Memories of War and Trauma and the Rise of Postcolonial Activism: Migrant/Minority Communities in Asia and America

AHA Session 101
Immigration and Ethnic History Society 2
Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom A (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Judy T. Wu, University of California, Irvine

Session Abstract

How do historians understand the linkage between personal memories of war, destruction, trauma, and collective acts of anti-militarism and -colonialism? Do individual memories provoke local and global activism even as large-scale movements generate new modes of remembering and engagement? This IEHS-sponsored panel explores the relationship between memory and activism in four communities of immigrants and/or ethnic minorities. Connected through a concern about U.S. colonialism and post-colonialism and their impact on migrants/minorities, the papers also bring together various scales of experiences at different times and places in Asia and America. All panelists use oral histories or personal testimonials as an opening for historical understanding, yet their modes of inquiry differ creatively and provocatively.

            Lorena Oropeza explores a contested relationship between family trauma and political leadership. Focusing on Reies López Tijerina, the leader of the land-recovery movement in New Mexico in 1967, and an admired figure in the Chicano movement more broadly, Oropeza illuminates surprising inconsistencies in his and his families' remembering of Tijerina in his public and private lives. Tijerina's leadership was engrossing yet divisive. His families revealed previously unknown traumatic experiences of sexual abuse. By asking how we might reconcile these contradictions, Oropeza proposes new ways of using personal memories in our exploration of political activism.

            Naoko Wake's paper concerns the rise of the anti-nuclear movement in California in the 1970s. Using oral histories and ethnic newspapers, Wake reveals how the anti-nuclear activism was inspired by a newfound linkage between Asia and Asian America during the Vietnam War. In Asian Americans' critique of a nuclear war in the past (in Japan) and an imminent future (in Vietnam), Asian American survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings played key roles. Wake argues that this convergence of personal remembering and political actions was crucial for the rise of a participatory mode of Asian American citizenship.

            Ji-Yeon Yuh turns to "newer" immigrant communities, those of Korean Americans, that grew in size since the end of the Korean War and particularly after the enactment of the 1965 immigration act. Yuh shows how different threads of Korean American activism are in fact interconnected through memories that shape the meanings of the Korean War. Based on oral histories conducted at locations spanning the U.S., Yuh highlights how younger generations' interest in the elderly's experiences allowed for the breaking of silence and the reclaiming of the past--and by extension, the future--in ways distinctively Korean American.

            Nan Kim draws attention to another legacy of US expansionism by exploring the recent developments in the anti-militarization movement on Jeju Island, South Korea. Here, the definition of "migrant activists" becomes transformative as they migrate for the purpose of engaging in activism. Through their creative dissent, these peace activists have invoked personal and communal memories of state violence surrounding the destruction of sacred land Gureombi in 2012, an event shadowed by legacies of the 1948-53 "April 3rd Massacre." By delineating the connection between traumatic memories and activism, Kim shows the emergence of a locally rooted, and globally relevant, mode of anti-militarism.

See more of: AHA Sessions