Announcing the new issue of Kalfou

This week in North Philly Notes, we feature the new issue of Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies

One highlight from Vol. 7 No. 2 (2020) is that the issue contains a special collection of articles dedicated to the impact of Lorgia García-Peña‘s work on scholarship and civic life. Harvard’s denial of tenure to her in 2019 sparked an intense nationwide discussion of how ethnic studies is devalued in the academy, and this issue mounts a defense of both her pioneering intersectional work in theorizing Blackness, Afrolatinidad, and dominicanidad as well as of the contemporary necessity of the field of ethnic studies more broadly.

Table of Contents:

Kalfou: A JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE AND RELATIONAL ETHNIC STUDIES

VOLUME 7, ISSUE 2 • FALL 2020

SYMPOSIUM ON THE SCHOLARSHIP AND TEACHING OF LORGIA GARCÍA-PEÑA

THE PRESENT CRISIS

Ethnic Studies Matters • Lourdes Torres

Shattering Silences: Dictions, Contradictions, and Ethnic Studies at the Crossroads • George Lipsitz

When Your Mentee Is Denied Tenure: Reflections on Lorgia García-Peña’s Work • Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández

Three Essays toward Care in and beyond Academia • Camara Brown, Eun-Jin Keish Kim, and Massiel Torres Ulloa

Your Mirada. Gracias. Siempre: Afro-Asia, Intimacies, and Women-of-Color Feminisms • Catherine R. Peters

DOMINICANIDAD AS A CRUCIBLE OF NEW KNOWLEDGE

Latinidad, Dominicanidad, and Anti-Blackness: Two Nations under U.S. Empire • Laura Briggs

Bringing Dominican History from the Footnote to the Center of the Page • Elizabeth S. Manley

FEATURE ARTICLES

Susto, Sugar, and Song: ire’ne lara silva’s Chicana Diabetic Poetics • Amanda Ellis

“The Blackness That Incriminated Me”: Stigma and Normalization in Brothers and KeepersAdam Burston, Jesse S. G. Wozniak, Jacqueline Roebuck Sakho, and Norman Conti

Contesting Legal Borderlands: Policing Insubordinate Spaces in Imperial County’s Farm Worker Communities, 1933–1940 • Stevie Ruiz

IDEAS, ART, AND ACTIVISM

TALKATIVE ANCESTORS

Gloria E. Anzaldúa on the Illusion of “Safe Spaces”

KEYWORDS

The Knowledge of Justice in America • Julie J. Miller

LA MESA POPULAR

Discovering Dominga: Indigenous Migration and the Logics of Indigenous Displacement • Floridalma Boj Lopez

ART AND SOCIAL ACTION

Three Films of Yehuda Sharim • John T. Caldwell

Songs That Never End: A Film by Yehuda Sharim • George Lipsitz

TEACHING AND TRUTH

Situating Blackness and Antiracism in a Global Frame: Key Works for a Study of the Dominican Republic • Elizabeth S. Manley and April J. Mayes

About the journal:

Kalfou is published bi-annually by Temple University Press on behalf of the University of California, Santa Barbara. It is focused on social movements, social institutions, and social relations. Kalfou seeks to build links among intellectuals, artists, and activists in shared struggles for social justice. The journal seeks to promote the development of community-based scholarship in ethnic studies among humanists and social scientists and to connect the specialized knowledge produced in academe to the situated knowledge generated in aggrieved communities.

The Problem with “AAPI”

This week in North Philly Notes, Erin Suzuki, author of Ocean Passages, explains the importance of distinguishing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Over the past year, the dramatic increase in anti-Asian violence and hate crimes across the United States have drawn public attention to long-standing histories of anti-Asian racism in this country. On social media, the hashtag #StopAAPIHate circulated widely in the wake of reports about increasing numbers of both verbal and physical attacks on Asian Americans in 2020 and 2021, as both mainstream outlets and political figures insisted on racializing the novel coronavirus as both the “Chinese virus” and the “kung flu.” Yet as the term “AAPI” (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) moves out of academic and policy circles and into the mainstream of public discourse, it’s also important to know what the term means, where it comes from, and—when used casually or uncritically—how it can work to exclude despite its gestures to inclusivity. 

While many assume that AAPI is the proper or more politically correct way of referring to the Asian American community, the secondary inclusion of “Pacific Islanders” within and alongside the larger category of “Asian American” has a long and contested history. Adopted by Asian American activists and academics during the 1970s and 1980s and governmentally sanctioned as a census category in 1990 and 2000, the category of “Asian Pacific Islander” conflated two already internally diverse groups into a single massive category of people who account for over 60 percent of the world’s population. Although this naming ideally calls for an intersectional politics, a sense of solidarity, and mutual support between a range of communities who have differently suffered from racist policies and stereotypes in the United States, in everyday practice the term “AAPI/API” is most often used as shorthand primarily for Asian American—and more specifically East Asian American—communities. As a consequence, many Pacific Islanders find themselves swept up into discussions that do not directly affect their communities (at best), or that ignore or bury their concerns (at worst). 

The problems of the “AAPI” designation have only become more pronounced in the past year, partly because the kinds of racial violence that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders experience often take very different forms. As a friend of mine commented, “People aren’t out there punching Samoan grandmas—they wouldn’t dare.” But on the flip side, issues that disproportionately affect Pacific Islander communities are rarely identified as AAPI concerns. For example, during the COVID-19 epidemic, the Pacific Islander population in the United States have suffered from the highest rates of COVID transmission and death per capita of any racial group, yet the CDC’s practice of aggregating that data within the larger category of “Asian or Pacific Islander” obscured these numbers, meaning that the necessary resources were not always set aside or ramped up to address this very specific need. In this case, the inclusion of Pacific Islanders within the larger category of Asian Americanness in fact excluded communities in need from both the public eye and from receiving levels of assistance that should have been mobilized to help. 

As I discuss in Ocean Passages (and as Indigenous Pacific scholars have argued for many, many years), this harmful process of “exclusion through inclusion” has a long and complex history rooted in the ways that many Pacific states—including Hawai‘i, Guam, American Sāmoa, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia—were forcibly “included” into the political jurisdiction of the United States as the nation sought to wage war and engage in trade with Asia. In this sense, histories of anti-Asian racialization have a material, if often overlooked, connection to the colonization of the Pacific Islands. The dispossession and erasure of Native peoples’ claims to their ancestral lands and seas enabled many of the transpacific passages and military interventions that brought Asians into American space. If we want to mobilize against the myriad forms of interpersonal and institutional violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we must also engage with how the ongoing colonization of Pacific states continue to differently shape perceptions of and policies towards Pacific Islander and Asian American communities. We cannot allow “PI” to operate as a mere afterthought or addendum to “AA.”

The Political Incorporation of Chinese Migrants

This week in North Philly Notes, Amy Liu, author of The Language of Political Incorporation, recounts lessons she learned studying how Chinese migrants are treated in Europe.

Central-Eastern Europe is not an oft-discussed migration destination. Yet, places such as Hungary are some of the most popular European countries for Chinese migrants. Likewise, the Chinese constitute one of the largest migrant populations—not just in Hungary, but in all of Europe. To better understand the Chinese in Europe, I surveyed over 2500 Chinese migrants in Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, and Serbia. I find that while the vast majority still held on to their Chinese passports (Beijing forbids dual citizenship), there is substantial variation in the migrant networks. Some are from parts of southern China with large migrant populations in Europe. These southern Chinese communities have a distinct vernacular that ensures their insularity—not just from the local Europeans but from other Chinese.

Everyone else is resigned to larger, all-inclusive Chinese networks. The diversity of these networks requires Mandarin Chinese—the Chinese lingua franca—to be the operating vernacular. The use of this lingua franca means the average Chinese migrant engages regularly with other Chinese persons from different backgrounds. They also interact with the locals more frequently—whether it is because the locals had learned Mandarin or because the Chinese migrant had learned the local European language. This repeated, regularized diversity in interactions translates into a differential: The Chinese in lingua franca networks were on average more trusting of authorities (6 percentage point differential) and civically engaged (7 percentage point differential) than their co-nationals in insular networks.

The surveys were conducted over a five-year period—all before the COVID outbreak. For over a year now, the pandemic has put the Chinese—those in China proper and its migrant/diaspora population globally—on display. As we begin to return to some post-pandemic normalcy, here are two lessons the Chinese in Europe can teach us.

First, what drives higher incorporation levels among the Chinese in the lingua franca networks (i.e., diversity) is also what undermines it when there is a crisis. When I was doing surveys in Romania, the tax authorities launched a four-month raid of Chinatown. It was part of a larger, national campaign to collect unpaid taxes. Responses to these raids—seen very much as an ethnic attack—varied by networks. Those in the insular networks bunkered down and weathered the storm. Conversely, those in the inclusive networks finger-pointed and demarcated new group boundaries. There was sudden suspicion of anyone and everyone that was different. And here is the irony: Those most hurt by the raids were those who trusted and engaged more before; and conversely, those who had been insular were left relatively unscathed. The troubling implication is that anti-Asian hate crimes—while they do not discriminate against passport color or the generation number—affects those who were better integrated in the U.S. And this makes bouncing back after the crisis subsides even harder.

Second, political rhetoric—even the empty rhetoric—matters. During my research, Hungary—led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party—pursued aggressive nationalist rhetoric. And policies matched the rhetoric (e.g. the border fence). Yet, during this time, Chinese migrant attitudes towards the Hungarian authorities remained consistently high (86% in 2014; 95% in 2018). The interviews corroborated these numbers. Interestingly, even at the height of targeting the Muslims and refugees, Fidesz reached out to leaders in the Chinese community to emphasize the Chinese were not the targets of the xenophobic policies. Similarly, text analysis of Hungarian language newspapers across the political spectrum showed when the Chinese are talked about, it is rarely negative. Even as COVID broke out in Hungary, Orbán refrained from associating the Chinese with the virus. This is in stark contrast to his American counterpart. What the former U.S. president did to link COVID with the Chinese cannot be undone. As the Asian-American community tries to make sense of what happened last month in Atlanta, the Biden administration must exercise caution in what it says and how it says it.

Gender Politics in Brazil

This week in North Philly Notes, Pedro A. G. dos Santos and Farida Jalalzai, coauthors of Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil, address how the election of the first female president of Brazil triggered a gendered backlash culminating in her impeachment and ushered in a new era of male political dominance.  

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva recently had several criminal cases against him dropped, positioning him to possibly run against President Jair Bolsonaro in 2022. Lula’s immense popularity and support helped Brazil elect its first female president in 2010, Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff’s presidency is noted for three years of high popularity and a strong economy followed by three years of economic and political chaos and eventual impeachment in 2016. While she was never found guilty of corruption in a criminal court, the political crisis ensnared several politicians: Lula was arrested in 2018, and President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha was impeached and arrested. Since Rousseff’s impeachment, the country is facing its worst economic recession, elected far-right populist Bolsonaro, and has been recognized as one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

Bolsonaro’s election and Lula’s possible presidential run are the latest developments in Brazil’s male-dominated presidential history. Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil: The Rise and Fall of President Dilma Rousseff, examines the six years a woman led the country. Based on a decade of fieldwork and over 150 original interviews with politicians and political experts in Brazil, findings suggest that the ascension of a woman to a powerful and historically masculine institution can affect women in various ways, including triggering vicious backlash against women’s empowerment.

Technically speaking, Rousseff was impeached over a common but questionable budgetary procedure used by previous presidents such as Lula (2003-2010) and Cardoso (1994-2002). Currently, Bolsonaro’s presidency has been riddled with political scandals and possibly impeachable offenses, including a disastrously incompetent response to COVID-19. And while Rousseff is now out of the political spotlight, Lula is being welcomed back to politics with open arms.

As we think about 2022 and the electoral fight between two “strong men,” we must remember the role gender played throughout Rousseff’s presidency. While misogyny was not the sole reason why President Rousseff was ousted, it was an important element in attempting to disempower the Presidenta and consequently disempower women seeking to enter masculine spaces in Brazilian society. 

The economic crisis that deepened significantly in 2013 was a consequence of falling commodity prices and questionable polices from both Lula’s and Rousseff’s administrations. Yet most blamed only Rousseff for the country’s current history-setting recession. As the institutional crisis intensified in 2014 and 2015, questions regarding Rousseff’s intelligence and leadership became a common thread. Many interviewees saw these intensifying at the height of the crisis and an “incompetence” narrative with an overtly gendered tone took hold. Some recalled Rousseff opponents argued that, as a woman, she needed to be removed from power and that this was a cautionary tale about what happens when women are in charge.

Misogyny was present in the impeachment process in both covert and overt ways. In the ten-hour long Chamber of Deputies session voting to start the impeachment process, very few references were made to the actual fiscal crime Rousseff allegedly committed; other reasons proved far more salient. Deputies said they cast their vote to impeach because they wanted to protect Brazil, their constituents, and their families or even to serve God. Many held green and yellow signs stamped with the expression Tchau Querida, which means “goodbye dear.” The condescending use of the word querida goes beyond mere political satire and into the world of misogynistic tropes against women in power.

Sexism and misogyny went beyond subtle jokes. One Deputy called Rousseff a jararaca, a venomous snake. In Brazil, this is a sexist term to describe women. Making no attempt to hide its misogyny, the speech met applause on the floor. The use of this derogatory expression, combined with the expression Tchau Querida shows that the deputy and his supporters were not just interested in Rousseff’s alleged impeachable offenses, but in degrading the President because of her gender.

Attempts to disempower Rousseff occurred long before the impeachment. The most infamous example was a car decal popularized the year the proceedings. It simulated sexual assault against the president. The decal was meant to protest another increase in gas prices. Such protests have happened before and after Rousseff’s presidency, with the difference being that male presidents such as Michel Temer or Jair Bolsonaro never saw their faces featured on a car decal simulating a sexual act.

The current conversation surrounding the 2022 presidential election feature as front-runners two men: one a former president who can still have his political rights stripped if the decision to drop charges against him is reversed; the other is the current president whose administration is marred by political scandals and a complete failure to protect the country from the pandemic. At least they can rest assure that their gender identity will not be used as a weapon against them.

Celebrating Women’s History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Women’s History Month. Use promo code TWHM21 for 30% off all our Women’s Studies titles. Sale ends April 15, 2021.

Anna May Wong: Performing the Modern, by Shirley Jennifer Lim, shows how Anna May Wong’s work shaped racial modernity and made her one of the most significant actresses of the twentieth century.

The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap, by Yasemin Besen-Cassino, traces the origins of the gender wage gap to part-time teenage work, which sets up a dynamic that persists into adulthood.

Feminist Post-Liberalism, by Judith Baer, reconciles liberalism and feminist theory.

Feminist Reflections on Childhood: A History and Call to Action, by Penny A. Weiss, recovers a history of feminist thought and activism that demands greater voice and respect for young people.

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, how and why women run for office.

Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness: A Notorious Divorce in Early Twentieth-Century America, by Jean Elson, a fascinating story of the troubled marriage and acrimonious divorce of Nina and James Walker elucidates early twentieth-century gender and family mores.

Motherlands: How States Push Mothers Out of Employment, by Leah Ruppanner challenges preconceived notions of the states that support working mothers.

Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara, edited by Linda Janet Holmes and Cheryl A. Wall, an anthology that celebrates the life and work of a major African American writer.

Their Day in the Sun: Women in the Manhattan Project, by Ruth H. Howes and Caroline C. Herzenberg, tells the hidden story of the contribution of women in the effort to develop the atomic bomb.

Undermining Intersectionality: The Perils of Powerblind Feminism, by Barbara Tomlinson, a sustained critique of the ways in which scholars have engaged with and deployed intersectionality.

Women Take Their Place in State Legislature: The Creation of Women’s Caucuses, by Anna Mitchell Mahoney, investigates the opportunities, resources, and frames that women utilize to create legislative caucuses.

Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil: The Rise and Fall of President Dilma Rousseff, by Pedro A.G. dos Santos and Farida Jalalzai, explains what the rise and fall of Brazil’s first and only female president can teach us about women’s empowerment.

The News of New York City’s Death is Greatly Exaggerated

This week in North Philly Notes, Francois Pierre-Louis Jr. and Michael Alan Krasner, two of the coauthors of Immigrant Crossroads, write about immigrant groups in Queens, New York.

Since the advent of COVID-19 and the exodus of affluent New Yorkers to the suburbs, some people have predicted that New York will no longer be the city that never sleeps. Our book Immigrant Crossroads has shown the contrary, documenting and analyzing the many fascinating dynamics of community and political activism in this unique borough.

For immigrant families that had endured the four years of the Trump administration living away from their loved ones, the Biden presidency brings new hope and renewed optimism that what Queens was already showing to America will continue. That the vibrant growth exemplified by the borough of Queens and temporarily impeded will flourish again.

Since the 1990s Queens has become the urban epicenter for contemporary immigration—a place that boasts immigrants from 140 countries. While Manhattan drew millions of tourists and mega-rich condo buyers, the city’s four other Boroughs saw the influx of working- and middle-class newcomers from every continent. Places that used to be unattractive to developers and commercial interests suddenly became prime real estate and desired places for immigrants and the middle class to live. Queens led the way in this transformation from being an enclave dominated by the white working class to being perhaps the most diverse aggregation of human beings on the planet. Queens has become an epicenter of  immigrant striving, and activism, presenting an alternative to the nativist vision pursued by Trump’s  propagandists and enforcers.

Hollowed out by white flight, in the 1980s and 90s, New York City’s outer Boroughs have been revitalized with the influx of new immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Caribbean and Africa. Neighborhoods such as Flushing, Bayside, and Laurelton have emerged as the epicenter of New York City’s Asian American community. Within a decade, Flushing has become one of the city’s major commercial and banking center for the Asian community. Corona and Jackson Heights became destinations for those from Latin America, and Astoria became the home for Russians and Eastern Europeans and those from the Middle East. All across the borough of Queens, immigrants remade blighted neighborhoods into thriving communities.

As major economic developments took place, new forms of immigrant activism emerged in Queens’ other neighborhoods, a process that is remaking the social, cultural, economic, and political fabric of the city. Take the case of Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Flushing where seventy-five percent of the residents are people of color. When the City announced in 2012, that it would give away portions of Flushing Meadows Park to private developers as a way to revitalize the local economy, a coalition of community-based groups and faith-based organizations created the Fairness Coalition of Queens to fight the Bloomberg administration’s economic development agenda. Forcing the cancellation of a sterile soccer stadium and other mega projects, the Fairness Coalition asserted its own power and priorities to call attention to the need for affordable housing and the checking of rampant  gentrification.

A similar pattern has developed in national immigration politics. Drawing on a heavily foreign-born population (One-in-two residents in Queens are foreign-born, ranking it second in the nation for percentage of foreign-born residents), activist Dreamer organizations have lobbied successfully for state legislation and led the fight for similar action from the federal government. Among the first set of actions by the Biden Administration are a rash of executive orders and a far-reaching legislative proposal to not only undo Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant policies but to usher in human pathways to immigrant inclusion.

Pioneering efforts on health care accessibility, an issue made salient by the Covid crisis also began in Queens where two city-wide immigrant advocacy organizations successfully organized to pass the Language Access in Pharmacies Act in 2009 and in 2012 mandating pharmacies provide comprehensive translation and interpretation services to patients with limited English proficiency.

As these examples suggest, the true impact of the recent surge of new immigrant groups is complex, contradicting partisan stereotypes and xenophobic pandering. Serious scholarship from varied disciplines reveals the richly textured contributions that resurgent nativism has sought to obliterate. Our volume demonstrates that being an Immigrant Crossroads has led New York City to flourish and suggests a path that the entire country would do well to consider following to revive the national motto, “Out of many, one.”

Books for the Inauguration

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase a half dozen of our political science titles in honor of the inauguration.

We recommend Good Reasons to Run, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, about women and political candidacy, because Kamala Harris became the first female vice president.

The editors and contributors to Good Reasons to Run, a mix of scholars and practitioners, examine the reasons why women run—and do not run—for political office. They focus on the opportunities, policies, and structures that promote women’s candidacies. How do nonprofits help recruit and finance women as candidates? And what role does money play in women’s campaigns?

We recommend The Great Migration and the Democratic Party, by Keneshia Grant, because it shows the political impact of Black migration on politics. (Grant focuses on three northern cities from 1915 to 1965)

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party frames the Great Migration as an important economic and social event that also had serious political consequences. Keneshia Grant created one of the first listings of Black elected officials that classifies them based on their status as participants in the Great Migration. She also describes some of the policy/political concerns of the migrants. Grant lays the groundwork for ways of thinking about the contemporary impact of Black migration on American politics.

We recommend We Decide! by Michael Menser for its investigation of and insights regarding participatory democracy.

We Decide! draws on liberal, feminist, anarchist, and environmental justice philosophies as well as in-depth case studies of Spanish factory workers, Japanese housewives, and Brazilian socialists to show that participatory democracy actually works. Menser concludes his study by presenting a reconstructed version of the state that is shaped not by corporations but by inclusive communities driven by municipal workers, elected officials, and ordinary citizens working together. In this era of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, the participatory democracy proposed in We Decide! is more significant than ever.

We recommend Democratic Theorizing from the Margins, by Marla Brettschneider, for its clear account of the lessons and theories of democratic culture

Democratic Theorizing from the Margins lays out the basic parameters of diversity-based politics as a still emerging form of democratic theory. Students, activists, and scholars engage in diversity politics on the ground, but generally remain unable to conceptualize a broad understanding of how “politics from the margins”—that is, political thinking and action that comes from groups often left on the outside of mainstream organizing and action—operate effectively in different contexts and environments. Brettschneider offers concrete lessons from many movements to see what they tell us about a new sort of democratic politics. She also addresses traditional democratic theories and draws on the myriad discerning practices employed by marginalized groups in their political activism to enhance the critical capacities of potential movements committed both to social change and democratic action.

We recommend Rude Democracy, by Susan Herbst, about how civility and incivility are strategic weapons on the state of American democracy, given how polarized our country has become.

Democracy is, by its very nature, often rude. But there are limits to how uncivil we should be. In the 2010 edition of Rude Democracy, Susan Herbst explored the ways we discuss public policy, how we treat each other as we do, and how we can create a more civil national culture. She used the examples of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama to illustrate her case. She also examined how young people come to form their own attitudes about civility and political argument. In a new preface for this 2020 paperback edition, the author connects her book to our current highly contentious politics and what it means for the future of democratic argument.

And we encourage readers to look for our forthcoming (in March) title, Furthering Fair Housing, edited by Justin P. Steil, Nicholas F. Kelly, Lawrence J. Vale, and Maia S. Woluchem. This book analyzes federal policy to advance racial equity in housing and neighborhoods.

Furthering Fair Housing analyzes multiple dimensions of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, which was the most significant federal effort to increase equality of access to place-based resources and opportunities, such as high-performing schools or access to jobs, since the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The editors and contributors to this volume identify failures of past efforts to increase housing choice, explore how the AFFH Rule was crafted, measure the initial effects of the rule before its rescission, and examine its interaction with other contemporary housing issues, such as affordability, gentrification, anti-displacement, and zoning policies.

Behind the scenes with Chia Youyee Vang and Pao Yang

This week in North Philly Notes, we post a Q&A, conducted in December 2020, between author Chia Youyee Vang and Pao Yang, the subject of her book Prisoner of Wars, which chronicles the Hmong Fighter Pilot’s experiences during the Secret War in Laos.

Chia: Many people have asked me how I came to work with you on this book. I usually tell them that as a historian who relies on oral history to tell stories of ordinary people, I found your life experiences to be unique and that what you and your family went through contributes to the larger history of the Vietnam War and the Secret War of Laos. Why did you decide to share your story after all these years?

Pao: Well, I should first say thank you for the seven years that you spent on it. If I had not been on this journey with you, I never would have understood how much work goes into making something like this happen. I’m really pleased that you didn’t give up, and I’m most pleased that I’m still here to have this conversation with you. I’m getting older so there have been a few times since we first met in 2013 that I wasn’t sure I’d live to see this book.

To answer your question, some people in the Hmong community and other Americans have heard about my POW experience. As a matter of fact, students and a few American writers have wanted to write my story but they didn’t follow through. When you came to interview me, and then returned a few more times to listen to what I had to say, I felt that you were different. You asked me a lot of questions and you listened to what I had to say. In trying to answer your questions, I started to reflect more about what happened to me. For so long, I felt that war is not good because nobody really wins. I survived, so I just need to keep living. You helped me to better understand not just what happened, but why some things turned out the way they did. That’s what motivated me to share my life experiences.

Chia: I have interviewed many veterans and I have certainly heard a lot of compelling stories. One of the reasons why I found your story so important to share is that you are the only Hmong pilot veteran from the Vietnam War era who was shot down, survived, and spent time in a prison camp. What was the hardest part for you?

Pao: I have to say that even today there are times when I still have dreams about the time that I was imprisoned: the torture, hunger, and seeing fellow prisoners die from disease or from trying to escape. I would wake up from the dreams sweating, or my heart would be pounding so fast. There have been times when it felt as though I was still in that place. Family, friends, and strangers have asked me about what it was like in the prison camp. I usually just tell them basic information without details. That is because I have tried to forget. So the hardest part for me during our work together is that I had to remember. I can’t describe it but it’s like I’m reliving those moments when I’m telling them to you.

Chia: I remember quite a few times during the first interview when I could tell it was difficult for you. We had to stop the first interview when we got to the part where you held the hand of a fellow prisoner as he slowly died.

Pao: Yes. The next day when we continued the interview, I was able to discuss it without choking up.

Chia: Can you discuss what the last seven years have been like for you? And, what does having this book mean to you?

Pao: Like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t sure it would happen. I felt like I told you so many things about my entire life. I’m really proud of the fact that you helped to make my life story coherent. It was, and is, to some extent, still a little chaotic. I don’t have a magical answer for how to overcome difficult experiences. My life and that of my loved ones are not perfect. We still have issues to resolve. To answer your question, the last seven years have actually been hopeful for me. Working with you and knowing that someone believes my lived experiences are worth remembering gives me hope, that it is OK that I don’t have all the answers. I feel honored that during wartime I was forgotten, but with this book, my story will be known to others today and future generations.

Chia: Well, I’ve certainly learned a lot collaborating with you. Thank you for trusting me to help tell your story, which I know is reflective of the lasting impact of the war on Hmong lives. Through your story, I’ve tried to reveal the scars that never heal and the experiences that are difficult for people who did not go through similar experiences to understand. It’s a story about war and survival and the struggle to make sense of life.

Pao: Indeed, the struggle continues but being able to hold this book in my hand has brought great joy to me. Thanks again for believing that my ordinary story is worth documenting.

Temple University Press’s Annual Holiday Give and Get

This week in North Philly Notes, we cap off this unusual year with the staff at Temple University Press suggesting the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to receive and read this holiday season. 

We wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Give: This year, in hope for and anticipation of a time when we can once again roam freely, I’m giving City in a Park: A History of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System, by James McClelland and Lynn Miller. Pick an area of the park, learn its history, and set out to experience the beauty of a big part of what makes Philadelphia special.
Get: When I saw Black Hole Survival Guide, by Janna Levin, on one of those “best books of 2020” lists I was immediately intrigued. Rather than a how-to for 2020 and 2021, it’s a fun and accessible description of what black holes are and what they mean for the universe. 

Karen Baker, Associate Director/Financial Manager

Give: I would like to give Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City by Joseph E.B. Elliott, Nathaniel Popkin, and Peter Woodall because my son-in-law has discovered their website and is very interested in touring all the hidden locations in the book.
Get: I would like to receive The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish because I love her humor and find her story to be inspiring.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

Give: Philadelphians know our city boasts a number of French influences in our arts and built environment, but Salut! France Meets Philadelphia will tell you the full story, from early Huguenot settlers seeking religious freedom, to the Ben Franklin Parkway, to Philly’s French restaurant scene which has been among the best in the country. It’s also an absolutely gorgeous book filled with beautiful color illustrations, making Salut! a can’t-miss gift. 

Get: I’m curious about The Blind Light, but Stuart Evers. A novel of Cold War fear, paranoia, and class inequality in England, it might not sound like the uplifting escape one would wish for this year. But as the Times review points out, historical fiction can offer a reorienting perspective on our current struggles, and it’s — what, reassuring? bracing? — to recall that 2020 is certainly not the first time we’ve stared global destruction in the eye. 

Shaun Vigil, Editor

Give: Chia Youyee Vang and Pao Yang’s Prisoner of Wars : A Hmong Fighter Pilot’s Story of Escaping Death and Confronting Life is at the top of my “to give” list. A book that is truly vital, Prisoner of Wars is both accessible and essential to the wide reading public outside of scholarly writing, making every single page count in telling its deeply impactful oral history.

Get: I am hoping to see Hannah Eaton’s most recent graphic novel, Blackwood, under my tree this season. Eaton’s debut graphic novel, On Monsters, was equal parts hauntingly human and fantastic, so I can’t wait to see how her second work utilizes her singular illustration style in a new story.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

Give: The Defender: The Battle to Protect the Rights of the Accused in Philadelphia tells the story of one of the country’s leading public defender offices. Unlike most states, Pennsylvania leaves it to its counties to fund its public defender offices, leaving Philadelphia’s public defenders to fight for the life of their office alongside the lives of its clients, achieving breakthroughs on both fronts that pioneered the future of justice reform across the country. It’s perfect for readers interested in how law and order has arrived at this point, what we have overcome, and what remains.
Get: Thanks to the dystopian overtones of the past year and the trouble of making meaning and enjoyment after so many sources of both have been shut off have had me thinking often of the traveling artists of Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven. She has a new novel, titled The Glass Hotel, that I’d love to check out.

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

GiveModern Mobility Aloft: Elevated Highways, Architecture, and Urban Change in Pre-Interstate America by Amy D. Finstein. Having formerly lived in both New York and Boston for extended periods of time, I loved seeing the photographs and reading the text as I worked on the book.
Get: The Overstory by Richard Powers. (Although in full disclosure, this has been in my possession for some time. My reduced attention span over the last few months has me reading mystery thrillers. Any recommendations….?)

Ashley Petrucci, Senior Production Editor

Give: Health the Commonwealth because it is historical but relevant to the current moment.
Get: Henry James Turn of the Screw because I watched The Haunting of Bly Manor and liked it.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Give: I’m chocolate, you’re vanilla.  I’m black and you’re white.  As children, we learn distinctions based upon what we look like. As adults, we sometimes act upon those distinctions subconsciously and judge people, even children, by what they look like. To help parents, teachers, or anyone interacting with black children, I’d give Do Right By Me, a book that reads like a primer on raising black children in white spaces.  The resources the authors provide in their thoughtful exchange will guide in the development of potentially healthy life outcomes and provide some necessary tools to help black children and their caretakers navigate this biased society.
Get: I hope someone gives me Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok. I’ve heard it’s a gripping portrait of a Chinese immigrant family, filled with mystery and secrets—just what I need to fill the time. 

Nikki Gallant, Marketing Assistant

Give: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right, by Michael Smerconish, because my family is a huge fan of CNN. When I found out Michael Smerconish had a book with the press, I immediately ran to my dad to tell him. He is also from Doylestown, PA, which is a short drive away from my hometown.
Get: I love classic British Literature and believe that you can never go wrong with a classic for the holidays. I want to read Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Wuthering Heights and Mansfield Park. I would also love the rest of Patti Smith’s books that I have not read. 

Irene Imperio, Advertising and Promotions Manager

Give: With lively photos and club histories, Life, Liberty, and the Mummers feels like the perfect gift this year for transplanted Philadelphians and for those missing the parade this year. 
Get: I’m hoping to get Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream to supplement my mom’s “add a little ___ if you like” or “just add ____ to taste!”

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Give: Given that we all want to getaway this year, Getting Away from It All, Karen Stein’s book about vacations and identity seems most appropriate. It explains how we are who we want to be when we don’t have much responsibility other than to ourselves. And that can’t be any timelier in these stressful days.

Get: I just received Bryan Washington’s novel, Memorial, which I am planning to read over break having enjoyed his short story collection Lot earlier this year. So if someone wants to get me Swimming in the Dark, by Thomasz Jedrowski, I’m anxious to read it next!

The Making of SALUT!

This week in North Philly Notes, Lynn Miller and Therese Dolan discuss their collaboration on Salut! France Meets Philadelphia.

We have both had a life-long love affair with France. We first became acquainted years ago as colleagues on the Temple faculty. Once we discovered our shared Gallic infatuation, we began to chat about those things in the Philadelphia area that had a French flavor. Some wonderful restaurants were part of it, naturellement, but we soon began to discover an amazing variety of French flavors, figuratively speaking, throughout our region’s history. And as we tasted, the hungrier we grew for more.

Early on, there was Philadelphia’s most famous citizen, Benjamin Franklin, who spent the Revolutionary War years in Paris persuading the government of Louis XVI to support the American cause. That support almost certainly was decisive in securing the nation’s independence. French philosophes, meanwhile, were the chief inspiration for the nation’s two great founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—both of which were signed in Independence Hall. That building’s name, by the way, was bestowed on the Pennsylvania Statehouse by our first great foreign hero, the Marquis de Lafayette, when he returned to Philadelphia in 1824 as part of his triumphal tour of the nation he’d helped create.

The American Revolution provided copious dramatic events and distinguished heroes along with prime opportunities for artists to create a distinctive American imagery and style in art. When the nation emerged as an independent entity it needed visual symbols to define its purpose and forge its new identity at home and abroad. In 1779, the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania deemed that those who rendered distinguished services to their country should have their resemblances in statues and paintings. This was what “the wisest, freest and bravest nations” do “in their most virtuous times.” The development of an image of the American national character between the Colonial, Revolutionary, and Federal periods largely depended on portraiture. Charles Willson Peale and his son Rembrandt, along with Gilbert Stuart, were inundated with requests for replicas of their portraits of Washington. Thomas Jefferson brought sculpted busts from France to install in his gallery of worthies at Monticello and purchased sixty-three paintings during his stay in Paris in the hopes of stimulating his American citizens to appreciate the visual and intellectual effectiveness of the fine arts as an intellectual tool for the betterment of the nation.

Philadelphia is obviously not a “French” city like New Orleans or Montreal. Larger numbers of German, Irish, and Italian immigrants settled here than did those of French origin. But the French connections in some respects stand out because they were often made by specific individuals who left important legacies here. That of Stephen Girard, the richest man in the United States early in the 19th century, includes a school for orphans and many blocks of real estate in Center City. Napoleon LeBrun designed both the Academy of Music and the Basilica Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul. Two Frenchmen, Paul Philippe Cret and Jacques Gréber, created our very own Champs-Elysées, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Georges Perrier emigrated here from France as a young man to establish Le Bec-Fin, which would soon be regarded as one of the finest restaurants in America.

Not only have the French immigrated to Philadelphia, France became the training ground for a number of our region’s—and America’s—greatest artists. They include Rembrandt Peale, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt and Henry Ossawa Tanner. Paris remained primarily a city visited as a stopover in the education of an American artist on the Grand Tour of European cities in the first decades of the nineteenth century. However, what had been a trickle of artists seeking artistic education in the early years became a veritable torrent of aspiring practitioners by the end of the century. Paris eventually replaced London and Rome as a destination to study art, to the point where the twentieth-century philosopher and cultural critic, Walter Benjamin, dubbed it the capital of the nineteenth century.

Early in the 20th century, the New Hope school of Pennsylvania Impressionists all took their inspiration from their older French counterparts. Art institutions in Philadelphia, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Barnes Foundation, are home to some of the most important collections of French art in the world. The city’s Rodin Museum holds the largest collection of that French master’s sculptures outside France.

Just as we learned from the research we did in the course of writing Salut!, we also learned from each other. And we thoroughly enjoyed exploring this subject together. That’s what good collaboration should always be about. We hope readers enjoy Salut! as well.

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