulus for Remote Memories While living in refugee camps, Hmong women showcased their superior needlework skills by creating a new form of textile art referred to as story cloths. During this time of confinement, men joined the women in making these story cloths. The creation of a story cloth begins by selecting a piece of fabric, with medium blue being a popular color. Next, outlined images are drawn onto the fabric to convey the intended story. Images are filled-in with long satin stitches of multi-colored threads. Details are applied using intricate chain and satin stitches. Story cloths are commonly finished with a border of fabric pieced together and hand stitched. The pattern selected


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is often a series of triangles, that some say symbolize the protective highlands of Laos. Story cloths reflect the unique culture and important historical events of the Hmong people. The sale of story cloths provided refugees with money to buy needed supplies (Long 1993; MacDowell 1989). Since 1975, the Hmong story cloth has become a symbol of ethnic identity. Although these stories are individually drawn, story cloths “attest to a social construction of memory” (Peterson, 1988: 14). Social memory becomes entwined with cultural memory. Story cloths may be used to stimulate remote memories. These cloths serve as an abridged pictorial representation of an oral narration (MacDowell 1989). Persons familiar with the original story can elaborate on details and incorporate their own individual experiences through personal memories. Conveying these memories through reminiscence is culturally consistent with traditional oral story telling by Hmong elders. Reminiscing not only has the potential for benefiting elders with dementia, but may also teach the rich cultural heritage of Hmong people to younger generations. Peterson (1988: 14) states that elder Hmong Americans, “tend to trace fabricated figures with their fingertips, softly naming memories as they study details of cloths that blur the distinction between ‘life as it used to be’ and ‘life as it should be’.”

Elder Hmong Americans with Dementia in Context of Family Caregiving Gerdner (2001) conducted the first focused ethnographic study to explore the perception and care of Hmong American elders with dementia. Data were collected over a 20-month period using participant-observation and in-depth interviews. Key informants included family caregivers (n=15), traditional healers (n=5), and community leaders (n=5) living in St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota and Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The majority of interviews (n=17) were conducted in the Hmong language with assistance of a certified health care interpreter. A summary of findings specific to the experience of family caregiving is presented here. For a complete presentation and discussion of findings refer to Gerdner, Tripp-Reimer, and Yang (2008). Overall, informants identified dementia as a neglected issue within the Hmong American community. Elders with dementia often lived in the home of a married son, with the daughter-in-law providing actual handson care. The provision of care was generally viewed as being reciprocal for the love and care elders had provided to the younger generation of

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family members. Caregivers emphasized the need to preserve these values for future generations by serving as role models for their own children. Grandchildren often had difficulty understanding the progressive memory and behavioral changes associated with the disease process. These difficulties were compounded when the grandparent was no longer able to recognize the child. The child’s response often had a negative impact on the elder. Interviews with two separate caregivers were interrupted by verbal conflicts between grandparent and grandchild. These verbal confrontations were upsetting to all involved. Family caregivers expressed the need for culturally appropriate teaching materials about AD. As a beginning effort, general themes from family caregiver interviews were combined with principles of personcentered care to create a storyline that was culturally meaningful and promoted the personhood and well-being of an elder Hmong American with AD. The story was then developed into a bilingual (English/Hmong) picture book for Hmong American children and their family. The book is entitled, Grandfather’s Story Cloth / Yawg Daim Paj Ntaub Dab Neeg (Gerdner and Langford 2008).

Promoting Personhood through Grandfather’s Story Cloth Grandfather’s Story Cloth focuses on the relationship between a young boy named Chersheng and his grandfather, who has AD. The story introduces the idea of using an embroidered story cloth as an intergenerational activity to stimulate Grandfather’s remote memories. The book’s reading level is approximately 5 to 10 years of age, but is not limited to that age range. The underlying message of love, respect, and reciprocity transcends to persons of all ages. The story was created to mirror the values identified by family caregivers during qualitative interviews. For example, adult children viewed caregiving as reciprocal of the love and care that was given to them as they were growing up, with an emphasis on respect and patience for the person with AD. Characters were developed to reflect strong family bonds and interdependence between members. Grandfather’s Story Cloth provides an honest and respectful depiction of an older person with AD. Persons with AD often experience episodes of confusion. Grandfather’s confusion is portrayed in several scenes throughout the book, with behaviors representative of the types reported by caregivers. The story begins with Chersheng running home from school, eager to show Grandfather his art project. Chersheng finds Grandfather in the


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backyard gathering wood to build a fire so his daughter-in-law can cook the evening meal. Chersheng realizes that Grandfather has forgotten that mother cooks on a gas stove. In Laos, Grandfather had lived in a house constructed of wood and bamboo with a thatched roof. Women cooked over a small fire on the earthen floor inside the home. In this scene, Grandfather was confused, thinking he was still in Laos and needed to collect wood for the cooking fire. Through past experience, Chersheng learned to redirect Grandfather during periods of confusion. In this example, he did so by focusing Grandfather’s attention on a bitter melon growing on a vine, climbing along a tall “privacy fence” that enclosed the backyard. The story provides a brief explanation that the fence was built to provide a secure environment so Grandfather could continue to safely participate in the outdoor activities that he enjoyed. Gardening was one such activity that reflected the agrarian lifestyle he valued during his early years in Laos. Nightmares were a reoccurring theme that family caregivers identified as distressing to elders. Traditionally, nightmares have special meaning to Hmong people. For example, dreaming of a deceased person may be interpreted as impending death. One night, Grandfather shouted while having a nightmare, waking family members who ran to his room. Then, Grandfather confused Chersheng with his own brother who had died many years prior. This was distressing to Chersheng, who sought solace by retreating to his room. It was here that Chersheng began drawing a picture of Grandfather, as he remembered him, prior to the onset of AD. Shortly thereafter, Mother arrived to console Chersheng, who thought Grandfather had forgotten him. Mother presented Chersheng with an aging photograph of Grandfather holding Chersheng shortly after his birth. Mother shared her memory of Grandfather’s joy when learning of the birth of his firstborn grandson, declaring he would love Chersheng forever. Mother then suggested using the story cloth to stimulate Grandfather’s remote memories. Grandfather had made the story cloth while living in a refugee camp during the late-1970s. The story portrayed on the cloth represented the shared memories of those Hmong who were born in Laos, lived there during the war, and were forced to flee their homeland following the communist takeover. While sharing these memories with Chersheng, Grandfather elaborated on the story and interjected personal details based on his autobiographical memory. Chersheng became an active participant by listening, asking questions and pointing to embroidered images, such as a rice pounder. This prompted Grandfather to discuss his life as a farmer, until events of the war forced him to become a

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soldier and eventually led to his arrival in America. These stories allowed Chersheng to learn about his cultural heritage, and the courage and sacrifice that Grandfather made for his family. This process enabled Chersheng to gain a deeper understanding and respect for Grandfather. The story cloth served as an intergenerational activity to support Grandfather’s memories and personhood. The story cloth also gave Chersheng something tangible to look at and hold during times when Grandfather’s confusion made Chersheng feel as though he had “lost” his grandfather. The next day, Chersheng ran home from school wanting to hear more of Grandfather’s stories. Instead, he found Grandfather burying a silver bar in the garden. Grandfather thought he was still in Laos and was attempting to hide the family’s wealth from enemy hands. This led Chersheng to the painful realization that Grandfather would not be getting better. Chersheng coped with these feelings through his artwork, as he did earlier in the story, but this time he had an expanded objective. Chersheng combined his Hmong heritage with aspects of his American life to create a story collage commencing where Grandfather’s story cloth had ended. Chersheng used drawings and photos to depict Grandfather’s “American memories.” Chersheng’s story collage began with a photo of Grandfather upon his arrival to the U.S. It proceeded with a photo of Grandfather holding his newborn grandson. This was followed by a drawing of Grandfather’s expanding family and another drawing of Chersheng helping Grandfather in his garden. Working on this project provided Chersheng with the opportunity to reflect on happy memories shared with Grandfather before the onset of AD. Chersheng gave the collage to Grandfather hoping that it would elicit these same happy memories in him. The story collage also supported continuity between Grandfather’s past and present, focusing on the continuity of family bonds. Throughout the book Chersheng learned the importance of loving, respecting, and caring for Grandfather in return for the many sacrifices that Grandfather had made for his family.

Discussion Grandfather’s Story Cloth was created by applying research findings (Gerdner, 2001) and principles of person-centered care (Kitwood 1997; Kitwood and Bredlin 1992) to serve as a culturally responsive model to maintain and promote personhood in a Hmong American elder with AD. The story focuses on maximizing Grandfather’s preserved abilities, such as gardening and storytelling. Grandfather’s remote memories were stimulated through a story cloth he created during confinement in a


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refugee camp in Thailand. Sharing these memories with Chersheng through reminiscence validated Grandfather’s personal, social, and cultural identity within context of interdependent family relationships. This facilitated the ultimate goals of promoting Grandfather’s well-being and fostering understanding and compassion within Chersheng. In addition, this process enabled Grandfather to fulfill a traditional role by teaching and promoting cultural heritage and identity to his grandson.

Maintain Personal, Social, and Cultural Identity There is a strong interrelationship between personal, social, and cultural identity. In Grandfather’s Story Cloth, Grandfather’s identity has been potentially threatened on several levels. The primary focus involves the threat imposed by the cognitive degeneration of AD. Reminiscence provides one means of restoring and maintaining self-identity in persons with AD (Coleman 2005; Kitwood 1997; Young 2010). Metaphorically speaking, the use of reminiscence in persons with AD may recreate a sense of self-identity by “reweaving the broken threads of life history, through the recall and validation of a personal past” (Mills and Coleman 1994: 215). Bassett and Graham (2007) maintain that memory is simultaneously individual and social. To further explain, they describe a person’s past as a constellation of memories placed in context of a social milieu involving personal relationships. Individual identity is part of a larger social unity. Several studies have found that narrative stories served to promote social identity in persons with dementia (Bassett and Graham 2007; Ryan, Bannister, and Anas 2009). A second threat to Grandfather’s identity involves the major disruption in lifestyle initially caused by the covert war in Laos that eventually led to exile from his homeland and immigration to the U.S. This transition has been difficult for many elder Hmong Americans. For example, interviews with members of this cohort expressed an overall disengagement with life in the U.S., compared to the meaningful role held within the family and village community in Laos (Gerdner 2013). There are multiple reasons for this, one being that the knowledge and survival skills revered in Laos have been replaced, at least in part, by the need for a new set of life skills. For example, the oral tradition of elders sharing their cultural heritage with members of a younger generation has become overshadowed by knowledge acquired through books and taught in schools (Thao 2006). Disengagement represents a disruption of social identity that becomes

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exacerbated when the person also suffers from AD. Establishing social and cultural bonds through shared memories are important for reengagement. Hmong story cloths often represent shared memories that focus on the interaction between families and between village members. Embroidered images depict historical and cultural heritage, placing the individual within the context of the greater whole. Story cloths also reflect the life of Hmong people by “portraying relationships to land, animals, and cultural practices” (Koltyk 1993: 437). Koltyk further explains that story cloths and other medium can be used as a “cultural backdrop…for talking about the past, present, and future” (1993: 438). Similarly, Bassett and Graham maintain that memories are “shared, co-constructed events and experiences in the past, present and future” (2007: 535). Wang and Brockmeier contend that, “autobiographical remembering is a cultural practice” (2002: 47). To elaborate, autobiographical memories are an “active construction embedded in a social weave of dialogues, negotiated not only between an individual and his or her immediate social environment, but also equally important, between the individual and the larger cultural milieu” (Wang and Brockmeier 2002: 47). To further explore this concept, Wang and Conway (2004) explored the influence of ethnic and cultural background on the perception and memory of events. Autobiographical memory was studied in 108 American and Chinese adults aged 38 to 60. Although the Hmong people have a unique cultural identity, they do share values of family interdependence with other Asian groups, such as the Chinese. Findings of this study revealed that Americans shared memories of individual experiences that were unique one-time events focused on their own roles and emotions. In comparison, Chinese participants shared memories that served to assimilate the individual into the greater whole, thereby composing a self that emphasized interrelatedness. In addition, the Chinese participants were more likely to recall memories of social and historical events. Wang and Conway (2004) conclude that findings support the need to “examine the emotional and regulatory functions of memory sharing, thus situating the use of memories not only within the person but between persons” (931).

Promote Well-Being The process of Grandfather sharing his memories also promoted his wellbeing. Sharing autobiographical memory to promote well-being in persons with ADRD has been supported through research findings. A study conducted in the United Kingdom by Brooker and Duce (2000) used a


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repeated measures design to determine the level of well-being in 25 persons with mild to moderate dementia, during three types of conditions. The first condition involved simple group reminiscence therapy (RT), using photographs and other objects to stimulate remote memories. The second involved group activities (GA) such as simple goal directed games or crafts. The third group participated in unstructured time (UT) where subjects were left to their own devices with minimal interaction by staff. Dementia Care Mapping (Kitwood and Bredin 1994) was used to measure the degree of well-being and ill-being along a six point scale ranging from very negative to very positive. As expected, the degree of well-being for both RT and GA were higher, compared to UT. Findings further identified a statistically significant higher degree of well-being in subjects during RT compared to GA. Chao and colleagues (2008) conducted a qualitative study in Taiwan to promote understanding of the process of reminiscence. Participants included a convenience sample of ten elders residing in a nursing home in northern Taipei. Two of these participants had a diagnosis of dementia. Investigators concluded that during reminiscence, subjects derived meaning and happiness from the past. In addition, reminiscence facilitated adaptation to the present.

Foster Understanding and Compassion Listening to Grandfather’s stories deepened Chersheng’s understanding of Grandfather’s earlier life and the sacrifices made for his family. During this process, Chersheng learned the importance of reciprocity by helping Grandfather during his time of need. Chersheng tried to help Grandfather with his “American memories” by creating a story collage. This collage reflected the preservation and continuity of Grandfather’s family, community, and cultural heritage. One study, conducted in Hong Kong, evaluated the effects of an intergenerational reminiscence program for 49 persons with dementia (Chung 2008). One hundred seventeen volunteer youth, 15 years and older, were trained to facilitate a reminiscence program with older adults in early-stage dementia. All dyads attended 12 weekly sessions in which youth volunteers encouraged the older person to “share, teach, and discuss their life experiences” based on 15 reminiscence topics (260). During these sessions, volunteer youth used “interactive old-time activities and reminiscence props as cognitive support” to trigger the older person’s remote memories and facilitate reminiscence (260). An occupational therapist provided ongoing support while monitoring youth volunteers.

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The effects of this program on older persons and youth participants were determined by administering a series of instruments and comparing pretest / post-test scores. Elder scores revealed an increase in quality of life (as measured by Quality of Life—AD) and a reduction in depression (as measured by the Chinese version of the Geriatric Depression Scale). Youth scores indicated an increased understanding of dementia (as measured by the Dementia Quiz). In addition, volunteers identified positive appreciation for older persons and believed the experience provided an opportunity to reflect on their relationship with older relatives. Investigators emphasized the mutual benefits of the intergenerational reminiscence program for both older persons with early-onset dementia and youth volunteers.

Teach and Promote Cultural Heritage and Identity to a Younger Generation Grandfather’s Story Cloth reinforces the traditional role of a grandparent by orally transmitting cultural heritage to a younger generation of Hmong. The transference of memories is intended to benefit both generations. In this example, memories promoted engagement between grandfather and grandson while strengthening the social and cultural identity of both. Sharing family and cultural history promotes personal identity in relation to family, community, and the culture as a whole (Fivush and Nelson 2004). Buley-Meissner (2002) explains that feelings of individuality begin in grade school. Sharing family life stories with Hmong American children provides a “solid foundation for self-integrity, family bonds, respect for community values, and a commitment to keep Hmong culture alive” (323). In addition, McCall (1998) encourages the use of Hmong story clothes as a pedagogical tool to promote understanding of history and culture in Hmong American students and to promote understanding and tolerance in non-Hmong students. There has been an expressed need for children’s literature to provide a positive image of the refugee identity (Hope 2008). Grandfather’s Story Cloth conveys Grandfather’s memories of that experience. Chersheng learns of Grandfather’s courage and sacrifices, leading to his arrival as a refuge in the U.S.


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Enhancing Educational Value Two sets of author notes are included at the back of the book. The first provides a brief historical background of the Hmong people and story cloths. This content is intended to inform health care professionals and educators who may use this book for Hmong American children. A second set of notes is used to inform readers about AD and to dispel misconceptions and negative stigma. To support a family-based approach to learning, a list of in-depth discussion questions and answers specific to the storyline were developed by the first author of Grandfather’s Story Cloth. The purpose is to provide adults with an enhanced understanding of both the behavioral and psychological symptoms exhibited by Grandfather and the use of appropriate management strategies to support his safety. Content also highlights the need to create activities that utilize Grandfather’s preserved abilities and personal interests within the context of a social environment in order to maintain his personhood and well-being. In-depth answers provide adults with an expanded knowledge to facilitate discussion based on the child’s level of understanding. This supplemental information is intended to be of equal value to educators and health care providers working with children and families.

Increasing Community Access The author, in collaboration with the Southeast Asian Ministry, a nonprofit organization located in St. Paul, Minnesota, obtained funding from the Extendicare Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the purchase and distribution of 1000 copies of Grandfather’s Story Cloth to select organizations in geographic areas with large populations of Hmong Americans. The purpose was to increase accessibility of the book to members of the Hmong American community and those who serve them. Organizations that received a complimentary copy included: schools, public libraries, local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association, as well as clinics and hospitals serving the Hmong American community.

Evaluation Grandfather’s Story Cloth has received positive feedback from members of the Hmong American community, positive literary reviews by health care professionals (Yeo 2008), experts in multi-cultural children’s literature (Behm 2009; Hong 2008), school librarians (Killeen 2008) and

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experts in children’s literature (Phelan 2008). The book has been endorsed by major Hmong American organizations. In addition, the book has received six national and international awards. It is hoped that Grandfather’s Story Cloth will continue to serve as a valuable resource to families, educators, and health care professionals who serve Hmong Americans. The use of Grandfather’s Story Cloth is encouraged as an impetus for the development of a comprehensive family-based educational program to assist in the care of Hmong American elders with AD.

Works Cited Alzheimer’s Association. “Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.” 2010. Web. 19 Feb 2011. Bassett, Raewyn, and Janice E. Graham. “Memorabilities: Enduring Relationships, Memories and Abilities in Dementia.” Ageing & Society 27.4 (2007): 533-554. Behm, Charlotte. “Multicultural and Bilingual Books: Grandfather’s Story Cloth.” Skipping Stones 21.3 (2009): 31. Brooker, D., and L. Duce. “Wellbeing and Activity in Dementia: A Comparative Group Reminiscence Therapy, Structured Goal-directed Group Activity and Unstructured Time.” Aging and Mental Health 4.4 (2000): 354-358. Buley-Meissner, Mary Louis. “The Spirit of a People: Hmong American Life Stories.” Language Arts 79.4 (2002): 323-331. Chao, Shu-Yuan, Chaio-Rung Chen, Hsing-Yuan Liu, and Mary Jo Clark. “Meet the Real Elders: Reminiscence Links Past and Present.” Journal of Clinical Nursing 17 (2008): 2647-2653. Chung, Jenny C. C. “An Intergenerational Reminiscence Programme for Older Adults with Early Dementia and Youth Volunteers: Values and Challenge.” Scandinavian Journal of Caring 23 (2008): 259-264. Cohen-Mansfield, Jiska, Hava Golander, and Giyorah Arnheim. “Selfidentity in Older Persons Suffering from Dementia: Preliminary Results.” Social Science & Medicine 51.3 (2000): 381-393. Coleman, Peter G. “Uses of Reminiscence: Function and Benefits.” Aging & Mental Health 9.4 (2005): 291-294. Conway, Martin A. “Memory and the Self.” Journal of Memory and Language 53 (2005): 594-628. Conway, Martin A., and Christopher W. Pleydell-Pearce. “The Construction of Autobiographical Memories in the Self-memory System.” Psychological Review 107.2 (2000): 261-288.


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Cooper, Richard, Nicholas Tapp, Ger Yea Lee, and Gretel SchwoererKohl. The Hmong: A Guide to Traditional Lifestyles. Singapore: Times Editions, 1998. Creasely, Gary L., Barbara J. Myers, Mary Jo Epperson, and John Taylor. “Grandchildren of Grandparents with Alzheimer’s Disease: Perceptions of Grandparent, Family Environment, and the Elderly.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 35.2 (1989): 227-237. Fivush, Robyn, and Katherine Nelson. “Culture and Language in the Emergence of Autobiographical Memory.” American Psychological Society 15.9 (2004): 573-577. Gerdner, Linda A. “Hmong Illness Beliefs, Behaviors, and Care Structures. Research Report.” Funding source: University of Minnesota, 2001. —. “Hmong Americans: The Conceptualization and Experience of Aging in the United States.” In Mark Edward Pfeifer, Monica Chiu and Kou Yang, eds., Diversity within Diaspora: Hmong Americans in the Twenty-First Century. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2013. Gerdner, Linda and Sara Langford with illustrations by Stuart Loughridge. Grandfather’s Story Cloth. Walnut Creek: Shen’s Books, 2008. Gerdner, Linda A., Toni Tripp-Reimer, and Deu Yang. “Perception and Care of Elder Hmong Americans with Chronic Confusion or Tem Toob.” Hallym International Journal of Aging 10.2 (2008): 111-138. Gerdner, Linda A., Shoua V. Xiong, and Dia Cha. “Chronic Confusion and Memory Impairment in Hmong Elders: Honoring Differing Cultural Beliefs in America.” Journal of Gerontological Nursing 32.3 (2006): 23-31. Gilles, B., and G. Johnson. “Identity Loss and Maintenance: Commonality of Experience in Cancer and Dementia.” European Journal of Cancer Care 13 (2004): 436-442. Gluseppe, Sartori, Beth E. Snitz, Linda Sorcinelli, and Irene Daum. “Remote Memory in Advanced Alzheimer’s Disease.” Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology 19.6 (2004): 799-789. Hamilton-Merritt, Jane. Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. Hong, Terry. “Book review: Multicultural Notable Books for Youngest Readers—Grandfather’s Story Cloth.” The Bloomsbury Review 28.6 (2008): 18. Hope, Julia. “One Day We Had to Run: The Development of the Refugee Identity in Children’s Literature and Its Function in Education.” Children’s Literature in Education 39 (2008): 295-304.

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Hydén, Larse-Christer, and Linda Örulv. “Narrative and Identity in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Case Study.” Journal of Aging Studies 23.4 (2009): 205-214. Janevic, Marey R., and Cathleen M. Connell. “Racial, Ethnic and Cultural Differences in the Dementia Caregiving Experience: Recent Findings.” The Gerontologist 41.3 (2001): 344-347. Killeen, Erleen Bishop. “Grandfather’s Story Cloth.” School Library Journal 54.9 (2008): 146. Kitwood, Tom. “Person and Process in Dementia.” International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 8 (1993): 541-545. —. Dementia Reconsidered: The Person Comes First. Buckingham, U.K.: Open University Press, 1997. —. “Toward a Theory of Dementia Care: Ethics and Interaction.” The Journal of Clinical Ethics 9.1 (1998): 23-34. Kitwood, Tom and Kathleen Bredin. “Towards a Theory of Dementia Care: Personhood and Well-being.” Ageing and Society 12.3 (1992): 269-287. Kitwood, Tom and Kathleen Bredin. “Charting the Course of Quality Care.” Journal of Dementia Care 2.3 (1994): 22-23. Koltyk, Jo Ann. “Telling narratives through home videos: Hmong Refugees and Self-documentation of Life in the Old and New Country.” The Journal of American Folklore 106.422 (1993): 435-449. Long, Lynellyn D. Ban Vinai: The Refugee Camp. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. MacDowell, Marsha. Stories in Thread: Hmong Pictorial Embroideries. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan Traditional Arts Program Folk Arts Division, Michigan State University Publications, 1989. McCall, Ava. “Hmong Paj Ntaub: Using Textile Arts to Teach Young Children About Cultures.” Social Education 62.5 (1998): 294-296. Mills, Marie A., and Peter G. Coleman. “Nostalgic Memories in Dementia: A Case Study.” The International Journal of Aging & Human Development 38.3 (1994): 203-219. Naue, Ursula and Kroll, Thilo. “‘The Demented Other’: Identity and Difference in Dementia.” Nursing Philosophy 10 (2008): 26-33. Peterson, Sally. “Translating Experience and the Reading of a Story Cloth.” The Journal of American Folklore 101.399 (1988): 6-22. Pfeifer, Mark E., John Sullivan, Kou Yang, and Wayne Yang. “Hmong Population and Demographic Trends in the 2010 Census and 2010 American Community Survey.” Hmong Studies Journal 13.2 (2012): 1-33.


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Phelan, Carolyn. “Book Review: Books for Young (fiction)— Grandfather’s Story Cloth/Yawg Daim Paj Ntaub Dab Neeg” Booklist. 105.1 (2008): 104. Rabins, Peter V. Memory White Paper. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2011. Ryan, Ellen Bouchard, Karen A. Bannister, and Ann Anas. “The Dementia Narrative: Writing to Reclaim Social Identity.” Journal of Aging Studies 23.3 (2009): 145-157. Thao, Yer J. The Mong Oral Tradition. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2006. Wang, Qi and Jens Brockmeier. “Autobiographical Remembering as Cultural Practice: Understanding the Interplay Between Memory Self and Culture.” Culture and Psycholog 8.1 (2002): 45-64. Wang, Qi and Martin A. Conway. “The Stories We Keep: Autobiographical Memory in American and Chinese Middle-aged Adults.” Journal of Personality 72.5 (2004): 911-938. Werner, Perla, and Ariela Lowenstein. “Grandparenthood and Dementia.” Clinical Gerontologist 23.1/2 (2001): 115-129. Westius, Anders, Kjell Kallenberg, and Astrid Norberg. “Views of Life and Sense of Identity in People with Alzheimer’s Disease.” Aging & Society 30.7 (2010): 1257-1278. Yeo, Gwen. “Book Review: Grandfather’s Story Cloth.” Journal of Gerontological Nursing 35.9 (2008): 50. Yeo, Gwen and Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, eds. Ethnicity and the Dementias (2nd Edition). Bristol: Taylor & Francis CRC Press, 2006. Young, Elizabeth. “Narrative Therapy and Elders with Memory Loss.” Clinical Social Work Journal 38.2 (2010): 193-202.


Introduction Despite the group’s vast heterogeneity, large-scale statistical data of Asian American student achievement are typically aggregated which mask the tremendous differences in achievement and attainment across Asian ethnic groups (Ngo and Lee 2007: 416). As a result, Asian American students are generally viewed as academically successful. That is, they are expected to have a high grade point average, score higher on standardize tests, and attend college at higher rates than other racial/ethnic groups (Sue and Okazaki 1990: 914). This notion is rooted in the model minority stereotype, which presents Asian Americans as academically successful due to cultural values emphasizing hard work, family, and education (Ng, Lee, and Pak 2007: 105). However, this stereotype makes invisible Asian American students who struggle academically, who underachieve, and who are economically poor—the profile that is all too common among Southeast Asian students (Chhuon and Hudley 2011: 682). Southeast Asian students occupy a unique binary position in the discourse concerning Asian American success (Ngo and Lee 2007: 416). On one hand, they are portrayed as hard working, high achievers through the lens of the model minority stereotype (Ngo and Lee 2007: 442). On the other hand, they are portrayed as high school dropouts, gangsters, and welfare dependents (Ngo and Lee 2007: 416). Furthermore, Southeast Asian students endure low expectations from their school teachers, administrators, and counselors with greater attention paid to making them


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fit in socially and getting them through high school rather than enhancing their academic performance (Schram 1993: 128). Existing literature on Southeast Asian American achievement largely centers around achievement studies of Asian American students with samples comprised largely of East Asians (e.g. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese). While these identified factors in predicting Asian American academic achievement have contributed substantially to the field— highlighting the role of parenting practices, parental involvement, cultural capital, and social capital in explaining high educational achievement—the literature has subsequently overlooked groups such as Southeast Asians. East Asians and Southeast Asians share some commonalities, however, research has shown that Southeast Asians differ in cultural values and access to community resources, face more difficult immigration and acculturation experiences, and more social and academic struggles (Chang and Le 2005: 239). Therefore, it is unclear if the same factors predict the academic success amongst Southeast Asians given that many Southeast Asian youth encounter barriers to educational achievement including racism, poverty, social isolation, school tracking (Lee 2006: 17; Schram 1993: 135), generational conflict (Ngo and Lee 2007: 426), and negative teacher assessments of parent interests and involvement (Schram 1993:133). Given the paucity of research on Southeast Asians, further examination of factors contributing to their academic achievement is needed. This study uses social capital as a conceptual framework to better understand the academic experiences of Laotian American students. The investigation focused on social capital acquired through family, social networks, and ethnic communities that contribute to academic achievement. In particular, it examines how different forms of social capital from family, social relationships, and ethnic communities help facilitate resources that foster academic success. In short, the purpose of this study was twofold: to identify important social capital influences on academic achievement in Laotian American students and determine if there are common themes, and to discuss future research and policy implications regarding Laotian American achievement. The study’s findings are intended to better inform stakeholders about ways to improve Laotian American students’ education by addressing their specific needs, providing services and programs to counter academic barriers, and bridging relationships between families and schools. This study is intended to provide strategies for improving Laotian American students’ academic outcomes and contribute to the paucity of research on this subpopulation.

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Laotian Education in the United States Laotians are among the newest immigrants to the U.S., arriving as refugees in the early 1980s, after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 (Shah 2007: 32). The 2010 Census identified 210,571 Laotians (excluding Hmong) living in the United States, with the majority concentrated in the states of California, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington (American Fact Finder). In the aggregate, Laotian students in the U.S. display low levels of academic achievement relative to other populations. Census data revealed that (32.8 percent) of all Laotians twenty-five years and older residing in the U.S. reported attaining less than a high school education, 29.6 percent attained a high school education, and 19.6 percent attained some college education (American Fact Finder). Moreover, only 10.1 percent of Laotians in the U.S. had earned a bachelor’s degree, which is significantly less than the national average for Asian Americans (29.6 percent), and 2.8 percent had a graduate or professional degree compared to 20.5 percent, respectively (American Fact Finder). Research on school performance of Laotian American students consistently finds that they academically underperform at higher levels than students from other ethnic groups (Rumbaut and Ima 1988: 197). Despite research pointing to the role of cultural values in the academic success of Laotian Americans, some of this research focuses on cultural conflicts as a means to understand problems faced by Lao families (Ngo and Lee 2007: 437). Other research suggests Lao students’ low academic performance is attributed to differences between Lao and American cultures. According to DeVoe, this may affect their educational experiences (Ngo and Lee 2007: 437). Moreover, while some studies have portrayed strong family social structure as central to the success of Lao families, other research stresses problems between Lao youth and parents (Baizerman and Hendricks 1988: 1-80; Fu 1995: 25). In addition to tension between Lao youth and parents, oftentimes the division of labor among siblings causes strain and affects their relationships with one another. There is also evidence that Lao Americans face additional challenges in school with teachers and schools being ill prepared or reluctant to address their cultural and language needs (Ngo and Lee 2007: 438). The lack of knowledge about the Lao culture amongst U.S. teachers and schools often results in lumping these students into stereotypes of Southeast Asian students (i.e., they perceive Lao boys to exhibit delinquent behaviors and Vietnamese students to be academically superior) (Ngo and Lee 2007: 438). Consequently, these stereotypes define the type and level of assistance these students receive from teachers, counselors,


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and schools (Ngo and Lee 2007: 438). While these studies have contributed to the understanding of Laotian American students, a limitation is the lack of literature investigating how Laotian students acquire and/or make use of social capital derived from within and outside the home to facilitate academic achievement. This research extends this literature by identifying aspects and sources of social capital that influence Laotian American students’ achievement.

Social Capital Framework The Role of Social Capital on Academic Achievement This research uses James Coleman’s social capital concept as a framework to better understand the academic experiences of successful Laotian American college students. Coleman’s social capital concept consists of three forms: (1) level of trust, as evidenced by obligations and expectations, (2) information channels, and (3) norms and sanctions that promote the common good (Dika and Singh 2002: 33). Social capital is a resource accumulated and exchanged from relationships and associations that emerge from interpersonal interactions (Israel, Beaulieu, and Hartless 2001: 45) and consists of some aspects of process and social structure that conditions the environment for educational achievement (Smith, Beaulieu, and Seraphine 1995: 367). Social capital is critical in facilitating students’ academic success, and has been used by immigration scholars (e.g., Portes, Rumbaut, etc.) to explain academic achievement of immigrant children for decades. For the purpose of this discussion, achievement is defined by enrollment or graduation from a four-year college or university. Coleman’s social capital concept has been equated with parental involvement in facilitating academic achievement. Parental involvement not only includes nurturing activities such as helping with homework, discussing school related activities, or setting high educational aspirations, but also efforts to restrain inappropriate behaviors by monitoring homework and ensuring proper adult supervision after school (Israel, Beaulieu, and Hartless 2001: 45). Similarly, social structure, such as family structure, has been linked to achievement (i.e. the presence of one or both parents in the home or the number of siblings). It is assumed that youth who live with their parents have stronger family support to stay in school (Hirschman 2001: 324). These social structures condition the environment for academic achievement, allowing parents to offer more educational resources to their children. Hirschman suggested that children

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of families with greater social and economic resources are more motivated and encouraged to continue their schooling (324). Beyond the immediate family, ethnic communities are another potential source of social capital to immigrants (Louie 2005: 91). Zhou and Bankston’s study of Vietnamese immigrant children in New Orleans found that students who had strong adherence to traditional family values, a strong work ethic, and a high degree of personal involvement in the ethnic community performed better academically than those who were not involved in their ethnic communities (821). The study found that strong positive immigrant cultural orientations served as a form of social capital that promoted value conformity and constructive forms of behavior, which resulted in positive achievement outcomes (Zhou and Bankston 1994: 821). Such findings support Coleman’s closure of social network (S105). Coleman suggested closure of social network provides collective sanctions and fosters emergence of effective norms (S105). This is illustrated through parents who involve themselves with their children by investing the time necessary to develop strong relationships with them, their friends, and other adults significant in the children’s lives. This not only produces structural closure around the children, but also develops mutual trust among the adults, which arises from their shared interests in the children’s welfare, creating an effective surveillance network. Parents involved in these closed monitoring relationships have greater access to more trustworthy information about their children’s behavior than parents who do not have this network. These parents are more aware of what their children are doing and can quickly detect compliant and non-complaint behaviors (Sandefur and Laumann 1998: 487). Furthermore, stable ethnic communities with strong social structures play a vital role in increasing social capital for immigrant families. It allows parents to establish norms and reinforce the sanctioning of the children, promotes conformity to parental/familial expectations, and endows individuals with resources of support and direction (Zhou and Bankston 2010: 824). It also provides friends and associates who encourage and validate particular attitudes and forms of behavior that are acceptable to the group. As a result, children are less likely to stray, get into trouble, or develop delinquent behaviors. This use of the social capital paradigm to understand student achievement is useful for identifying various social processes and structures that influence Lao American youth socialization at home and in the community.


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Methodology Sample and Data sources This study focuses on the types and sources of social capital that influence Laotian American students’ academic achievement. The study sample consisted of a total of twelve participants, 2 males and 10 females. Participants were undergraduate students, master students, and college graduates of a four-year college or university. Participants lived in California, Minnesota, and New York at the time of the interview. Ethnically, eleven participants self-identified as Lao and one as Mien; all were over the age of eighteen with the average age of 25.6 years. An equal number of participants were born inside and outside the United States. Half of the participants were identified as first-generation (but more specifically were 1.5, who arrived to the U.S. at an age earlier than five years old) and half were second-generation (those born in the U.S.). Nearly all participants were from mid-to-low income families and had one or both parents who had attained at least a high school education or higher. Personal contact was used to solicit participants and social networking sites such as Facebook were utilized to garner interests through student clubs/organizations. Snowball sampling was carried out with participants, who nominated other students they thought might be interested in participating in the study. Those who fit the study’s criteria (e.g. ethnicity, 1.5 or 2nd generation, enrolled or attended four-year college/university, and over eighteen years old) were invited by email to participate in the study. Many participants were individuals who were introduced by referral and whom the researcher did not know personally.

Data Collection and Analysis Procedures Data collection took place over the course of two months during the summer of 2010. Fifteen individuals consented to participate in the study, but only twelve completed the interview questionnaire. The self-designed structured interview questionnaire was developed to more deeply understand, from multiple perspectives, social capital factors that influence Laotian American students’ school achievement and educational experiences. The questions included information such as parents’ involvement, family structure, access to resources, etc. In addition to the interview questionnaire, the study collected demographic data (i.e., age, generation, family income, etc.). A total of thirty-two questions were developed for the questionnaire. Participants spent approximately twenty-five minutes completing the questionnaire, and participant follow-ups occurred when

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response clarifications were necessary. No compensation was offered to participants, and the study received Human Subjects approval. All participants were given the opportunity to confirm their responses prior to data analysis. The collected data were analyzed using content analysis to determine common factors accounting for academic achievement among the study’s participants. First, open coding was used to create core categories from the interview responses (LeCompte 2000: 148, Corbin and Strauss 1990:12). Second, a boiling down process was used to reduce participants’ responses to a question into fewer words to identify common patterns and emerging themes (LeCompte 2000: 150). The most salient themes were reported. Missing data was left blank and no data adjustment was necessary because it did not affect analyses or outcomes.

Limitations Several limitations should be noted prior to presenting study results. While analyses relied on self-reported data (e.g., G.P.A., parents’ education, age, and socioeconomic, etc.), self-reporting is widely used in educational research and is generally considered valid if the information requested is known by the respondent, if questions are phrased clearly, and if participants deem questions worthy of response (Strayhorn 2010: 315). Additionally, the sample size was small; a larger sample size may yield different results or confirm findings from this study. Lastly, social capital is a complex theoretical construct and thus is not only difficult to measure, but almost impossible to observe (Bollen 2002: 605-34). Consequently, the measures employed in this study may only partially reflect the complexity of the construct (Strayhorn 2010: 315). Despite these limitations, the study provides insight into how social capital impacts the academic achievement of Laotian American students.

Findings Influences of Social Capital on Academic Achievement Structured home environment, parents’ roles, social relationships, and ethnic community emerged as overarching ways to categorize participants’ responses and identify common themes on the influences of social capital in Laotian American students’ school success. Consistent with previous work investigating the impact of social structure on students’ achievement outcomes (Hirschman 2001: 324), findings revealed all participants who


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lived in two-parent households received stronger family support to stay in school and to do well. When asked about how their upbringing prepared them for school success, students explained: Student 1: My parents show strong parental support and always showed interest in me succeeding in school. Student 2: My parents provide emotional support, motivation, encouragement, assist with schoolwork when they can, provide strong structure, discipline when necessary, enforce school success. Student 3: My parents gave me all the tools necessary to be successful in school. They moved my siblings and me to the suburbs when I was twelve so that we could have a quality education. They helped with my homework and helped me study for my tests up until I finished elementary school (as middle and high school subjects got harder for them to understand and teach me). They taught me the value of hard work in everything I did, which helped me in school a great deal—to study hard and reap the rewards later on when I graduate from college.

Likewise, when asked about their parents’ view on education, participants reported constant reinforcement of the importance of education: Student 1: Education is very important to them; they believe it is our stepping-stone to success. Student 2: My parents highly value education, especially higher education. Ever since I was young, they would always tell me to go to college so that I could have a better life than what they had to go through when they first came to the United States. Student 3: They highly value education. Education is an instrument to succeed in life. If a person is educated, he or she would have a good chance of living a good life. In other words, my parents do not want me to suffer like them.

Moreover, Laotian parents provided resources to assist with their children’s education despite limited ability to help with schoolwork and navigating the school system. This was a common theme echoed among all the participants. When asked about how their parents assisted them to navigate the school system, participants responded: Student 1: My parents could not help with navigating the school system due to lack of education and English, but they provided necessary financial and other resources to help with school.

Achievement of 1.5 and Second-Generation Laotian American Students 275 Student 2: They were very supportive in helping me enroll in a college/university, providing financial assistance, and other resources I needed for college. They co-signed all my loans for me so that I could choose any school I wanted to go to. They bought me a reliable vehicle so that I could easily get to and from school.

The data also revealed participants’ number of siblings range from zero to seven with the majority of the participants having two siblings. The study found that the number of siblings did not impact parents’ support toward education. The role of parents is widely accepted in achievement literature as a key factor in children’s achievement outcomes. This study found that Laotian parents’ involvement, their presence, and their relationships with their children assisted in their children’s academic success. All participants’ parents were involved in their children’s daily lives and education. While the parents had limited experience with the U.S. education system, they made every effort to provide support whenever and however they could. Participants shared: Student 1: My parents always supported my education financially and although they couldn’t understand what my education experience was, they were always interested in what I was learning. Student 2: No, they were not able to help me in my studies such as homework assistance and other duties; I had to rely on peers/classmates and my teacher for assistance. They did encourage us to do well though. Student 3: They checked up on me a lot. For example, they always asked me how school was going and what plans I had after graduation. They were very supportive in my education goals, basically whatever major I chose for myself they would be happy.

Moreover, Laotian parents’ means of involvement included acquiring more information about education in order to better understand and participate in their children’s academic lives. When asked how their parents gained resources and information regarding education, many participants reported that they gained such knowledge through friends, coworkers, families/relatives, and ethnic communities. One student’s comment captured this notion: Student 1: My parents went to my aunts for information because they spoke Lao very well. So it was easier to communicate that information. I think a lot of information they got came from their circle of friends and


Chapter Fourteen vice versa. I don't think my parents are at that generation that will use the Internet for resources.

In addition to acquiring educational information, most Laotian parents were available to listen to their children discuss and share educational issues, despite not being able to assist or offer much guidance; these parents were present, but participants had to rely on themselves to make decisions. A few Laotian parents were not always available because they were working. Besides demonstrating interest and involvement in their children’s academics, Laotian parents were involved in their children’s daily lives. When asked about what activities and events they did with their parents, participants responded that they spent time going to the temple with their parents, watching TV, going to the movies, shopping, hosting and attending family gatherings, visiting relatives, cooking, and celebrating holidays. The following were several of the participants’ responses: Student 1: We go to the temple together. I go over to their home to spend time with them at least once per week. Student 2: We like shopping or sitting and watching movies in the living room. Student 3: We celebrate Lao New Year, birthdays, and cook together.

Furthermore, the majority of participants reported having positive relationships with their parents and expressed being close to them. Some respondents made the following comments: Student 1: The relationship with my parents is in good standing. They always want to know how I am doing or what is going on in my life. They know me better than I know myself. Student 2: My relationship with my parents has been relatively good since I have been older and moved back home. We seem to get along a lot better and talk with one another about everything. I think that since I graduated, it was a major factor in our positive relationship. Student 3: I have a very open relationship with my parents. Student 4: I have a very good relationship with my parents and talk to them every other week about work and daily life.

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Laotian parents’ physical presence and involvement in various aspects of their children’s lives offered opportunities to build close trusting relationships and allowed them to monitor their children’s whereabouts. Adult supervision and trust has been shown to be important to youth development and impacts children’s behavior and attitude toward school and life. The evidence from the participants’ comments showed social relationships outside the home indeed helped Laotian American students’ academic achievement. One of the students commented, “Social connections that really impacted my education are the friendships I made while in school.” Another stated, “My friends have been studious students. We all have worked hard to educate ourselves.” While another shared, “I think having a study group has helped with my education.” Besides social relationships through friends, many also noted how their counselors and teachers helped with their successes. One student explained, “My academic advisor happens to be Laotian and has given me many resources on campus.” Another commented: My professors were very hands-on when it came to learning. They always had their door open whenever I had questions or feedback on my papers/tests. They were very encouraging and I felt that was a major factor in my success. I felt like they never gave up on me and wanted me to succeed. For example, they would ask me if I understood something, if not they would go over it again. I went to a small private school, so all my professors knew my name and knew me on somewhat of a personal level as well.

As indicated by the excerpts above, these social relationships played an influential role in Laotian American students’ access to different forms of social capital and contributed to their academic success. In addition to garnering social resources through social relationships, participants also shared they were able to acquire social resources through the Internet and at their workplace. Moreover, participants shared their experiences on how ethnic communities had impacted their academic achievement. Those who associated with their ethnic communities expressed positive views: Student 1: I was involved in activities that kept me out of trouble and around people who had a positive influence on me. Student 2: It encourages me to continue with education and do well. Student 3: It helped to understand myself and I was motivated by other’s success and wanted to do the same.


Chapter Fourteen Student 4: It provided moral support and encouragement.

While a few participants expressed that they were not directly involved with their ethnic communities, they reported attending Laotian events at the temple. Those directly involved with their ethnic communities indicated that they participated in Laotian dances, hosting events, volunteering and serving on Lao community associations/organizations and serving as board members. Interestingly, while most of these participants volunteered and participated in their ethnic communities, the great majority indicated that they were not involved in other extracurricular activities. This seems to support the common belief that many Southeast Asian parents do not want their children to participate in after-school programs for fear of straying or getting into trouble. Beyond the benefits of contributing to their ethnic communities, many participants expressed how these communities reinforced positive behaviors. Participants explained: Student 1: My ethnic community reinforces good behavior by having strong cultural values and tradition. Student 2: Everyone wants to do the right thing. Student 3: Reinforce success at community events and gatherings.

The various accounts from participants demonstrated that factors such as family structure, the role of parents, social relationships, and ethnic communities are important sources of social capitals for immigrant students and play a poignant role in Laotian American’s academic successes.

Discussion The findings revealed that family structure and social environment were indeed important to Laotian American student achievement. More specifically, the role of parents in accessing and facilitating resources, providing a well-structured home environment, and giving emotional support each contributed to students’ achievement. The positive relationship between parents and children, as well as being actively engaged in their lives, led to school success. Moreover, social relationships with teachers, peers, and clubs/organizations were found to be important avenues for participants to acquire cultural knowledge and educational resources. These social relationships and connections filled a

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resource gap otherwise unavailable at home. These social ties with institutional agents and peers, while they may be weak ties (Granovetter 1973: 1360-80), are key to providing bridges that span individuals and resources for immigrant children. And as Louie explains, such ties are “especially important for children whose families do not have the information to link them to broader society” (90). Furthermore, while participants reported varying levels of ethnic community involvement, the study found that those associated with their ethnic community gained educational resources, moral support, encouragement, and social networks that kept them out of trouble. Additionally, the ethnic community reinforced cultural values and positive behaviors. The study confirmed previous findings that ethnic communities indeed provide social capital to immigrant youth, and for many, help them avoid the perils of their environment.

Implications for Future Research and Policy The current research calls attention to the need for more research on Laotian Americans and in particular, their achievement, in order to understand their educational experiences in the U.S. While social capital serves as an important lens for Laotian American achievement, future research should investigate the intersection between social capital and other frameworks, such as cultural capital and funds of knowledge, which could provide a deeper understanding of how cultural values and household’s knowledge serve immigrants and their children in overcoming social, economic, and academic barriers in the U.S. Furthermore, there is a need to study the structure of opportunity for this group of students and how it shapes access, conversion, and activation of resources, including social and cultural capital. In terms of policy implications, stakeholders who are better informed about how Laotian American students’ access resources can help improve services and programs specific to this population’s education. Secondly, family structure and social environment were important to Laotians’ school success. Teachers and administrators often do not acknowledge Laotian parents’ involvement in their children’s lives in non-academic ways as being conductive to school success, which may be due to Western educators’ limited understanding of Laotian families. Therefore, awareness established through relationship building amongst both parties could potentially improve parent-teacher relationships and directly involve Laotian parents in their children’s education. Lastly, ethnic communities were an important source of social capital for immigrant youth. These


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social relationships and networks provided access to resources that were not available at home. Therefore, it would be ideal for academic institutions to foster relationships with ethnic communities in order to increase awareness about the resources currently available, and to provide otherwise missing resources.

Acknowledgement I wish to thank Susan Paik for her support, critical feedback, and enriching discussions throughout this research. I also would like to thank Cecilia Rios-Aguilar and all who have provided their insights, comments, and suggestions to this paper. A personal thank you goes to my wonderful husband, Vinh Q. Truong, for his constant love and support.

Works Cited American Fact Finder. 2010 American Community Survey (ACS). U.S. Census Bureau. Web. 5 Feb. 2010. Baizerman, Michael, and Glenn Hendricks. Office of Refugee Resettlement. A Study of Southeast Asian Youth in the Twin City of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Washington, D.C. Feb. 1988. Bollen, Kenneth A. “Latent Variables in Psychology and the Social Sciences.” Annual Review of Psychology 53 (2002): 605–634. Chang, Janet, and Thao N. Le. “The Influence of Parents, Peer Delinquency, and School Attitude on Academic Achievement in Chinese, Cambodian, Laotian, or Mien, and Vietnamese Youth.” Crime Delinquency 51 (2005): 238-264. Web. 18 Feb. 2009. Chhuon, Vichet, and Cynthia Hudley. “Ethnic and Panethnic Asian American Identities: Contradictory Perceptions of Cambodian Students in Urban Schools.” Urban Review 43 (2011): 681-701. Coleman, James S. “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital.” American Journal of Sociology 94 (1988): S95-S120. Corbin, Juliet, and Anselm Strauss. “Grounded Theory Research: Procedures, Canons, and Evaluation Criteria.” Qualitative Sociology 13.1 (1990): 3-21. Dika, Sandra L. and Kusum Singh. “Application of Social Capital in Education Literature: A Critical Synthesis.” Review of Educational Research 72.1 (2002):31-60. Fu, Danling. My Trouble is My English: Asian Students and the American Dream. Portsmouth, NH: Teachers College Press, 1995.

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Granovetter, Mark S. “The Strength of Weak Ties.” American Journal of Sociology 78.6 (1973): 1360-1380. Hirschman, Charles. “The Educational Enrollment of Immigrant Youth: A Test of the Segmented-Assimilation Hypothesis.” Demography 38.3 (2001):317-336. Israel, Glenn D., Lionel J. Beaulieu, and Glenn Hartless. “The Influence of Family and Community Social Capital on Educational Achievement.” Rural Sociology 66.1 (2001): 43-68. LeCompte, Margaret D. “Analyzing Qualitative Data.” Theory into Practice 39.3 (2000): 146-154. Lee, Stacy J. “Additional complexities: Social Class, Ethnicity, Generation, and Gender in Asian American Student Experiences.” Race Ethnicity and Education 9.1 (2006): 17-28. Louie, Vivian. “Immigrant Newcomer Populations, ESEA, and the Pipeline to College: Current Considerations and Future Lines of Inquiry.” American Education Research Association 29 (2005): 69-105. Ng, Jennifer C., Sharon S. Lee, and Yoon K. Pak. “Contesting the Model Minority and Perpetual Foreigner Stereotypes: A Critical Review of Literature on Asian Americans in Education.” Review of Research in Education 31 (2007): 95-130. Ngo, Bic, and Stacy J. Lee. “Complicating the Image of Model Minority Success: A Review of Southeast Asian American Education.” Review of Educational Research 77 (2007): 415-453. Rumbaut, Ruben G., and Kenji Ima. The Adaptation of Southeast Asian Refugee Youth: The Other Asian. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1988. Sandefur, Rebecca L. and Edward O. Laumann. “A Paradigm for Social Capital.” Rationality and Society 10.4 (1998): 481-501. Schram, Tom. “Laotian Refugees in a Small-town School: Contexts and Encounters.” Journal of Research in Rural Education 9.3 (1993): 125136. Shah, Bindi. “Being Young, Female, and Laotian: Ethnicity as Social Capital at the Intersection of Gender, Generation, Race, and Age.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 30.1 (2007): 28-50. Smith, Mark H., Lionel J. Beaulieu, and Ann Seraphine. “Social Capital, Place of Residence, and College Attendance.” Rural Sociology 60 (1995): 363-380. Strayhorn, Terrell L. “When Race and Gender Collide: Social and Cultural Capital’s Influence on the Academic Achievement of African American and Latino Males.” The Reviewer of Higher Education 33.3 (2010): 307-332.


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Sue, Stanley and Sumie Okazaki “The Asian-American Education Achievement: A Phenomenon in Search of an Explanation.” American Psychologist 45 (1990): 913-920. Web. 19 Jul. 2011. Zhou, Min, and Carl L. Bankston. “Social Capital and the Adaptation of the Second Generation: The Case of Vietnamese Youth in New Orleans.” International Migration Review 28.4 (1994): 821-845. Web. 17 Aug. 2010.



In The Decolonized Eye, Sarita See (2009) posits that Filipino Americans “are vulnerable on one hand to the violence of hypervisible representation, such as the recycling of stereotypes… and on the other hand to the violence of invisibility” (127). While See’s observation refers to a context of colonization and imperialism, I also extend it to understand popular conceptualizations of gender representations. Oftentimes, the image of highly sexualized Filipino American women saturates the media while Filipino American men are forgotten. The sexual woman becomes read as exploited and objectified and the infrequently detected man becomes read as asexual, reifying a binary within discourses of gender and sexuality throughout Asian American and Filipino American film and media. However, this framework is gender normative and sexually conservative, thus occluding queer subjectivities and ways of knowing which embrace and make themselves intelligible through sexuality. For queer Filipino American men in particular, the Internet has become a site of production, consumption, and participation, as “changes in technology do introduce new ways of doing things and create new environments in which to do them” (Attwood 2010: 8). Do-it-yourself pornography websites, such as XTube and Gaytube, have facilitated the increase of queer Filipino American men in self-produced and distributed sexually explicit media, phenomena which cannot be accounted for in a heterosexual binary predicated on excess and lack. An analysis that takes up queer investments in sexuality alongside those of race, gender, and other vectors of power is needed to go beyond polarizing ideologies and interpret erotic iconography to recognize “pornography as subversive and counterhegemonic, or at the very least. . . problematize simple ‘oppressor-

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oppressed’ binaries” (Mowlabocus 2010: 74). The meanings of pornography are never singular and obvious. Explicit images of sex are primarily consumed to incite sexual arousal, yet also provoke social commentary. Cultural critic Celine Parreñas Shimizu alternatively views “the project of porn closely and historically as a way to evaluate sex and its contributions to fantasies, ideologies, and knowledge about race” (2007: 105). Pornography, like any other text, serves as a barometer for the social climate of those who produce or consume its spoils. This chapter seeks to make explicit historical, cultural, and social commentaries expressed within and through pornography and how these messages can be utilized for their politically galvanizing potential. Though the scope and range of pornography is far and wide, this chapter centers the experiences of queer Filipino/American men in hardcore amateur Internet pornography. Heteronormativity, the privileging of that which derives from heterosexual ideology, is a problem in our society. Shaping the way sexuality is perceived, it is “the institutions, structures of understanding, and practical orientations that make heterosexuality seem not only coherent, that is, organized as a sexuality, but also privileged” (Berlant and Warner 1998: 548). Valorized in the media through male-female pairings in movies about prom dates, weddings, and child rearing, and reflected in society through queer youth being bullied in school and marriage and adoption highly contested for same sex couples, heteronormativity is everywhere and nowhere all at once. While highly pervasive, it is by no means impossible to circumvent. For explicit and obvious enunciations of queerness, I turn to gay pornography, a (mostly) visual medium where multiple permutations of men-on-men sex acts can be consumed. Following porn scholar John Ellis, I understand pornography as “The conjunction of sexual activity and representation, where the representation specifies sexual activity rather than referring to it by inference or allusion” (2006: 26). Radical in that its very existence disregards heteronormativity through an in-your-face approach, gay pornography inherently challenges assumptions about sex being only between men and women, in the missionary position, after marriage, for reproductive purposes, and with lights off in a private setting (bedroom preferred). Access to the technology needed to acquire sexy, gay pornography exponentially developed over the past decade making the world of film and media much more queer. Exploding the singular definition of “the closet,” which can only exist in a heterosexually dominated way of knowing, gay pornography makes public what hegemony tries to keep private. It must be noted that “public”


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itself is not singular, but forked, as multiple publics coexist and overlap. Contextualized discursively, “pornography catering to this emerging subculture became readily available and offered a representation—and by extension a validation—of the desires and experiences of this culture” (Mowlabocus 2007: 62-63). Undertaking a more radical approach to the politics regulating discourses of sexuality, pornography is signified “not only as part of a public culture of sex, but also as part of a culture of public sex” (Cante and Restivo 2004: 145). Queer cultures within Asian American Studies discourse are provocative at best, with scholarship on Asian/American pornography often a contentious afterthought. The common dilemma with film, media, and other representational practices deliberated is the hypersexuality of Asian/American women and the asexuality of Asian/American men (Ono and Pham 2009: 64). The lack of representations beyond these stereotypes severely framed the general knowledge of and about gender and sexuality in Asian/America quantitatively as either “too much” or “too little.” The 1990s saw the logic of lack extended into straight and gay pornographies, implicating racism as the cause. For example, Richard Fung notes the perpetual positioning of Asian/American men as receptive anal sex partners, arguing against the rampant manifestations of orientalism in gay porn videos (1996). Similarly, Darrell Hamamoto bemoans the lack of heterosexual Asian American men having sex with Asian American women in the mainstream pornography market (2000). To rectify this imbalance, the solution proposed by both involves an appeal for more racially conscious pornographic representations to be produced. However, might such a solution reify patriarchal constructs of power and authority? In the 2000s, a paradigm shift occurred that questioned whether the original claims offered by Fung and Hamamoto were problematic in their assumptions. Is there really a lack of positive representations of Asian/American sexuality, or do the analyses available impede more radical interpretations? Shimizu assumes the latter, requesting us to “remember the instability of representational forms, in that to speak for anyone will always be misspeaking” (2007: 55). Refuting visual expressions as definitive and finite is risky and lazy. Taking up this more post structural approach, Nguyen Tan Hoang (2008) disagrees with Fung, recognizing power in anal sex acts as circuitous rather than unidirectional as demonstrated in his dissertation, A View From the Bottom, and films, such as Forever Bottom! For Shimizu and Nguyen, queering the norms and binaries around perceptions of Asian/American sexuality enables more radical and expansive notions of race and sex.

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Every year improvements in computer technology advance the speed in which pornographic content can be produced, disseminated, and accessed on the Internet. Technical advancements that change how content is distributed through the Internet also augment what content is produced and who makes it. As the costs of cameras, computers, and camcorders decreases, the population who own these devices increases and diversifies. The Internet provides a limitless supply of high quality, quickly accessible, and most importantly, free videos, images, chat rooms, stories, audio clips, games, etc. of hardcore pornography. Anything and anyone can be found in the virtual pornographic arena, so much so that many websites organize their content by race, gender, age, fetish, dimension (2-D live action, 2-D animated, and now 3-D), geographic location, or by scenario (consensual or non-consensual, voyeur, group, amateur or professional). Do-it-yourself pornography shapes the landscape of what is available as burgeoning porn stars share their exploits with the world on viral video websites. Started by Lance Cassidy on March 12, 2006, was inspired by the ubiquitous viral video powerhouse, (XTube 2007). The website takes different facets of pornography and offers them on a single site devoted to providing a space for people to upload their own carnal content. Bypassing all formal aspects of video production, members of the site need only a visual recording device and a computer to share their sexual exploits with any willing viewer. This erotic free-for-all has opened the window for anyone to become a porn star. The phenomena of do-it-yourself pornography enables those previously excluded from the porn industry by racist or homophobic exclusionary practices to circulate their self-authored sexual (re)presentations. But even before the advent of electronic technologies, Filipino/Americans already had a history of being disciplined for engaging in what were perceived as non-normative sexual practices.

Pre-Production: A Brief History of Filipina/o American Sexuality Historically, Filipino/American men have developed a peculiar relationship with how their sexuality has been perceived by others, which has resulted in the regulation of their brown bodies. In the 16th century, Spain colonized the archipelago that would become the Philippines. In addition to converting indigenous religions, languages, and land, sexual practices changed as well. Catholic missionaries were appalled by penis pins used by the men to increase sexual pleasure (Garcia 2009: 168). Enjoying sex and exercising various positions or discovering new paraphernalia to


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increase sexual pleasure was viewed as sinful and perverse, and further justified Spanish motivation for colonization. Ideologies of sex changed to match the conservative prudency of Spanish missionaries. Any sex act that was not performed in the missionary position (man-on-top-penis-invagina-sex for procreative purposes) was deemed “unnatural” and categorized as sodomy. Restrictive judgments were placed on bodies and what came out of them, as clerics decided “that the substance that came out of one’s body during sex was dirty” (Garcia 2009: 186). Antagonism towards semen and other bodily fluids contributed to the burgeoning erotophobia spreading throughout the islands. Spanish colonization of the Philippines changed perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of sexuality and desire, thus generating the initial sparks of a system of sexual degradation that today manifests itself as homophobia and heterosexism. The pre-colonial body served as a site of pride and memory. However, the indigenous style of dress in pre-colonial Philippines was perceived as deviant. The native people were forced to cover up their bodies and were brainwashed into believing modesty was a virtue (Scott 1994: 21). Beyond the message that the body was a source of shame, colonization also altered perceptions of beauty. “Possibilities of lighter skin, hair, and eyes” became ideals to strive for, making darker skin, hair, and eyes, typical of those living in the archipelago, ugly and undesirable (Root 1997: 81). Tattoos worn by pre-colonial Filipinos were also important. Signifying valor in war, the location and magnitude of the tattoos illustrated the wearer’s level of skill and experience, and “facial tattoos from ear to chin to eye were restricted to the boldest and toughest warriors” (Scott 1994: 21). When the Spanish arrived, they called Visayan men ‘Pintados,’ the painted ones, since tattoos covered copious amounts of flesh (Scott 1994: 20). After colonization, phenotypical characteristics alongside epidermal embellishments became deplorable. In the late 19th century, when the United States colonized the Philippines, racist standards of beauty were reinforced and promulgated, as appearance played a key role in placing Filipina/os within the national imaginary. United States’ periodicals depicted Filipina/os as dirty, dark, and savage children whose indigenous culture was in need of civilization (Ignacio, et al. 2004). The racialization of Filipina/o bodies in mass media governed their utility in the United States. Initial migration of Filipina/os was motivated by the United States’ need for dispensable labor. For some, their reception from Americans was tainted with carnal undertones. The 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis highlights a low-tech early form of public pornography, where Filipinos were objects on display. Through quotidian practices to theatricalized rituals and ceremonies, the lives of Filipina/os

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became entertainment for the prudish white audience who sought amusement at the expense of brown bodies. Initial encounters between the United States and the Philippines were formulated on the spectacle of the Filipina/o body as a source of visual leisure. Later waves of Filipina/o immigrants who began to settle and build communities in the United States defied the orientalizing lens other Asian/American groups experienced, precisely because of the perpetual characterization of Filipina/os as uncivilized. Mainstream imaginaries of Asian sexuality, porn scholar Nguyen Tan Hoang (2004) argues, excluded Filipina/os as they were “regarded as dirty and impure, too mongrelized and westernized from four hundred years of colonial contact with Spanish and American cultures” (247). While most people from Asian countries were stereotyped as an exotic, mysterious, and implicitly feminine “other,” people from the Philippines were viewed as openly rugged and sexual. Filipino men, in particular, were viewed as hypersexual, and once again disciplined by normalizing regimes. In the 1920s, the Filipino’s public display of dancing with white women “enabled them to show their sexual prowess and virility,” which threatened to disrupt the racist order of the time (Parreñas 2003: 243). The Filipino/American male body oscillated between work and play, as the psychological pains of colonization and the denigration of the Filipino body were countered through creative and pleasurable actions like dance.

Embracing the Digital In popular U.S. discourse during the early 20th century, the Filipino male penis was “impressive enough to penetrate white America, leaving a permanent stain of racial and social inferiority on its people” (Tapia 2006: 64). Decades later, the once ubiquitous Pinoy penis remains elusive, and any remnants of its stain are gone. Pioneer pornography critic Richard Fung once lamented the dearth of Asian/American representation in gay porn (1996). Non-white directors and writers of porn figured gay Asian/American men in porn as objects of desire for white men. Until the availability of digital technology became widespread, Asian/American men had little influence over their depictions. In The Ghostlife of Third Cinema, Glen Mimura recognizes, “The accessibility of relatively low-cost, user-friendly media technologies has increased opportunities for self-representation by those communities most acutely marginalized by the dominant media industries” (2009: 123). Using digital technology, the disenfranchised are creating their own narratives, which have been excluded by dominant discourses. Viral internet websites,


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ubiquitous recording devices, and a restless pool of talent transformed the genre, giving voice and face to marginalized communities. On XTube, Filipino/American men have utilized web cameras, cell phones, and affordable camcorders to (re)shape representations of hardcore pornography. This amalgamation of ambition and access has amplified the number of Asian/American men in gay pornography, and Filipino/Americans have been no exception. A recent search for “Pinoy” on XTube retrieved more than 600 clips created, starring, and uploaded by men who identify as Filipino/Americans engaged in various sex acts—more than any other singular Asian/American group. By closely reading self-authored representations of gay Filipino men on XTube, I aim to apprehend how these videos are responding to the spectral, historical, and contemporary legacies of colonialism, racism, and heterosexism. Other forms of resistance and decolonization for and from Filipino/Americans often avoid discussions of queer sexualities, and the discourses about queer sexualities tend to avoid explicit deliberations about how sexual acts are configured in our lives beyond considerations of health. Pornography makes possible the consummation of race and sexuality at a theoretical and grounded level. The visual productions of XTube member JoeTheHoe will be examined using Celine Parreñas Shimizu’s theory of politically productive perversity, which “involves identifying with ‘bad’ images, or working to establish a different identity along with established sexual images so as to expand racial agendas beyond the need to establish normalcy and standardization” (2007: 21). Rather than castigating and ignoring pornographic images, they will be carefully considered for what they have to say. Although racial and colonial discourses have historically rendered Filipino/American “nonnormative” expressions of sexuality as shameful and deviant, there are those who resist singular, universal notions of an “acceptable” sexuality through their electronic agency. Internet pornography differs from traditional pornography because of the initiative a consumer must have to find who or what they want to watch. A seemingly more interactive experience, online pornography “brings with it a sense of shared space and a collapse or disavowal of distance” (Patterson 2004: 110). The steps a viewer takes during the process of finding the sex acts they want to see psychologically brings the viewer closer to the star of the video. On XTube, the power to summon the sexual subject is found in the site’s search engine. Lisa Nakamura, author of Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet, implores internet scholars to concurrently study the content available on the internet and the way the websites are constructed as well. She asserts that “Rigorous

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readings of Internet interfaces in and outside their convergences with photography, film, television, and interfaces from other visual genres…are crucial for understanding how modern race and gender are constructed as categories and (sometimes, sometimes not) choices” (Nakamura 2008: 29). Together with the content, the organizing principles of XTube also speak to the viewer about race and sexuality. The fact that one “visits” this website to then “view” its content requires an analysis of the topography of pornographic choices made available. Thumbnail images of recently uploaded clips greet the visitor on the main page, labeled with the author’s name, title, subtitle, rating, and clip length—the entire scene just a click away. In addition to recently added videos, tabs mark the most viewed, best rated, most discussed, top length, top favorites, or random videos. If one chooses to browse by category, an expandable box on the right-hand side offers an option menu determined by race (Asian, Ebony, Latino, Interracial), sex act (Anal, Blowjob, Jerk Off, Fisting, Group Sex), age (Daddies, Teens, MILF, Mature, Twinks), body type/part (Bear, Big Boobs, Muscle Worship, Bush, BBW, Big Cock, Butts, My Cock) and more. The range of categories organizes available pornography by supplying the visitor with a wide range of social dynamics. For example, when using race as the main organizing principal, “white,” or any variation thereof, is unnamed and assumed to be natural throughout the different categories, thus maintaining the hegemonic racial order. While not exhaustive, the selections for sexual orientation present gay, straight, lesbian, and bisexual as deployments for moving image representations starring people who identify with those titles. The cyberworld, despite claims of neutrality, …is an intensely active, productive space of visual signification where these differences are intensified, modulated, reiterated, and challenged by former objects of interactivity, whose subjectivity is expressed by their negotiations of the shifting terrain of identity, whose seismic adjustments are partly driven by their own participations within it, the results of several major cultural shifts and a digital technology industry that both compels and compounds vision. (Nakamura 2008: 34)

These acts of volition within XTube are part of a process that paradoxically removes barriers preventing participation in pornography while at the same time setting boundaries on that very involvement. When uploading content onto the site, information must be provided to determine where the clip will be archived. This comes in handy later when someone is attempting to locate specific content. JoeTheHoe can always be found in the “Asian” category, and most of his videos also reside in “My Cock.” The last category where his work can be located highlights what sex act is


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featured, either “Blow Jobs” or “Jerk-Off.” Even though he is selecting which groups his videos are sorted into, JoeTheHoe lacks control over what those categories are. Despite the restricted taxonomy of virtual pornography, he still negotiates what Nakamura presents as “the shifting terrains of identity.” Further classification of any visual content is openended and the disseminator types in supplementary information about the subject/matter. In Global Divas, Martin Manalansan observes that for Filipino gay men, there is “a certain elusiveness that defies perfunctory categorizations” (2003: 92). To nuance the generic terms of XTube, JoeTheHoe details sweeping epithets of “Asian” by identifying as “Pinoy” or “Filipino.” His ethnicity is clearly marked, challenging lazy discourses that conflate difference and facilitate erasure. It is through this act of naming that JoeTheHoe takes ownership over his mind and body by describing his consciously-articulated sexcapades.

Resisting the Missionary Position Discussing the racial and historical logics encompassing Asian pornography, Jose Capino suggests that the genre’s “preoccupation with racialized, sexualized, and hyperbolized bodies” echoes colonial ideologies of economic and cultural conquest (2006: 210). Nevertheless, he reads these films productively, seeking alternative interpretations that reject victimization. However, the films Capino analyzes are all directed by white filmmakers. Recalling mimicry as a form of shape-shifting, where the dominant ways of knowing are appropriated to subvert their meaning, I look at do-it-yourself pornography created by and starring queer Filipino/American men. While the form of visual pleasure resonates with mainstream representations, the political messages embedded within subvert racism and heteronormativity. To be blunt, pornography, in any medium, strives to depict and elicit orgasms. The sexual production, be it still or moving photography, traces the path those being filmed take to reach orgasm. For the viewer, the intended result is more than likely licentious in nature and pornography is procured to assist in that process. According to Linda Williams, a preeminent scholar of pornography, “one of the most significant features of the form [is] the reliance on visible penile ejaculations (money shots) as proof of pleasure” (1999: 8). The display of semen at the end of a pornographic scene is one marker of difference that distinguishes hardcore from soft-core pornography. The reliability factor is essential here as well—although some women can visually prove orgasm, there is no guarantee that it will take place.

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For the clips JoeTheHoe has shared on XTube, the requirement to have the visual representation of pleasure displayed is fulfilled by at least one person in almost all of his videos. In one of his most commented on, viewed, and highly rated videos, JoeTheHoe revels in his pleasure in a clip titled “Eatin My Own Cum (I cum in my mouth).” This one minute and forty-three second event, which he claims on the video’s description was at the request of his fans, locates JoeTheHoe in what could be his own bedroom. He is already naked and in the process of masturbating while watching pornography on a laptop. The camera is positioned only a few inches away from him, allowing “Victoriano: Since 1986,” a giant block letter tattoo that runs down the right side of his body, to be on full display. Acutely aware of the camera, he is masturbating using his left hand to prevent his arm from blocking the camera, giving the observer an uninterrupted view of his tattoo and penis. A little more than a minute into the video, he repositions himself so that his feet, penis, and face create a vertical line in relation to one another. He continues to masturbate, switching to his right hand so his focus is no longer on his tattoo. As he begins to climax, he opens his mouth to deliver the sex act promised in the title of the clip. After he finishes ejaculating, he grabs the camera and holds it over his face, giving the viewer the illusion they are looking over him. He plays with the cum in his mouth like bubble gum before smiling and putting the camera back down. The scene ends with him turning off the pornography on his computer. The scene in question could remain uncritically read as being only for pleasure, a glimpse into the bedroom of a young Filipino/American man as he privately and independently brings himself to orgasm. However, to be read productively asks that this clip be understood within a historical and social context. Alongside ethnicity, sexuality is mutually constituted and grounded in the flesh since, “for queer individuals, their bodies are central because they are regulated not only by larger nation-state and legal apparatuses, but also by their own very desires and struggles with and against social mores” (Sohn 2006: 101). Within a context of colonization, the Filipino/American body is one that should be covered up to demonstrate civility, reinforcing perceptions of brown skin as undesirable and shameful. Exterior indicators of colonization are demonstrated by the removal of tattoos, coupled with internal disruptions of identity. Filipinos were psychologically conquered by taking away their names. Even though the surname “Victoriano” has Spanish origins, JoeTheHoe wears it with pride. Permanently marking his body with the name of his family, he embodies his namesake of “victory,” which, similar to the intent of precolonial body modifications, celebrates the prize that is his brown body.


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Occasional glances at the camera inform us that we are not watching a candid moment. This scene is deliberate, showing us a self-conscious act where his brown body occupies half the screen and his name is exposed, illustrating the ways his sexuality and race resonate with acts of decolonization and self-pleasure. Another victory takes place when he challenges racist and heterosexist reading practices, which pity gay Asian/American men as emasculated if they do not assume the “top” role in anal sex. Masturbation queers normative notions of what sex acts are desired and how many participants are required. The key scene in a pornographic film—the moment of ejaculation— takes a different reading when juxtaposed against condemning ideologies of colonialism, heterosexism, and racism. When the Spanish entered the Philippines, non-reproductive acts of sexuality became socially and spiritually punishable. When the United States colonized the Philippines, hegemonic qualifiers of attractiveness were promulgated through various institutional methods. The standards of beauty imposed by Spain and the United States disqualified the Filipino body from ever being considered ideal. Throughout the clip, JoeTheHoe strokes, caresses, and works his body to the point of release, refusing to accept the historical and material restrictions enforced upon his mind, body, and soul as a gay Filipino/American male. The discharge of semen from his body denotes the physical commencement of self-indulgent pleasure and the psychological release of oppression. In “The Resurrection of Brandon Lee,” Nguyen Tan Hoang details the meanings of orgasm for gay Asian/American porn star Brandon Lee (2004). Comparing Bruce Lee’s tasting of his own blood in Enter the Dragon to Brandon Lee’s swallowing of his own cum in Asian Persuasion 2, he notes that “complementary to Bruce Lee’s bloodthirsty gesture, his coming in his own mouth suggests a recycling of Brandon’s own man juice, of his virility” (Hoang 2004: 254). Taking a cue from the ingestion of one’s own bodily fluids as an act of self-empowerment, if JoeTheHoe’s orgasm represents political and personal opposition, the consumption of his liquid pleasure serves as the internalization of liberation and self-value. Before swallowing, he positions the camera so that the viewer is looking down at him, mirroring the social position of sexually and racially marginalized people in the United States. Reveling in the instant of post orgasm bliss, he proudly plays with the DNA in his mouth and smiles. After centuries of subjugation and denigration, the forced dependency Filipinos endured from colonial and imperial powers is challenged as JoeTheHoe independently works for, produces, and consumes a self-determined and self-sustainable production of racial and sexual power.

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This process of decolonization is further exemplified when JoeTheHoe shares the screen with his boyfriend, fellow XTube user jsison86. Their shared pursuit of sexual satisfaction achieves psychological, in addition to physical, healing moments. Decolonization not only denunciates oppressive practices, but also announces the arrival of alternatives (Freire 2004: 62). Departing from analyses grounded in centuries of colonization and imperialism, I draw instead on concepts rooted in Filipino indigenous psychology. The concept of loob is about shared humanity, and “contains the concepts of equality, honor, human rights, truth, [and] relatedness to others…the source and core of creativity, the potential for risk-taking” (Strobel 2001: 60). In pre-colonial Philippine culture, the well-being of the group took precedence over individual needs. This idea of collectivity was vital and beneficial to all. Rigid boundaries between people were uncommon, and the notion of kapwa, “the shared sense of self, or ‘I am part of you and you are part of me’” shaped day-to-day interactions (Strobel 2001: 59). Stripped of their inner and outer selves during colonization, these pre-colonial values were displaced, but I argue have strategically manifested in new ways. Examples of kapwa and loob are properly detected in the sexual exploits of these two young Pinoys. The collaboration titled “Boyfriend and I cummin” is a one minute and thirty-one second clip which begins mid-coitus. JoeTheHoe is lying at the edge of the bed, propped up by his left arm while his other arm is between his legs. His boyfriend, jsison86, stands over the bed, wearing a black t-shirt slightly lifted to provide a clear view of his penis, which he is rapidly pumping. Jsison86’s erection is point blank to JoeTheHoe’s mouth, which is wide open, his tongue occasionally darting out. As the voices of what sounds like a news program emanating from an off-screen television become louder, jsison86 slightly kneels onto the bed, releasing his orgasm into JoeTheHoe’s gullet. JoeTheHoe’s hand lifts up, trying to prevent the liquid evidence of pleasure from getting on the bed. After the first climax, JoeTheHoe reaches off screen and grabs a pair of green boxer shorts, presumably his boyfriend’s, and wipes his mouth. As JoeTheHoe sits up, he continues masturbating and his boyfriend quickly points in the direction of the camera. The camera is grabbed and the audience is treated to an extreme close-up of jsison86’s post-climax penis. Jsison86 grabs the camera and lays supine on the bed. The camera zooms in, giving a close-up of his face; we see a penis enter the screen and then his mouth. The penis soon leaves his mouth and is manually stimulated by its owner, while jsison86 stares into the camera licking his lips. When JoeTheHoe starts to moan, jsison86


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closes his eyes and is soon after the recipient of a facial. Tilting his head, he consumes the remaining semen off JoeTheHoe’s penis and smiles. The oral sex that transpired between these two gay Filipino/American men was reciprocal, a literal and symbolic encounter of give and take. Each provided the other with an external Filipino/American body that sought to deliver and consume the internal Filipino/American essence. JoeTheHoe and jsison86 engage the concepts of kapwa and loob, truthfully and passionately sharing their inner selves with one another. There is no talking throughout the clip, as a mutual understanding that “the core of creativity” each possessed sought release and was urgent and necessary. Pleasure, in any form, is an offense to structural subjugation, which damages, thieves, and denies gratification of marginalized peoples. In Race and Resistance, Viet Nguyen argues that “Racial identity as commodity supplements the self that has been damaged by racial difference and discrimination…In such a scenario, the act of consumption serves to supplement the self” (2002: 18). Here, the proof is in the Pinoy pudding, which acts as a remedy to the psychic and material violence of oppression. Loob, the internal quality of the self, is manifested, served, and delivered between JoeTheHoe and jsison86. Their shared sense of gratification is recorded as an act of negotiation within a racist, homophobic, and colonial order built on the foreclosure of their existence and union. The broadcasting of JoeTheHoe and jsison86’s sensual rendezvous signifies a critical juncture for gay Filipino/American men. In The Decolonized Eye, Sarita Echavez See asserts that “the Filipino American cultural moment is marked by excessive embodiment, which constitutes an aesthetic response to invisibility and absence in an imperial culture of forgetting” (2009: 34). Assessing their still and moving image compositions, one can read the struggles of pleasure, pain, love, hate, desire, and need that manifest and erupt against historical and contemporary constellations of power and dominance. Like the hundreds of other Filipino/American gay men on similar do-it-yourself porn sites, JoeTheHoe and jsison86 practice digital self-engagement. This practice recognizes the ways handheld technology documents and distributes visual records of sex acts that emphasize manual manipulation to reach climax. The strength of do-it-yourself pornography resides in the mercurial nature of the Internet, which is always in flux and open to new additions.

Embracing the Digital


Conclusion The depictions of explicit sex acts in pornography authored, starring, and distributed by queer Filipino/American men applies the shape-shifting practice of mimicry in new and exciting ways. If pornography is a form of dialogue about sex and race, what is happening when its form and power are co-opted by those it has previously oppressed? Drawing on Bhabha’s notion that mimicry asserts a “double articulation” of signs and symbols, I argue that these images of Internet pornography disentangle meanings of race and sexuality from oppressor-oppressed binaries (1994). By getting their hands on customs and techniques used to disparage and other, Filipino/American gay men are producing, performing, and perpetuating race and sexuality their own way. Acts of mimicry facilitate the practice of shedding, as queer Filipino/American men are decolonizing their minds and bodies with and through Internet pornography. From their laptop web cameras, people like JoeTheHoe and jsison86 reframe discourses on sexuality and the brown, colonized body. Via a series of solo and tandem orgasm inducing activities, web pornographers are demonstrating “a commitment to deciphering one’s subjugation for the purposes of crafting new formation- and utilizing how sexuality may open other possible subject positions beyond subjugation” (Shimizu 2007: 25). The multiplicities of queer Filipino/American subjectivity are reworked from colonial narratives through hardcore pornography, heralding the innovations of sexuality and media.

Acknowledgement Special thanks to Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, Valerie Soe, Jonathan Magat, and Jonathan H.X. Lee for their insightful feedback and suggestions.

Works Cited Attwood, Feona. “Introduction: Porn Studies: From Social Problem to Cultural Practice.” Porn.Com: Making Sense of Online Pornography. Feona Attwood, ed. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010. Berlant, Lauren, and Warner, Michael. “Sex in Public.” Critical Inquiry 24 (1998): 547-66. Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge Press, 1994.


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Cante, Rich and Angelo Restivo. “The Cultural-Aesthetic Specificities of All-male Moving Image Pornography.” Porn Studies. Linda Williams, ed. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. Capino, Jose B. “Asian College Girls and Oriental Men with Bamboo Poles: Reading Asian Pornography.” Pornography: Film and Culture. Peter Lehman, ed. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006. Ellis, John. “On Pornography.” Pornography: Film and Culture. Peter Lehman, ed. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of Indignation. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2004. Fung, Richard. “Looking for My Penis: The Eroticized Asian in Gay Video Porn.” Asian American Sexualities: Dimensions of the Gay and Lesbian Experience. Russell Leong, ed. New York: Routledge Press, 1996. Garcia, J. Neil C. Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009. Hamamoto, Darrell. “The Joy Fuck Club: Prolegomenon to an Asian American Porno Practice. “ Countervisions: Asian American Film Criticism. Darrell Hamamoto and Sandra Liu, eds. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000. Hoang, Nguyen Tan. “The Resurrection of Brandon Lee: The Making of a Gay Asian American Porn Star.” Porn Studies. Linda Williams, ed. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. —. “A View From the Bottom: Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation.” Diss. University of California, Berkeley. 2008. Ignacio, Abe, Enrique de la Cruz, Jorge Emmanuel, and Helen Toribio. The Forbidden Book: The Philippine-American War in Political Cartoons. San Francisco, T’Boli Publishing, 2004. Manalansan, Martin. Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. Mimura, Glen. Ghostlife of Third Cinema: Asian American Film and Video. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. Mowlabocus, Sharif. “Gay Men and the Pornification of Everyday Life.” Pornification: Sex and Sexuality in Media Culture. Kaarina Nikunen, Susanna P. Paasonen, and Laura Saarenmaa, eds. Oxford, UK: Berg Publisher, 2007. —. “Porn 2.0? Technology, Social Practice, and the New Online Porn Industry.” Porn.Com: Making Sense of Online Pornography. Feona Attwood, ed. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010. Nakamura, Lisa. Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

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Nguyen, Viet T. Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Ono, Kent A. and Vincent Pham. Asian Americans and the Media. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009. Parreñas, Rhacel. “Alliances Between White Working-Class Women and Filipino Immigrant Men.” Major Problems in Asian American History. Lon Kurashige and Alice Y. Murray, eds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Patterson, Zabet. “Going On-line: Consuming Pornography in the Digital Era.” Porn Studies. Linda Williams, ed. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. Root, Maria P. P. “Contemporary Mixed-Heritage Filipino Americans: Fighting Colonized Identities.” Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity. Maria P. P. Root, ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1997. Scott, William H. Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippines Culture and Society. Manila: Ateneo De Manila University Press, 1994. See, Sarita. The Decolonized Eye: Filipino American Art and Performance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. Shimizu, Celine Parrenas. The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. Sohn, Stephen H. ‘‘‘Valuing’ Transnational Queerness: Politicized Bodies and Commodified Desires in Asian American Literature.” Transnational Asian American Literature: Sites and Transits. Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, John Blair Gamber, Stephen Hong Sohn, and Gina Valentino, eds. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006. Strobel, Leny M. Coming Full Circle: The Process of Decolonization Among Post-1965 Filipino Americans. Quezon City: Giraffe Books, 2001. Tapia, Ruby. C. ‘‘Just Ten Years Removed From a Bolo and a BreechCloth: The Sexualization of the Filipino ‘Menace’.’’ Positively No Filipinos Allowed: Building Communities and Discourse. Antonia Tiongson, Ricardo Gutierrez, and Edgardo Gutierrez, eds. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006. Williams, Linda. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. XTube. XTube – XTube Wiki. 1997. Web. 14 Oct. 2009.


In 1995, I accompanied five gay-identified Cambodian men to Cambodia. They returned to their homeland to find family members they hoped had survived the Khmer Rouge purges. For all of the men except one (who had gone back to Cambodia the year before this trip), it was their first time in Cambodia since fleeing their homeland and resettling in the United States as refugees. Another motivation for returning to Cambodia was to meet their khtΩΩy1 counterparts, the term used in their first language to describe men or women who adopt the dress and comportment of the opposite sex (Headley 1977: 98; Ledgerwood 1990: 39), and thus serves as the closest approximation to “being gay” (Quintiliani 2010). The trip was an opportunity to initiate their Cambodian “drag queen sisters” on how, in America, they transform themselves from appearing as men while maintaining the “heart” of a woman. Stuffed between the anti-malarial drugs and the Imodium, they packed American-style sequin dresses, makeup, wigs and lingerie to make their debuts as “drag queens” in Cambodia. As these gay Cambodian men found out once in Cambodia, this temporary transformation was not available to the khtΩΩy as they had imagined, producing a re-examination of their identities and activities as gay Cambodians (Quintiliani 2010). Since 1995, there have been significant changes in the meaning and identities of sex, sexuality, and gender in Cambodia and in the diaspora. In this chapter, I reflect on the state of knowledge about Cambodian sexual cultures, identities, and meanings, especially in terms of same sex beliefs and practices and I note changes in gender diversity. Little research has been conducted on Cambodian sexual cultures; therefore, it is critical to summarize what we do know. I base this chapter on ethnographic material

Cambodian/Cambodian American Same Sex Identities and Encounters


collected in the 1990s, interweaving naturalistic data from several continuing studies among Cambodians, including work in Cambodia in 2009, and secondary sources on gay rights and HIV/AIDS issues in Cambodia that influence conceptions of same sex behavior. By reporting on existing knowledge, this chapter provides a source for new and dynamic research exploring the terrain of sexuality, transnationalism, and globalization in Cambodia and the diaspora.

The Dominant Cambodian Gender Discourse and Same Sex Beliefs This selective literature review provides a historical account of the dominant Cambodian traditional gender discourse and establishes the existence of same sex behavior in Cambodian society prior to 1975. The dominant way that Cambodians see themselves is as either male or female and as heterosexual. According to Cambodian anthropologist Chou Meng Tarr (1996b), Cambodians “do not consciously reflect on their sexual identity, but rather as females and males living in Cambodian society” (3). The two key aspects of Cambodian culture in Cambodia and among Cambodians in the United States that have persisted—sometimes uneasily— are the primacy of female virtue and the social obligation of heterosexual marriage (Tarr 1996b; Ledgerwood 1990). Thus, any discussion of same sex behaviors and practices should be viewed within the context of family and societal expectations regarding gender roles. The sexual meanings given to one gender and the sexual identities both possible and reimagined must also be viewed through the prism of both societal changes and transnational interactions. While there is a tacit acceptance of transgender identity recognized through the linguistic and cultural construction of the khtΩΩy, little is known about this societal role. The dominant Cambodian gender discourse pivots on the social, symbolic, and material value of female virtue in Cambodian society. The moral boundaries of women are further illustrated in socialization practices in Cambodian society. During her ethnographic study of village life in Cambodia (1968-1969), May Ebihara (1971) found that the moral education for girls and boys began early and was reinforced by creating social and physical boundaries between the sexes (1971). From a young age, Cambodian girls learn that if they are to successfully marry they must be virgins. If not, parents may find it difficult to arrange a good marriage or receive a dowry. Once married, women are expected to remain faithful to their husbands. On the other hand, male sexual ventures were taken “fairly lightly” (Ebihara 1974: 314-315). It was expected that women


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marry at 16-22 years old and men at 20-25 years old. The social pressure for women to remain chaste before marriage and to remain sexually naïve in marriage shapes how sexual meanings, identities, and relationships are shaped by gender roles and expectations overtime. Little data exists about Cambodian same sex beliefs and practices prior to 1975. Jacolliot (1896), a French colonial army surgeon, claimed that anal intercourse was rarely practiced and occurred only with homeless children being the reluctant passive partner (198). Jacolliot admitted difficulties in obtaining information from Cambodians about their sexual practices. He attributes Cambodians’ reluctance toward his inquiries a result of the “almost universal chastity of the women, and the modest reserve of the Cambodian men” (Jacolliot1896: 197) rather than to his own bias toward Cambodians and other French colonial “subjects.” Ebihara (1971) made two observations pertinent to the study of Cambodian sexual cultures. In Phnom Penh, she saw both male and female prostitutes, and in the village she studied, there was a “possible” lesbian relationship between two spinsters in their forties (492). These observations confirm the existence of same sex behaviors prior to 1975, but little about the social context for the expression of these identities. The Cambodian anthropologist Chou Meng Tarr conducted the first study about sexual beliefs and practices in post-war Cambodia. Tarr (1996a, 1996b) found that the traditional gender discourse continued to emphasize the virtue of women, but was in tension with various social pressures and more opportunities for sexual activities.2 Young men actively sought sexual activities from a range of partners, including sex workers, older widows, and girlfriends (usually virgins) they hoped to seduce or in some instances had seduced. Young men emphasized that the women they had sex with were not the women they would marry. They would choose a virtuous woman that their parents approved of or suggested that they marry. In Tarr’s study there were also young men that sought out other men for sex—usually sex workers that operated out of certain areas of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Tarr found that young Cambodian men enjoyed same sex encounters, including anal and oral sex, at the same time they engage in sexual relationships with women (Tarr 1996b: 18). Despite the men’s interest in same sex encounters, they expressed their intent to marry a respectable woman, meaning a virgin, and would continue to engage in same sex relationships after marriage. Young women had a much more difficult time negotiating their sexual worlds due to the social pressure to remain chaste and at the same time maintain their relationships with boyfriends. Tarr and Aggleton explain

Cambodian/Cambodian American Same Sex Identities and Encounters


that “two opposing yet complementary” concepts of love shape how young women view relationships, and how they should progress sexually in a relationship (1999: 381). Young women who described their boyfriends as kousongsar were less likely to be sexually involved with them—they wanted to be virgins when they married and stressed that remaining chaste reflected on their family’s reputation. For young women who described their boyfriends (past or current) as kousne’har, the nature of the relationship was more physical (i.e., hugging and kissing), but did not necessarily mean vaginal sex or even foreplay (Tarr and Aggleton 1999; Tarr 1996b). Young women who had penetrative sex with their boyfriends described the experience as emotionally confusing, and in some cases, physically unsatisfying, and most complained that the affair ended shortly after they had sex (Tarr and Aggleton 1999; Tarr 1996b). More recently, Barbara Earth (2006) found that sexual identities have been formed to resist the negative image of the khtΩΩy among male sex workers in Phnom Penh. The male sex workers with feminine characteristics have adopted two distinct recognized identities: the short hairs, sakklay or handsome man (pros saat), and long hairs or charming girls, sreisros (Earth 2006: 261-263). The short hairs are men who appear more feminine than the norm and who have sex with other men, yet marry and have families (ibid.). The other category, sreisros, is a transgender person (ibid.) and their identities correspond with the traditional definition of khtΩΩy. Earth (1996) also found that heterosexual identified men may sell sex to either men or women, were likely to be married, and thus were considered different than categories of khtΩΩy. Earth’s research findings substantiate the research findings in the 1990s about the flexibility in same sex activity among boys and men in Cambodian and the diaspora (Tarr 1996a, 1996b; Quintiliani 1995, 2010).

Cambodian Male Same Sex Practices: Ethnographic Evidence In this section, I summarize some key findings from an ethnographic study conducted in the 1990s with a group of gay identified and transgender Cambodian men living in Long Beach and surrounding cities, including nearby Orange County. The group consisted of 39 Cambodian men between 20 and 40 years old who had sex with other men but varied in their sexualities and identities. There were twelve core members who presented themselves on a daily basis as men, but described themselves as having the “heart” of a woman, and who self-identify as gay. These twelve core members organized social activities and maintained the network of


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Cambodian men who have sex with men, including four transgender persons considered as the traditional khtΩΩy, twelve married men, and eleven single men in their twenties often referred to as “closet gays.” In addition, the Cambodian group members brought their family members, boyfriends, and male Cambodian friends to group organized activities, weekend trips, or we socialized in each other’s homes.

Feminine Boys in Cambodia From an early age, the gay identified and transgender Cambodian men in the study remember being “different” or, as one respondent described it, as knowing, “I was more girl than boy.” Many remember having feminine features or characteristics, which made it apparent to them, family members, neighbors, and other children that they were like girls: “When I was a little boy, I’m soft and walk very soft like a little girl. And so everyone think because I have a baby face I was so cute.” As children, they preferred to play “like a little girl,” and most experienced few restrictions on their behavior. Childhood, for most of the Cambodian men, is remembered as a time when they expressed feminine behavior freely and felt accepted for doing so. Not all Cambodian parents accepted their sons’ feminine behavior. One of the elders in the group with a Cambodian mother and a Chinese father described how his father reacted when he caught him dressing up like a girl: “He beat me a lot of times when he saw me playing things like that…I know he has a nasty way to show it, his love, because he doesn’t want me to be a girl.” When reflecting on his father’s reaction, he expressed shame for embarrassing the family and felt pain about his father’s reaction. Despite these feelings, he continued to dress and act like a girl, explaining, “I know in my heart who I am.” The Cambodian American men described the social teasing they experienced because of their feminine behavior and appearance when growing up in Cambodia. Male siblings, peers, and neighbors teased them good-humoredly when they were children. Only as they got older and nearing adolescence did the teasing become negative. The most common term used to tease feminine boys was khtΩΩy. According to some of the men, being called khtΩΩy validated their feminine disposition and, most important, legitimized the meaning of their developing sexual identity. They felt secure in being khtΩΩy because they had a group of friends who acted the same way: “They tease me and other guys, too. And they try to tease [by calling me] khtΩΩy…KhtΩΩy mean queer. But many of us in

Cambodian/Cambodian American Same Sex Identities and Encounters


school we didn’t really care. So many of us like to be called feminine, and so we didn’t really care about it.” Some teasing was also mean-spirited. In recounting encounters with older males, one respondent described how he was called ?aa khtΩΩy. Adding the general particle ?aa in front of the khtΩΩy makes the term derogatory and indicates an inferior position between males. The older boys also grabbed his body and tried to tear off his clothes “to see if I was a boy or girl.” This happened almost every day before and after school. These stories established the social context for male femininity in Cambodia pre-1975, and how it was tolerated at a younger age but become less so as the respondents entered adolescence and young adulthood. Being feminine positioned them as girls and therefore, inferior to males in the Cambodian traditional gender discourse.

Same Sex Relationships in Cambodia Four of the gay identified Cambodian men recounted their sexual encounters prior to resettling in the United States. The following accounts represent the only firsthand experiences about the social and cultural context of same sex encounters in Cambodia prior to 1975. All four of the respondents reported that their first sexual encounter with another male occurred when they were between the ages of 10 and 17 years old. The age of their male partners varied in each case. Two of these respondents were about 10-12 years old when they had their first sexual encounter with an older adolescent male cousin who was 16 or 17. The cousin in both instances had the younger boys masturbate them to ejaculation. The respondents described the experience as “fun” and emphasized that there were not any “sexual feelings” for them. One respondent explained: “He like me to play with him [his penis], and I like doing it too… He told me not to tell anyone, so we just keep doing it until Pol Pot start the war.” This type of story attests to the secrecy and discretion surrounding male intimacy in Cambodia at the time. The other two respondents had their first sexual experiences when they were 13 and 15 years old respectively. In both instances, the young men were the sons of close friends staying with the family to work or attend school and their relationships with the adolescent boys grew over time, leading to penetrative sex. For the respondents, the sexual experience was emotionally gratifying, but physically frightening, since they had little knowledge about sex and even less about sexual relationships between men. One respondent described his first sexual experience with a family friend this way:


Chapter Sixteen I was kind of afraid at that time because I really did not know what he was doing to me. I was so concerned about the pain. Phal then tried to kiss me and started to caress me again. The penetration was then stopped but when I began to ease down with the pleasure from the touching and caressing, I could feel the penetration slowly started. I told him I was in pain again… Then I tried to settle down again and this repetitive game went on again and again until I felt wet in there.

After the sexual encounter, the respondent recalls Phal bathing him and insisting that the encounter be a secret. The older man also instructed that the respondent refrain from being overtly flirtatious in front of other people. The four respondents described how after their first sexual encounters, they felt confident meeting other boys or young men willing to engage in sexual contact with them. Unlike the respondents’ first sexual relationships, these sexual encounters were usually impersonal affairs. The sexual partners of these men were what they described as “real” men, usually single and between 16 and 23 years old. In recounting their past sexual experiences, the respondents made a clear distinction between themselves and their sexual partners: “I never have a relationship with another gay man. The man I have a relationship with is a man that later on get married.” In the sexual encounter, the respondents also emphasized that they performed the woman’s role during anal and oral intercourse and did not seek personal gratification. These descriptions illustrate the way in which these men performed sexually and identified themselves within the social and cultural framework of the dominant gender discourses about women being submissive to men. These same sex encounters were not only emotional, but also material. The respondents played the khtΩΩy role in the encounter and provided resources to their sexual partners. The encounters were described differently than the experiences in which they shared more mutual emotional attachment. One respondent described why young men would have a casual sexual encounter with them as khtΩΩy: “Not all men were interested in us. I believed the majority of them slept with us because we gave them what they needed: money, school supplies, clothes, or anything they want.” Another respondent provided further details about why a single man might want to have sex with them: The reason they are having sex with us is because they cannot get a real woman. You want to get a real woman you’ll have to pay… And suppose you grow up [and] you reach puberty and you are in the peak time and you want to have sex…You want a real woman; you want a nice girl; you have to get engaged. You have to get arranged wedding.

Cambodian/Cambodian American Same Sex Identities and Encounters


The respondents’ experiences suggested that being khtΩΩy played a particular role in Cambodian sexual worlds. On the one hand, those displaying feminine features and who behaved as khtΩΩy provided emotional and sexual satisfaction in relative secrecy and with tacit acceptance. On the other hand, they were a financial resource for young men who were unable to pay for sex with prostitutes or seduce young women expected to be chaste before marriage. The khtΩΩy role, based on these respondents’ experiences, operated in conjunction with the dominant gender discourse and practices of preserving young women’s purity while allowing young men the flexibility for sexual exploration. As these four respondents neared young adulthood, and thus marriageable age, they were either openly or secretly defying their family’s wish for them to behave more like “real men” and get married. For these four men, who knew they had the heart of a woman, it was a difficult predicament. One respondent explained, “You can’t go half way; Cambodians can’t accept that. You have to make yourself clear, so they know what to call you.” For all the men in the study who described themselves as feminine, the choice never had to be made in Cambodia; it was already 1975, and their lives would be forever changed when they resettled in the United States as refugees.

Same Sex Relationships in the United States Once in the United States, the men in this study had to rebuild lives in a new cultural, social and linguistic context. Gay identified and transgender Cambodians utilized their past experiences of being khtΩΩy, or what they heard about it from elders in the group, to create a social space in which they could express their femininity (Quintiliani 1995, 2010). They organized and performed traditional Cambodian dance shows displaying female cultural dress; shared stories with Cambodians and nonCambodians about the social role of khtΩΩy in Cambodia; and held drag parties with Cambodian variations on Miss America or Cambodian themes (Quintiliani 1995, 2010). The group activities were opportunities to be “drag queens” and to act feminine for an “audience.” At any given event, the audience included family members, other Cambodians, and nonCambodian gay men. The drag events and female-centric cultural performances allowed the group members to perform gender and sexual identities based upon the image of the khtΩΩy. The surrounding gay communities in Southern California provided alternative meanings to their sexual identities and opportunities to meet partners outside of the Cambodian community. The differences in sexual


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and emotional acculturation for Cambodians seeking other men’s companionship were shaped by their past experiences in Cambodia and the ability to participate comfortably in the dominant gay culture, which required a level of linguistic ability and physical attractiveness. For the most part, the gay identified and transgender Cambodians sought long-term “husband/wife” type relationships with older and financially secure “American” (read: white) men (Quintiliani 1995).3 The gay identified and transgender Cambodians considered these white men “more stable” and able to provide them with “protection” from a hostile atmosphere for new immigrants and feminine gay men. Some of the Cambodian men also had sexual liaisons with Mexican immigrant men that lived in their neighborhoods. However, unlike the relationships with white gay men, these sexual encounters were fleeting affairs for mutual sexual gratification (Quintiliani 1995). The gay identified and transgender Cambodians also had sexual relationships with married Cambodian men in the United States. In the United States, the same sex encounters occurred less frequently with single Cambodian young men than with married men. One respondent explained why the change in sexual partners ensued in the United States: “The young Cambodian guy don’t need to go out with men, because they can get all kinds of women here [in the U.S.].” However, the gay identified and transgender Cambodians also engaged in same sex encounters with Cambodian men whom they called “closet gays.” Closet gays referred to young unmarried men who “hide themselves” by not acting too feminine or dressing in drag at parties so they can eventually get married and please their families. Although these men did not identify themselves as gay, they were conflicted about getting married. One young man in his early twenties explained that his “straight” Cambodian friends knew about his sexual desire with other men and accepted him, yet “they think it’s just a stage I’m going through and that, when I’m ready, I will get married and have kids.” The strong social expectation and pressure to marry and the notion that having sex with other men can be stopped once you “grow up” created a great deal of emotional turmoil for men uncertain about adopting or fully embracing being Cambodian and gay. Although most of the gay identified Cambodians in the group had come out to select family members and friends, they were reluctant to adopt the khtΩΩy identity to avoid the stigma. These feelings rarely were discussed openly. Rather, the group attempted to buffer themselves from American and Cambodian discriminatory attitudes toward homosexuality by sponsoring group activities that reinforced and idealized the tacit acceptance of feminine males.

Cambodian/Cambodian American Same Sex Identities and Encounters


Maintaining their image was permanently challenged when some of the group members returned to their homeland.

Transnational Encounter Five of the Cambodian gay identified men in the group returned home to find family and to instruct their Cambodian “drag queen sisters” on how they could transform themselves in America while maintaining the “heart” of a woman. In this section, I discuss key events that unfolded during our trip and how the trip changed their image of the khtΩΩy and themselves. When we traveled to Battambang, the second largest city in Cambodia, the Cambodian Americans discovered that their khtΩΩy counterparts had carved out social positions and sexual spaces for themselves. Three of the khtΩΩy lived at the brothel and cooked and cleaned for the women and only occasionally took customers themselves. Mae chaa, which means “the old mother,” was divorced with adult children. He abandoned his family to fulfill his desire for male companionship. When we met him, he was poor, homeless, and ostracized for leaving his family. The other two khtΩΩy lived in the temple compound and took a vow of celibacy to honor the loss of family and male companions during the Khmer Rouge years. The Cambodian Americans shared with the khtΩΩy their desire to dress in drag and to meet Cambodian men. However, they quickly learned from the khtΩΩy that sexual relationships were not initiated at bars or nightclubs in Battambang at the time. Instead, the khtΩΩy were known by networks of young men interested in sexual liaisons. The Cambodian Americans decided to participate in the sexual exchange system with the Cambodian khtΩΩy acting as intermediaries. Despite being able to successfully meet Cambodian men, the Cambodian Americans were disappointed that they could not be drag queens in Cambodia, so they decided that before they left Battambang, they would dress the khtΩΩy in the American clothing they had brought with them. With no bars or local scene in which to be drag queens at the time, the Cambodian Americans rented several rooms at the largest hotel in Battambang to host a party with the khtΩΩy. The Cambodian Americans taught the khtΩΩy how to apply make-up, walk in high heels, and to flirt with men. After the khtΩΩy were dressed, the Cambodian Americans urged the most feminine khtΩΩy to “try on the high heels and walk downstairs for a little bit.” Within minutes the khtΩΩy invited four young Cambodian men to the gathering. This created a big stir with the hotel owner, who threatened to call the police and evict us for promoting prostitution, which of course was not the case. Cambodian Americans paid the hotel owner


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extra money for the rooms to ease their anger and we continued to entertain the young men with food and drinks. However, the attention from hotel staff made the young men uncomfortable and they soon left. The party continued with the khtΩΩy modeling different dresses and the Cambodian Americans feeling satisfied that their friends were enjoying the expensive clothing and make-up. Later that night, after much laughter about the scene we had caused, the Cambodian Americans packed up their sequined gowns and accessories and gave them all to their friends, realizing that “(the cost of) one dress could feed a family for a year [in Cambodia].” As one of the Cambodian Americans explained to me, “When you put on stockings [pantyhose], you can’t roll them up, so you have to tear them off.” Since women in Cambodia roll up their sarongs or skirts when they go to the toilet, it is impossible to wear pantyhose and high heels like Miss America and function in Cambodia. On a deeper level, his comment revealed the contradiction between the identities the gay identified Cambodians constructed in the United States and the reality of being khtΩΩy in Cambodia. Unless you go all the way and present yourself as a woman in Cambodia, your social role remains ambiguous and unrecognized, which differed from how these men imagined themselves. They gave up their own “womanhood” that night and upon returning to the United States, these men and the group stopped organizing drag parties. Instead, they turned their attention toward more serious matters—fundraising for HIV/AIDS programs in Cambodia, family unification, and eventually some of the men moved back to Cambodia. Until these Cambodian gay group members could travel to their homeland, they imagined being khtΩΩy through a set of social and cultural symbols available to them. For the gay identified group members in particular, they realized that shifting between gender representations and sex roles, like drag allowed them to do, blurred the boundaries and the discreet way sexual relationships between men occurred in Cambodia. This transnational encounter challenged the Cambodian Americans to rethink their identities as gay and Cambodian, revealing how genders and sexualities represent contested positions of identity “production,” which are constantly in a flux as individuals and communities reinterpret their experiences in the diaspora and from the homeland (Hall 1990). Understanding identity in this manner provides insight into how possible genders and sexualities in Cambodia and in the diaspora will be influenced by transnational relationships and the conditions of poverty.

Cambodian/Cambodian American Same Sex Identities and Encounters


Possible Research Trajectories This chapter provides a starting point for further study of Cambodian same sex beliefs and practices, both in Cambodia and in the diaspora. In the final section of the chapter I will discuss some possible research trajectories.

Third Sex/Gender The research literature and ethnographic findings discussed in this chapter illustrate that prior to 1975, there was a cultural accommodation for feminine Cambodian men. Feminine male behavior, however, was only tacitly accepted until these men reached marriageable age and then they were expected to fulfill their social and familial roles. These research findings, although limited, establish the socio-historical context of being khtΩΩy and the varied identities ascribed to the term. By focusing attention on the subject, this chapter raises questions about whether khtΩΩy identities constitute a third sex/gender within Cambodian ontology. Herdt suggests that scholars interested in studying the emergence or existence of sex or gender categories should be cognizant of various demographic, symbolic and historical conditions that produce third sex/gender roles and identities (1996: 22). The tumultuous history of Cambodians has made it difficult to conduct the research needed to establish a historical context for third sex/gender categories. As Cambodia has stabilized, archeological research and other restorative efforts of libraries and universities has made it possible to delve into the rich 2000 year old history of the Khmer people and civilization. This may be a productive time for researchers to explore relevant Buddhist text (in Pali and Sanskrit), folktales (in Khmer), and French colonial records, to trace the socio-historical sexual history of Cambodia.4 This type of research can lead to a greater understanding of the historical threads that tie recent ethnographic research on Cambodian sexual identities and sexualities with the past. In the Cambodian diaspora, the third sex/gender categorization needs to be understood across generational experiences and influences and within the context of changing gender roles. Based on available research, family pressure to marry continues to influence decisions about coming out to family and friends because of fear of being ostracized (Quintiliani 2010; Sar 2010), which is also true in Cambodia. Fulfilling one’s family obligations is an important part of being Cambodian, and depending on the individual, it may take precedence over the American value of personal


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choice. The Cambodian group described in this chapter lived in a region of the United States that has strong gay communities. This allowed them to resist family pressure to marry and to partner with other men outside of the Cambodian community, which may not be a universal experience for Cambodians across the diaspora. The gay community also allowed them to express their gay and transgender identities through drag performances in order to resist negative attitudes toward homosexuality, both within the Cambodian community and outside of it.5 Understanding how younger generations of Cambodians construct their gender and sexual identities will provide a window into various socialization and acculturation processes.

Gay and Lesbian Rights The emerging gay rights movement in Cambodia is a critical area of study. According to NGO (non-governmental organizations) staff in Cambodia, despite no official laws banning “homosexual relations” and the existence of laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, it is common for men and women “homosexuals” to experience discrimination in the workplace, family, and community (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada 2003). It is also common for many Cambodians to deny the existence of “homosexuals” or any “gay culture” in Cambodia (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada 2003). Despite the public denial of gay culture, stories about same sex relationships started to appear in Cambodian newspapers in the 1990s. The Phnom Penh Post, an English language newspaper published in Cambodia, reported a same sex marriage between two women in 1995 (Barber and Chheng 1995). This is still the only same sex marriage on public record in Cambodia (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada 2003). More recently, The Phnom Penh Post published a story about women who are coming out as lesbian, and reported that some women turn to same sex relationships due to traumatic experiences with men (Banung and Sakol 2011). Gay rights stories about men largely centered on issues of discrimination experienced by feminine males. However, when King Norodom Sihanouk passed his crown on to his son, Sihamoni in 2004, a public discussion ensued about the sexual identity of the single ballet dancer and his lack of interest in marriage.6 Questions about whether he is gay have been politely skirted in most newspaper accounts. Nevertheless, King Sihamoni’s single lifestyle raised the profile of gay Cambodians and questioned the centrality

Cambodian/Cambodian American Same Sex Identities and Encounters


of marriage. Around this same time, gay pride parades and events began to enter the public sphere. As more Cambodians grow up in the United States (and throughout the diaspora), the meaning of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity will change and blend as expected, making it an ideal time to conduct research examining the intersection of social categories among Cambodian American youth today.

Tourism and Transnational Encounters Since the United Nations (UNTAC) sponsored elections in 1993, Cambodia has experienced a growth in tourism. Cambodian activists and government officials have resisted Cambodia becoming known for sex tourism, like Thailand. For the purposes of this chapter, I would like to suggest that research on tourism include an understanding of how transnational encounters shape same sexual identities and sexualities in Cambodia and in the diaspora. Based upon available research, same sex transnational activities involve men only. Bars and nightclubs catering to men seeking same sex relationships continue to grow, especially in tourist cities such as Siem Reap, the location of Angkor Wat, and Phnom Penh, the capital.7 The ethnographic findings discussed in this chapter reveal that Cambodian male sexual identities are fluid and contingent upon personal desire and external factors such as poverty. Understanding in greater specificity how Cambodian men negotiate transnational same sex relationships is important to understanding the risk factors for HIV/AIDS transmission and for understanding how multiple sexual identities are formed and sustained.

Notes 1

There is not a standardized transliteration system for Khmer. When I refer to my own research findings, I use the transliteration system formalized by Huffman (1978). Khmer words or phrases quoted from other sources use the authors’ spelling. 2 Ebihara and Ledgerwood (2002) discuss the persistence of core Cambodian values, institutions and gender roles among villagers in the aftermath of genocide. Their research findings support the contention that the dominant gender discourse continues to be a factor in understanding genders and sexualities. 3 White refers in this context to men from European ancestry. The Cambodian Americans referred to them as either white or American in interviews or in conversations.


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The following sources provide an entry point to studying folktales and gender ideology (Ledgerwood 1994); Cambodian Theravada Buddhism (Harris 2008); and feminine males in traditional Cambodian dance (Lobban 1994). 5 Manalansan (1994, 2000) studied Filipino gay men in New York City and their use of drag to construct identities. Sanchez-Eppler and Patton (2000) provide another informative commentary on studying queer diasporas. 6 In an article published by The Telegraph, King Sihamoni’s mother, Queen Monineath, states that her son is not interested in a wife and insists he is a devout Buddhist. The former King Sihanouk added that, “He [Sihamoni] loves women as his sisters” (Berger 2004). 7 For example, The Los Angeles Times published an article in the travel section highlighting the gay friendly environment and amenities found in Siem Reap (Lindt 2010).

Works Cited Banung, Ou, and Ven Sakol. “Lesbian Love Comes to Surface.” The Phnom Penh Post. 28 December 2011. Web. 6 March 2012. Barber, S. and V. Chheng. “Two Women Marry in Cambodia.” The Phnom Penh Post. 6 Apr. 1995. Web. 8 August 2003. Berger, Sebastien. “Fairytale Ending for Ballet Dancing Prince.” The Telegraph. 30 Oct. 2004. Web. 28 June 2012. Earth, Barbara. “Diversifying Gender: Male to Female Transgender Identities and HIV/AIDS Programming in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.” Gender and Development 14.2 (2006): 259-271. Ebihara, May, and Judy Ledgerwood. “Aftermaths of Genocide Cambodian Villagers,” in Hinton, Alex L. ed. Annihilating Difference: the Anthropology of Genocide. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. 272–291. Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” in Jonathan Rutherford, ed., Identity: Community, Culture, and Difference. New York: New York University Press, 1990. 222–237. Harris, Ian. Cambodian Buddhism History and Practice. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2008. Headley, Robert K. Cambodian-English Dictionary. Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1977. Herdt, Gilbert. “Introduction: Third Sexes and Third Genders.” Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History. New York: Zone Books, 1996: 21–83. Huffman, Frank E. and Im Proum. English-Khmer Dictionary. Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1978.

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Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Cambodia: Treatment of Homosexuals in Cambodia; Legislation Regarding Homosexuality; Existence of Gay Rights Organizations. 14 Aug 2003. Web. 6 March 2012. Jacolliot, Louis. Untrodden Fields of Anthropology: Observations on the Esoteric Manners and Customs of Semi-civilized Peoples. New York: American Anthropological Society, 1896. Ledgerwood, Judy. “Changing Khmer Conceptions of Gender: Women, Stories and the Social Order,” unpublished dissertation, Cornell University, Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1990. —. “Gender Symbolism and Culture Change: Viewing the Virtuous Woman in the Khmer Story ‘Mea Yoeng.’” in May M. Ebihara, Carol A. Mortland, and Judy Ledgerwood, eds. Cambodian Culture Since 1975: Homeland and Exile. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. 108-118. Lindt, Naomi. “By Ancient Ruins, a Gay Haven in Cambodia” The New York Times. 16 March 2010. Web. 6 March 2012. Lobban, William. “The Revival of Masked Theater, Lkhaon Khaol, in Cambodia.” in May M. Ebihara, Carol A. Mortland, and Judy Ledgerwood, eds. Cambodian Culture Since 1975: Homeland and Exile. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994: 48-56. Manalansan, Martin F. V. “Searching for Community: Filipino Gay Men in New York City.” Amerasia Journal 20.1 (1994): 59-73. —. “Diasporic Deviants/Divas: How Filipino Gay Transmigrants ‘Play with the World.’” Cindy Patton and Benigno Sánchez-Eppler, eds., Queer Diasporas. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000. 183-203. Quintiliani, Karen. “One of the Girls: the Social and Cultural Context of a Cambodian American ‘Gay’ Group.” MA Thesis. California State University, Long Beach, 1995. —. “(Re)Imagining the Meaning of Being Cambodian and Gay” in Jonathan H.X. Lee, ed., Cambodian American Experiences Histories, Communities, Cultures and Identities. Iowa: Kendall Hunt, 2010. 392408. Sánchez-Eppler, Benigno, and Cindy Patton, eds., “Introduction: With a Passport Out of Eden.” in Queer Diasporas. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000. 1-14. Sar, Michael S. “Out of the Killing Fields, Out of the Closet: A Personal Narrative of Finding Identity as a Gay Cambodian American,” in Jonathan H.X. Lee, ed., Cambodian American Experiences: Histories, Communities, Cultures and Identities. Iowa: Kendall Hunt, 2010. 38191.


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Tarr, Chou Meng. “The Cultural Dimensions of Young, Unmarried Female’s Sexual Practices in Cambodian Society,” paper presented at the Third International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, Chiang Mai, Thailand, September 1995. —. “Contextualizing the Sexual Culture(s) of Young Cambodians,” paper presented at New Ethnography in Cambodia, Association for Asian Studies, 48th Annual Meeting, Honolulu, April 1996a. —. “Problems Associated with Transnational Research Collaboration in Transitional Societies like Cambodia,” paper presented at the First Asian Regional Conference on Sociology, Manila, Philippines, May 1996b. Tarr, Chou Meng and Peter Aggleton. “Young People and HIV in Cambodia: Meanings, Contexts and Sexual Cultures.” AIDS CARE, 11.3 (1999): 375-384.


I. I begin with a family photograph (see Figure 1). Taken in February 1975, the image depicts a scene from Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, which (incidentally) was the northwesterly headquarters for Air America. A U.S. passenger/cargo airline and Cold War staple, Air America was, from 1950 to 1975, owned by the Central Intelligence Administration (CIA). Under CIA supervision, the airline transported civilians, doctors, war casualties, and thousands of Southeast Asian refugees over the course of the conflict and in the final weeks, days, and hours of the American War in Vietnam. Air America was also responsible for the covert transfer of munitions, monies, CIA operatives, sabotage teams and one president—Richard M. Nixon—to various Southeast Asian fronts during the “War on Communism”: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. For the most part, the base’s history remains forgotten. Similarly, Air America’s particular function remains forgotten. Like the muted colors of the above-mentioned photograph, such forgetfulness bespeaks a profound passage of time, measured not in single-digit years, but by decades. A dated artifact, the image inadequately brings together a complex history, responsible for mass migration, relocation, upheaval and, in a more hopeful vein, renewal. This is my first family photograph. It features an incomplete familial tableau. I sit to the right, my twin brother to the left, and our adoptive father, Charles Raymond Schlund, occupies the central axis. Specific details likewise “add up.” The wood paneling on the walls prefigure the prefabricated base housing, consistent with the first eleven years of a life largely spent on military bases that spanned the Atlantic and the Gulf of


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Mexico: Florida, England, Georgia, and Texas. Eerily, the furniture, save for the blur of a crib in the foreground, was like us: U.S. “governmentissue.”

Figure 1. First Family Portrait, February 1975. (Courtesy of Cathy Schlund-Vials).

What follows is a well-rehearsed autobiography: our biological father was an American G.I. He left well before our due date on September 2, 1974. He returned “home” to a non-descript Massachusetts town. Our mother was, according to court documents and adoptive parent revelations, ethnically Cambodian. At that time, she was married to an “in country” member of the Thai Royal Air Force. What I know of her resembles a fragmented family album, drawn from a surprisingly informative adoption record. In addition to us, my biological mother had five other children. Given the nature of our parentage, she no doubt encountered pressure from her husband. Confronted with poverty, faced with potential divorce, and after a series of informal back-and-forths with my adoptive mother, she eventually ended up at the base courthouse. It was there, in front of a judge, that she made public her desire to put two children up for adoption (at the time we were named “Larry” and “Lisa”) to Charles and Ginko Schlund. Patriarch Charles was, like my biological father, an Air Force man, fixed to the 2.1 million Americans who were either enlisted men or

Re-Sighting and Re-Imagining Southeast Asian American Studies


draftees (Young 1991: 319). Matriarch Ginko was an “almost” Japanese war bride, although she and my father married soon after the official end of the U.S. occupation. My adoptive mother, like us, was a product of conflict: indeed, she came of age during World War II.1 As Roland Barthes asserts, photographs are remarkable because they mechanically “reproduce[e] to infinity [what] has occurred only once” (Barthes 1981: 4). In a similar vein, Susan Sontag situates photography within the interstices of history and memory, averring, “Photographs are, of course, artifacts. But their appeal is that they also seem, in a world littered with photographic relics, to have the status of found objects— unpremeditated slices of the world” (Sontag 1973: 69). Reminiscent of archaeological discovery, the very notion of “artifact” bespeaks both a “found object” modality and a distinct moment in time. Accordingly, this particular family portrait, which was never placed in a photo album, but instead was found (three decades later) in packed-away adoption papers, renders visible an intimate relationship that foundations much of the work in Southeast Asian American studies, which, notwithstanding unbounded heterogeneity, time and again return to conflict, dislocation, and relocation. Correspondingly, if central to Southeast Asian American studies is the creation of un-mined archives and the concomitant collation of found artifacts, then this image and what it represents is analogously layered, complex, and remains somewhat unfixed. Apropos a palimpsest, the precise historical, social, and cultural circumstances that brought three figures into being intersect with the layered analyses featured in Southeast Asian Diaspora in the United States: Memories & Visions, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Such work potently brings to light transnational and diasporic investments in specific legacies of war, migration, and adaptation. As significant, these turbulent legacies presage scholarly inquiries into refugee subjectivities, contested citizenships, and Southeast Asian American notions of community and belonging. Appropriately, this family photograph lays bare an intellectual engagement undeniably familiar for practitioners and scholars in Southeast Asian American Studies, a field rooted in complex cartographies that urgently and consistently marry the personal to the political vis-à-vis stories of displacement and narratives of relocation. In so doing, Southeast Asian American studies, as emblematized by the essays in this collection, on one level accentuates what James Young evocatively terms “memory work” (Young 1993: 7). Such remembrance-oriented labor is composed of acts of remembrance (for example, memories), determined by alternative ways of seeing (emblematized by “visions”), and is fixed to specific temporalities (inclusive of yesterday, today, and tomorrow). On another


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level, as Isabelle Thuy Pelaud reminds by way of Vietnamese American literature, Southeast Asian cultural production is simultaneously temporally expansive, and is paradoxically “in the process of articulating new identities that cannot be fixed in time” (Pelaud 2010: 1). Focused on visuality, politically framed, and inclusive of personal and collective identification, such “re-sighting” (to draw on this chapter’s title) brings a necessary context to the innovative, pioneering, and transformative projects consistent with the contemporary field of Southeast Asian American studies.2 A noun, a verb, and an adjective, the very word “sight” calls forth a host of different acts and meanings refracted against divergent evaluations of nation and diaspora. Suggestive of “spectacle,” “sight” also refers to a “process of seeing” that operates as an apt analytic in this collection. From politics to religion, from visual culture to oral history, and from Linda A. Gerdner’s work on the Hmong to Dahlia Gratia Setiyawan’s exploration of Indonesian migration, Southeast Asian Diaspora in the United States revises, in expansive fashion, the scripts through which the Southeast Asian American experience is articulated, recollected, and remembered. From selfhood to human rights, from civil rights to juridical activism, from literature, film, social sciences, culture, education, and performing arts, the field forces those outside it to “resight” work in race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender, and nation. These different disciplinary locations befit the heterogeneous terrain of Southeast Asian American Studies and this collection, which map the connective histories between and among groups shaped, but not necessarily circumscribed by war, empire, and en masse movement.

II. Postmemory is a powerful form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through an imaginative investment and creation. —Marianne Hirsch, “Past Lives: Postmemories in Exile,” (1996: 662).

The very act of “seeing,” which involves perception and foregrounds “imagination,” becomes essential in a field that has, until recently, been invisible vis-à-vis the larger spaces of Asian American Studies and American Studies. The increased visibility of the field is, on the one hand, apparent in this collection’s essays and in the rise of panels, publications, and work about Southeast Asian Americans at venues such as the Association for Asian American Studies and the American Studies Association. On the other hand, it is imperative to recall how Southeast Asian American studies was born out of an “imagine otherwise” history.

Re-Sighting and Re-Imagining Southeast Asian American Studies


By “imagining otherwise,” I follow Kandice Chuh’s lead and strategically access what sociologist Avery Gordon characterizes as a “folk theoretical statement” (Gordon 1997). To be sure, the juxtaposition of “folk” and “theory” underscores a connection between communal, social, and racial formation. Such theoretical frames force a contemplation of “where we live in order to imagine living elsewhere.” These same modalities push Southeast Asian Americanist scholars to “imagine living elsewhere before we can live there.” As Chuh astutely summarizes, Gordon’s notion makes possible a holistic reading that accounts for the “potentially transformative power of envisioning life and culture…through diversity and intricacy” (Chuh 2003: x). This provocative frame encapsulates innovative work in Southeast Asian American community formation and cultural production, rooted in a complex and complicated evaluation of citizenship, agency, and resistance. Incontrovertibly, the field of Southeast Asian American Studies has always engaged “otherwise” imaginations. Such creative approaches have engendered transformative responses to social justice, trauma, stateauthorized violence, and human rights which instantiate a legible form of emotional labor. As Audre Lourde avers, “Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge” (Hall 2004). Breaking silences is fundamental to social justice and human rights, even if, as Lourde warns, “we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. When we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak” (1997: 2208f). This affective work coheres with Elie Wiesel’s contemplation of the opposite: “the perils of indifference.” Expressly, over a decade ago, in 1999, Wiesel stressed that indifference, more than any other emotion, affectively foregrounds genocide. Unlike love or hate, which leads to action, indifference (or the absence of feeling) stimulates “no action” (Wiesel 2005). Individually and politically, to intervene suggests investment. To stand by and do nothing is its opposite. Thus, to “imagine otherwise” necessitates “feeling otherwise” by attaching thought to emotion, and emotion to action. Notwithstanding previous examples, what draws Southeast Asian American studies together in the face of divergent histories, stories, and experiences is a desire to counter indifference by way of teaching scholarship, and activism. Personally, I have spent my life “imagining otherwise” at the level of family, culture, and nation. To summarize and confess, I am a series of contradictions: a Cambodian who does not speak Khmer; a Cambodian American non-refugee; a Cambodian American who has no confirmed ties to the Killing Fields era. In this sense, I am like other Cambodian American artists and cultural producers born in camps who have no


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memory of their supposed country or nation of origin. Like them, and lacking a clear sense of home, I must “imagine” Cambodia from an “otherwise” location in the United States. Nevertheless, despite dislocation, Cambodian American artists and writers (including rappers, slam poets, and performance artists) do “imagine otherwise” in their work, instantiating a connection to a home nation that remains unfixed in light of unreconciled genocide. Accordingly, such artists make evident what Marianne Hirsch in the above passage reminds is the potential and power of postmemory. According to Hirsch, “Postmemory,” which refers to the remembrance labor of the children of survivors, “is a powerful form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through an imaginative investment and creation.” This is not to privilege 1.5 and second generation postmemories over first generation witnessing. Instead, such memory delineates, as the other Southeast Asian Americanists in this anthology make clear, the imaginative work that remains.

III. sight (n): a. A thing seen, esp. of a striking or remarkable nature; a spectacle. b. a vision sight (v): a. To look at, view, inspect, examine, scrutinize. site (n): a. The place or position occupied by some specified thing. Freq. implying original or fixed position. (Definition of “sight” and “site” in the Oxford English Dictionary)

In drawing to a close, I return to the very definition(s) of “sight” and “site.” As the venerable Oxford English Dictionary makes visible (pun intended), a sight can refer to a “thing seen,” “a vision,” or the act of examining, inspecting, and scrutinizing. Alternatively, “site” represents a fixed place or definite position. Taken together, to “resight” suggests a “re-envisioning” of particular locations, subjectivities, and places. If we are, as this collection suggests, in a moment of “re-seeing” Southeast Asian American studies, if we are focused on revising its sites of inquiry, I turn to what may seem to some an odd, perhaps controversial contrast. In so doing, I intend to shed light on the possibilities of “imagining otherwise” by way of comparative human rights and Cambodian American studies, and Southeast Asian American studies. In measured ways, it makes sense to identify with victims and survivors; it is decidedly less comfortable to consider the category of perpetrators. It is in this contradictory spirit that I “imagine otherwise”

Re-Sighting and Re-Imagining Southeast Asian American Studies


with regard to the Cambodian genocide. To recapitulate, over the course of three years, eight months, and twenty days, the authoritarian Khmer Rouge oversaw the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians by way of execution, starvation, forced labor, and disease. The traumatic legacy of Democratic Kampuchea is at once apparent in diaspora, which, notwithstanding the passage of more than three decades, has (with the exception of one verdict) yet to receive state-authorized justice in the form of a successful tribunal. Integral to current debates over the tribunal is the question of reparation. Connotative of “making whole” what has indubitably been lost and ruptured, it is difficult to imagine a narrative concentrated not on victims but instead fixed to perpetrators. By no means do I celebrate or monumentalize such figures. However, an alternative “imagining” allows, perhaps, a different narrative of commemoration. Expressly, I turn concluding attention to “Khmer Rouge First Lady” Ieng Thirith. To be sure, the prosecution of genocide has largely been masculinist. Even so, the recent accusation of genocide levied against Thirith (who, in 2012, was released from prosecution because of advanced Alzheimer’s disease) signals only the second time in history that a woman received such a charge. The first, Rwandan Pauline Nyiramasuhuko (ex-minister for family and women’s affairs), was recently tried for genocide and incitement to rape via the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). In June 2011, she was the first woman to receive a genocide conviction (by the ICTR); Nyiramasuhuko was also the first ever defendant charged and sentenced for instantiating genocidal rape.3 These indictments and convictions subvert the dominant narrative of perpetrators, yet they also force a reconsideration of state-authorized violence through alternative gendered bodies. The same age as my adoptive mother, Thirith was born in 1932. Incidentally, her sister, Khieu Ponnary, was Pol Pot’s first wife. Outside such coherences, Thirith’s “knowledge trajectory” is at once familiar. Indeed, Thirith attended university (the Sorbonne) and studied English literature (Chandler 1999). Her focus was on Shakespeare, and I often wonder (given my own disciplinary background) what her favorite play may have been. Perhaps she presciently connected with King Lear, which details the loss of a kingdom and descent into chaos via sins of pride (an apt metaphor for the Khmer Rouge era). Or drawn to different tragic narratives, Thirith may have sought solace in Julius Ceasar or Richard III, focused on betrayal, authoritarianism, and nation-building. Like me, she was an academic “first.” I am the first person in my family to earn a doctorate; she was the first Cambodian to earn a degree in English literature (Chandler 1999). She was (and I am) a professor of English.


Chapter Seventeen

A hardliner, Thirith ascended the Khmer Rouge ranks quickly. She served as the Minister of Social Affairs and was the Head of Democratic Kampuchea’s Red Cross Society. Characterized by the regime as a prototypical Khmer Rouge “feminist,” Thirith, despite her caregiving roles via social affairs and the Red Cross, was responsible for cadre purges, oversaw forced marriages, determined the paucity of medicine, and delineated food rations (Chandler 1999). Tellingly, Thirith accessed a literary curse in response to the ongoing U.N./Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Indeed, she told accusers that they would be “cursed to the seventh circle of hell.”4 In a country that is 85% Theravada Buddhist, such a reference is incongruous (Swann 2011: 211). However, in light of Thirith’s education, the “curse” brings us to Dante’s Inferno. As per the Inferno, the seventh level of hell is where assassins, tyrants, and war mongers who (as punishment) dwell in a river of boiling blood. Disconcertingly, when the Khmer Rouge came to power, Cambodians repeatedly declared what followed the fulfillment of a Buddhist prophecy. According to that prediction, blood would rise to the level of an elephant’s belly and evil would triumph over good. As other Cambodians starved, Thirith was photographed hosting lavish parties for high-ranking party officials and foreign dignitaries (Chandler 1999). She oversaw the executions of traditional Royal Court musicians, dancers, Cambodian pop stars, and Khmer artists. Indeed, the regime executed 90% of traditional musicians and dancers. Thirith’s particular role, which involved the decimation of pre-revolutionary Khmer culture, has largely obfuscated in light or non-specific declarations of “evil” and “unspeakability.” Thus, to recall the Khmer Rouge era necessitates the careful articulation of multiple losses in multivalent cultural, political, and social imaginaries. If, as Elazar Barkan asserts, the “road to reconciliation begins with acknowledgement,” and “apology replays the memory of the conflict and validates the identity of victims as victims” [emphasis added], then such culturally-specific memory work, which brings together bystanders, victims, and perpetrators, carries the potential to validate not only the identity of “victims,” but directly confront those responsible (Barkan 2009). This historical labor, which embodies a syncretic and layered understanding of the past and present, accretes political significance when placed perpendicular to dominant narratives of the Khmer Rouge, which at times render the road to justice seemingly impossible. Moreover, such an antithetical placement destabilizes an official vector that privileges stateauthorized tales of singularity and exceptionalism. Indeed, as Walter Benjamin notes, “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of

Re-Sighting and Re-Imagining Southeast Asian American Studies


emergency’ in which we live is not the exception, but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight” (Benjamin 1969: 257).5 Following suit and in conclusion, we, as Southeast Asian Americanist activists, scholars, and teachers, are faced with a twopronged task: negotiating a deeper political connection between the “way it really was” and contemplating the “way it was remembered.”

Notes 1 I access this personal story in a piece that appears in War Baby/Love Child titled, “Lost in Their Fathers’ Country” (University of Washington Press, 2013). However, what appears here represents a previously unpublished expansion of that narrative. 2 Although this epilogue engages Southeast Asian American Studies and the ways in which scholars, practitioners, and activists see the field, its title initially reenvisions Southeast Asian American studies by way of Margo Machida’s work on Hawai’i. A foundational figure in the field of Asian American Art, Machida’s current project, Resighting Hawai’i: Global Flows and Island Imaginaries, confronts the multivalent uses of “sight” at the level of discipline and topic. Bringing together art history, oral history, ethnic studies, and visual cultural studies, Resighting Hawai’i is, as Machida puts forth, “aimed at examining constructions and projections of personal and collective identification through a visuality that recognizes U.S. culture as a syncretic nexus through which individuals and groups continually seek to assert larger social claims of citizenship, place, and belonging.” See Machida, Margo. Resighting Hawai’i. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press (in press). Quote taken with permission from book proposal. 3 See “International Criminal Tribunal Rwanda: NYIRAMASUHUKO, Pauline (ICTR-97-21).”

Web. Accessed 1 March 2011. 4 See “Khmer Rouge ‘First Lady’ Curses Genocide Tribunal.” The Telegraph. 24 February 2009. Web. Accessed 1 March 2011. 5 Benjamin’s use of “state of exception” brings to mind Giorgio Agamben’s later examination of “states of exception” via homo sacer. Interestingly, Agamben and Benjamin explicitly respond to German political philosopher Carl Schmitt, who in his 1921 essay, "Die Diktatur" justified dictatorship during “states of emergency.”

Works Cited Barkan, Elazar. “Truth and Reconciliation in History.” American Historical Review 114.4 (2009): 899-913.


Chapter Seventeen

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, translated by Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981. Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Hannah Arendt, ed. London, Schoken: 1969. Chandler, David P. Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot. Boulder: Westview Press, 1999. Chuh, Kandice. Imagine Otherwise: On Asian American Critique. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. Gordon, Avery. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Hall, Joan Wylie, ed. Conversations with Audre Lourde. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2004. Hirsch, Marianne. Poetics Today 17.4 Creativity and Exile: European/American Perspectives II (Winter 1996). Lourde, Audre. “Litany for Survival.” Originally published in The Black Unicorn (1978). Reprinted in the Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie MacKay. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997. Pelaud, Isabelle Thuy. This is All I Choose to Tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010. Sontag, Susan. On Photography. New York: Picador, 1973. Swann, Wim. 21st Century Cambodia: View and Vision. New Delhi, India: Global Vision Publishing, 2009. 211. Wiesel, Elie. “The Perils of Indifference” in Speeches that Changed the World. Simon Sebag Montefiore, ed. London: Quercus Publishing, 2005. Young, James. The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Their Meaning. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. Young, Marilyn B. The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990. New York: HarpersCollins Publishers, 1991.


Abbot Tahn Manas 137 “Absence, Part 2: Crying” 189, 198 Achaa 112, 114 African 78 American 84 diaspora 80, 96 slaves 78 “survivals” 80 agency 186-187, 191 Al Qaeda 16 9/11 23 Ali, Anida 189 Alzheimer’s disease 7, 150-163, 323 American American Idol 241 Dream 15 Native 154 “amnesia of history” 190 anal 286, 291, 294 angklung 7, 237, 240, 242-246 anti-Chinese violence 19-21, 29 anti-mosque sentiment 138 ao dai 145 Apsara dance 116-117 Aquino, Corazon 39 Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City 145 asexuality 288 Asian American 1-4, 6, 8, 9, 122, 154-155, 187, 208, 237, 239, 267-269, 268, 286, 319-322 Christianity 155 studies 209, 319-320, 322 Asian Financial Crisis 1990s 14 autobiographical remembering 259 autogenocide 179 baaysei 111

Bà Chua Xú “Lady of the Realm” 83 Balikbayan 3-4, 32-45 Balikbayan Program 38, 44 Balinese 240, 242, 244 Ban Ki-moon 183 Bangladeshi 48 bànthò 150 Barkan, Elazar 324 Barthes, Roland 321 Battle of Diên Biên Phu 230 Benjamin, Walter 226, 327 Berkeley 5, 127-140 Berkeley City Council 135-136 Betawi 23 Bhabha, Homi 75, 297 bisita sa bahay 37 Bishop Pierre DuMaine 144 Black Atlantic Religions 79 blowjob 291 Board of Immigration Appeals 21 Buddhism and Buddhist Khmer Buddhist Society 124 Mahayana 104 Theravada 104, 124, 326 Tantric 104 bun khun 137 Cadge, Wendy 126 California State University Long Beach 116 Cambodia and Cambodian 83 American 102-107, 116, 180185, 187-190, 193-195 deportee 178 Angkor Wat 313 Battambang 309 Buddhism 102, 104-106, 108, 110 “Cambodian Syndrome” 209

328 cultural system 102 Democratic Kampuchea 325326 genocide 209-211 New Year 116 Phnom Penh 115, 302-303, 313 Siem Reap 313 Cambodian Association of America 110 Cambodian Center for Human Rights 183 Ou Virak 18 Candomble 78-79 Canon law 148 Card, Claudia 181 Cardinal Pham Minh Man 144-145 Cartesian 226-227 Cassidy, Lance 289 Catholic 134-157, 162, 168-169, 238, 287 confessions 163 Roman 143 Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels 145 Central Intelligence Administration (CIA) 253, 319 Cham 79, 82, 87, 89 Chang, Patty 226 Chath pierSath 190, 199, 204 Chhean, Kong 103, 107-109 Chiang Mai 78 Chinese 82-83, 87, 89 Chinese Indonesian 14-15, 18-19, 20, 22 Christians 24 Chinese Indonesian American Society CIAS 19-20, 23 Ching Dynasty 122 Chow, Rey 222 Christian and Christianity 5, 137138, 153-155, 239 Chuh, Kandice 323 civil rights 322 Cold War 209, 220, 319

Index collective psyche 183 colonial and colonialism 220-228, 230 internal colonization 180, 194 movements 222 neocolonial 224 settlers 222 Communist 147, 149, 156 anti-Communist 147 Confucian 137 cultural 35, 37, 50, 52, 80, 83, 89, 93, 103, 120-121, 127, 130-131, 133, 143-144, 150, 155, 157, 166, 181, 210, 236, 242, 269, 271, 285, 291, 296, 305, 307, 310-311 beliefs 103 capital 267, 279 citizenship 210 conquest 292 construction 301 events 110 heritage 253-254, 257-261 ideals 108 identity 79, 241, 252-253, 258259, 261, 278 knowledge 115 memory 254 nationalism 83 preservation 68 producers 180, 186 production 188, 218, 226, 229, 241 representation 228 resources 182 rituals 174 system 102 traumas 182 values 251, 267-268, 276 Council of Thai Bhikkhus 126 dangdut 7, 237, 240-246 Dangdut in America 241-242, 246 Dangdut Cowboys 244 Dangdut USA 243

Southeast Asian Diaspora in the United States Ĉҥo Mүu 79, 81-82, 85-86 “the way of the Mother Goddess” 79 Dechartivong, Danny 53, 68 diasporic artists 223 communities 74, 183 cultural production 221 identity 231 religion 78, 80, 90 spirit cults 96 subject 221 worshippers 90 diegesis 75 “drag queens” 300, 307 “drag queen sisters” 300, 309 Dutch occupation 236 Edkins, Jenny 212 Eliade, Mircea 152 imago mundi 152 Enlightenment 220, 226 erotophobia 288 “ethics of identity formation” 190 ethnic enclaves 156-157, 238 ethnographic 74, 160-161, 174, 303 ethnicity 49 Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia 183 Fanon, Franz 220, 227 mimicry 228 Federal Circuit Courts 21 Fjelstad, Karen 98 Folklorists 80-81, 93 Fort Chaffee, Arkansas 143 fortuneteller-sorceress 164-165 Foucault, Michel 228 French colonial(ism) 82, 209, 220, 224, 228, 302 French Indochina 223 Freire, Paulo 184 gamelan 7, 237-246 Gatra 21, 22-23 gay 300-301, 303-310, 312-313 see also: queer gay pride 313 Gay rights 301, 312


genocide 181-182, 189, 211-212, 321-323, 325 Google Translator 53 Gopinath, Gayatri 222 Gordon, Avery 321 Grandfather’s Story Cloth 255, 257258, 261-263 Ground Zero 137-138 “healing narratives” 180-181, 188 Hart-Celler Act of 1965 48 Heidegger, Martin 3 Heterosexual 301, 303 heteronormativity 285, 292 hierarchy 121 Hindu 79, 81-82, 85-86, 90, 239 deities 109 gods 104, 110, 113 Hinduism 104 hip hop 184 history 1-3, 9, 49, 79, 82, 110, 144, 182, 188, 208, 212, 215, 221, 223, 226, 229-230, 237, 240, 258, 261, 287 American 144, 154, 156, 317, 319-320, 323, 325 “amnesia of history” 190 Cambodian American 180 oral 322 personal 253 Philippine 35 sexual 313 Vietnamese 74 World 181 Hi-Tek 144, 147, 156 HIV/AIDS 303, 312, 315 Hmong 48 Ho Chi Minh 6, 145-146 City 145 Trail 253 Hollywood 221, 223, 230 homicides 160 homosexuals 309, 312 see also: queer Hӗng-An Trѭѫng 220-223, 228-229 Hsi Lai Temple 122, 132

330 humanity 180, 183, 186, 189, 191192, 194 human rights 320-322 “humanizing pedagogy” 184 “hungry ghosts” 191 Huntington Beach, California 75, 76, 92 Huy, Peauladd 180, 192-194, 200 hypersexuality 286 hypervisible representation 284 “I am here” 180, 200-201 identity 2, 4, 7 Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 124 Imperialism cultural 5 indigenous religions 79 Indochinese 226 Indonesian Muslims 24, 239 Indonesian Muslim Society in America 239 Indos 237, 239 Information Questionnaire and Language Assistance Guide 52 internal colonization 180, 194 see also: colonial and colonialism International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda 323 interracial 293 intersubjectivity 6 Iraq War 223 Islam 238-239 Islamicize 138 Java 240, 243 Jesus Christ 145, 151 Baby Jesus 162 JoeTheHoe 290-297 Judeo-Christian 120, 138, 154 justice 6, 20, 145, 178-194, 323 injustice 95 social 6, 321 Kambu 110 karma 127 KDI Star 241

Index Khaing Guek Eav 183 Khiev, Kosal 178, 185, 196, 201 K-Mart 122 Khmer 79, 82, 89, 104 Khmer Rouge 102, 104, 108, 114115, 179-183, 185-194, 209210, 214-215, 300, 309, 323325 Khmer Rouge Tribunal 324 khtΩΩy 9, 300-301, 303-311 Killing Fields 184 Kravanh, Daran 102 kruu khmer 103, 105, 116 kundiman music 35 labor camps 82 Lam, Andrew 90 L’Amant (The Lover) 224, 227 Laotian 48 Latino or Latinos 144, 154, 291 Lebo, Kansas 143 Lee, Brandon 294 Asian Persuasion 2 Lee, Bruce 226, 294 Lefebvre, Henri 152 “production of space” 152 lesbian 302, 312 see also: queer “liberatory pedagogy” 184 Lie v. Ashcroft 22 liminality 221 Long Beach, California 4, 103-107, 110-111, 114, 116-117, 303 Lourde, Audre 321 Lowe, Lisa 222 Ly, Boreth 210, 214-215 Ly, praCh 184, 189, 202 Mabuhay Manor Hotel 31 Mabuhay Manor 31-37 Macquet, Christophe 194 magic 164, 166 Makaremi, Chowra 17 Manalansan, Martin 222, 292 Manila 31-32, 34, 36, 39-42 Manoa 180 Mao Zedong 181 Great Leap Forward 181

Southeast Asian Diaspora in the United States Marcos, Ferdinand 35, 37-39, 44 Martin Luther King Day 146 Maryland State Supreme Court 124 May Riots 15, 18-9, 20 May, Sharon 180, 185, 188, 194 McDonald’s 132-133 McIntosh, Peggy 120 McKinney, Kelly 186 mediumship 90-91, 94, 96 spirit 87, 91, 94, 96 Medusa’s Hair 85 Mekong 82-83 Mercer, Kobena 222 Middle East 216 mimesis 75, 94, 97 Ming Dynasty 122 mirror and mirrors 76, 79, 85-86, 90-97 “monster mosque” 137 Morris, David 188 multicultural 240-241, 245-246 Muslim(s) 24, 236, 239 Islam 238-239 natally alienated 182, 189 nation-state identity 1 National Security Entry-Exit Registration System NSEERS 16, 21, 24, 26 Nazi 183 Nha Trang 86-87, 90, 96 Nixon, Richard M. 319 Nuon Chea 183 Nuremberg 183 Nyiramasuhuko, Pauline 325 “offensive odors” 129 Orange County, California 5, 74, 82-85, 90, 144, 146, 159, 305 Orange County Register 169170 Orientalist and Orientalism 5, 223 orientalizing lens 291 ‘Other Asian’ 48 Oxford English Dictionary 324 Pakistani 48 Pali 105, 108-109, 112


Pastore-Walter Refugee Relief Act 237 Pathet Lao 253 peace 183, 191, 199 Philadelphia City Paper 24 Philadelphia Inquirer 24, 27-28 Philippine economy 32, 40, 44 government 32, 37 Martial Law 38 Philippine Retirement Authority 40 Philippine Retirement Industry 40 Phnom Penh Post 312 pinpeat 111, 113 Pol Pot 181, 183, 203 Saloth Sar 181 Ponnary, Khieu 325 pornography 8, 285-293, 296-297 postcolonial 22, 227-228 postmemory 322, 324 postmodernist 226 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 187, 202 preah parit 103, 105 praloeung 104, 109, 114 Pulau Bidong 210 Pull factors 15 purification 86 push-pull factors 17 push factor 18 queer 284-286, 290, 292-294 gay 300-301, 303-310, 312-313 homosexuals 309, 312 lesbian 302, 312 same sex 302-303, 305-307, 311-313 transgender 304, 307-308, 312 race 49 racial 120-123, 132, 138 racial order 121 racialized 76, 84-85 racism 123-124, 127, 134 Ramadan 243 Ramos, Fidel 39 “Red Bishop” 146 Red Cross Society 324

332 Refugee, refugees 16-19, 23-24, 26, 147-148, 150, 154, 156-157, 208, 210, 214, 217 religious freedom 138 “Reunion” 180, 199 Reverend Luu Dinh Duong 148 Royal Lao Army 253 Saigon 143, 145, 222-223, 230 Little Saigon 5, 146, 147, 159161, 163-164, 230 Saint Patrick 149 same sex 302-303, 305-307, 311313 see also: queer samsara 127 San Francisco State University 1 San Jose, California 144 Santeria 78 sarongs 310 Save the Thai Temple Campaign 134 secret war 210, 217 See, Sarita 284 Sen, Hun 183, 202 sex, sexual, sexualized 9, 284-297 anal 286, 291, 294 asexuality 286 blowjob 291 masturbation 294 sex workers 304-305 Shimizu, Celine Parreñas 8 Shiva 110 Sikh 122-123, 132 gurdwara 132 Sinicized 82, 87 “sinister fate” 25 Smith, Jonathan Z. 77-79 Smithsonian Folkways Series 241 “social death” 181, 193 “socially undead” 182 social justice 323 South China Sea 143 South Korea 39 Spanish colonization 288 Spirit of Khmer Angkor Dance Troupe 110

Index Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty 180, 194 Stewart, Frank 191 subjectivity 1-9 Sugiman, Pamela 192 Suharto 14-15, 20, 25, 29 Surabaya 15, 18, 19-21, 26 Surname Viet, Given Name Nam 227 “Taj Mahal of the West” 122 Taussig, Michael 75 testimonies 208 Thai American 120-121, 137 Northern villagers 78 Thai Association of Southern California TASC 67-68 Thai Community Development Center Thai CDC 67-68 Thai Complete Count Committee CCC 67 Thai Health and Information Services THAIS, Inc. 47, 67-68, 70 The National Catholic Reporter 149 Thiên Y A Na 87, 89 Third sex/gender 9, 311 Thirith, Ieng 323 “Khmer Rouge First Lady” thumboon 135 transgender 304, 307-308, 312 see also: queer transoceanic 79 translation 47-50, 52-53, 58-59, 6369 Trung sisters 228 Tsing, Anna “economy of appearances” 38 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum 210, 214-216 ubosoth 127 Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base 320 United Methodist Church 143

Southeast Asian Diaspora in the United States United Nations 183, 315 United States Conference of Catholic of Bishops 156 Urofsky, Melvin 120 U.S. Census 1, 4, 47, 49, 70, 237 U.S. Department of Homeland Security 238 U.S. Department of Justice Press Release 20 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 16 ICE 20, 23 U Sam Oeur 188, 202 Ven. Phra Dhammakosacharn 125 victimization 187, 195 “victim narrative” 6, 185-186, 189, 202 Viet Cong 146 Viet Kieu 146-147 ViӋt Minh 230 Vietnam and Vietnamese American 208-210 Catholic 143-157 Catholic Congress 156 Hue 87, 91, 95 Socialist Republic of Vietnam 146 War 208-209, 214-215 American War in ViӋt Nam 230 “Vietnamized” 81 Vietnamese altar 76 Virgin (Mother) Mary 162, 227 visas 47 Visayan 290 Vishnu 137 Vodou 78-79 Wall Street Journal 129


Washington, D.C. 240 National Mall 240 Wat Buddhapadipa 125 Wat Khmera Buddhikaram 4, 107 Wat Mongkolratanaram 127, 131 Berkeley Thai Temple 123-138 Sunday Food Offering 128135 Save the Thai Temple 129131, 134, 136 Wat Thai Buddha-Gaya 125 wayang 240 West African Hauka cult 78 West Sumatra earthquake 238 White privilege 120-123, 137-138 White supremacy 121-124, 127, 132, 137-138 Wiesel, Elie 323 witchcraft 160, 162, 165-166, 170 Wong, Anna Mae 226 workers agricultural 48 garments 48 restaurant 48 World War II 39 World Youth Day 145 xiao 137 XTube 8, 284, 287, 290, 292-293, 295 GayTube 284 Yang Ino Po Nagar 87 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 17, 26-27 Yonemoto, Bruce 226 Yorba Linda, California 162 Young, James 321 YouTube 132-133, 135 Zoning Board 124, 135