Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion IV: Fluidities and Fixities, Feb 2012

I was recently at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) 2012 conference, Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion IV: Fluidities and Fixities.  This is a conference jointly organized by UBC and NUS students working in migration studies.

There was a stellar lineup of keynote speakers, which include Adrian Bailey (Hong Kong Baptist University/Leeds University), Elspeth Graham (University of St. Andrews), Rhacel Salazar Parreñas (University of Southern California), and Dan Hiebert (UBC).

I was part of a paper session on Transnational Identities and Subjectivities, chaired by Tracey Skelton (NUS) and responded to by Rhacel Parrenas.  I presented a paper entitled ‘A Minority Challenging Multiculturalism: The Social Conservatism of Cantonese-speaking Evangelical Christians in Metro Vancouver.’  Here’s the abstract:

Studies of transnationality in the Asia-Pacific region have recently focused on migration through a given social field over the lifecourse, some nodes centred on education, others on work (Waters 2002; Ley and Kobayashi 2005; Preston et al 2006; Waters 2006; Ley 2010; Lin 2011). While such approaches rightly highlight these migrants’ ties to their places of origin, they seldom explore their commitments to their new destination nation-states. Using qualitative data collected from 40 key informant interviews and four focus groups in Metro Vancouver, this paper demonstrates that one particular, influential migrant group in Vancouver—migrants from Hong Kong who are of evangelical Christian faith—are in fact more committed to Canada than Hong Kong. However, their involvement in Canadian civil society, far from celebrating Canada’s multicultural policy, has sought to challenge multiculturalism on the grounds that their rights of religious freedoms and parental choices in their children’s education have been overshadowed by agendas concerning gender and sexuality. Such political voices have included journalistic postings in English- and Chinese-language media in Vancouver, activist organisations, and the success of Cantonese-speaking evangelical Christian candidates for the Conservative Party in federal elections. Given such a wide range of political participation, I argue that the social conservatism of Hongkonger evangelicals, while contextualised by a transnational social field, signifies an attempted integration into Canadian civil society by challenging the state’s multicultural policy. This paper advances discussions of fixities and fluidities in Asia-Pacific migrations by outlining the development of a socio-political agenda by transnational migrants for their destination countries, not only their places of origin.

For more information about the conference, please see the Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion website. We hope to have the fifth installment at UBC Vancouver.

Winter/Spring 2010: Update on Ph.D. Happenings

The Winter 2010 term has drawn to a close, so much so that it’s a shame to call it the Winter Term all the way into late April!  The Spring 2010 term is just beginning.  It is time for an update.

I have taken two directed readings courses this term.  The first was with Henry Yu (UBC History) on Asian Americans in Global Context.  The course began with the classic texts of the Asian American movement: Sucheng Chan’s Asian Americans: An Interpretive History and Ron Takaki’s Strangers from a Distant Shore: A History of Asian Americans.  The course focused on an intellectual history of the Asian American/ethnic studies political movement.  It then branched out into the historical periods in which an Asian identity in American, Canadian, and Australian contexts were formed: in the labour migrations in the classical capitalist economies of the nineteenth-century, the political context of Cold War constructions of “Good Asians” and “Bad Asians,” and in the contemporary setting where Asians are regarded as the “model minority.”  We also explored issues such as gender, sexuality, and religion.  The final product of this course is a course syllabus that we design for undergraduates to introduce the issues of ethnic studies and Asian Americans.  My syllabus begins with an exploration of personal positionality, enters the issues by framing a narrative of the Asian American experience, and then tinkers with that narrative by exploring Asian bodies in colonial and post-colonial spaces.

The second course was with David Ley (UBC Geography) on Geographies of Religion, Secularism, and Social Theory.  The course was designed around my writing of a paper that would explore, critique, and provide new entry points into the geography of religion.  The paper has evolved into an exploration of two ways the geography of religion has been done: first, through the Berkeley school of cultural geography’s emphasis on the imprint of religion on the cultural landscape and second, through the new cultural geography’s critique of the Berkeley school and re-emphasis on the practices that make sacred spaces sacred.  I also engage thinkers on secularity such as John Milbank, Charles Taylor, and Talal Asad and introduce the notion of a grounded theology to guide ethnographic work on geographies of religion and their intersections with fields that don’t look sacred at first glance.

These two courses are leading into what looks to be a very busy (but productive!) spring and summer 2010.  I have just finished a very successful conference presentation and paper presentation in Washington DC and ten days of intensive field work on the Highway to Heaven (see my previous post) and will be finishing these papers that I’ve just mentioned.  My spring review with my committee for my first year of the Ph.D. will be in mid-May.  I have taken three courses thus far: 1) cities in the Asia-Pacific region, 2) the politics of Asian America and Asian Canada, and 3) geographies of religion, secularism, and social theory.  I plan for these three courses to form the basis of the three comprehensive fields I will be examined in for my comprehensive exams in Fall 2010.  These exams will develop professional competence in these fields that will be useful for future teaching and research.

What to look out for in the Spring 2010 term:

  • A field course with Henry Yu on cultural spaces in two post-colonial cities: Singapore and Vancouver (10 May-18 June).  I am a group leader for several undergraduates doing field research.  My group will likely work on religion and the city.
  • Pacific Worlds in Motion III: Mobile Identities: a graduate student conference on Pacific migrations (2-5 June)
  • A reconnaissance trip to Hong Kong where I plan to do some grounded preliminary research on evangelical social and political activism in Hong Kong.  There will be more on this in forthcoming posts; if you would like to see me in Hong Kong, we can make arrangements! (19 June to 13 July)
  • A forthcoming paper in Population, Space, and Place based on my MA work on a transnational Hongkonger church in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia.

This academic vocation is indeed busy but very rewarding, both intellectually and personally.  I am thankful for a Ph.D. program with so much rigour that is contributing not only to my academic formation but my personal growth.  I welcome dialogue on any of the issues I’ve raised in this post (and in previous posts): I am always looking for ways to sharpen these ideas in community, whether academic or not!