Speakers and Abstracts
View all of this information in the conference packet here.
Panel 1: The Stuff of History
Panel 1: Nicole Yow Wei, "Melaka is Minangkabau: Oral Historical Poetics in the Hikayat Anggun Cik Tunggaland the Making of an Early Malay Regionalism"
Abstract: In the year 1511, Portuguese forces devastated the port city of Melaka and brought an end to Malay rule over the once-il-lustrious sultanate. This profoundly humiliating incident spawned many retellings, including the orally-purveyed Hikayat Anggun Cik Tunggal (‘The Story of Anggun Cik Tunggal’); albeit not on terms that appear to be ‘historical’. On the surface, the Hikayat seems to have completely re-authored the facts of the 1511 invasion. It is set not in Melaka but in Minangkabau, a region that the Portuguese never invaded. Even more jarring is that the Hikayat’s Malay hero is successful in securing absolute victory over his European enemies. For these reasons, colonialand postcolonial scholars of the Hikayat Anggun Cik Tunggal have branded it a work offiction. I argue instead thatthe Hikayat was, in fact, a part of a complex Malay historical tradition. In re-situating the Hikayat text in its oral medium, I delineate the poetic workings that undergird Malay history. By Malay historical logics, what appears to be geographical slippage in the Hikayat is actually a telling of both Minangkabau and Melakan history in one fell swoop. Thus, the Hikayat Anggun Cik Tunggal is generative for theorising an early form of Malay regionalism that is unlike a unitary imagined community; but is rather a network in which Malay historians construct the local history of another polity in order to articulate that of their own locale. In other words, local Malay histories –and the political consciousness they hold within – are mutually constitutive.
Panel 1: Eunike G. Setiadarma, "Feeling Strange, Feeling Home: AnAnnotation of Indonesian History"
Abstract: We are here and standing, through bodies and memories, through lists and annotation. This paper weaves words and feelings of living and reading Indonesia by making a poetic annotation of more than one hundred titles of monographs on Indonesian history in English and Indonesian language. Inspired by the works of Black, Indigenous, and Asian feminists, it is an experiment with methodology and ways of knowing, an adventure to the possibilities of reading as an active mode to search for new avenues of anticipatory knowledge of history. Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao’s poetry collection, Sergius Seeks Bacchus (2019), guides me to recognize a different range of emotions, ambitions, and risks when reading Indonesian history as a queer Chinese-Indonesian. I exhibit stumbles, troubles, and reparative moments of reading within a reality of pandemic and recurring violence both in the United States and Indonesia that extremely challenges the sense of being and belonging. How to read Indonesian history through dysphoric experiences? Home seems so far, rarely close, and yet possible. This annotation is a reflection that enables a way to think about Indonesia and Southeast Asia at large not only as an intellectual place but also as a place of feeling—strange and home.
Panel 1: Indah Wahyu Puji Utami, "Conflicts and negotiations: The representation of the National Revolution in Indonesian history textbooks"
Abstract: The Indonesian National Revolution (1945-1949) was a crucial episode of Indonesian history in which the newly proclaimed nation-state struggled to defend its independence from the returning colonial power. Previous researchers have shown that the revolution was indeed a complex process. Nevertheless, for the purpose of a nationalistic education, this complexity was simplified in Indonesia’s history textbooks, the revolution often being reduced to a series of armed conflicts and negotiations. However, a closer look at the textbooks raised a question on which of these was considered more important: the armed struggles or the diplomatic endeavours? To answer this question, this project has analyzed 20 Indonesian history textbooks published between 1951 and 2017 using multimodal critical discourse analysis. This research has revealed different representations of events in the Indonesian national revolution. Before the 1968 textbooks, most history textbooks emphasised negotiations and diplomacy rather than armed struggles. After the introduction of a new curriculum under Suharto’s New Order, in contrast, the armed struggles of the revolution were deemed more important, and negotiations seen as a waste of time. This discourse continued to be reproduced even after the fall of the New Order in 1998. This paper considers how historiographical and political shifts in Indonesia might have contributed to these changes and continuities in history textbook discourses.
Panel 2: Southeast Asian America
Panel 2: Bradley DeMatteo & Sokunthary Svay, "An American Samleing: Music and Multivocality in the Poetry of Sokunthary Svay"
Abstract: In this presentation, we consider multivocality in poetry recitation as a process of embodying Cambodian American experience. Poet, musician, and scholar Sokunthary Svay is a "1.5 generation" Cambodian American who was born in Khao I Dang refugee camp and grew up in the transcultural ghettos of the Bronx during the 1980s and 1990s. Her family survived the Khmer Rouge autogenocide in Cambodia to face a new phase of survival as refugees in America. This journey has resulted in a body of creative work that enfolds autobiographical memory, heritage, and the multiple positionalities of Cambodian American selfhood. During a poetry reading, Svay might shift from Khmer to English to inflections of Black Vernacular English, from the accented voices of her mother and father to her own voice as it seeks answers from the past in the forward-looking present. She stresses a sonic performativity of poetry recitation between speech and song, constantly manipulating timbre, contour, and rhythm to bring her words to life. Her voice both represents and engenders transformation, intergenerational transmission, and style in Cambodian diasporic narrative. In contemplating such use of multivocality, Svay and I begin to conceptualize the notion of an American samleing, the Khmer word for voice. We ask, how might we listen to Cambodian American vocality––materially sounding and metaphorically resonant––as accumulative of Cambodian experience? How does in-betweenness, friction, and hybridity shape Cambodian American voice? We approach these questions dialogically, drawing together Svay’s poetry with my ethnographic research on music and voice in the Cambodian diaspora.
Panel 2: Cai Barias, "Transnational Asian America: Vietnamese International Student Ac-tivism and the Asian American Movement (1968-1975)"
Abstract: This paper examines Vietnamese and Asian American student publishing from the American anti-war movement (1968-1975) and offers a reinterpretation of the construction of Asian/America. While there is some scholarship on the origin of Asian American political consciousness, scholars have paid scant attention to the international Asian actors that contributed to the Asian American movement and their place in Asian America. Even less scholarship exists on the Vietnamese international students that took part in both the American anti-war movement and the Asian American movement. Generally, I find that Vietnamese students did recognize solidarity with Asian American activists, and their anti-war political activism in the United States contribut-ed significantly to the formation of Asian American political thought from 1968-1975. However, there were stringent limits to solidarity and collaboration on the basis of identity. To that end, I argue that while Vietnamese and Asian American students protest-ed the war alongside one another, there existed a notion of Viet-nam in the Asian American imagination that was distinct from the reality of their Vietnamese peers. This implies for scholars of both Asian America and Vietnamese America that until the fall of Saigon in April, 1975, Asian Americans were making sense of their own subject position through Vietnam but in return, Vietnamese in the U.S. were not yet becoming Asian American.
Panel 2: Sokunthary Svay, "Playing Kaa (កា): Memory Work, Music, and Song-Speaking"
Abstract: This title takes its cue as wordplay from the term for Khmer wedding music, which is transliterated as “Pleing Kaa Khmai” (ភ្លេងការខ្មែរ). Rooted in memory work, nostalgia, and storytelling, this will be a reading performance of nonfiction over a recording by Khmer iconic singer, Sinn Sisamouth. As a teenager, on many nights my mother would request we play pleing ka on the CD player as she cooked dinner. This replaying of pleing is an intentional act that we can learn from. What happens when we can afford to hear in a different way, what other sounds might our ears allow? In the case of the title and hopefully what will come from the final piece itself, the word “playing” stands in for the Khmer word “pleing” for music. What is the relationship between what we hear and what we want to hear? What might we discover in the adjacency of language, memory, and meaning? What are we re-enacting through listening and speaking in collaboration?
Panel 3: Contesting Power
Panel 3: Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong, " 'Surveillance-Disinformation’ Assemblage and The Politics of Tech-Driven Counterinsurgency in Thailand's Southern Border Conflict"
Abstract: Thailand's counterinsurgency measures characterized by military coercion and forced assimilation have largely failed to resolve the longstanding ethnoreligious conflict between the central state and secessionist groups in the Malay Muslim-majority southern border - historically known as "Patani." To address this continuous failure, security agencies have taken an "information turn," mobilizing information technologies for upgrading its counterinsurgency capacity. The Thai state's recent practices primarily feature biometric surveillance programs on the one hand and online disinformation campaigns on the other hand– both directly targeting Malay Muslims in the region. This paper interrogates how surveillance and disinformation operate as techniques of power in Thailand’s efforts to achieve politico-military domination over Patani.
While scholars of technology and politics have noted the parallel emergence of surveillance and disinformation campaigns in various contexts, the relationship between these two phenomena remains undertheorized. Drawing upon the assemblage theory (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987) to analyze the Patani case, this paper attempts to address this gap by demonstrating that surveillance and disinformation constitute an assemblage, functioning as mutually reinforcing mechanisms in the political economy of knowledge production to provide a discursive foundation for justifying the unequal center-periphery relation. Surveillance aims to render the local population legible for facilitating state control, whereas disinformation constructs public discourses legitimizing such political domination. The knowledge produced through this process interpellates Malay Muslims as a racialized object of constant suspicion that must be controlled to secure the national border. Lastly, the conclusion assesses the implications of this ‘information turn’ on peace and security in Patani.
Panel 3: Matthew Venker, "Legal Engagements: Buddhist Law and the Construction of Chinese-Burmese Families in Colonial Burma"
Abstract: British law in colonial Burma separated the legal personhood of imperial subjects by religious status. However, within the social and cultural diversity of colonial Burma British law failed to clarify critical questions about the definitions of and boundaries around religious categories. This lack of clarity was amplified when the court was forced to consider how to apply Buddhist law between different Buddhist communities, like the Chinese and Burmese. Because of differences in how marriage, divorce, succession, and other rights are handled in Chinese- versus Burmese Buddhist law, legal recognition as either Chinese or Burmese carried significant weight.
Through a historical anthropology of Chinese-Burmese Buddhist family law in colonial Burma, this presentation engages theories of religious syncretism, legal pluralism, and racial formation to argue that the British colonial judiciary’s failure to appreciate interethnic connections between Burmese and Chinese Buddhists produced the legal segregation of these communities, ultimately marking the Sino-Burmese as perpetual foreigners. This legal history illuminates how the dual axes of religious nativism and racial indigeneity have structured citizenship in Burma from the colonial era to today. Understanding how notions of belonging slip between religious and racial signifiers elucidates the struggles of minoritized peoples asserting their belonging within shifting hierarchies of social identity.
Panel 3: Chao Ren, "Yankees on the Irrawaddy: Race, Migration, and Plural Society in a Burmese Oilfield, 1921-27"
Abstract: In the opening decades of the twentieth century, the town of Yenangyaung in Upper Burma emerged as one of the centers of the global petroleum industry. The dramatic growth of the nascent oil industry created expansive economic prospects in this recently colonized territory, with large amounts of capital and labor influx into Yenangyaung. Unlike labor-intensive agricultural economies in other parts of Southeast Asia during this period, where the majority of labor supply came from Asian migration (e.g. from South India to the Burma Delta and British Malaya, etc.), the oil well drilling in Yenangyaung required a certain (albeit low) level of skill and expertise, and it was a sizeable group of American working-class drillers who populated the oil derricks in Yenangyaung in the 1910s and 1920s. Based on the personal family letters of Thomas R. Hulings, a West Virginian working-class oil driller who worked for the Yomah Oil Company in Yenangyaung in the 1920s, this paper explores the life-worlds of lower class participants in the plural society of this Southeast Asian resource frontier, and argues that the productive conditions of petroleum gave rise to another kind of plural society in colonial Southeast Asia, where racial and class hierarchies did not necessarily converge. Such global circulations of low-end expertise in the age of oil created a new, exclusionary pattern of colonial labor regime which had long lasting impacts on the rise of economic nationalism in late colonial Burma.
Panel 4: Politics and Identity
Panel 4: Kelvin Ng, "Itineraries of Self-Respect: Urban Sociality and Tamil Reform in Interwar Malaya, 1929–1940"
Abstract: Between 1929 and 1940, the Singapore Tamil newspapers Muṉṉēṟṟam and Tamiḻ Muracu published several articles and speeches expounding marriages undertaken in the name of the Self-Respect Movement. Of particular concern to these writers, who insisted that “intermarriage destroys caste,” was the concurrent phenomenon of marriage reform among the Chinese communities—both elite and working-class—in British Malaya. To these Tamil observers, such Chinese weddings were “reform-minded” and “without unnecessary ritual or rite”; the Self-Respect leader G. Sarangapany would himself marry a Chinese Peranakan woman, Lim Boon Neo, in 1937. This paper examines the uses to which the space of “Southeast Asia”—perceived as a site of labor migration and intercultural encounters, echoing John Furnivall’s account of “plural societies”—was put in Tamil political writings. Focusing on two Southeast Asian port cities—Penang and Singapore—this article examines how the renewed politicization of caste identities in a diasporic context was concurrent with the production of a particular spatial imaginary of “Southeast Asia.” It draws on reports, speeches, and opinion editorials in Tamil, Chinese and Malay newspapers, as well as the personal papers and correspondences of Sarangapany and other Self-Respecters. It further argues that the politicization of the domain of gender, genealogy, intimate life and familial relations—which came to be regarded as a social field within which the transformation of Tamil Dalit subjectivity could occur—was inseparable from the broader context of urban sociality, ethnic conflict and cultural cosmopolitanism characteristic of these Southeast Asian port spaces.
Panel 4: Jonalyn C. Paz, "Colonial Beasts and Where to Find Them: Constructs of Sex Tourism in Olongapo, Zambales Philippines"
Abstract: Historically, fishing and backyard farming serves as the chief livelihood in Olongapo, Zambales and prostitution is largely unknown in the province. This way of life was drastically altered in the 1940s, during the Vietnam War, when US troops were deployed in the Southeast Asia and Subic Bay was used as a military installation and the venue for the servicemen’s rest and recreation. Although there is a plethora of research that explores the historical, political, and economic dimensions of prostitution, there remains a dearth of social inquiry that critically examines the sociocultural dimension of prostitution, especially in regions where coloniality has been assimilated internally and continuously intersects with human rights, gender development, and public policies. Moored on constructivism, this study examines the construct of sex tourism in Olongapo, Zambales, Philippines vis-à-vis existing laws and policies concerning prostitution and rights of the prostituted women. It presents the need to disentangle local realities from the long history of colonialism and the colonial terms of conversations in the Philippines that are largely based on the West. It advances the need to (re)shape policies, ordinances, and legal remedies governing the rights of prostituted women according to local designs and ways of being.
Panel 4: Chu May Paing, "Gali-hto-thaw Images: Dangerous Laughter as Viral Spread in Contemporary Myanmar"
Abstract: In Myanmar, semiotic play has a long history as a popular and pleasurable form of satire, used to implicitly critique the state and to question the morality of government officials. Satire is a form of semiotic action that appears unruly and therefore threatening from the perspective of the state. Recent legal cases illustrate this fear, such as when, in 2019, several members of a satirical troupe were prosecuted under the 2013 Telecommunications Law for “mocking the military.” This paper develops the concept of gali-hto, or tickling, as a way to analyze the particular role of sensation in satire. Through analysis of satirical cartoons and memes that emerged and circulated rhizomatically early in the Covid-19 pandemic and in the aftermath of recent military coup, I argue that these images provided their producers and consumers a sense of gali-hto, or an opportunity to experience a unique pleasurable and risky way of experiencing Myanmar's predicament and a strategy of refusing to submit to the state authority. Satirical cartoons expressed nationalist pride about Myanmar while also mocking the state’s delayed response to the severity of the crisis. Tickling, as both laughter and potential violence, captures both fun and fear--from mocking the state authority while staying below its radar of arrest and imprisonment, a costly threat always lurking in the shadows.
Grace Simbulan, "A is for Agustin"
Abstract: Living in a remote corner of the Philippine islands, Agustin is an Indigenous man who loves to sing, but never had the opportunity to learn to read or write. When his boss repeatedly cheats him out of his wages, 40-year old Agustin decides to enroll in grade 1. Over the next six years, Agustin becomes increasingly torn between two realities - the world in school, and the increasingly harsh reality of the world outside. As the needs of his family mount, and as food and money become increasingly scarce, Agustin must decide whether to continue his own quest for self-improvement or pass the opportunity on to his son. Filmed and told in an immersive style, the film invites the audience to hope and dream with Agustin, and to understand the harsh reality that makes his optimism and the optimism of many Indigenous peoples ultimately so fragile.
Panel 5: Futures of Study
Panel 5: Bunkueanun “Francis” Paothong, "Despot on the Spotlight: Analyzing Thailand’s Actions Against its Pro-democracy Demonstrators"
Abstract: Ever since the student demonstrations that began in February 2020, the pro-democracy movement in Thailand has become even more omnipresent in every part of its society. As the public began discussing more about the role of its ancient monarchical institution, so too did the government’s efforts to clamp down on these supposed discussions, as well as any individual who tried to bring about such discussions. According to Freedom of Expression Documentation Center (2021), there are now at least one hundred individuals being charged with Section 112 (the so-called lèse-majesté law) violations, with 8 of whom are children. This paper entails and investigates the activities of Thai authorities ever since the beginning of the movement back in 2020, as well as the various charges and prosecutions that Thai authorities have pressed against protesters and citizens to the present moment. To which this paper will also examine the reason behind the drastic increase of negative actions against dissenters.
Panel 5: Dexter Lin, "Catholic Identification as a Mode of Protection for Asian Indios across Time and Space in the Early Modern Spanish Empire"
Abstract: In this paper, I argue that Catholicism runs at the heart of the early modern transpacific Spanish Empire—from Manila, Philippines to Lima, Peru—as a powerful thread that ties its Asian subjects together. I show that Catholicism offered a mode of self-identification that promised to mitigate social barriers based on race for Asian Indios under Spanish authority in the early-modern period. Secondarily, I explore the legitimacy that this identification with Catholicism provided in the eyes of the Spanish. This legitimacy was inextricably linked with protection—both from the state and within the state. Then, I explain that peoples of Asian descent across the early modern Spanish Empire identified strongly with Catholicism for two reasons: its syncretism with regional customs and its usefulness to solve more immediate problems. I draw on three sources: The will of an Indian woman in Peru detailing her final wishes, written in 1644; A Malukan soldier accused of being a Crypto-Muslim by his wife and her slave in two Inquisition court cases spanning 1623-1645, first in Manila and then in Mexico; and a priest’s lauding of the Catholic victory in the Philippines in the Seven Years’ War in a Latin Poem written in 1766. I use these sources to highlight the voices of the empire’s mobile Asian Indios across time and space. This paper will add to the growing literature on transpacific interactions and how religion helped promulgate a nascent globalization.
Panel 5: Minh-Tiến Nguyễn, "“Đây là Viet Rap?”: Contesting Americanization and internal colonialism in Vietnamese rap"
Abstract: As there has been significant recognition through two rap gameshows, Rap Việt and King of Rap, in the year 2020, the research evaluates the use of language and visual content in Vietnamese rap videos and songs that challenge the state’s narrative of "preserving the purity of the Vietnamese language" in the heights of globalization. It cannot help noticing the vibrant impact of American popular culture, specifically on an "old enemy" in Vietnamese contemporary social and cultural contexts after the embargo lift in 1995. Yet, as the demand to learn English as well as put Vietnamese pride into Time Square increases, many Vietnamese rappers do not realize how using African American slang in their songs can be as problematic as obligating more than fifty ethnic groups to speak and read one official national language. Furthermore, as the commercialization process is heating up, asking artists to not only represent themselves but the nations for international engagement, the visual selections of which are considered the Vietnamese "national identity," is also another reconsideration for rappers who have strictly followed American Hip-Hop’s authenticity. At the end of this research, a video essay will be produced in which the author argues that Vietnamese rap reflects the double-conflicts in both the aesthetics and reception of the mass audience, for which Americanization (an external colonial force) is much stronger and more impactful than the internal ethnic colonialism process.
Panel 6: Colonial Makes
Panel 6: Harry Burke, "Emiria Sunassa: Archipelagic Painter"
Abstract: Combining art historical inquiry with the emergent framework of archipelagic studies, this paper addresses themes of gender, indigeneity and race in paintings by Emiria Sunassa (1894–1964). Born in North Sulawesi, Sunassa traveled throughout the Dutch East Indies in her early life. When she took up painting in her 40s, her striking compositions depicted subjects such as feminized agricultural labor (Panen Padi [Wheat Harvest], 1945) and ethnic diversity (Bahaya Belakang Kembang Terate [Danger Lurking Behind the Lotus], c.1941–46). This paper positions Sunassa’s expressive studies of island life as examples of a distinctly archipelagic tradition of Indonesian modern and contemporary art. Eschewing linear histories and singular origin stories, her artworks convey the heterogeneity and complexity of a nation in a process of sustained becoming, characterized by cultural pluralism and competing political interests. Yet her work is not without tension. In spite of its bold commitment to “unity in diversity,” Indonesian nationhood is structured by the thorny paradox that an avowedly anticolonial republic can be a settler-colonial state. Charged by the psychological fracturing inherent in this condition, Sunassa’s paintings problematize the grounds of a modernity rooted in uniform abstractions like nation, region or area. Deconstructing relations between center and periphery, and self and other, Sunassa’s archipelagic painting vividly illuminates the political and social contradictions of Indonesia at midcentury, while modeling a relational method that resonates in Indonesian and Southeast Asian contemporary art to this day.
Panel 6: Linh Mueller, "From “Civilizing Mission” to “Heroic Railway”: Railroad Colonialism and Infrastructural Meaning-Making in Vietnam"
Abstract: Large-scale construction of the Indochinese railway network took place from 1898 to 1912, when three sections of the railroad were built through the French colonial entities Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina, which were finally linked together in 1936. For the French colonial powers, the Indochinese railroad served as a site of colonial extraction as well as a site of representation and reproduction of imperial fantasies. Building on Manu Karuka’s concept of railroad colonialism, I argue that the construction of the railroad transformed relationships, landscapes, and communities. Turning to different representations of the Vietnamese railroad as they appear in anticolonial writing, in photos taken by the French and the Vietnamese, and in a 1945 map by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, I also hypothesize that the railroad is relevant to the construction of Vietnam beyond the French colonial project. The railroad affected Vietnamese self-perception and anti-colonial movements and contributed to nation-building efforts, while simultaneously still functioning to make Vietnam legible to the later imperial endeavors of the United States. I consider this paper to be of a somewhat speculative nature – it is the effort of a Vietnamese-German Americanist to work with quite limited source material to think through the entanglements, contradictions, materiality and symbolism of the railroad, shedding light on how it has been engaged by different colonial and imperial projects as well as Vietnamese people themselves to make and remake, construct and deconstruct what today is Vietnam.
Panel 6: Jefferson R. Mendez, "Deconstructing the Colony: Filipinization of Urban Spaces and Manila’s Role in the 19th Century Global History"
Abstract: Under the direction of the American colonial authority, much emphasis was placed on the restructuring and democratization of the heritage sector in the Philippines (1898-1960). Since 1901, a plethora of commemorative monuments, memorials, and statues has been erected across the country in the hopes of forging a shared public past that will aid in reconciliation and nation-building. This study will look into the burgeoning monument phenomenon, including the political discourses that support it, as well as its impact on identity formation, possible benefits, and, most crucially, its ambivalences and contractions.
Panel 7: Embodiment
Panel 7: Andrew Hollister, "Movement and the Body: Exploring Cambodian Young Adult Experience in Kavich Neang’s Short Films"
Abstract: Within the past decade, a small but vibrant—and internationally recognized—community of young filmmakers has emerged in Cambodia. These artists voice their generation’s dreams and unique struggles, challenging existing narratives of Cambodia as a country consumed by its past. One of the most prominent artists from this scene is Kavich Neang, co-founder of Anti-Archive, the Phnom Penh-based production company at the heart of the movement. Taking inspiration and guidance from pioneering filmmaker Rithy Panh, Neang and his peers engage and rethink their generation’s relationship with Cambodia’s past as they tell stories about their present and future. In this paper, I explore the depictions of young, working-class people and the city of Phnom Penh in Neang’s short films New Land Broken Road and Goodbye Phnom Penh. I describe the ways in which Neang highlights his characters’ bodies and their movements in and through the city—dancing, walking, riding motorbikes, for example. I argue that the body, particularly the young adult body moving within and through the city, expresses and engages new concrete and abstract realities of modern Cambodian life. Narrative and dialogue, though present, are deemphasized as the body becomes the primary agent of storytelling.
Panel 7: Amira Noeuv, "Girl with the Sak Yon Tattoo"
Sophia Sok, a Cambodian American college student, unexpectedly finds herself bizarrely entangled with Audrey Fischer after getting paired together for a class project. Through a series of strange events and a sak yon tattoo, Audrey gets a superficial glimpse of the Sok family’s lives and how it reflects her own place of privilege. Novels about or by Cambodians tend to focus on the genocide and survivors’ memoirs. While these are necessary, there is a lack of alternative narratives to their experiences. Thus, this short story seeks to write in a different genre to convey the humanness of the refugee experience that is not only of trauma, but also one that reveals the complexity of intergenerational relationships, and is filled with humor, healing, and life. This story also delves into ideas of cultural voyeurism, fetishisms, and appropriation. Writing this short fictional story gave me the opportunity to weave Cambodian cultural traditions and stories across spatial and temporal planes in order to reorganize narratives about the Cambodian American identity. Contributing to the collective efforts of second and third generation Cambodian Americans to bring forth generational kinship and a new reality for ourselves, it opposes the portrayal of victimhood brought forth by a history of US settler colonialism and militarism.
Panel 7: Nam Nguyen, "Cannibalism, Madness, (Tw)incest, and Death: Mobilizing theVietnamese Diasporic Body in Linda Lê’s Works"
Abstract: My paper seeks to privilege French-Vietnamese writer Linda Lê’s singular vision of the Vietnamese diasporic body – (self-)mutilating, (self-)cannibalizing, obsessive, excremental, incestuous, haunted, driven to madness – as a means to reconstruct post-colonial and post-war Vietnam as a traumatic imaginary, the unfinished loss of which remains embedded and embodied within the exiled like “a dead infant,” a stillborn “fetus of [a] twin... a double .” This paper takes as its corpus three bodies from Lê: the cannibal Vinh L. from Les Évangiles du Crime (The Gospels of Crime) (1992), the institutionalized uncle in Calomnies(Slander) (1993), and the (tw)incestuous and one-armed Southpaw in Les Trois Parques (The Three Fates) (1997). I read Lê’s portrayals of (tw)incest, mutilation, vomiting, and (self-)cannibalism against the problematic view of Vietnamese immigrants as haunted, traumatized, and helpless victims of war and colonialism, unable to return to their native land nor integrate into Western society. In fact, the agency and mobility of Lê’s bodies lie in their capacity to exist within a liminal non-space between Vietnamese and French culture and live wholly within the existential truth they have vindicated for themselves. Yet, as will be demonstrated, these immigrants also mobilize their bodies in such a way as to exorcise these spaces – “devour the umbilical cord, ” in Lê’s words – to ambivalent avail. Ultimately, it is my goal to deconstruct the notion of Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular as geographically fixed locales and move towards thinking about them as imaginary concepts hauntingly and laboriously consumed, embodied, and aborted by their departees.