How are performance artists in the Burmese diaspora resisting notions of indebtedness and redefining narratives of political oppression and liberation? How can performance art and organic networking interrupt the academic-industrial complex?
In episode 37 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach and guest Emily Hue discuss how artists in the Burmese diaspora navigate the intersecting violences in the asylum and refugee process, why graduate students and other academics should explore multiple outlets for their work beyond the academic monograph, what luxury hair markets and oil spill cleanup have to do with one another, and Emily’s contribution to the giant wish list we’ve been compiling on this podcast as guests imagine and create better worlds.
This episode of Imagine Otherwise is part of Signal Boosting, a podcast miniseries collaboration between the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Ideas on Fire, and the Association for Asian American Studies. Each week during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’re highlighting an emerging scholar who is building new audiences for the field of Asian American studies. The Signal Boosting miniseries aims to show how interdisciplinary scholars, activists, and artists are producing socially engaged work in multimedia forms, as well as inspire you to create your own.
Guest: Emily Hue
Emily Hue is a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Riverside in the Departments of Comparative Literature and Foreign Languages and Ethnic Studies.
She is a cultural theorist and ethnographer who examines race, feminist/queer theory, visual arts, performance, and humanitarianism in the 21st century.
She is currently finishing up a book called Economies of Vulnerability: Humanitarian Imperialism and Performance in the Burmese Diaspora, which looks at current trends of self-injury and bodily objectification taken up by diasporic, refugee, and asylum-seeking artists working within the confines of the international arts market and humanitarian industry.
Her recent work will appear in a special issue on critical refugee studies in the journal, LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory, and the anthology Undercurrents: Southeast Asian Transnational and Diasporic Cultures.
Emily also helped produce the American Alien podcast and worked in the academic publishing industry.
We chatted about
- Humanitarian imperialism in an era of human rights (2:40)
- How Burmese artists are resisting the imperial notion of indebtedness (9:12)
- The scholar as translator (11:58)
- What Emily has learned about scholarship from working in publishing (17:35)
- Human hair and other “live but not quite dead” commodities (20:10)
- Imagining otherwise (26:45)
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The trend of self-injury among diasporic artists
I’m really interested in how and why diasporic artists, including refugees and asylum seekers, are choosing self-injury as they’re dealing with markets of the global humanitarian industry and arts funding.
How artists are resisting the pressure to conform to commercial interests
They are insisting on creating moments of creative license, of agency, of improvisation and aesthetic value, and taking pleasure in these small moments, intervening in these small moments that are often thought of as quite difficult to talk about or unspeakable.
Meeting collaborators organically through diasporic and professional networks
That’s the experience of what diaspora is like. This idea that certain historical events, certain people and places, put you in orbit thousands and thousands of miles away from the country that your peoples are hailing from, and you haven’t really met yet. But at the same time, you’re always in the position of just-about-to-meet. There’s a spirit of potentiality there.
Why academic writers should expand their audiences
A professor in graduate school once said to me ‘I write as if I’m writing for my father.’ I think it’s important to flex that muscle; you need to recognize that what might work for one audience doesn’t always work for all audiences and publishing taught me that as well. You’re not always writing for a scholarly context—you’re writing so that the work is accessible to more people as it gains ground.
“Live but not quite dead” commodities
The things that people are trading in are these commodities that were once live, but are not quite dead either. The question that I keep coming up upon is, does it mean that someone has to lose something, or lose a part, in order for someone else in the Global North to lead a fuller life?
Choosing to work at the intersection of art, academia, and activism
I want funders and patrons and policy makers to take into account that experiences that are affected by histories of race-making, of gendering, sexuality, class, nationality, ethnicity, political status—these are always things that have made it harder for some communities to be apprehended as human in the first place and deserving of rights in these legal frameworks. What I’m hoping that I and others are doing is thinking through how art, scholarship, and these spaces of activism are always serving each other.
I imagine a world where we have eradicated these incredibly unequal dynamics of power with regard to state violence, with regard to borders, with regard to language and migration.
More from Emily Hue
- Emily’s website
- Emily’s book Economies of Vulnerability: Humanitarian Imperialism and Performance in the Burmese Diaspora
- American Alien podcast
Projects and people discussed
- Chaw Ei Thein, Burmese multimedia artist
- Htein Lin, Burmese artist, writer, comedian, and actor
- Yến Lê Espiritu, scholar of critical refugee studies and professor of ethnic studies
- American Alien podcast
- Ye Taik, Burmese performance artist and avant-garde dancer
- Flux Factory
- Free Dimensional
- Sandi Saw Tun, scholar, curator, artist, and community organizer
- Burmese American Collective
- Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese politician and author
- Kalindi Vora, transnational feminist science and technology studies scholar
- Burmese independence
- 8888 Uprising (1998) and government crackdown
- Saffron Revolution (2007) and government crackdown
- Imagine Otherwise interview with Eric Tang, episode 6
- Imagine Otherwise interview with Mimi Nguyen, episode 25
- Imagine Otherwise interview with Ronak Kapadia, episode 21
- Tamara Ho’s book Romancing Human Rights: Gender, Intimacy, and Power between Burma and the West
- Chie Ikeya’s book Refiguring Women, Colonialism, and Modernity in Burma
- Michael W. Charney’s book A History of Modern Burma
- Michael A. Aung-Thwin and Maitri Aung-Thwin’s book A History of Myanmar Since Ancient Times: Traditions and Transformations
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 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.
About Signal Boosting
This episode and the Signal Boosting miniseries is a collaboration between Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency that works with progressive, interdisciplinary academics, the Association for Asian American Studies, the primary research and teaching hub for Asian American Studies as a dynamic, interdisciplinary field, and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, a migratory museum that brings Asian Pacific American history, art and culture to you through innovative museum experiences online and throughout the United States.
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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.
[00:19]: I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach. Welcome to Signal Boosting, a podcast miniseries collaboration between the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Ideas on Fire, and the Association for Asian American Studies.
[00:33]: Each week during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we are highlighting an emerging scholar who’s building new audiences for the field of Asian American Studies.
[00:43]: The Signal Boosting miniseries aims to show how interdisciplinary scholars, activists, and artists are producing socially engaged work in multimedia forms, as well as inspire you to perhaps create your own.
[00:56]: In this third episode of the Signal Boosting miniseries, I interviewed Emily Hue, who’s a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Riverside, in the Departments of Comparative Literature and Foreign Languages and Ethnic Studies.
[01:09]: She’s a cultural theorist and ethnographer who examines race, feminist and queer theory, visual arts, performance, and humanitarianism in the 21st century. She’s currently finishing up a book called Economies of Vulnerability: Humanitarian Imperialism and Performance in the Burmese Diaspora. That book looks at current trends of self-injury and bodily objectification taken up by diasporic refugee and asylum-seeking artists working within the confines of the international arts market and humanitarian industry.
[01:41]: Emily’s recent work will appear in a special issue on critical refugee studies in the journal Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory, as well as the anthology Undercurrents: Southeast Asian Transnational and Diasporic Cultures. Emily also helped produce the American Alien podcast and worked in the academic publishing industry.
[02:00]: In our interview, Emily and I talk about how Burmese performance artists navigate the intersecting violences in the asylum and refugee process, why grad students and other academics should explore multiple outlets for their work beyond the academic monograph, what luxury hair markets and oil spill cleanup have to do with one another, and Emily’s contribution to the giant wish list we’ve been compiling on this podcast as guests imagine and create better worlds.
[02:28]: Thanks so much for being with us.
Emily Hue [02:29]: Thank you so much for having me.
Cathy Hannabach [02:31]: You’re writing a really exciting-sounding book called Economies of Vulnerability: Humanitarian Imperialism and Performance in the Burmese Diaspora. What’s that book cover?
Emily Hue [02:41]: The project is definitely inspired first and foremost by my interest in Asian American Studies, human rights, feminist and queer theory, and performance. But I even think before approaching those fields as a scholar, I was always trying to figure out how the Burmese diaspora community, the community that I grew up in in New York, also played a role in US history, just by virtue of their migration and these little slivers of stories I’d hear growing up about their growing up.
[03:11]: By, “their growing up,” I mean my elders growing up and the aftermath of Burmese independence from British colonial rule right after World War II, and then under a series of military governments since 1962. Those experiences were often referenced in contrast to what the US was supposed to represent. Just, to give a heads up, in 1988 and again in 2007, student and civilian protests in Burma were speaking to military governance and shook Burmese society.
[03:38]: The reaction to that unrest, the Burmese state shut down universities, enacted some curfews, and attempted to prevent public assembly in public spaces of religious worship and cafes. These places have become sites previously of organizing against things like censorship and surveillance, so some communities had to leave.
[03:55]: The book is really trying to examine Southeast Asian art in the diaspora, and for me, that includes visual arts and performance from Burma that features the theme of self-injury as well as using the body abstractly.
[04:11]: In recent years in the news, we can notice things like, increasingly refugees and asylum-seekers around the world are turning to activities like sewing their own lips shut, hunger strikes, stranding themselves on the open sea in order to bring attention to these crises of human rights in detention centers, in refugee camps, and in immigration processing institutions.
[04:33]: I’m really interested in that context, how and why diasporic artists, including refugees and asylum seekers, are taking up and choosing self-injury as they’re dealing with markets of the global humanitarian industry and arts funding.
[04:48]: Just to get a sense, what I mean by “the global humanitarian industry” are networks of NGOs, including medical service and teaching abroad programs, but also necessitate things like tourism, charities for famine and disaster relief that include celebrity activism, think tanks and policy institutes that require donations. These relationships, I think, are really illuminating that commercial side of human rights, which are tending towards philanthropy and increasingly consumer activism.
[05:16]: So similarly, the book project is mostly examining the work of artists who circulate their performances and exhibitions at that very specific intersection between the arts and humanitarian spaces. For them, that might include showing their work at makeshift galleries, at museums and staging them at specific nonprofits. It’s by combining those resources that folks are able to actually find support to present their work.
[05:40]: These spaces are sometimes having I think really similar conversations around human rights as a social justice project. But at the same time, they can’t really, I think always 100% of the time, reach out to each other and have conversations across the board.
[05:53]: We’re always I think, talking about how international-national justice resources already spread so thin and are always operate under this kind of notion of austerity or deficit. So the book really seeks to put in conversation artists and scholars, humanitarian workers, advocacy programs, residency programs, to put them in conversation and I think keep us accountable to those goals that we have in mind, especially since we’re often talking about art as a medium for freedom of expression.
[06:20]: There are definitely quid pro quos that comment that freedom, as it depends on individuals’ migration history and their access to transactional sponsorship, as well as funding. Within a contemporary art market in the US that is constantly really interested in diversifying, who shapes, and I think what constitutes collectible work is also constantly changing, and we need to recognize that today’s artists face the challenges of having to be really savvy to that for their livelihood.
Cathy Hannabach [06:46]: One of the things that I find so fascinating about this project is the way that you tease out the complicated politics of what you call humanitarian imperialism. This is a theme that actually some past guests on this podcast have talked about, Mimi Nguyen most particularly. I’d love to hear a little bit more about how you conceive of humanitarian imperialism. How can humanitarianism itself be imperialistic? How has it been? What kind of imperial logics and practices and violences does humanitarianism contribute to or perhaps reproduce? And then, how are some of the artists that you’re looking at resisting that kind of violence?
Emily Hue [07:28]: I guess by humanitarian imperialism and trying to connect those two terms, I’m really looking at how narratives of humanitarianism are often framed as this essential kind of good, but at the same time can really fall short in protecting the communities who invoke human rights in the first place.
[07:43]: In circles of human rights, we’re oftentimes narrative, that someone is free once they attain asylum, and that someone is leaving a space of political oppression elsewhere to reach this bastion of freedom in the US. But what I think that narrative is really obscuring are the precarities that exiled refugee and asylum-seeking communities continue to face in transit or upon arrival or even years after.
[08:06]: Some of the artists I have spoken to over the years in this project are necessarily balancing different jobs in order to pursue art. They’re having to do things like apply for funding, to find patrons, to find a museum interest, but also taking up multiple jobs they’re doing alongside that, like domestic work or working in the service industry.
[08:24]: As you mentioned, folks within critical refugee studies, like Yến Lê Espiritu, like Eric Tang and Mimi Nguyen, they’re asking this question of when is indebtedness of the US over this obligatory gratitude that folks kind of have to have for the benevolence of the US to accept refugees?
[08:38]: It’s forty years after wars in Southeast Asia and some communities are still being racialized and gendered as vulnerable, as kind of orphans and widows of war in perpetuity. So I think in the very interest of advocating for communities who’ve experienced various types of psychological, physical, economic constraint, and trauma, I’m interested in how that US scene for human rights advocacy is sometimes unwittingly asking artists to recreate for audiences the very structures that they were trying to get away from in the first place.
[09:07]: You know, folks who have had run-ins with policing and censorship. When folks are working in the States, in some cases they’re getting opportunities based upon whether or not they’re willing to visiblize those histories of political, psychological, or physical trauma to just get by, to gain economic security, to even just be legible as artists.
[09:27]: In terms of what you asked about resistance, what I see artists doing is responding to funders and to patrons by refusing to envision this notion of freedom in such kind of limited terms. They’re really insisting on communicating national histories that aren’t often making headlines, whether they’ve been lost in formal archives, at some point if they’d been censored from the public sphere.
[09:50]: Some examples I see around that are … there’s an artist named Htein Lin, and he does things like projecting films of civilian protests onto his own body, or artists like Chaw Ei Thein. She’s previously in the past represented scenes of what people have gone through when they’ve gone through political imprisonment, collected from stories of colleagues and friends that have experienced this.
[10:11]: So what folks are doing I think is really insisting on inserting moments of creative license, of agency, of improvisation, aesthetic value, taking pleasure in these small moments. As artists intervening into histories that are often thought of as quite difficult to talk about or unspeakable.
[10:27]: In the realm of human rights testimony. As something that folks that often kind of go to as the form that we use to think through human rights, testifying to abuses and what have you. But these artists are asking, “What do we do with our other senses outside of doing things like pursuing visibility or pursuing things like speech?”
[10:46]: So I don’t necessarily see something like self-injury or using the body abstractly as some kind of pure sense of submitting to funders either. I think that artists are really kind of strategizing times and places for those interventions and sometimes even using silence as a tool to deal with how they’re still pursuing freedom in their resettlement or in their future travels.
Cathy Hannabach [11:05]: This concept of using the other senses to essentially create alternative testimonials or to speak back against the insistence on speech itself, it reminds me a lot of Ronak Kapadia’s episode where he’s also looking at artists who are doing something similar in a different context, addressing a slightly different issue. But it’s interesting how the body can be both a target of violence but also the means to speak back to that violence if not overtly resisted.
Emily Hue [11:33]: Right. Right.
Cathy Hannabach [11:34]: So I’m curious how you have found the process of researching that nexus of performance and activism. You know, because those are different spaces than kind of the purely archival or academic spaces, work circulates in really different ways. So how has that research process been for you?
Emily Hue [11:55]: I think sometimes one can’t really always prepare for what they’re going to find in their research mode, whether that is in the archive or is like a more non-formal space that could still be considered archival technically.
[12:07]: And so, for me, I think it really comes down to thinking about the scholar as a translator. I mean this like in various senses. So on a very kind of primary level, it’s also about the translation of literal language. When I think about stories in the Burmese diaspora, they have their own particular nuances and I may have grown up in a Burmese, Chinese English-speaking household, we’re always mixing those languages together. But to be able to conduct research in Burmese, to read it, to speak it, I had to actually go learn Burmese language more formally in graduate school and learn a different vocabulary.
[12:40]: That includes talking about art and talking about history versus things like things you talk about in your home with your family or your community. So at a one-to-one level, it was about or has been about translation for me.
[12:51]: Secondly, I think it’s also about translating between different audiences, the language that funders are speaking and the performances that artists are doing that sometimes insist on not actually speaking, not using speech. It’s also about not really thinking that everyone’s speaking the same language at the same time and trying to remain flexible and open to ideas that disrupt your own sense of what traditionally is considered complicity or even like resistance in the first place.
Cathy Hannabach [13:17]: Did you find that your work, your scholarship on performance and diaspora, did you find that that dovetailed into your work at the American Alien podcast? I know you’ve done some really fantastic work helping really exciting artists get their work out there through the podcast medium. Did you find that your research dovetailed into that or were they separate projects for you?
Emily Hue [13:39]: You know, there definitely were some similarities. So the American Alien podcast was actually first conceived of by an artist from Burma named, Ye Taik now working in the US. It was put on through the Flux Factory, which is an artist collective in Queens, New York. The project was kind of a fulfillment of an artist residency project that Ye Taik was doing at the time.
[14:00]: He wanted to stage these different conversations about what he saw as experiencing alienness upon relocating to the US and to have folks listening to the podcast get a sense of how that feeling of alienness really motivates other projects in the US amongst his peers.
[14:15]: Ye Taik and the Flux Factory put in touch through Free Dimensional, which is an advocacy organization based in New York with like main hubs around the world. But they support really great work by cultural workers who’ve been displaced and are seeking what they call, safe haven spaces, that host activists and artists temporarily needing a residency or community art space to kind of call home for a while or to call like a home base for a while.
[14:38]: In some ways doing that project, it definitely informed the way that I approached my research because sometimes these dense networks of how different orgs come together is not always visible in their mission statements, but it kind of happens more organically through, “Oh so and so on in this org knows this artist, and this artist knows that festival,” and what have you.
[14:56]: So there’s definitely a way in which I think doing the American Alien podcast captured that experience. When Ye Taik, he asked me to participate, we were talking through ideas, and the podcast I ended up organizing was with me and a woman named Sandi Saw Tun, and she’s a Burmese diasporic scholar, curator and community organizer.
[15:15]: What was great about that was that Ye Taik basically set me up on like a friend date with her, and she founded the Burmese American Collective in 2009. It’s a nonprofit org that focuses on sharing information about the Burmese diaspora and about culture arts and history to the US
[15:31]: We realized through kind of doing the podcast that we’ve been running in these similar circles for a number of years and didn’t always get a chance to sit down and talk. So we’d always kind of realized we’d been around certain places at the same time or met the same people, but always just missed each other.
[15:47]: I think that’s kind of the experience of what diaspora is like, this idea that you know, certain historical events, certain people and places puts you in orbit thousands and thousands of miles away from the country that your peoples are hailing from and you haven’t really met yet.
[16:01]: But at the same time, you’re always in a position of just about to meet, and there’s a spirit I think of potentiality there that was really great to kind of speak to with her. It gave the small sense of the certain spirit of timeliness of also haunts how Burmese diasporic art actually takes shape in the first place.
Cathy Hannabach [16:18]: So in addition to your academic publications, as well as your work on this podcast, you’ve also explored scholarship from the other side of things, from the perspective of the academic publishing industry. I’m curious what you actually did in the publishing industry, but also how that shaped your scholarship when you were on the opposite side of things of publishing. How did your experience with publishers affect that?
Emily Hue [16:41]: Right. So I had an interesting time in academic publishing. At that particular time I was an editorial assistant and I was working at the cross-section between a political science and Asian studies list.
[16:55]: In that job a lot of it was doing things like the nitty-gritty like producing jacket copy, talking to authors, getting in touch with copy editors, making sure that things are flowing in terms of the publication process from the bare manuscript to the finished book.
[17:10]: What was also part of my job was also helping my editor parse out projects that might be worth taking up. He saw this one biography come across his desk about Aung San Suu Kyi, who folks may know is a famous figure in the context of Burmese history, and now she was a previous political prisoner and democracy rights activist who was under house arrest for many years and now is actually a Burmese parliament member.
[17:33]: No matter how you feel, I guess about her affiliations, at that particular time the book described her as like this little bird, and I found that very troubling and problematic in terms of those very imperial racializing scripts that describe Burma itself as feminized and a space of vulnerability.
[17:51]: At that particular moment, the 2007 protests were also happening, and it seems like a confluence of events that made me feel as if there are different ways and different narratives we could be talking about when it comes to locating Burma in the US imaginary.
[18:08]: What I found in publishing wasn’t necessarily what I thought I would find. A lot of it again was about thinking through the pressures of publishing from more of a marketing perspective. But at the same time, I was also learning the process of what often does and doesn’t make it and seeing that behind the scenes work of how certain narratives and certain discourses get to be dominant and get to be upheld, and how others don’t often get to make it to the page.
Cathy Hannabach [18:30]: Do you have any advice for scholars or emerging scholars who are interested in pursuing careers perhaps in the publishing industry?
Emily Hue [18:40]: Especially in these lean times, we talk about the issue of contingent labor kind of across the academic industrial complex. I think my advice would be if you’re interested in pursuing a different medium for your work, I don’t know if it necessarily needs to be publishing, I would say, do it. Get yourself a little bit.
[18:57]: I offer this advice humbly because I’d like to keep also thinking through for myself what it means to think for different genres. I think it’s important to explore and find a balance when you’re looking for communities you want to have a conversation with the most. I think it also comes down to managing your own expectations and having a clear idea about how you’re writing, your community work, your social relationships, they fit into what you decide to pursue as your life’s work.
[19:25]: A professor in graduate school, once said to me, you know, I write as if I’m writing for my father. I think it’s important to kind of flex that muscle where you need to recognize I think that what might work for what audience doesn’t always work for all audiences.
[19:39]: That’s a lot about what publishing taught me as well. This idea that you’re not always writing for a scholarly context, you’re writing so that the work is accessible to more and more people as it kind of gains ground.
Cathy Hannabach [19:48]: So your second book project, as if you’re not impressive enough, your second book project in some ways kind of builds on economies of vulnerability, but also takes it in a different direction, which is exciting. So that project takes up what you call, “live but not dead entities.” I would love to know what you mean by that and how they circulate, and what you find interesting about that?
Emily Hue [20:11]: So basically the project kind of first started back in 2006, and I noticed in popular media this trend towards what folks were calling 100% Indian hair or 100% human hair, and it was being like hardcore marketed for what people were calling, it’s like virginal qualities, being untouched by dye, being untouched by chemical processes.
[20:34]: In the marketing ploys, they have these videos of women at temples donating their hair and like cartoons made of it were pious women are donating their hair so that folks in the US can have this original untouched hair. But in that marketing, the hair kind of gets transported to factories in Europe and Asia and then makes its way to US shores and enters this discourse of basically being taken up amongst women of color as a resource, and thinking about the beauty industry.
[20:58]: And so, at the same time that this is happening in another balance, human hair in the last 10 years, 15 years, has also been used by green activists to clean up oil spills. People are making human hair into mats, into felted mats and hair boons to like soak up on local oil spills that have kind of reached our shores.
[21:17]: What I was kind of interested in thinking about that is that there’s a use assigned to that material that was once live, doesn’t just necessitate a different set I think of social relationships. So the body, but also makes the body itself a set of social relations.
[21:32]: Other examples that one could think about in terms of this like Kalindi Vora is also working on this or has worked on this, egg and tissue donation, gestational surrogacy. These are other trends that we could see happening where the things that people are trading in or these commodities that were once live and not quite dead either.
[21:49]: The question that I kind of keep coming up upon is, does it mean that someone has to lose something or lose a part in order for someone else in the Global North to kind of lead a fuller life? In economies of vulnerability, I was really thinking about those questions when it came to performance.
[22:03]: Like what it looks like when you’re thinking about questions around humanity and human sentience as well, and how artists are negotiating being subjects of human rights once they enter the US. The second project is kind of, I think protracting the angle a little bit on that question, and is asking how subjects of human rights discourse appear sentient, but even when they might not necessarily even be defined as a person in the first place, but a part of a once living thing.
Cathy Hannabach [22:30]: I had no idea that human hair could be used to mop up oil spills. That’s fascinating.
Emily Hue [22:36]: It’s totally zany. Some of those the nonprofit orgs that have been doing it, it’s interesting because it’s definitely … it’s a green activist project, but at the same time scientists and Smithsonian have pushed back and said things like, “It’s not actually that effective you guys on a mass scale.” So you know, there’s kind of like a push and pull between those things.
[22:55]: It’s interesting because at the same time hair has also in that context been spotlighted in these luxury eco-living magazines. These hair boons become part of these magazine articles and you’re like, “luxury eco-living,” it’s still me trying to ask like, “What are some forms of like environmental sustainability or like community care that we can engage in,” that’s not just necessarily about always cooperating with those structures of marketing or those structures of global capitalism?
Cathy Hannabach [23:22]: That is totally fascinating. I’m so excited to read that.
Emily Hue [23:25]: Me too. I’m excited to write it and to eventually read it as well. Yeah.
Cathy Hannabach [23:30]: So we’ve kind of talked around it, but I’d like to kind of hone in on it a little bit. Your work obviously brings together in some pretty clear ways your academic interests, your activist interest, your interest in kind of social change or social justice, as well as art and performance. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit more about what that nexus does for you. Why do you bring these three realms together and what kinds of work do you find most fruitful in that intersection?
Emily Hue [23:59]: So I think it definitely goes back to what we were talking about earlier in terms of scholar as translator. So I think that folks who are artists, scholars, and activists or folks who are combining any one or two or three of those three things at the same time, like these folks are frankly busy.
[24:17]: We often talk about in the academic industrial complex and nonprofit organization, industrial complex, people are overworked. I think burnout is very real. And so in this project, what I saw and I still see, I think as a main task is making sure to flag patterns and to stage conversations sometimes that these communities don’t actually always have to have in real-time.
[24:38]: I think that also requires once you hold space for folks, people to catch up with each other, especially as many communities I’ve encountered throughout this project can agree that the promise of human rights, which is not always in the moment here and now, it’s a condition to come. It’s something they’re all kind of working towards.
[24:54]: And so, what I hope, and I hope my work as alongside other scholars and other activists and artists, is to account for a small piece of that and to make sure that these different visions of human rights that we’re kind of espousing all the time are still speaking to each other.
[25:08]: On a more everyday level, that means getting an email from an artist and if they’re asking to be put in touch with so-and-so residency, like, “Who do we know there?” There’s a way in which I think those conversations are happening, happening rather at an organic level kind of on the every day, and keeping people in mind when opportunities kind of come up and you think that someone would be great for, just remembering to remember people.
[25:29]: I want, I think funders and patrons and policymakers to take into account that experiences that are inflicted by histories of race making, of gendering, sexuality, class, nationality, ethnicity, political status. These are always things that have made it harder for some communities to be apprehended as human in the first place and deserving of rights in these legal frameworks.
[25:49]: What I’m hoping that I and others are doing is thinking through kind of how arts, how scholarship, how dissipative activism are always kind of serving each other, and that there’s always more work to be done on the horizon to colonize the logic that there is this universal human that we’re all kind of aiming to become or that somebody already is. I don’t really think that’s true.
Cathy Hannabach [26:12]: So this is a really nice transition into my final question, which is about that world that you’re working towards when you’re doing all of this amazing work, when you’re putting these artists in contact with each other, when you’re doing this kind of translation work, when you’re moving between these three realms of art, of activism and academia. What’s that world that you’re working towards? What kind of world do you want?
Emily Hue [26:35]: I really liked this part of the podcast and I was looking to others kind of take on the matter. I wanted to be like, “Let’s make this major wish list, you guys. It sounds great.” I always think it’s a really tough question.
[26:46]: And so, in kind of the immediate moment, I hope especially in a post-election moment in this country, when I think a lot of us are kind of feeling very immediately that things feel more precarious than ever. I think for us to support teachers and students, especially in public education, I hope we continue to do, I really hope for us to continue to sustain national funding for the arts and social sciences and humanities.
[27:09]: While state support for these spaces are being cut, I think those are some of the same spaces. Where it’s allowing our country’s own people to foster the kind of impulse to imagine otherwise in the very first place.
Emily Hue [27:21]:
And so, there are many, many ways to I think answer that question, but I think I want to stick to it as a teacher just for now that younger folks are inheriting the balances that we’re kind of reaching today. I’m thinking about even just like reading news last night, which is always I think kind of the mode I’ve been operating under lately.
[27:38]: One of the main things I focus on in the classroom on every day is to help students apply these theoretical understanding of power to local context in a way that are accessible to them. I think that going forward in spaces of higher education especially this issue of access will continually be really important to interrogate, and so are the modes that we’re asking students to kind of use analytical skills to kind of work towards, to engage those politics.
[28:02]: So I imagine a world where we have eradicated these incredibly unequal dynamics of power with regard to state violence, with regard to borders, with regard to language and migration, especially as they’re working inside and outside the classroom. I hope to kind of keep writing, working and teaching with folks who want to approach that vision together.
Cathy Hannabach [28:21]: Thank you so much for being with us and sharing your work and how you’re helping create a better world.
Emily Hue [28:28]: Thank you, Cathy.
Cathy Hannabach [28:33]: Thanks for joining us for this episode of Signal Boosting. You can view the show notes for this episode created by Priyanka Kaura on the Ideas on Fire website at ideasonfire.net, as well as find links to the people, projects, and resources we discussed.
[28:47]: The Signal Boosting miniseries is a collaboration between the Association for Asian American Studies, the primary research and teaching hub for Asian American Studies is a dynamic interdisciplinary field; Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency that works with progressive interdisciplinary academics; and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, a migratory museum that brings Asian Pacific American history, art and culture to you through innovative museum experiences online and throughout the United States.