Monday, May 18, 2015

"40 Years. Countless Tears" by Mary Keovisai

Over at the 40 & Forward blog by SEARAC, this week they're highlighting the art by Mary Keovisai who is a Lao American artist currently living in California and is engaged in social justice issues. This one is a meditation on the journey of the kingdom of Laos and the US secret bombing campaign that would eventually leave over 30% of Laos contaminated with unexploded cluster munitions by the end of the war.

Mary Keovisai is the author of the 2012 text, Killing Me Softly: Remembering and Reproducing Violence in Southeast Asian Refugees, which was described as a thesis that examined "the ways in which Southeast Asian refugee narratives have been produced and replicated through institutions for the purpose of supporting legitimizing and justifying U.S. imperialism and war violence. It interrogates the limitations of institutionalized modes of memorialization and seeks to offer new forms of remembering and circumventing narratives of remembering. Furthermore, it seeks to connect different forms of state violence together to yield a greater analysis and understanding of the ways in which violence affects the lives of Southeast Asian refugees through an analysis of cultural productions and narrative practices. This project serves to highlight what is forgotten when refugees and domestic violence survivors remember and the connectedness and intricacy of various forms of U.S. imperialism and state violence." I think there were definitely some interesting ideas to consider within this, even as I continue to challenge the privilege we currently give to academia to validate our mechanisms of response to the roots and consequences of our diaspora.

In the conclusion of her thesis, she asks: "Who gets to “break the silence” and under what conditions? How can we capture the story of silence? That is, I sought to question how to “break the silence” without forgetting it. " As a poet, silence is becoming an increasingly interesting question for me, as I recently addressed in my poem "A Preface To Lao Silences". She takes note of the work of Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan and many others who are also probing these questions. I don't know if all of you will agree with her conclusions, but I think they're worth taking into consideration. Her art that she shares with us and SEARAC is an important part of this continuing dialogue.

Today over 700,000 Laotians live as refugees around the world rebuilding their lives. Be sure to check out the entry at 40 & Forward this week, as well as other pieces that have been submitted since it began. Perhaps more importantly, consider adding your voice to this ongoing reflection.

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