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Reconceptualizing Migrant Returns: Contemporary Southeast Asian Literature in Transition

Chair:
Jacqulyn Teoh 
University of Wisconsin-Madison
jgteoh@wisc.edu

 

Panel Abstract

The ethno-linguistic diversity and multiplex narratives characteristic of Southeast Asia and its peoples are compounded, in contemporary times, by global diasporic movements. Such movements create fluctuating, hyphenated identities whose instability derives from both the possibility and impossibility of ‘returning’ to originary homelands. This panel seeks to provide an overview of current Southeast Asian Anglophone literary production through examining the concept of the migrant’s ‘return.’ We suggest that inasmuch as the migrant’s ‘return’ requisites a revisiting of the ‘old’ country and a recuperation of ‘lost’ memories, it simultaneously creates new conceptualizations of being, becoming and belonging. In his paper, Christopher Ramos suggests how the articulations of exile and return in the writings of Burmese-American Wendy Law-Yone and Cambodian-American Anida Yoeu Ali wrestle with imperial legacies to construct new modes of belonging based on a transnational collective imaginary. On the other hand, Hai-Dang Phan argues that the ambivalent poetics of Vietnamese-American Phan Nhien Hao necessitate a new deterritorialized reading practice that navigates transnational sites of writing, reception and translation in order to resist the teleology of loss and recuperation commonly associated with the ‘returning’ migrant. Finally, Jacqulyn Teoh’s paper considers how Chinese-Malaysian author Tash Aw’s Booker-nominated Five Star Billionaire restructures the novel form to reconsider the multiplicity of motives that drive Chinese-Malaysians to ‘return’ to contemporary China, thereby redefining the concept of the ‘returning’ migrant. This panel ultimately aims to demonstrate how changing interpretations of migrant ‘returns’ manifested through innovative literary forms reflect the dynamics of Southeast Asia in rapid transition.

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Paper 1:

Christopher Bautista Ramos
Duke University
cbr7@duke.edu

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Paper 2:

Dr Hai-Dang Phan
Grinnell College
phanhai@grinnell.edu

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Paper 3:

Jacqulyn Teoh 
University of Wisconsin-Madison
jgteoh@wisc.edu

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Paper 4: Contingently Constructed Cultural Identity of Diasporic Groups? A Study of Contemporary Southeast Asian Diaspora Literatures in English

Zhao Jianping
Yunnan University of Nationalities
irenezhao924@gmail.com

Locating Southeast Asia as the site of dispersal, real or imagined, diasporic groups described in contemporary Southeast Asian diaspora literatures in English, who experience the travails (even traumas) and rewards of leaving their homelands what with various reasons, feel a simultaneous sense of alienation and affiliation to the hostland and the homeland. They are searching for their cultural identity and hoping to belong to a community. This paper will analyze selected works of this genre to examine the triadic relationships between the diasporic subjects, homeland and hostland, as well as different diasporic trajectories; illustrate the geographical, social, political, historical and cultural contexts in which these works are set; and expound on the contingently constructed cultural identity characteristic of a dynamic “transnational consciousness”. Using the notions of diaspora criticism, this paper will also consider how the exilic experiences (double or even plural movements) and the psychological consciousness of diasporic groups are inflected by race, class, religion, gender, sexuality and global capitalism. Within an interdisciplinary frame in relation to ethnic studies, cultural studies, as well as sociology and anthropology, my objective is to focus on the topics of postcolonial nostalgia, immigrant memory and history, anxiety over identity, language and textual aesthetics to explore how the diasporic identities are practiced, lived and experienced.