A Letter to Tam Tran. RIP

Someone told me to write a letter so this is my pathetic attempt at trying to conjure one up.

You are gone and I can’t even launch a campaign to bring you back. I am helping with the cause to get you posthumous citizenship though, which might infuriate you more. I am not quite sure. It just feels right.

You always promised to call back when I left a voicemail. But you didn’t call back this time.

I am angry. I fear my anger more than anything else. There’s this rage inside me threatening to explode every few hours and I am trying desperately to not do anyone any damage. That means I am turning my rage inwards and doing myself a lot of damage and destroying my own life. If you were around, you’d probably say that is very Asian of me and we’d laugh about it.

I am hurt. The people around me simply fail to understand precisely what I need. But maybe it is my fault since I’ve failed to articulate what I need or go looking for it in the wrong places.

I am heart-broken. I’ve never really lost anyone close to me. Even when I was brought here, I knew the people I left behind were still alive. But death is so final. And you were the last people that deserve it. I keep wishing that it was me instead of you that was taken from our beautiful community. Why doesn’t death come to those who don’t want to live?

We are told to remember the good times, the good lessons and let it move us forward. That pretty much involves every moment that I did get to spend with both of you whether it was in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles or Washington DC.

I also regret the fact that I never pushed you harder to actually use your Twitter account! No, you would actually rather live life.

Every moment we got to spend together was special. After all, we had a mutual admiration society. You were fascinated with everything I could do online while I looked up to you like any other starry-eyed kid. I’ll always be thankful for the entire weekend in San Francisco and the one night we got to spend in New York talking till the wee hours of the morning about anything and everything. I looked forward to joining you in academia, making the rounds at all those conferences where we didn’t seem to belong but something inside us propelled us to at least pay attention and hang around long enough to tolerate it.

In fact, I secretly enjoyed the idea of having a whole niche of former DREAM kids in academia, even though my academic interests have little to do with immigration policy. And we were supposed to write a book together, remember? All we have on our name is this one paper: Undocumented and Undaunted.

That would describe you quite aptly, leaving out the reserved part. We had quite a lot in common. People don’t realize how shy and reserved I am as a person–I just end up coming across as arrogant. We were thrust into the limelight as activists and were always reluctant to live up to some expectation of us that others had. But we did our best at trying to represent even as our hearts pulled us in other directions. We also did our best to live life and not let any obstacles affect our choices. I was actually putting my life back together after a decade of not living, complete with a job and girlfriend before this tragedy came out of nowhere blowing the facade away.

I am still struggling with making sense of life these past few years. You loved DreamActivist right down to the name while I’ve never gotten used to the fact that it might be seen as my biggest achievement. After all, it’s ironic and feels like a fluke at times–I don’t even want to live here! Quite often, I run from the movement and everything that is American, telling myself that this is not where I am supposed to be and not what I am supposed to do with my life. I run from the people who love and appreciate me the most, pushing them all away. And it wasn’t till I was getting ready to leave for Canada that I started to live and love again. I realized how deeply I had grown to like and appreciate things around me. It took a moment to sink in and I hated myself for it. At the same time, I realized that no matter how hard I try to erase it, I am an American.

The last thing you said to me was to go to George Washington Law school because between Canada and GW, the latter was closer to you and it meant I would hang around. I had made up my mind to come to DC. Now I don’t know. It happens to be the place where I first and last met you.

All I know at this moment in time is that even though you cannot reply, you will guide me as I continue my search for answers to questions I have long forgotten.

Love, Prerna.

P.S. You have my precious L Word Season 1 DVD set!

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Ontology, Space and Radical Politics

The Spaces of Democracy and the Democracy of Space Research Network invites you to:

Ontology, Space & Radical Politics, 4-5 August 2008

August 4th: Radical Politics Today, Community Forum

Long Beach Public Library, 101 Pacific Avenue, Civic Center Plaza, Long

Beach, 90822, 6-8pm

Panelists: Gilda Haas | Strategic Action for a Just Economy, Los Angeles; Laura Pulido | American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California; Goetz Wolff | Harry Bridges Institute, San Pedro & University of California, Los Angeles

Moderator: Jon Pugh| Director, The Spaces of Democracy and the Democracy of Space Network & Geography, Politics and Sociology, University of Newcastle

August 5th: Ontology, Space & Radical Politics, Workshop

Karl Anatol Center, California State University, Long Beach, 9am-430pm

Speakers: Nigel Thrift | Vice-Chancellor, Warwick University; Edward Soja | Urban Planning, University of California, Los Angeles; Lawrence Berg | Geography,

University of British Columbia; John Paul Jones III | Geography and Regional Development, University of Arizona; Sallie Marston | Geography and Regional Development, University of Arizona; Keith Woodward | Geography, University of Exeter; Liz Philipose | Women’s Studies, California State University, Long Beach; Mary Thomas | Women’s Studies & Geography, Ohio State University

Moderator: Deborah Thien| Node Director, The Spaces of Democracy and the Democracy of Space Network & Geography, California State University, Long Beach

For further information about these events, or to reserve workshop space, please contact Deborah Thien at dthien@csulb.edu.

Flyer available in PDF format here:


or here: http://www.csulb.edu/colleges/cla/departments/geography/faculty/thien/

Please circulate widely, with thanks.

Deborah Thien, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Geography

Book Review Editor, Emotion, Space & Society

Node Director, Spaces of Democracy, Democracy of Space

California State University, Long Beach

Telephone:         (+1) 562-985-7072

Email:                dthien@csulb.edu

Documenting my thought processes – Guidelines for research

After finishing a review for a journal, I am still in an academic mode. I thought I would share my thought processes here. These are mere guidelines I use when researching, writing or trying to understand all sorts of phenomenon.  I suppose it is an insight into how my brain works

  • Don’t make claims without warrants.
  • NEVER fall for dualities and binary modes of thinking i.e. black/white, either/or. As a longer example, juxtaposing the gathering of women in a patriarchal space to secular liberal feminism does not mean we stop questioning oppression no matter how narrow the space. We don’t need to submit to either non-liberal contestable agency or First World secular feminism.
  • Get rid of certainty of knowledge and any broad generalized claims to truth – questions are better than statements. DECONSTRUCT AWAY!
  • What? Who? – I.E. What is criminalized? Who is the incarcerating regime? Keep your units of analysis clear.
  • LET THE SUBALTERN SPEAK – It is not the place of a secular, liberal and privileged scholar (albeit outsider) to tackle and analyze unfamiliar structures and discourses. Lets not assign agency to people who do not see themselves as agents, situating them in movements that they don’t consciously identify with.
  • Don’t obsess over categories, labels, boxes
  • Sympathize with the becoming, not the being
  • Never ignore the specific social and historical configuration within which the research is situated.
  • Keep this at the back of your mind – Ideas and assumptions do not exist outside the material conditions of life. Go to the root of the matter if you need to.
  • Don’t ignore the importance of minor acts and inconspicuous transformations — they may be the start of something more. Footnote them if possible.
  • Value narratives and experiences. Don’t shy away from feeling and emotions. They are oftentimes more powerful than empirical evidence.
  • Aim for discontinuities and ruptures in meta-narratives
  • Make notes of contradictions
  • Keep in mind: agency/structure without the binaries. It is a reproductive and cyclical process.
  • Do not disregard the importance of space – Colonial globality? Autonomous space? Hate-free zone? Sanctuary-sphere? Nuclear-free zone? — What space do we inhabit?
  • Never approach an issue in a uni-dimensional manner. It is not just nationalism, not just sexism, not just racism or classism  i.e. the gendered impacts of a globalization that has disparate impact on the rich/poor/ethnic minorities of developed, developing and underdeveloping countries. Try and see the broader linkages between ISMs, systemic patterns if possible while always being careful of meta-narratives.
  • Be a tragic-comic — Humor helps.
  • Question/Critique everything, including the self.

I am back from Boston

And still recovering from the horribly long hours at the conference and straining my hand while lifting heavy luggage. I took some pictures at Charles River and Boston harbor, so have a look. Yea, I was wearing a pink triangle all throughout the conference.

The highlight of the conference was a talk with Noam Chomsky while I finally got a long overdue $45 haircut. People also liked my presentation and asked good questions — I have finally come to an EDUCATED conclusion that academia is a sanctuary sphere of sorts for the undocumented and underprivileged, as well as niches for all sorts of under-represented ideas. There is a lot of sympathy and empathy for a ‘different’ experience or thought and it was reflected by the audience feedback of several presentations otherwise considered too left-field.At the same time however, to really be accepted by the mainstream academic circle, we still need to hide our heterodox, post-modernist, subaltern orientations, especially in the United States. Yet, there are niches and sanctuaries and it feels nice to have that bit of support.

The Politics of Waiting – Asylum

There’s a really good discussion on asylum circulating one of my academic listserves. Not many know that I study critical geography and subaltern studies, and there is some space in those fields to speak about immigration. The perspectives and philosophy is unlike what one would hear in the mainstream media or even blogosphere. I have decided to invest some time to researching a critical geography take on ‘illegal immigration’ and add it on for my Boston AAG paper.

The case of Sarjina Emy’s family awaiting asylum decision for 13 years has me completely flabbergasted. What is the point of asylum relief when it takes more than a decade?! Obviously, by that time things would probably have changed, and it would be harder to win the asylum case. Is it really just ineffective government policy and red tape that has created this backlog of cases, or is something else going on?

The critical geographers liken the “politics of waiting” with a “politics of control” over migrant bodies. Since we think and speak in terms of spatiality (while the historians are better with temporality), we have only recently come to address timelessness and temporal status when it comes to migrants.

Think about DREAM Act beneficiaries. We are constricted to both SPACE and TIME; in effect, a temporal status. This is the institution of massive control over our bodies, both in space and through time. Do these “waiting rooms of history” (Dipesh Chakraborty), contribute to the creation of a “community?” Guess what, I can point over to the DREAMers and say we have come together, from completely diverse backgrounds, and only created community because of our PLACEMENT in these waiting rooms. Now is this community counter-hegemonic? Does it purport an alternative nationalism? Yes and No. We are counter-hegemonic in the sense that we do challenge status quo immigration laws and hegemonic discourses on migrants. Our existence challenges the definition of “American” – After all, we are in effect, UNDOCUMENTED AMERICAN STUDENTS. At the same time, while we are in these waiting rooms, all we want to do is be “out” and be able to assimilate with the sheep-like masses (for the most part). And yet, we are an alternative voice in the history of nationalism, a subaltern voice.

Am I the only one here who finds this whole discussion quite interesting? I plan to finish a good academic paper by April 1 and try to get it published in several academic journals. Takes the DREAMers to a whole new level of discussion that no one has yet “placed” us on.

Anyway some resources going back and forth on the listserve that I plan to look up soon –

Ahiska, Meltem. 2003. Occidentalism: The Historical Fantasy of the Modern, The South Atlantic Quarterly 102/2-3, Spring/Summer. Duke University Press. 351-379.

Bayart, Jean-Francois, 2007. Global Subjects: A political critique of globalization. [especially final chapter on “Global Godot”]

Becket, Samuel 2002 [1953]. Waiting for Godot. London: Faber and Faber

Bissell, K. Animating Suspension: Waiting for Mobilities. Mobilities 2, 2, 277-298.

Blanchot, Maurice 1996 [1959]. Waiting Trans. Michael Holland  in The Blanchot Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.

Bourdieu, P. Pascalian Meditations. Cambridge: Polity [especially chapter 6]

Chakrabarty, D. 2004. Provincializing Europe [Chapter 8] Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Corbridge, S. 2004 Waiting in line, or the moral and material geographies of queue-jumping in Lee R and Smith DM eds Geographies and Moralities. Oxford: Blackwell/RGS-IBG. [Chapter 12]

Deleuze and Guattari, 1986. Nomadology: The War Machine. London: Routledge.

DeVerteuil, Lee and Wolch (2002) New spaces for the local welfare state? The case of General Relief in Los Angeles County. Journal of Social and Cultural Geography 3(3): 229-246

D’Emilio, John 1983. John Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Falah G-W 2007, The politics of doing geography: 23 days in the hell of Israeli detention” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25, 4, 587–593.

Hill, Andrew 2008, Seeing, Waiting, Travelling: Reimagining the War on Terror Oxford: Palgrave.

Jamoul, Lina 2004. Palestine—In Search of Dignity. Antipode 36, 4, 581–595.

Kafka, Franz 2007. The Trial. New York: Schocken Books.

Kracauer (1955) The Mass Ornament. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kwan, Mei-Po, 1999.  Gender, the Home-Work Link, and Space-Time Patterns of Nonemployment Activities Economic Geography 75, 4, 370-394

Lacan, J. 1988 [1945]. Logical time and the assertion of anticipated certainty: A new sophism. Newsletter of the Freudian Field 2: 4–22, trans. Fink, B

Long, Joanna C 2006. Border Anxiety in Palestine-Israel Antipode 38, 1, 107–127.

Marris, P. 1984. The Politics of Uncertainty: Attachment in Private and Public Life. London: Routledge.

Purcell, Mark 2007. Skilled, cheap and desperate: non-tenure track faculty and the delusion of meritocracy. Antipode 39, 1, 121-143

Sartre, Jean Paul. 2004. Critique of Dialectical Reason. Oxford: Verso.

Verdery, Kate. 1996. Socialism and What Comes Next [especially chapter 2]

Web sources:

Armaly, Fareed and Rashid Masharawi on waiting:

Veronique Besnard’s work with asylum seekers and refugees in Brighton:

Montopoli, Brian: The Queue Crew: Waiting in line for a living.

Morrow, Lance: “Waiting as a Way of Life”

Paddy O’Gorman’s radio show Queuing For Living:

George Tooker painting “Government Bureau”:


Dave Dobbyn Waiting

Lou Reed, Waiting for the Man

Fugazi, Waiting Room

Matt Johnson, I’ve been waitin’ for tomorrow (all of my life)Credit for the sources goes to the academics on the Critical Geography listserve.