My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

September 30, 2018: September 2018 Recap

[A Recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]
September 3: Fall 2018 Previews: Writing I: My annual Fall previews series kicks off with the value of stability in my first-year writing course, and the need for change nonetheless.
September 4: Fall 2018 Previews: American Lit II: The series continues with the perils and pleasures of returning to an old friend after a few years apart.
September 5: Fall 2018 Previews: American Lit II Online: What I can’t change about teaching a lit survey online, and what I hope to, as the series rolls on.
September 6: Fall 2018 Previews: Major American Authors of the 20th Century: The difficult decision to replace a long-time favorite text, and the opportunity it has opened up.
September 7: Fall 2018 Previews: Voices of Resistance for ALFA: The series concludes with couple of voices I know I’ll be featuring in my next adult learning class, and a request for nominations!
September 8-9: Other Fall 2018 Updates: Other good things happening and coming in Fall 2018, including a new blog everyone should check out!
September 10: MassacreStudying: Lattimer: On the anniversary of a forgotten labor massacre, a massacre series kicks off with one pessimistic and one optimistic takeaway.
September 11: MassacreStudying: Mystic: The series continues with three texts that help us remember one of early America’s darkest moments.
September 12: MassacreStudying: Wounded Knee: Three distinct attempts to raise national awareness of a horrific event, as the series continues.
September 13: MassacreStudying: Reconstruction Massacres: Three under-remembered Reconstruction-era massacres that contributed to the period’s failures.
September 14: MassacreStudying: My Lai: The series concludes with cultural engagements with one of our more recent and troubling dark histories.
September 15-16: 21st Century Massacres and Hate Crimes: A special post on how the legacies of historic massacres continue in two of our darkest contemporary trends.
September 17: Mass Protest Studying: Occupy Wall Street: On OWS’ anniversary, a mass protests series starts with frustrating and inspiring legacies of the movement.
September 18: Mass Protest Studying: The Whiskey Rebellion: The series continues with two distinct ways to AmericanStudy one of our first domestic crises.
September 19: Mass Protest Studying: The NYC Draft Riots: A popular historical film that gets a Civil War mass protest exactly wrong, as the series rolls on.
September 20: Mass Protest Studying: The Bonus Army: The veterans movement that ended in both tragedy and lasting success.
September 21: Mass Protest Studying: The Armies of the Night: The series concludes with the literary classic that both narrates and challenges mass protests.
September 22-23: Mass Protest Studying: The Boston March for Science: A special post on a recent, very telling example of 21st century mass protest.
September 24-26: NeMLA Panels You Should Submit To!: Today’s the deadline for submitting abstracts for NeMLA’s 50th anniversary convention in DC in March—so hie thee hence!
September 27-29: Tina Powell’s Guest Post: My latest Guest Post, Professor Tina Powell on reading and teaching refugee literatures and stories.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute? Lemme know!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

September 27-29, 2018: Tina Powell's Guest Post

[Dr. Tina Powell teaches writing, American and refugee literature, and more at 
Concord University. I'm excited to share this timely Guest Post, part of a larger 
book project she's working on!]
“She’s going crazy.  She’s clearly losing it.” 

The first time I taught le thi diem thuy’s novel the gangster we are all looking for, a novel about a young Vietnamese girl and her family’s flight from Vietnam and their resettlement in the United States, my undergraduates struggled with the novel.  We had extensively discussed the history of the Vietnam War and the refugee crisis it created, the US response to that crisis through policy and rhetoric, as well as trauma theory to provide a foundation for discussing the narrative structure le uses.  They, on some level, acknowledged the complicated relationship between the US and Vietnam and could explain how that relationship plays a significant role in le’s and other Vietnamese refugee narratives they were reading.  At the same time, their insistence that le’s protagonist, the young girl at the heart of the novel, was “going crazy” largely referred to how she moved around and experienced the site of her resettlement – the San Diego area – and how the narrative increasingly relied on fragmentation, ekphrasis, and palimpsest to more effectively illustrate the trauma of flight and resettlement.  References to “craziness” became their shorthand way of expressing frustration at the texts.  They had expected that the arrival of refugees to the US signaled a more positive outcome that would affirm the US as the “hero” – the rescuer – in the larger story.  They expected what Mimi Thi Nguyen describes as the US “rescue[ing] [one] from [a] psychic death through the gift of freedom as a promise of care [that] encodes a benign, rational story about the United States as the contested superpower on the world stage” (2).  But le’s novel, and many other refugee narratives focused on resettlement, resist that tidy relationship as refugees face significant systemic barriers to that “promise of care.”

Just as my students expect that those refugees arrive in a place that is stable and safe, refugees flee hellish landscapes with faith that where they end up will be significantly better.  And sadly, as Central American families fleeing violence have experienced, the US is not a safe haven.  Southeast Asian refugees fleeing wars and genocide in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in the late 1970s/1980s arrived in the US and faced many systemic issues that affect so many disenfranchised Americans.  This contradiction adds to the trauma of flight as well as shapes the ways that refugees move through and engage with their new surroundings.  Even today, resettlement agencies in some areas have failed to provide adequate housing for refugees.  

Camp Talega: Quonsets at Camp Pendleton -- makeshift housing originally set up to house incoming Southeast Asian refugees.  Photo Credit: Megan Burks

Trinh T. Minh-ha, in writing about hers and other refugee experiences, emphasizes that “the state of indeterminateness and of indefinite unsettlement” goes beyond transit; in fact, it persists in resettlement and as such, we need to be attuned to critical engagement with the very systems involved in practical coordination and development of resettlement resources.  In thinking through how to discuss texts like le’s, we need to not only discuss the experience of fleeing one’s home, but also the traumas the US forces on third world populations, as well as how refugees shape their new home in response to that experience.  As Yen Le Espiritu suggests, we must “look for the places where Vietnamese refugees have managed to conjure up social, public, and collective remembering” (3); the home, in particular, is a space where public, private, political, and collective memories and lives structure the rituals of domestic space.

For instance, le’s novel confronts not just the difficulties of flight and war, but also the realities of the disenfranchised of the US.  From economic instability to affordable housing barriers, the world that le’s protagonist lives in is not one created to provide safety and stability for refugees to thrive; it is a world created by decades of policies implicitly designed to continue to disenfranchise minorities and the poor.  le’s family moves between multiple housing complexes – makeshift housing on base, a sponsor’s house, converted military barracks, apartment complexes that look prisons, buildings falling apart from neglect, and residences forcibly vacated through mechanisms like imminent domain – each a less stable place than before.  As le moves, the complexes bleed together; each poorly maintained property is indistinguishable from the next, much like the residents who live there.  However, le takes care to pay attention to those residents; her description of those complexes is imbued with the remnants of lives destroyed by poverty.  The  

“empty chest of drawers, a dusty mattress with broken springs, eight bent spoons, a dead
lamp with a melted cord, ashy paper, two chairs with missing legs, one chair with a
broken leg, smoke-stained curtains and scattered across the floor stuffing from the torn
cushions of an orange plaid couch” (56) 

and intimate pictures left behind of unhappy, sick, and destitute couples.  The presence of photographs and remnants of lives – rather than the presence of people – allows le to make their presence felt while also emphasizing their disposability to corporate and government interests.  Much like le’s family, these absent people are too easily co opted or erased for property owners’ profit.  The physical detritus of these forgotten lives mixes with evidence of current residents to produce a cacophony of sounds that are distinguishably separate from the lives of those behind manicured lawns.

Certainly, there are many systemic issues to tackle when examining Vietnamese refugee resettlement literature; but housing holds such a significant place in American identity that it demands careful attention.  Home ownership allowed a large portion of whites to establish economic stability in the postwar years and, even after the housing crisis, it still remains an important marker of the nation’s economic strength.  From the forced removal of native peoples, the Homestead Act, to redlining practices, home ownership has functioned as a necessary goal to achieve (symbolic) status as a fully accepted American citizen.  And yet, lack of affordable and safe housing, as well as discriminatory policies, contradicted the picture Ronald Reagan painted at the 1980 Republican National Convention of Southeast Asian refugees as ideological descendents of (white and assimilated) immigrants.  Housing -- and the private space it holds -- provides a picture of stability, safety, and security – that “promise of care” -- that refugees hope to see. 

Aguilar-San Juan, Karin.  Little Saigons: Staying Vietnamese in America.  Minneapolis:
            U of Minnesota P, 2009.
Espiritu, Yen Le.  Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refuge(es).  Oakland: U of
California Press, 2014.
le thi diem thuy.  the gangster we are all looking for.  New York: Anchor Books, 2003.
Nguyen, Bich Minh.  Stealing Buddha’s Dinner.  New York: Penguin Books, 2007.
Nguyen, Mimi Thi.  The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages. Durham:
Duke UP, 2012.
Trinh T. Minh-ha.  Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event. 
New York: Routledge, 2010.

[Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think?]

Monday, September 24, 2018

September 24-26, 2018: NeMLA Panels You Should Submit To!

This coming Sunday, September 30th, marks the submission deadline for most of the panels (and roundtables, and seminars) for next spring’s 50th anniversary NeMLA Convention (March 21-24, 2019, in Washington, DC)! You can’t go wrong with any of the proposed sessions (for the full list see this CFP), but for this week-long special post I wanted to highlight a handful of AmericanStudies sessions to which you should definitely consider submitting abstracts. Let me know if you have any questions, and I hope to see you all in DC in March!
1)      African American Literature and the Ironies and Ideals of Freedom (one of two sessions I proposed in my new role as American Literature Director)
2)      Highlighting and Reading Latinx Female Writers (my other proposed session, a roundtable hoping to find a productive way to respond to the Junot Díaz #metoo scandal)
Again, there are plenty more American sessions (and sessions of all types) at the CFP, so I’m sure you can find something that speaks to your interests, fellow AmericanStudiers. Hope to see you all in Washington! September Recap this weekend,
PS. Lemme know any questions or thoughts, please!