An Open Letter of Love to Kim Jong-un

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost Look, a White! author George Yancy’s recent opinionator column from the New York Times blog, a “love” letter he penned with David Kyuman Kim to Chairman Kim Jong-un.

Dear Chairman Kim Jong-un,

We are certain that you will find this letter of love surprising.

We offer it to you in the final days of President Trump’s trip to Asia, when the rhetoric of war, hatred and mass violence has reached a fever pitch. It speaks of the urgent need for mutual love between our two countries, the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

We write you as two American citizens — an African-American and a Korean-American — considered “men of color” in our own country, who have suffered with our people under the history of America’s white racist violence, yet who still dare to love. Just as we have faith in our fragile and imperfect American democratic experiment, we have faith that you believe in something far more courageous than words of war.

Our aim is to meet you in the spirit of a resolute conviction that you are a human being who is worthy of being loved by us and that we are human beings worthy of being loved by you. It is quite simple, really, and yet so hard for so many to see: that we, North Koreans and Americans, are brothers and sisters. That straighforward yet existentially urgent statement is what is necessary during this time of crisis between our nations.

George Yancy: We stand with our brothers and sisters in North Korea who may feel as we do, wanting to know us, possibly to love us, but who have not been given the opportunity because of your regime. Clearly, our political leaders in the United States have failed to reach across this ever growing and dangerous divide and say, “Yes, we love the people of North Korea, and we recognize the humanity of Kim Jong-un.” And of course, you and your country’s officials have failed to do this as well.

In this letter of love, we refuse to speak of “fire and fury.” Instead, we speak of love, life and our globally shared humanity. We refuse to believe that there is “no choice”; we reject the language and morally unacceptable and inept threat to “totally destroy North Korea”; we reject the violent discourse and imagery of being “locked and loaded.” And we believe that a dialogue, especially one rooted in the language and spirit of love, is not a waste of time. Shared love is our deliverance from hatred.

We know that love is dangerous, because it requires facing one’s own brokenness and vulnerability. Yet both of our nations are morally broken, imperfect. So we speak with the impassioned words of Mahatma Gandhi: “I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings.”

This letter fervently asks more from you and from the United States. The writer James Baldwin, one of our most prophetic voices, wrote: “One can give nothing whatever without giving oneself — that is to say, risking oneself. If one cannot risk oneself, then one is simply incapable of giving.” Neither of our nations has much to give the other because each has failed to risk itself. And it is out of our collective and respective cowardice — our refusal to risk, to love and to combat our mutual cynicism — that this letter of love arises. It serves as an intervention as we face the potential horrors of unspeakable mass death. We stand with our brother Martin Luther King Jr., who refused “to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation.”

There are many here in the United States who will say that this letter is absurd, useless, even treasonous. Well, if love is treasonous, then we take joy in it. We revel in speaking out against hatred; inhumanity; divisiveness; discourse mired in immature name-calling; ugly, disparaging remarks; talk of destruction and obliteration; and the potential of miscalculation and nuclear conflagration. We prefer to stand on the “treasonous” side of Jesus, who dared to love.

We are traitors to those who reject mutual respect and who believe that there is no place for love as a binding force greater than mutual bullying and provocation. We are traitors to our country’s divisive rhetoric, filled with militarism, hatred, blood lust and warmongering, just as we stand opposed to yours, which threatens not only us, but also your neighbors — that is, your own brothers and sisters, and even your own people. As men of color, we know the semblance of that threat from within our own country.

To hate requires so little; to love requires doing what may feel impossible, because it means to lay down the sword and stretch out your hands, your arms, your hearts, to each other. Many will also criticize us, saying that love is too simplistic, that the problem between North Korea and the United States is too ideologically and geopolitically complicated. Those people fail to imagine with their hearts. Dr. King said: “We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” And Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, another prophetic American voice of love, asked us, “How many disasters do we have to go through in order to realize that all of humanity has a stake in the liberty of one person; whenever one person is offended, we are all hurt.”

That kind of love refuses to hate, it refuses to believe that we are “enemies” by birth. We are brothers and sisters born of a common humanity. We believe in a love that remembers the humanity that binds us together, that opens us to hear the other’s voice, the other’s mourning. Then again, perhaps Baldwin was correct, “There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves.” Yet we believe that reciprocal love can take us to that place together and heal our wounds.

David Kyuman Kim: These feel like especially loveless times. We write from the conviction that the values of a love-driven politics can transform how we engage each other not only as nations but also as human beings. Which is to say, a love-driven politics insists that we seek compassion, generosity, kindness, forgiveness and mercy for each other as much as we do for ourselves.

Our president was elected to represent our people, but he has not represented the best of us. He has instead chosen to display only our basest traits. While he is not the first president to speak and act with hubris and arrogance, he has chosen belligerence over diplomacy, bullying over accord, insult over care. He represents a strand and strain of the American experiment that stubbornly holds on to the misguided notion that we are a nation of destiny and superiority, strengthened on legacies of white supremacy and rapacious capitalism. He has exacted those misguided ideals by treating you with disrespect and disregard, all the while belittling you as a leader of your own people, and you, in turn have done the same.

As a Korean-American, I have to acknowledge you both as one of my people and very much not of my people. My mother’s family is from North Korea, and so in some very real ways, you and I are of common stock. But a land does not make for family. If anything, you and your father have shown how land and nation can destroy families and traumatize them for generations. You are the leader of a nation whose people have suffered at the service of a political vision. At what cost has your loyalty to power come to your people, let alone to your humanity?

My mother’s family fled North Korea because of the forces of war that are all too similar to the enmities that are threatening us today. And it was the consequences of the Korean War and the havoc it wreaked on my people in South Korea that eventually drove my family to the United States. And through this migration and growing up in white-supremacist America, I was transformed from our common stock to a Korean-American dedicated to the ways of love.

Indeed, as a Korean brother I have been forged by my inheritance from Christianity and Confucianism. This means that my witness to you is born of traditions of love and ethical responsibility. Among the very real and central challenges of radical love is to adhere to the moral mandate to love our neighbors and enemies as we would love ourselves. This is especially challenging at a moment in which love has been hard to find and discern. For those of us who lament the ascendancy of our current president, we have had to learn how to love ourselves once again.

We write you today not only because of what you are hearing from us — the United States — but, more important, because of all the crucial things you are not hearing. As defenders of civil rights against racism, we come from a tradition not well represented or well understood, yet one that has transformed the course of our nation’s history and the lives and legacies of peoples across the globe.

This is the tradition of radical love most powerfully and persuasively articulated and represented by Martin Luther King Jr. This is a tradition that insists that love has the power to bind us together in a common purpose, that love gives us the confidence and courage to stand up to injustice and suffering. It is a tradition that holds us accountable not simply to ourselves but to a vision of human existence that insists that we can be with one another, hold one another up, and fortify one another’s humanity in what Dr. King called “the beloved community.”

We reach out to you from this tradition that holds the value of speaking truth to power with love. This is a calling. It is our vocation. We have no choice but to strive to live up to the examples of Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, of activists like Fannie Lou Hamer and Grace Lee Boggs. These heroic figures have been exceptions to the insidious rule of an American legacy of white supremacy and imperialism that has left the least among us in utter despair. This tradition of radical love is an American tradition, even though it has drawn deeply and powerfully from people like Gandhi and Thich Nhat Hanh.

We come to you as citizens of an America not yet fully realized, one that insists that the ways of love can be the ways of democracy, that the challenge of loving one’s neighbors and enemies is fundamentally a call for freedom and justice and hope. We write to you with love and an appeal for forgiveness and mercy because history and our lot demand this of us. And our hope is that it will demand the same of our fellow citizens.

Wishing you peace and love,

David Kyuman Kim and George Yancy

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Temple University Press adds two new editors to the Asian American History and Culture series

This week in North Philly Notes, we announce the two new editors joining our Asian American History and Culture series.

Temple University Press is pleased to announce the addition of Rick Bonus, Associate Professor of American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington, and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee, Associate Professor of History and Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College, to the Asian American History and Culture series editorial team. They will be replacing editors Linda Trinh Võ and K. Scott Wong, who will be transitioning into editors emeriti roles.

Both Bonus and Lee have published books in the series with Temple University Press. Rick Bonus published Locating Filipino Americans: Ethnicity and the Cultural Politics of Space in 2000, and co-edited Contemporary Asian American Communities: Intersections and Divergences with outgoing AAHC editor, Võ. Shelley Sang-Hee Lee published Claiming the Oriental Gateway: Prewar Seattle and Japanese America with Temple in 2012. They join current series editor Cathy Schlund-Vials.

Schlund-Vials is enthusiastic about the new team. She observed, “Rick Bonus and Shelley Lee’s work has proved aspirational for me and the field. Both Bonus and Lee bring established reputations to the series. They are keen interlocutors, leading scholars, and dedicated practitioners. It is truly an honor to have them on board, and I am humbled to be in their midst.”

Shelley Lee says she is “looking forward to helping shape the series with my co-editors.” Her work will focus on “honoring the AAHC’s distinguished legacy and building on its strengths, while also searching out titles that represent exciting and important directions in Asian American history.”

Bonus is also excited to be part of the editorial team. He acknowledged, “Temple has been a pioneering intellectual force in Asian American Studies and continues to make possible new and emerging directions in the scholarship on Asian American Studies.”

He continued, “My vision for the press includes the perpetuation of the amazing work all my predecessors have accomplished. I hope to assist the press in treading new and emerging directions in Asian American Studies by strategically pursuing works that are directly or intersectionally conversant with fields like transnationalism, science and technology studies, cross-regional and cross-disciplinary studies, queer studies, and education and social work studies. All of these, I hope, will enable transformative insights into Asian American Studies and move forward Temple’s record in enhancing the field’s depth and breadth.”

Schlund-Vials reflected about the outgoing series editors, Linda Trinh Võ and K. Scott Wong as the torch was being passed. She said, “During their illustrious time as series editors, Võ and Wong consistently ushered projects that reflected the ever-growing, ever-expansive contours of Asian American Studies as provocative interdiscipline. Under their guidance, the series expanded its sights and sites to encompass the complexities of diaspora and dynamics of transnationalism. They were, quite frankly, ideal mentors for me as a new series editor: I benefitted greatly from their extensive knowledge of the field, their commitment to scholarly mentorship, and their willingness to see multiple possibilities. Their mark on the series is unquestionable, and they deserve much of the credit for the very high reputation Temple University Press has within Asian American Studies. I am certainly not alone in this assessment, as evidenced by the many awards given to books they shepherded throughout their tenure.”

About the Series

Temple University Press published the first two titles in the Asian American History and Culture series — Entry Denied, by series founder Sucheng Chan and Cane Fires, by Gary Okihiro — in the spring of 1991. There are now more than 70 titles in the series, which is edited by Sara Cohen.

Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and editors emeriti Michael Omi and David Palumbo-Liu, series editors Cathy Schlund-Vials, Rick Bonus and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.

Temple University Press is having a Back-to-School SALE!

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Chronicling the unfinished odyssey of Bronx Cambodians

This week, Eric Tang, author of Unsettled likens the Cambodian refugees that are featured in his book to the current exodus of Syrian refugees to show connections of race, gender, and activism.

After they survived the Khmer Rouge genocide of the mid-to-late 1970s, followed by several years of confinement in international refugee camps, as many as 10,000 Southeast Asian refugees arrived to the Bronx during the 1980s and 1990s.

Unsettled chronicles the unfinished odyssey of Bronx Cambodians, closely following one woman and her family for several years as they both survive and resist their literal insertion into the Bronx “hyperghetto.” The term hyperghetto refers to the postwar structural decomposition of U.S. cities resulting from massive and compulsory unemployment, public and private disinvestment, and the hyper-segregation and confinement of the city’s poorest Black and Latino residents. It serves as a prime example of how late-capitalism and racial democracy failed far too many in the post-Civil Rights era.

Unsettled_smI wrote Unsettled  to reveal how Cambodian refugee resettlement to the United States did not mark the closing of the refugee sojourn, followed by the opening of a new era of peace and stability for those who fled their homeland. I wanted to show the ways in which the refugees remained displaced, their sojourn unclosed, owing to the false promises of federal policy makers and the unscrupulous actions of their handlers. Politicians talked boldly about delivering refugees into the arms of the free market, but there was never a meaningful economic plan tethered to U.S. refugee resettlement policy. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) offered only one-year of housing and job training assistance to refugees before they were cut loose, told to make it on their own. Meanwhile local resettlement agencies placed Cambodian refugees into ruinous housing units in some of the most economically marginalized neighborhoods in the Bronx. According to the past three decennial censuses, Southeast Asian refugees have held some of the highest welfare and poverty rates of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. Among Cambodian refugees living in New York City, 42.8 percent were living in poverty, 23.9 percent were unemployed, and 62 percent had less than a high school education twenty years after their resettlement. Over the past three decades the vast majority of Bronx Cambodians have subsisted on welfare programs (or what remains of them).

Despite these harsh realities, many Bronx Cambodians engaged in activism. Unsettled explores how Bronx Cambodians resisted conditions of poverty, violence, and housing discrimination. It pays attention to the unique process whereby community members developed an analysis of their conditions, reached consensus on their collective needs, and sought meaningful political redress through community organizing and direct action. Today, such activism continues through the community’s younger generation—the children and grandchildren of refugees—led by organizations such as Mekong NYC. The organization’s work, as told by director and community organizer Chhaya Chhoum is featured in key chapters of the book.

As an urban ethnography, Unsettled offers a new kind of discussion on race and gender in the contemporary city, particularly as it relates to the welfare-dependent and jobless urban poor. In this way, it departs from the core thesis of seminal texts in the sociology of immigration that, in the decade following refugee resettlement, predicted the seamless transition of Cambodian refugees into American labor markets as well as their eventual assimilation into Anglo-American culture. It serves as a rebuttal to research that seeks to ideologically remove the refugee from the grips of a Black and Latino “underclass”—the sociological pejorative used to describe racialized inner city poverty. By examining the ongoing phenomena of refugee poverty—that is, the manner in which Cambodian refugees of the Bronx simultaneously subsist in the welfare state and the sweatshop economy—Unsettled complicates the fixed race and gender identities that structure common-sense notions of the city: the immigrant working-poor on the one hand, the domestic and welfare-dependent underclass on the other.

Finally, Unsettled poses questions that are relevant to the present moment. The current exodus of Syrian refugees represents the “biggest humanitarian emergency of our era,” according the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Indeed, not since the Southeast Asian refugee crisis of the late-1970s and 1980s, have so many migrants from one region risked their lives, across land and sea, in search of asylum. Yet what happens after they are resettled to their new homelands? Have their struggles come to an end, or have they only just begun?

Reflecting on Vietnam

This week in North Philly Notes, as the world reflects on the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam War ending, we reflect on some of our books on Vietnam.

This Is All I Choose to Tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud

In the first book-length study of Vietnamese American literature, Isabelle Thuy Pelaud probes the complexities of Vietnamese American identity and politics. She provides an analytical introduction to the literature, showing how generational differences play out in genre and text. In addition, she asks, can the term Vietnamese American be disassociated from representations of the war without erasing its legacy?

Transnationalizing Viet Nam: Community, Culture, and Politics in the Diaspora by Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde

Vietnamese diasporic relations affect—and are directly affected by—events in Viet Nam. InTransnationalizing Viet Nam, Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde explores these connections, providing a nuanced understanding of this globalized community. Valverde draws on 250 interviews and almost two decades of research to show the complex relationship between Vietnamese in the diaspora and those back at the homeland.

Inventing Vietnam: The War in Film and Television edited by Michael Anderegg

The Vietnam War has been depicted by every available medium, each presenting a message, an agenda, of what the filmmakers and producers choose to project about America’s involvement in Southeast Asia. This collection of essays, most of which are previously unpublished, analyzes the themes, modes, and stylistic strategies seen in a broad range of films and television programs.

Songs of the Caged, Songs of the Free: Music and the Vietnamese Refugee Experience by Adelaida Reyes

The Vietnamese refugee experience calls attention to issues commonly raised by migration: the redefinition of group relations, the reformulation of identity, and the reconstruction of social and musical life in resettlement. Fifteen years ago, Adelaida Reyes began doing fieldwork on the musical activities of Vietnamese refugees. She entered the emotion-driven world of forced migrants through expressive culture, learned to see the lives of refugee-resettlers through the music they made and enjoyed, and, in turn, gained a deeper understanding of their music through knowledge of their lives.

Ordinary Lives: Platoon 1005 and the Vietnam War by W.D. Ehrhart

In the summer of 1966, in the middle of the Vietnam War, eighty young volunteers arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, South Carolina, from all over the Eastern United States. For the next eight weeks, as Platoon 1005, they endured one of the most intense basic training programs ever devised. Twenty-seven years after basic training, Ehrhart began what became a five-year search for the men of his platoon. Who were these men alongside whom he trained? What Ehrhart learned offers an extraordinary window into the complexities of the Vietnam Generation and the United States of America then and now.

The Vietnamese American 1.5 Generation: Stories of War, Revolution, Flight and New Beginnings  edited by Sucheng Chan, with contributions by students at the University of California

The conflict that Americans call the “Vietnam War” was only one of many incursions into Vietnam by foreign powers. However, it has had a profound effect on the Vietnamese people who left their homeland in the years following the fall of Saigon in 1975. Collected here are fifteen first-person narratives written by refugees who left Vietnam as children and later enrolled as students at the University of California, where they studied with the well-known scholar and teacher Sucheng Chan. She has provided a comprehensive introduction to their autobiographical accounts, which succinctly encompasses more than a thousand years of Vietnamese history. The volume concludes with a thorough bibliography and videography compiled by the editor.

Treacherous Subjects: Gender, Culture, and Trans-Vietnamese Feminism by Lan P. Duong

Treacherous Subjects is a provocative and thoughtful examination of Vietnamese films and literature viewed through a feminist lens. Lan Duong investigates the postwar cultural productions of writers and filmmakers, including Tony Bui, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Tran Anh Hung. Taking her cue from the double meaning of “collaborator,” Duong shows how history has shaped the loyalties and shifting alliances of the Vietnamese, many of whom are caught between opposing/constricting forces of nationalism, patriarchy, and communism.

America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, Second Edition  by George C. Herring

First published in 1979, America’s Longest War has been highly regarded both by scholars and general readers. Extensive and yet manageable, this assessment of our national tragedy provides an accurate and objective analysis of the hostilities at home and abroad. This second edition of America’s Longest War becomes more timely as we commemorate a decade since the end of the war and attempt to reflect dispassionately on its effects on our national character and policy.

Taking a “Rashomon” approach to studying Pacific Rim politics

1980_regIn this blog entry, Christian Collet, co-editor (with Pei-te Lien) of The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans, describes his approach to understanding contemporary dynamics of racial and ethnic politics.

Gaining perspective is perhaps the biggest challenge of writing — trying to find a point in time and a place in space in which one has enough clarity, confidence and judgment to articulate an idea.  As Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant Rashomon reminds us, even the simplest of events can have completely different meanings.  “Facts” are often dependent, literally, on where one is sitting.

I draw upon the experience of living in Saigon and near Little Saigon in Orange County, and the questions I have asked myself as an American political scientist living in the Asian Pacific, as a way to introduce the challenges of understanding the contemporary dynamics of racial and ethnic politics.  Pei-te Lien and I designed The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans not only to exorcise our own nagging questions, but to inspire others, particularly in political science, to think more about these problems of method – and how we can come to grips with the excitement and uncertainty of globalization.  Our concern is to not only shed light on the “foreign acts” we see in the news, but to put them in perspective – and bring students closer to them through perspectives that they may have yet to experience.

The challenge, as we describe in the introductory chapter, comes not just from being able to perceive transnational politics, but to capture it accurately and, once contained, to interpret its significance – to think about why it matters and the role it may be playing in Asian American incorporation.  That the volume attempts to marry 20th century history to 21st century anthropology, area studies to ethnic studies, surveys to participant observation should, if nothing else, convey our sense that politics is, in essence, a dynamic, Rashomon-like puzzle. Democracy in the Pacific Rim, we believe, may be open to many interpretations, but Asian Americans remain central players in the unfolding drama.

For more information about The Transnational Politics of Asian Americans, visit http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1980_reg.html

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