What does wellness and unwellness look like in the context of Asian America? In the context of academia? How can we transform our spaces to allow for more interpretations of healing practices? What role can students play in reforming how we discuss mental health in the academy?
In episode 26 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach chats with guests Mimi Khúc and Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis about how academia can better address parenting, mental health, and wellness, as well as the forthcoming special issue of the Asian American Literary Review.
Guests: Mimi Khúc and Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis
Mimi Khúc is a queer Vietnamese American scholar, teacher, and writer, as well as a visiting assistant professor in Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland College Park.
Her research and writing interests span Vietnam War memory, race and religion, mental health, queer of color feminist critique, Asian American motherhood, and second-generation Asian American life.
Her writings have appeared in Black Girl Dangerous, Briarpatch Magazine, and Powerlines.
Lawrence-Minnh Bùi Davis is founding director and co-editor-in-chief of the Asian American Literary Review. He is also the curator of Asian Pacific American studies for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.
Since 2005 he has taught Asian American literature, Asian American film, and mixed race studies for the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Maryland.
His fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction have appeared in Ploughshares, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Gastronomica, Kenyon Review, AGNI, and Fiction International.
Mimi and Lawrence are the co-editors of a forthcoming special issue of the Asian American Literary Review called Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health, which is coming out in January 2017.
We chatted about
- Understanding mental health in the context of race, motherhood, and careers (3:19)
- Tarot as a wellness practice, a meaning-making practice, and a creative platform for distilling Asian American cultural work (9:40)
- How notions of mental health and mental capacity that are embedded in academia prevent productive discussions of mental health and unwellness (15:15)
- Strategically tapping into students’ readiness to talk about mental health to transform academia (18:32)
- Vulnerability as pedagogy / politics (19:35)
- Imagining otherwise (27:00)
Contextualizing mental health
Mimi: Mental health became less about my individual experience and more about the context of social forces, of history, of structural violence that I was facing.
Reclaiming traditional non-Western forms of meaning-making
Lawrence: Ghost practices or other nonrational forces [that] guide our lives or offer us care or wisdom become an easy reading in a Western context as madness and become delegitimized. We want to look at that violence that presses down on our communities and tells them that certain ways of knowing are illegitimate, but also to try and restore them as wellness practices and as meaning-making practices.
Empowering our students to transform mental health in academia
Lawrence: Students across the country are reaching out and telling us they’re more ready than ever to talk about mental health and want spaces to do that. They don’t want guidance or license, they just want us to be part of their conversation.
Making structural vulnerability visible within the academy
Mimi: Choosing to be vulnerable looks different for those who are already so structurally vulnerable in the university. It’s most risky for contingent faculty to reveal things about themselves. To me, it feels important to model that kind of vulnerability in order to make visible the structural vulnerability.
Lawrence: All of this process is important, and the end-product of the book isn’t just the world that we want. What we’ve created in the process as we’re going is the world. This is the world that we want, where we are caring and we are asking us to be accountable to each other and responsible to one another.
Mimi: I want a world in which [my daughter] is free to be well and to be unwell as she navigates the world. That means figuring out what those things look like and giving her the tools to do that. I can’t fix the world, but I can imagine a world in which we develop together and use tools to craft and cultivate communities of care and relationships with each other that are founded on care, accountability, and love. This project, for me, is trying to gift the beginnings of that to my daughter.
More from Mimi Khúc and Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis
- Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health
- Mimi’s website
- Lawrence’s website
- Asian American Literary Review
- Mimi on Twitter
Projects and people discussed
- Association for Asian American Studies Conference (AAAS)
- Long Bui
- Ghost practices, chi cong, and Vietnamese healing practices
- Asian American Tarot deck, available with the special issue Open in Emergency: A Special Issue on Asian American Mental Health
- AALR special issue on Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of Sept. 11
- AALR special issue on Mixed Race in a Box
- AALR special issue on (Re)Collecting the Vietnam War
- Imagine Otherwise interview with Mimi Nguyen, episode 25
About Imagine Otherwise
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.
Cathy Hannabach (00:03):
Welcome to, “Imagine Otherwise,” the podcast about the people and projects, bridging art, activism and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach.
Cathy Hannabach (00:23):
Welcome to the Imagine Otherwise podcast, which is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency, helping progressive interdisciplinary scholars write awesome texts in live in public conversations and create more just worlds. This week’s episode is brought to you by our grad school rockstar program and dissertation rockstar bootcamp. Enrollment for both are now open for spring 2017. Both of these programs help progressive interdisciplinary scholars, like those featured on this podcast, create awesome work, build accountability and community for their projects and rock their interdisciplinary careers. If you or someone you know is a grad student who wants to create a regular writing routine, stop drowning in email, don’t we all? Prioritize self care and actually finish their dissertation alongside other social justice oriented scholars, you can go to ideasonfire.net to find out more.
Cathy Hannabach (01:18):
This is episode 26 and my guests today are Mimi Khúc and Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis. Mimi is a queer Vietnamese American scholar, teacher and writer, as well as a visiting assistant professor in Asian American studies at the University of Maryland College Park. Her research and writing interests span Vietnam war memory, race and religion, mental health, queer of color feminist critique, Asian American motherhood and second generation Asian American life. Her writings have appeared in, Black Girl Dangerous, Briar Patch Magazine and Power Lines. Lawrence is the founding director and co editor in chief of the Asian American Literary Review. He’s also the curator of Asian Pacific American studies for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Since 2005, he has taught Asian American literature, Asian American film, and mixed race studies for the Asian American studies program at the University of Maryland. His fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in Plowshares, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Gastronomica, Kenyan Review, AG&I and Fiction International.
Cathy Hannabach (02:26):
In this interview, I talk with Mimi and Lawrence about how academia can better address parenting, mental health and wellness, as well as their new special issue of the Asian American literary review called, “Open in Emergency,” a special issue on Asian American mental health, which is coming out in January, 2017. So thank you so much for being with us.
Mimi Khúc (02:48):
Thank you for having us.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (02:49):
Cathy Hannabach (02:50):
So you two are the editors of a fantastic forthcoming special issue of the Asian American Literary Review called, “Open in Emergency.” I’d love to hear a little bit about how that special issue came about and the topics that it addresses.
Mimi Khúc (03:05):
Thank you. So the special issue is about mental health, and we can talk a little bit more later about the elements of it, but I’ll talk a little bit now about how the project came to be and how I started thinking about mental health. I’m actually a survivor of postpartum depression about four years ago. When I was going through post-partum depression, I was trying to think about what made life so hard at that time and what made it so hard to talk about what I was going through and to get support, and even to know what support looked like. I was struggling with motherhood, but I was also in grad school dissertating at the time and trying to figure out my academic career. I’m also Asian-American, I identify as Vietnamese-American.
Mimi Khúc (03:49):
So I start thinking about how my mental health needed to be understood in the context of all of those things; in the context of how hard motherhood is, my struggle with my kind of career and what it means to be an academic and a mother and Asian American. Mental health for me became less about kind of my individual experience and more about the context of social forces, of history, of structural violence that I was facing. That’s where the question kind of first started for me.
Mimi Khúc (04:17):
I started teaching a class, I teach at the University of Maryland College Park, and I created a class on the second generation, meaning children of immigrants, and their experiences. I, myself, identify as second generation Asian American, Vietnamese-American. My parents came here, much of my family came here as refugees after the Vietnam War. When I designed this class, I start the class with suicide because of the mental health crisis in the Asian man community that there are some real disturbing statistics around high levels of suicidal ideation among Asian Americans, especially college age, especially women.
Mimi Khúc (04:55):
I decided that if I was going to teach a class about second generation Asian Americans, I need to highlight those kinds of mental health struggles. Then as I taught the class, I saw how much that resonated with my students, the kinds of conversations that it was able to open up by starting a class on suicide and mental health issues. For me, that started extending the question to thinking about mental health in Asian America more broadly. What does that look like in Asian American life? What does wellness and unwellness look like for Asian Americans, specifically?
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (05:24):
At around that point, we started having conversations about doing a project. We weren’t sure what it would look like. AALR, Asian American Literary Review, had done a number of special issues in the past. So we thought, “Okay, what if we geared a project and a teaching program?” One of the things that we’d done with some past special issues is unroll the issue and ask a number of folks at different colleges and universities, in some cases high schools, to consider teaching it at the same time where we could sync them up and try and create a larger national conversation about a particular topic. In the past, we did one on the 10th anniversary of September 11th and one on mixed race, one on the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon last year.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (06:07):
We started planning mental health special issue back in 2013. One of the ways it came into being was through a series of dreaming sessions at the AAAS, the Association for Asian American Studies conference. We held introductory one, just we recognize that there is a mental health crisis in Asian American communities, how would we go about dealing with it? What’s the shape? What are the contours of this crisis? How do we understand it? What would next steps be? And then built each year through series of conversations with what a special issue might look like and how we might deploy it and what our goals for it might be.
Cathy Hannabach (06:46):
One of the things that’s so exciting about this special issue is that it’s not your traditional special issue of an academic journal, right? It’s fantastically interdisciplinary and multimedia. You have pamphlets, letters, a really exciting taro deck, poetry, visual art, all these different kinds of culture that aren’t usually found in special issues of academic journals. Why did you decide to go that multimedia route and what was that process like?
Mimi Khúc (07:14):
When we were thinking about how to approach mental health, both Lawrence and I come from arts and humanities backgrounds, and what we didn’t want to do was come to it from a resource approach, meaning how to make professional counseling and psychological help more accessible or even culturally competent, like how to get resources to people, which I think is a very common way of approaching mental health issues, especially for minority communities. How do we make it culturally competent for them? Which I think is an important question, but we wanted to ask what the arts and humanities could provide in expanding how to think of mental health. What kind of new ways can we understand mental health and mental unwellness if we approach it from the humanities, but also if we start with Asian American life itself and ask the questions from there? So that’s part of why ALR was a great fit in doing this kind of project. I’ll let Lawrence talk a little more about that.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (08:08):
We’re a literary journal and we do work frequently with academics and a lot of our stuff is taught in the classroom, and so we’re constantly trying to think about pedagogy, but we’re kind of trying to expand form from a starting place of a literary journal, from the book and thinking about it almost as book arts, then looping in academia or asking academic scholars and teachers to stretch their practices and stretch how they approach particular disciplinary subjects. For this, we wanted very much to, as Mimi was saying, to think of it as an intervention into a kind of set of standardized and calcified approaches to mental health and in some cases, approaches that are not only not dealing with the crisis, but are actually part of the crisis are kind of replicating some these structures of violence. Form for us, became a way of kind of breaking out of those and in some cases by deconstructing.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (09:03):
So we have within the special issue, a mock DSM, it’s meant to be a DSM with all the pages torn out and reapproached. We have a pamphlet on post-partum depression. That’s a treated pamphlet where we actually start with an actual pamphlet and then think about what are its gaps, where does it need to be redacted, what needs to be added, how can we make visible what is left invisible in this pamphlet? Opening up opportunities that are kind of traditional academic prose or traditional literary prose or poetry might not be able to engage.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (09:35):
Our tarot project I think is a way of starting with what Asian American life looks like in some sense. We have a friend and colleague [inaudible 00:09:42] who, besides being a wonderful scholar, also does tarot readings and we were at a conference with him a couple of years ago and he did a terror reading for us. We got to thinking about tarot as a form and the prevalence of fortune telling practices in Asian American communities and how much those practices have to tell us about unwellness and wellness, and how the project for us, we wanted the larger project to be able to amplify existing wellness practices and name them as wellness practices and think of not so much to being careful about romanticizing them, but think about what productive possibilities they offer us. So it made sense for us to take tarot as a form and then adapted and play with it and make use of it.
Cathy Hannabach (10:26):
One of the artists and scholars that has been working on the special issue with you, Mimi Ngyuen, was actually on the last episode of this podcast. She was talking about how tarot, we had a great conversation about tarot and why so many social justice communities have a variety of sorts have turned to tarot and kind of what that does and how they transform it and remake it and kind of make it their own. It seems like there’s a lot of good connections here about kind of tarot being an open forum that you can do a lot of different things with and it’s adaptable to different communities and different questions and different kinds of social justice projects.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (11:07):
Yeah. I think for us, it’s interpretive possibilities, that it’s a practice that it’s not only just a kind of visual form that we could use. Then for the deck of cards that we’ve created, we’ve asked a number of scholars and writers to, we can talk a little bit more about this too, to kind of craft out these… Replacing the traditional major Archana with figures that we see as important to Asian American life and to use those to kind of trace out the invisible forces that are shaping our lives for both kind of structural forces in many cases that are shaping our lives and shaping what counts as wellness and unwellness, but always leaving open that when we received the card, it’s not a kind of closed loop or end of a reading, but the starting point for an interpretive practice that hopefully, we are engaging in developing together.
Mimi Khúc (11:59):
My academic background is actually in religious studies. I got my PhD in religious studies looking at Asian American religious life. When I encountered the tarot through our colleague and friend [inaudible 00:12:11] at AAAS’s conference. That was a kind of interesting for me, almost ethnographical moment, to look at this practice as a religious practice as a meaning making practice, but in the hands of Asian Americans trying to make sense of their life, but coming out of the original tarot deck out of this kind of European history.
Mimi Khúc (12:29):
As Lawrence said, we decided to rewrite the deck by renaming the figures. The cards are supposed to represent certain kinds of forces in our lives. So we said, “If we start with Asian-American life, what are the forces we would want to identify and be able to make meaning of in our own lives if we are using these cards as really a religious practice?” Asian-Americans, as religious people, have always made meaning of their lives through their religious practices and navigating the structures of violence in their lives, right? Making sense of things like migration, displacement, racism. We thought the tarot was a great place to kind of actively do that, to grapple with those issues, but also creating something that people could actually use and practice with.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (13:22):
Some of the cards, for instance, are the model minority; the refugee, the deportee-
Mimi Khúc (13:26):
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (13:27):
… and it’s part of a… For me, thinking about fortune telling practices in our communities. I also come from a Vietnamese family for whom goes practices is really common, and Qigong and healing practices are common. So some of this is a way of raising questions about ways of knowing and knowledge systems and what counts. For our communities, I think about across the expanse of Asian American literature, but also across my family experiences and experiences I know of in my communities, thinking about other sort of non rational forces guide our lives, or offer us care or wisdom, becomes a kind of madness or an easy reading in an American context or a Western context is madness and become de-legitimized.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (14:09):
So some of our project wants to look at that work and that violence that presses down our communities that tells them that certain ways of knowing are illegitimate, but also to try and restore them as wellness practices and as meaning making practices, and to look to them for how they have in the past and how they do now and how they can in the future, give us new ways of understanding our condition and point us in kind of healthier directions potentially.
Mimi Khúc (14:35):
That’s also a marriage with Asian American studies as a field to academic work. So Mimi actually, other Mimi, I call her, “other Mimi.” Other Mimi is a great example. She, for the tarot deck for us, wrote the text for the refugee card. That was a great opportunity for her to distill her work thinking about war and refugee lives and the kind of theory around that to distill that into a very different kind of form now in a tarot card and distill it in a way that allows now users or practitioners of the card to reflect on their own relationship to the forces that she looks at in her academic work.
Cathy Hannabach (15:09):
One of the most exciting things about this issue aside from the multimedia newness of it, is your willingness to tackle a topic that academia frankly sucks at, which is mental health. It’s a conversation that has been happening amongst academics for a long, long time, but there doesn’t seem to be much institutionalization of it or institutional response to it. We can think of why that is and how the very concept of mental health is just structurally doesn’t make any sense in the logic of produce, produce, produce particularly, in today’s academia. Do you have any suggestions or maybe did you find any strategies in the process of coming up with this journal or your work more broadly of how academia can do that better, how it can better tend to the mental health of its workers?
Mimi Khúc (15:58):
I think you actually hit it right on the head in terms of our culture of productivity. In academia, I would say that the word, “mental health,” does carry some weight, but it’s pretty light and it’s not really examined in the ways that you’re asking. I think one of the main obstacles is because there is a deep, deep ableism that undergirds our obsession with productivity-
Cathy Hannabach (16:22):
Mimi Khúc (16:24):
… but also with an obsession with this idea of mental strength in terms of willpower, like sheer willpower, but also in terms of our intellectual abilities. We think for a living, we produce knowledge for a living, so we’re very invested in our mental capacities. Acknowledging mental unwellness is quite scary and quite threatening. For me, doing better requires that we let go of this idea that mental wellness is normal because actually, we’re all differentially unwell. We’re always managing, always navigating different kinds of violent forces in our lives. Some of us have more capacity than others. Some of us have more proximity to the normal than others. Some of us have more access to support. Some of us have more or less distance from structures of violence in our daily lives. So acknowledging that and thinking of ourselves as all differentially unwell and navigating would allow for us to actually have conversations and think about structural changes to support the mental health of people in academia.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (17:25):
In my capacity as editor in chief of the journal, I’m going to say buy the issue.
Cathy Hannabach (17:32):
We will definitely include links in the show notes.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (17:36):
I want to add onto what Mimi said. I think we’re creating this issue with the idea of trying to create space. The teaching program that we have attached to it is one answer that I think for approaching mental health and academia, one way is to make it part of your regular practice not only in kind of daily self care or in communal self care, but in teaching, making a commitment to turn your classroom in a space for thinking and feeling your way through this issue. Some of it being led by students, as Mimi mentioned, an origin for this was her teaching over the past few years and started student demand. One of the things we’re seeing particularly in communities of color is student readiness. There’s a lot of talk about stigma attached to mental health and that being why we’re not getting at it because there’s traditionally stigma attached to it and Asian American or other communities of color.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (18:23):
I think that’s largely, it is true and not true. It’s a self perpetuating myth sometimes and that our students are more ready than ever, we’re finding. Students across the country are reaching out and telling us they’re more ready than ever to talk about mental health and want spaces to do that and not even necessarily guidance. They don’t want guidance or license, they just want us to be part of the conversation. Having a teaching program, listening to students, we’re trying to work with students to have an event slate across the country, to think about creating their own pop-up wellness spaces. I think for academia, serving as a resource, being part of this, tapping into that energy is a way for us to serve our communities and serve our students, but also serve ourselves, that this is an important strategic opportunity for us because our universities as institutions have to listen to their students to some degree. [crosstalk 00:19:15].
Mimi Khúc (19:16):
They don’t have to listen to us, but they have to listen to the students. [crosstalk 00:19:19]
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (19:19):
Yeah. Faculty and staff demanding concessions in terms of mental health or programming around mental health doesn’t get us very far, but students clamoring for mental health does. I think working with students is an opportunity, an important kind of juncture for us as well.
Cathy Hannabach (19:35):
It seems like a great example of what Mimi, you’ve called in some of your other work, a pedagogy of vulnerability and of thinking about vulnerability not as a detriment or something to fear or something to hide or something to banish in order to get in front of a class and teach students, but rather vulnerability itself as pedagogy, as politics. I’m curious how this plays out in the different employment tiers in academia; what a pedagogy of vulnerability means in the context of adjunct labor, in the context of contingent faculty labor, which is got to be very different than embracing a pedagogy of vulnerability as a tenure stream, pretty secure faculty member.
Mimi Khúc (20:16):
Yeah. I’m thinking of vulnerability both in terms of personal vulnerability, but then structural vulnerability as well. So continued faculty are in such a structurally vulnerable position in the university, especially women of color, especially queer folks of color. If this project is trying to connect mental health to systems and structures, then how can we not talk about the real mental health consequences for those exploited by the university, right? And made vulnerable by the university. Yeah. choosing to be vulnerable looks very different for those who are already so structurally vulnerable in the university. It’s most risky for continued faculty to reveal things about themselves. But for me, it feels important to model that kind of vulnerability in order to make visible the structural vulnerability and to ultimately to ask students to care about those things. I see my role as a teacher as not only teaching students to think critically and see critically the culture around them, but to care about injustice, to care about things that are happening.
Mimi Khúc (21:18):
For many of them, the instructors in front of them actually are adjuncts and contingent labor and they don’t know that and they don’t understand the actual dynamics of the university that they participate in. I tell my students, “I’m an adjunct.” I tell them various things about myself and the ways that I am located as structurally vulnerable, so that they can better see and understand and hopefully, care about the issues and then ultimately, care about each other. So it’s also a kind of pedagogy of care, of trying to cultivate care, which is part of how I think about doing mental health work.
Cathy Hannabach (21:50):
Lawrence, it seems like there’s a lot of crossover with the work you do at the Asian American Literary Review Journal with regards to vulnerability or opening up space for authors, for poets, for artists, for scholars to think through some of the issues central to Asian American literary culture, Asian American life more broadly as you put it. Do you see that kind of vulnerability play out in the work that you do with the journal?
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (22:15):
Yeah. I think a starting point to answer that question, and let me know if I’m getting at what you’re asking, when you say vulnerability and I think about the journal, I think about it starting point as a project by a couple of grad students and working within the university and then branching out to become a nonprofit.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (22:29):
The journal has always had a sort of cultivated vulnerability in the sense that we haven’t accepted money from any major institutions, that we wanted to be on our own and to be independently funded, no money with strings attached so that we are able to make any critique that we feel like is in service of our communities and to be answerable primarily to our communities, to our readerships and to the artists and contributors we work with. Traditionally for some people, any kind of journal that devotes itself to a body of literature or thinks of itself as a showcase.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (23:01):
We are presenting work by writers of Asian descent as the kind of standard template and we wanted to get away from that. We wanted to be intentional about not being a showcase but about being an engine and pushing writers not to just say, “Give us your work and we want to publish it,” but to be in communication and to ask our writers to be in communication with our communities about, what are the issues facing us now? What does social justice look like now? What does racial justice look like now? And kind of create these conduit of conversation that are threaded through and through with questions of vulnerability. How are our communities vulnerable? How are our artists vulnerable? What should we be talking and writing about right now?
Cathy Hannabach (23:38):
Mimi, you opened our conversation today talking about motherhood as your kind of way into your interest in mental health and this fantastic special issue that came out of that. I’d love to return to that just briefly particularly, because you’ve written some really smart stuff about this in other contexts about the kind of intersections of motherhood and adjunct labor and how racialized trauma in particular, shapes parenting and some often surprising, complex, messy ways. I’d love to hear your thoughts about kind of how universities and post-ac or alt-ac institutions and companies can better support parents of color and address the kind of structural vulnerabilities that they face, but also encourage the kind of critical vulnerabilities that both of you have been talking about today.
Mimi Khúc (24:26):
For the issue, our main way of approaching issues of motherhood is through our PPD pamphlet that Lawrence mentioned a little earlier where we took a traditional info pamphlet, like those brochures you get at the doctor’s office that doctors or nurses hand you and then you throw away after you give birth. We took one of those and looked at it and tried to understand what it was trying to do and what are the gaps and how is this actually not helpful? Why do women just throw it away? Why doesn’t it actually help women who are struggling after they have children?
Mimi Khúc (24:57):
So I worked with several other mothers, Asian American mothers, who have gone through postpartum mood disorders to think about what are our needs, what did PPD look like for us? Where does it come from? What factors contribute to it? And to kind of re theorize it. What we came up with is that PPD is not simply a hormonal condition after birth, but actually a result of the neglect of mothers and the structural violence that mothers face. Our society is not supportive of mothers and hold up mothers as necessarily martyrs or super mothers who have to do everything. This can be particularly acute for mothers in academia because of the intense pressures to produce, to produce work, to not produce biologically, to not have children, to wait to have children, say after 10 years something like that, and to function in departments as if you are child-free, as if you are free of any kind of caring responsibilities because somehow that is the ideal academic worker.
Mimi Khúc (26:01):
For me, how to change this, how to do better? Support looks like that truism, right? It takes a village. This means thinking about all of us people as having different kinds of caring responsibilities and to normalize those caring responsibilities and to then work those caring responsibilities into structures. So providing, childcare, providing flexible schedules and also thinking about our workplaces as family spaces. For instance, at University of Maryland in my department in the Asian American studies program, I take my daughter to meeting. Often, we try to schedule meetings at times that are friendly and work for different kinds of caring responsibilities. My other colleagues also bring their children sometimes. We have play dates between the children. Lawrence actually one’s organized a summer bug camp for many of the children in the program. So thinking about all of us as caregivers in different ways and creating a culture around that and then creating actual policies and structures to support those kinds of caring responsibilities.
Cathy Hannabach (27:04):
So this brings me to my favorite question that I get to ask guests. As you know, this podcast is called, “Imagine Otherwise,” and the kind of impetus behind it is basically me getting to talk to really amazing people who do this with the work that they put out into the universe, they’re imagining different worlds. So I’ll ask both of you, what’s that world or worlds perhaps that you’re working towards when you edit your journal, when you get in front of a classroom, when you interact with your kids, when you organize with colleagues and comrades; what world do you want? What world are you working towards?
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (27:39):
When we’re doing those things to some degree, that is the world. This idea of, “imagine otherwise,” I think of Candice Chu’s formulation and the notion that Asian America isn’t a discrete term or a set of communities or a descriptor so much as a process of communities continually imagining themselves into being or kind of continually evolving critique. I’m thinking about process for this issue, for instance, for opening, “Open Emergency,” our focus throughout having to be not so much on the final thing that gets done even as we’re mired in printing details and print runs in the cost of this and that and nuts and bolts and logistics of getting it done, but also in the long lead up. Then what we’re hoping comes afterwards, convening folks to talk about their buy into it and what they want to see out of it and what they want to do, working with the many curators and contributors on the issue not so much to just secure, “You’re going to turn in this by this date,” or, “This is what your work is going to look like,” but talking with one another, sometimes not about the work at all.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (28:41):
Creating communities of care and trust with each other has been so important that we realized at points, that that’s been baked into this development is nurturing and listening more so than what might be traditionally understood as editing. That process is just as important. This thing over these last few years is just as important as the final kind of book art project that comes out in the world or even the hopefully, the event slate and the opportunities for dialogue all across the country or in classrooms, that all of this process is important and that the end product of the book isn’t just the world that we want, that what we’ve created in the process as we’re going is the world, that this is the world we want where we are caring and we are asking us to be accountable to each other and responsible to one another.
Mimi Khúc (29:31):
I started the project in part because I was struggling with motherhood and dealing with my own mental health issues, but also as a project and gift for my daughter. I actually opened the issue with a letter to my daughter in terms of what I want her to get out of the project, what I want her to see in it and what I want her to be able to be as she lives her life and grow up. It sort of boils down to I want a world in which she is free to be well and to be unwell as she navigates the world. So that means figuring out what those things look like and giving her the tools to do that. I can’t fix the world, but I can imagine a world in which we can develop together and use tools in order to craft and cultivate, like Lawrence is saying, communities of cares, basis of care and relationships with each other that are founded on care and accountability and love. This project for me, is trying to get to the beginnings of that for my daughter.
Cathy Hannabach (30:33):
Sounds like a pretty awesome world.
Mimi Khúc (30:35):
Cathy Hannabach (30:37):
I think that’s a great place to wrap up. Thank you both so much for being here.
Mimi Khúc (30:42):
Yay. Thank you.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis (30:42):
Cathy Hannabach (30:48):
Thanks for listening to another episode of, “Imagine Otherwise.” Check out our website at ideasonfire.net to listen to full episodes, read show notes, and see links to the people, books, and projects discussed on the show. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for our newsletter to find out when new episodes are released and to get tips to help you rock your interdisciplinary career.