Trinity Hosts Discussion of “Race, Refugees, and The Current Crisis”

University of Texas at Austin Professor Eric Tang Brings Timely Talk to Campus
Hartford, Connecticut, March 31, 2017 – Trinity College recently hosted a lecture by University of Texas at Austin Professor Eric Tang titled “Race, Refugees, and The Current Crisis,” which featured a performance by the Angkor Dance Troupe. Tang talked about the current refugee crisis by sharing research from his book, Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the NYC Hyperghetto. Tang is a professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s African and African Diaspora Studies Department and core faculty with the Center of Asian American Studies.

​University of Texas at Austin Professor Eric Tang.
The March 8 event was part of “Trinity’s Week (and a half) of Action,” which featured a series of lectures about issues related to immigration, race, international relations, and gender equality. Tang talked about how the refugee crisis has become a relatively new topic of conversation, following the Paris terrorist attacks in October of 2015. “Refugee resettlement has become a bipolar issue rather than a consensus issue,” he said. Tang also said that the current administration is sending mixed signals by targeting refugees as being dangerous, when they are the most vetted type of immigrants.

In his book, Tang investigates how refugees understand their place in society. The book follows the story of a Cambodian woman, Ra Pronh, who fled from Cambodia to Thailand to escape the reign of the Khmer Rouge, and ultimately ended up in Bronx, New York. “I coined the term ‘refugee temporality,’ which is this knowledge that upon crossing the border they haven’t necessarily been liberated, but rather from one state of captivity to the next,” Tang said. After exploring the “unsettledness” of Cambodian refugees in the Bronx, Tang suggests that activism is the best way to solve the “unsettledness” of refugees.

 Assistant Professor of American Studies Christina Heatherton, who has taught Tang’s book in her “Race, Gender, and Global Security” course at Trinity, said, “Tang suggests that we cannot understand the experiences of Cambodian refugees in the Bronx without also understanding the struggles of Black and Latino communities who also reside there. By thinking through longer histories of imperialism, colonialism, and racial capitalism, Tang asks us to consider how these communities are not only connected but co-constituted.”

​Above: The Angkor Dance Troupe performance. Below: Trinity Assistant Professor of American Studies Christina Heatherton and University of Texas at Austin Professor Eric Tang with Trinity students.

Race, Refugees and The Current Crisis” was sponsored by the American Studies Department, Center for Urban and Global Studies, Community Learning Initiative, Urban Educational Initiatives Sociology, and the Asian American Student Association (AASA). Heatherton and AASA members Lisa Lee ’17 and Sanjay Thapa ’17 were the co-organizers.

The evening began with Trinity students, faculty, and members of the Hartford community gathering in the Washington Room to view a performance by the Angkor Dance Troupe. This group was founded in 1986 in Lowell, Mass., by a group of Cambodian refugees. After the performance, Thapa explained that the mission of the Angkor Dance Troupe “is to connect communities through preservation education and innovation of Cambodian performing arts.” One of the dances, the blessing dance, is showcased before events to bless and welcome the audience and “to place upon [them] peace, prosperity, and good health,” Thapa said.

“Together with Professor Heatherton, we worked to create an event which not only informs the campus community about the plight of refugees, but also encourages the community to unite in support of one another,” Thapa said. He explained that AASA “yearns to build solidarity with issues that may directly impact many of our peers” and learn from experienced activists like Tang.

Written by Sophia Gourley ’19