Narrative in the Shadow of the Refugee Regime

Criticism / Mai-Linh K. Hong

:: Narrative in the Shadow of the Refugee Regime ::

Once, while my parents shopped in a drugstore and I wandered the aisles alone, a white woman approached me and said, “I want you to know I do not blame you for the war.” The woman mistook my silence for incomprehension, so she said more slowly and loudly, “I DO NOT BLAME YOU FOR THE WAR.”

I must have been about seven. Even then, I knew which war: Vietnam.

Exoneration, when unasked for, sounds more like accusation. I answered, “I know. I wasn’t born yet.” The woman studied me, then moved away.

Children are perceptive, economical creatures. They understand that some days you choose between justice and self-preservation. Years later, I wanted to return to that moment and say sarcastically to the woman, “I don’t blame you, either.” But such a response would have been unkind. Life is a series of imperfect responses, based in a kind of social arithmetic that rarely comes out right. I did not know what or whom she might have lost to war. I did not even know what I had lost.

* * *

Viet Thanh Nguyen, a scholar of race and ethnicity long before he became a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, wrote in the New York Times last year, “[I]t is precisely because I do not look like a refugee that I have to proclaim being one, even when those of us who were refugees would rather forget that there was a time when the world thought us to be less than human.” [i] Vietnamese refugees have been extensively measured, photographed, interviewed, psychoanalyzed, and documented; but before the relatively new field of critical refugee studies emerged, it seemed one could be a Vietnamese refugee or one could know about Vietnamese refugees, rarely both. Thus I open with personal narrative in keeping with a practice of self-identification—consciously placing oneself in relation to one’s work—that is common in critical refugee studies, as it is in ethnic studies more broadly. This practice speaks to work by Yến Lê Espiritu, who urges scholars to recognize “refugees as ‘intentionalized beings’ who possess and enact their own politics,” rather than as intellectual or practical problems for others to solve. [ii] Reflecting on the field for which she laid much of the intellectual groundwork, Espiritu writes, “Over the years, I have looked for ways to tell the story of the refugee—not as an object of study but as a source of knowledge.” [iii] Espiritu’s and Nguyen’s locutions assign fresh cultural and academic currency to “the refugee’s” capacity to illuminate the world—as a generative new paradigm or as a knowledge producer—while also validating the primacy of narrative in such production. Critical refugee studies decenter empirical, outsider ways of knowing that previously rendered the refugee invisible as soon as she lay claim to them.

A not-insignificant part of my project is this: decades after a harrowing passage, and from the relative security of a university office, I undertake to resignify my decades-gone, brown, child self who was once so visibly a remnant of the Vietnam War. That raced and gendered body, a “less than human” refugee body, was a screen on which (non-Vietnamese) Americans could project their otherwise formless grief, anger, blame, and forgiveness. [iv] As far back as I recall, I have been periodically hailed into some stranger’s narrative of a disastrous war, in which I played a role I recognized but did not choose. The woman in the drugstore, who believed her exoneration of me would have a particular meaning (“I want you to know,” she said), unintentionally taught me about the intertwining of knowledge and power (“I want you to know”) and the ways they are refracted through narrative (“I do not blame you for the war”). She is one of hundreds of Americans I have encountered who seek me out to complete their own, unresolved stories about “the war”—that is, about race, empire, militarism, innocence, or whatever else holds up the architecture of their Americanness. This awkward, exhausting, and weirdly soul-baring psychosocial dynamic is a condition of every Southeast Asian refugee’s “new beginning” in the United States.

Indeed, it is the refugee’s function in American society—and her job, for it keeps food on the table—to be hailed into others’ narratives. Since the 1970s, when the United States began formalizing its refugee admission procedures in response to post-Vietnam War refugee flows, this function has been laid out and reinforced by what some scholars refer to as the refugee regime: the complex of international and domestic laws, institutions, policies, and social practices that to a large extent set the parameters of survival for those who are fleeing persecution, violence, or catastrophe. [v] The refugee regime, while it ostensibly attends to the humanitarian needs of the world’s most vulnerable (and it does give some of them precious reprieve from danger), in the larger scheme arguably functions more as an elaborate gatekeeping and cost mitigation system for the wealthier nations of the world. [vi] Without the bureaucratic buffer provided by the refugee regime, such nations might have to reckon with an expensive moral imperative to protect millions of refugees. As Patricia Tuitt puts it, “the overriding aim of refugee law was at its inception and continues to be the reduction of the external costs of refugee-producing phenomena. . . . [I]f the concerns of the law are humanitarian this is only marginally and incidentally so.” [vii] Arguing for a more comprehensive, humane, ethical approach to refugees, Serena Parekh observes that the current international political consensus seems to be that “states have no legal obligation to resettle refugees or other forcibly displaced, they recognize no moral obligation to resettle refugees, and Western states are, for various political reasons, unlikely to resettle large numbers of refugees.” [viii] When refugee crises strike, as they regularly do, “most states feel entitled to exclude refugees, and this motivates many of their policies.” [ix]

Exclusion, the default posture of states toward refugees, is facilitated by the structure of international refugee law. This component of international human rights law is based on the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees and administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). International refugee law works in part by narrowing the legal definition of refugee so that most of the world’s 65.6 million de facto refugees—those who live in indefinite, forced displacement—would not qualify for protection under the Convention. [x] For the 22.5 million who do qualify, the law’s aim of a “durable solution,” a permanent path to safety and relative freedom, is elusive. [xi] Nearly all refugees remain “more or less outside the bounds of the nation-state system,” either warehoused indefinitely in refugee camps or living in other precarious conditions in a country of temporary asylum. [xii] Moreover, because most refugees who cross an international border do not make it farther than neighboring states, the burden of housing and providing for refugees in transit falls disproportionately on Global South states, which are commonly the countries of first asylum.

The deliverance of refugees to safety under international law, when it happens, tends to be understood by observers, policymakers, human rights and NGO workers, and even refugees themselves as an extension of charity—what one gives altruistically when one does not need to. In the United States, where the work of welcoming and integrating newly arrived refugees is done mainly by nonprofit resettlement agencies and private “co-sponsors,” such as churches and individuals, this tendency is amplified through narratives of private hospitality and “altruistic choice.” [xiii] Popular refugee narratives often fit the mold of “sentimental rescue-and-gratitude tales,” in which citizens of predominantly white bystander nations generously rescue racial and national Others from faraway calamities, and those refugee Others profess thanks for the favor, affirming the rescuers’ essential goodness and implicitly absolving them of past wrongs. [xiv] Decontextualized and dehistoricized, such narratives are ideological diversions: the centering of refugee rescue means that any role the host nation may have played in refugee production—for instance, by fueling or engaging in foreign conflicts or through economic policies that destabilize other nations—fades to obscurity. As Mimi Thi Nguyen argues, the grateful refugee is a crucial figure for advancing contemporary American imperialism, for her thanksgiving validates liberal warfare’s promise: that violence and loss in the present are necessary to garner “the gift of freedom” in the future, a questionable gift proffered by the United States under auspices of global security, nation-building, and political and economic liberation. [xv] Critical refugee studies, as Espiritu elaborates, glean from the figure of the refugee an alternate account, not of war as such, but of widespread, ongoing “militarized violence,” which includes less visible forms of state violence that sometimes masquerade as humanitarian aid. Such a formulation reveals more fully “the raw, brutal, and destructive forces that Western imperial powers unleash on the lands and bodies of racialized peoples across time and space.” [xvi]

So it is that in the United States, a nation whose global militarism and economic and strategic policies have contributed to refugee crises in far-flung regions, including Southeast Asia, many confidently claim pride in the nation’s robust tradition of welcoming refugees. Americans commonly point out that the United States accepts more of the world’s refugees who resettle under the UNHCR’s auspices than any other nation, though in 2016 this was only 85,000 people. [xvii] The current U.S. president, who rode to power on a promise to exclude Syrian refugees, acted quickly after his inauguration to halt the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, whose future is now uncertain. [xviii] Trump’s presidency brings to the fore the seeming paradox of American headlines like this one from the New York Times in January 2017: “Warm Welcome for Syrians in a Country About to Ban Them,” announcing a story about some of the last refugees to arrive in the United States prior to the “Muslim ban.” [xix] Such a headline makes sense if we recognize that the refugee regime does not operate through law alone, or through force alone, but, like other vectors of capitalism and imperialism, calls upon narrative, myth, and affect to oil its gears and camouflage its workings. The refugee regime’s neoliberal underpinnings are shielded from view by stories that emphasize, on a good day, refugee rescue, hospitality, and friendship, and on a bad day, a parade of threats that emanate from an inassimilable racial and national Other. These seemingly disparate cultural narratives coexist and, especially in times of insecurity, can assert themselves simultaneously or flip with speed and ferocity.

* * *

The law of refugees is as follows:

(1) A refugee is a person who has fled their country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. [xx]
(2) Other countries may not return a refugee to their country of origin. This is the rule of non-refoulement, a central principle of refugee law. [xxi]
(3) The United Nations determines which refugees are eligible for permanent resettlement in another country. The United States accepts more refugees for permanent resettlement than any other host country. In 2016, this was only 85,000 people.
(4) Once a refugee arrives in the United States, a private, nonprofit agency takes over the work of integrating the refugee, having received a sum of money from the government. Private “co-sponsors” contribute time and resources to aid with integration. [xxii]
(5) After a period of time, a refugee may become a U.S. citizen.

The law of refugees is as follows:

(1) You do not speak. You may gesture for help in a way that makes for a good photograph. Pictures speak a thousand words. They will speak for you.
(2) When you are given the gift of a new beginning, you cannot refuse. You cannot say, “This is not the beginning.” Corollary: you may be haunted. And if so, the ghost is your responsibility, yours alone.
(3) Your labor will include gratitude.
(4) Your labor will include patriotism.
(5) You must not be ironic.

* * *

Resettled refugees learn all of this, the official and unofficial “laws” governing their presence in America, principally through survival. This perilous epistemology develops out of double consciousness, hypervigilance, and strategic performativity. Refugee lives are punctuated with social interactions that reflect how precarious and contingent is their “resettlement,” that optimistically named process through which they are putatively absorbed into a new community. Critical refugee studies have challenged the predominant, teleological understanding of resettlement that views a refugee’s displacement as a temporary disruption to be remedied by their integration into the host country and (re)socialization as a self-sufficient economic actor. Eric Tang, in a study of Cambodian refugees living in a Bronx “hyperghetto,” frames resettlement instead as a continuation of the colonial violence wrought by America in Southeast Asia, converged with the legacy of slavery that keeps impoverished African Americans in the hyperghetto. [xxiii] The subject of Tang’s most extensive interviews, a woman named Ra, experienced forced marriage, captivity, and near-starvation under the American-backed Khmer Rouge; once in America, she “engaged in forms of survival that disavowed the state’s insistence that she had been simultaneously saved and redeemed by its refugee resettlement program.” [xxiv] Steering her narrative of continued displacement in America, in part by setting the terms of her interviews, Ra materializes a theory of her own, which Tang terms “refugee temporality.” Rather than treating the time of atrocity as discrete and over, Ra’s narrative enables Tang to “name[] the refugee’s knowledge that, with each crossing, resettlement, and displacement, an old and familiar form of power is being reinscribed.” [xxv] While policymakers speak a technocratic language of annual caps, vetting, and sponsorship of refugees, refugees must meet their basic needs by working within the available narratives and discourses, generally ones that presume the gift of a new beginning. But many, like Ra, also claim social space and generate new language for their own understanding of their experience. This is a fraught, unsettling process that continues long after the legal condition of refugeeness is extinguished (for instance, through the bestowal of American citizenship). From this daily, indefinite negotiation between stark necessity and the refugee’s desire for (though sometimes skepticism of) a fuller existence, refugee-authored literary texts arise.

lê thi diem thúy’s impressionistic, semi-autobiographical novel The Gangster We Are All Looking For (2003) illustrates the painstaking and painful forging of refugee “forms of survival” out of the morass of cultural expectations and ideological narratives projected onto refugees in America. The novel’s five chapters are each divided into short scenes a few sentences to a few paragraphs long. Fragmentary and image-laden, the scenes read like prose poems, each capturing a moment from the young female narrator’s memory or imagination as if to form an album of verbal snapshots. One of the earliest scenes, which sets the novel in motion, describes an allegorical refugee sponsorship centering on a retired, white Navy veteran, Mr. Russell, who embodies a cultural phenomenon Cathy J. Schlund-Vials describes as “the alchemical recuperation of the American subject from military aggressor to militant humanitarian.” [xxvi] The elderly Mr. Russell, living in San Diego, watches television images of the Vietnamese Boat People, “nameless, faceless bodies lying in small boats, floating on the open water.” [xxvii] For Mr. Russell, these undifferentiated Asiatic bodies “merged with his memories of the Okinawans and the Samoans and even the Hawaiians” whom he saw in another war, decades earlier. [xxviii] One night, Mr. Russell dreams the refugee boats are seabirds flying “toward the point where in the dream he understood himself to be waiting, somewhere beyond the frame,” and with that revelatory image, he decides to sponsor a refugee family. [xxix] Through this collusion of sympathy and spectatorship, given form by the law, lê’s unnamed protagonist is plucked from a refugee camp to begin her rocky resettlement in America.

Mr. Russell exemplifies a distinctive convergence of sentimentalism, paternalism, racism, and military violence that characterizes America’s posture toward Southeast Asia and its refugees. lê quickly displaces that perspective as the dominant one: she embeds the man’s decision to sponsor inside her own narrative frame, a move that enables the reader to see, ironically, Mr. Russell regarding himself as an off-screen spectator, not the spectacle, as he watches the Boat People on television. Figuratively reversing the camera lens of American and European photojournalism, which iconized the Boat People’s suffering for a mostly white audience, lê’s novel critically highlights the white American veteran’s self-construction as observer-rescuer, including how “he understood himself” as “waiting, somewhere beyond the frame.” In his conflation of endangered, racialized bodies (the Vietnamese with the Okinawans, Samoans, and Hawaiians), Mr. Russell does not necessarily misrecognize the Boat People. Rather, he recognizes all too well historical continuities between the United States’ World War II Pacific victory (cinched by the atomic bombings and subsequent military occupation of Japan), annexation of Pacific islands, near-genocidal military exploits in Southeast Asia, and finally, the crisis experienced by the Boat People. But whatever redemptive potential exists in refugee sponsorship—and his epiphanic dream suggests there is some—Mr. Russell does not live to realize it; he is dead by page five, leaving the sponsorship of a young girl and five men as a final wish for his wife and son to carry out.

Thus, the sentimental rescue-and-gratitude narrative is derailed almost before it begins. The late Mr. Russell’s relatives are barely willing, much less warmly welcoming; the refugees are more frightened than grateful and keenly feel their dearth of options. Nevertheless, the narrator and her family must live and work with the prevailing expectations of gratitude, cognizant that to do otherwise would be to disrupt the mythologies underlying refugee admission, not to mention jeopardize their shelter and provisions in a sponsorship-based economy. Overhearing a tense discussion between the Russells, the refugees contemplate their dependence:

We each thought of those long nights floating on the ocean, rocking back and forth in the middle of nowhere with nothing in sight. We remembered the ships that kept their distance. We remembered the people leaning over the decks of ships to study us through their binoculars and not liking what they saw, turning away from the boat. If it was true that this man Mel could keep us from floating back there—to all those salt-filled nights—what could we do but thank him. And then thank him again. [xxx]

Anchored to the refugees’ anaphoric “we” is the recurring memory, and implicit threat, of being no more than a spectacle of bare life for others to “study,” then decide to aid or forsake. This memory directs the refugees’ responses to their sponsor: “what could we do but thank him”—a question without a question mark—and “thank him again,” rehearsing the role of the grateful refugee. Long Bui brings performance studies to bear in analyzing refugee life and identifies a “refugee repertoire” of familiar performances through which refugees negotiate complex social demands. Bui delineates “the refugee condition as a highly embodied staged process, anchored in the motion and movement of the diasporic subject’s navigation across different landscapes of belonging or exclusion.” [xxxi] The sponsorship economy is, among other things, an affective economy in which refugees perform certain states of mind (such as gratitude) in order to secure basic necessities. Thanking Mel is an act of survival, a staving off of “salt-filled nights” “in the middle of nowhere with nothing in sight,” for refugees who “float” precariously through their resettlement rather than actually settling.

Later, viewing a photograph of the fishing boat on which she escaped Vietnam, shot from the deck of the American naval ship that rescued them, the narrator imagines the Americans laughing at the Boat People:

Maybe that’s why it took them so long to lower the ladder. Maybe they laughed so hard at the sight of us so small, they started to roll around the deck like spilled marbles and they had to help one another to their feet and recall their own names—Emmett, Mike, Ron—and where they were from—Oakland, California; Youngstown, Ohio; Shinston, West Virginia—before they could let us climb up and say our names—Lan, Cuong, Hoang—and where we were from—Phan Thiet, Binh Thuan. [xxxii]

The narrator’s only visual document of the meeting at sea is a photograph taken literally from a white savior’s perspective, but her reading of the image rejects the salvation narrative that assumes sympathy or altruism. Instead, the girl imagines cartoonishly heartless sailors who “laughed so hard” that they fell about the deck, then “help[ed] one another” stand first before allowing the stranded Boat People to board. The two roll calls of names and cities of origin make clear the unequal footing on which the two groups, American sailors and Vietnamese refugees, encounter each other, with one list syntactically and symbolically subordinated to the other. In “recall[ing] their own names,” the Americans construct their self-identity in relation to the refugees, who must be “let” to “climb up and say our names.” At the same time, the “maybes” that begin each sentence, along with the sailors’ exaggerated antipathy, signal an act of counter-imagination: the girl’s construction of a narrative unlike any that might be harbored by, say, Mr. Russell, the sympathetic former Navy man who is also reading images of the Boat People.

Like Ra’s refugee temporality, the novel rejects resettlement’s promise of a new beginning; instead, it demonstrates how unsettledness endures into adulthood for the child narrator, a chronic runaway who ends up living on the opposite coast from her parents. The narrator, her father, and her “uncles” (her mother arrives later) are not so much resettled in California as they are forcibly transferred to California to continue an indefinite series of displacements. These include being asked to leave the home of Mr. Russell’s son Mel after the narrator accidentally destroys his collection of glass animal figurines, and later, eviction from a gentrifying neighborhood they can no longer afford. It seems at times they have not come that far: “We live in the country of California, the province of San Diego, the village of Linda Vista,” in 1940s Navy housing that since the 1980s has been taken over by Southeast Asian refugees, the narrator recounts, mapping California with a geopolitical vocabulary more suited to Vietnam. [xxxiii] Their ex-military housing reflects the fact that, as Espiritu explains, modern refuge is fundamentally an extension of militarized violence, a phenomenon she names “militarized refuge(es).” Refugee rescue, Espiritu points out, relies on the circum-Pacific U.S. military apparatus that grew dramatically from the 1940s to 1980s—the same bases, technology, weaponry, logistics, and pathways that were used in war to displace the refugees to begin with. [xxxiv] The refugees’ physical presence in the “village of Linda Vista” mirrors, and is the result of, the United States’ imperial expansion into Southeast Asia. The American war brings home its human remainders.

lê’s novel details many such ironies of resettlement, large and small. The refugees are not a good fit in Linda Vista. Their transplantation is marked by disjuncture, ambivalence, and distrust: about the Navy housing, the narrator wryly recalls, “When we moved in, we had to sign a form promising not to put fish bones in the garbage disposal.” [xxxv] After the narrator’s mother arrives from Vietnam, her husband buys her a used Cadillac as a “Welcome to America” gift, but she does not know how to drive and soon backs the lumbering vehicle into the wrought iron gate of the apartment complex. The landlord arrives to fix the gate and “silently cursed his tenants. He suspected each and every one of those living in the building’s sixteen units. . . They were people who broke things.” [xxxvi] With ironic humor, the scene literalizes the prevalent negative perception of refugees as “gatecrashers”—that is, as unwelcome guests in the neighborhood and the nation, and as people largely responsible for their own crises, “people who broke things.” Eventually, unable to pay the rising rent, the family is evicted and arrives home to find the building padlocked, all their possessions inside. They go “quietly” but not complacently: “At night we come back with three uncles. Ba cuts a hole in the fence and we step through. Quiet, we break into our own house through the back window. Quiet, we steal back everything that is ours. . . We tumble out the window like people tumbling across continents.” [xxxvii] The passage stakes out a collective claim (again, through a chorus of “we”) not only on the refugees’ property, but also on the narrative itself. “Quiet” the refugees may be, but their actions speak: burglarizing their home and stealing back their property, they confront a society that is not meant for them but in which they must nevertheless, like Ra, improvise “forms of survival.” Even in America lê’s refugees are still “tumbling across continents”; unsettled, they adopt (and adapt) strategic performances and reversals of meaning and narrative that carry them through a lifetime of displacement.

The Bucknell Institute of Public Policy supported this project with a summer research grant, and Bucknell University’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender organized a faculty colloquium in which I developed some of these ideas. I am grateful to my colleagues Nikki Young, Margaret Cronin, Christopher Walker, Layla Vincent-Brown, and Monica Sok for helpful conversations and feedback, and to Steven Belskie for research assistance.


[i] Viet Thanh Nguyen, “The Hidden Scars All Refugees Carry,” New York Times (September 2, 2016).
[ii] Yến Lê Espiritu, Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refuge(es) (University of California Press, 2014) 11, quoting Nicholas Mirzoeff.
[iii] Espiritu, Body Counts 171.
[iv] I am indebted to Marita Sturken’s development of Freud’s idea of screen memory and to Cathy J. Schlund-Vials’s extension of Sturken’s work. See Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, The AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering (University of California Press, 1997) 44; Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, War, Genocide, Justice: Cambodian-American Memory Work (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) 77.
[v] International governance of states’ treatment of refugees is sometimes referred to as the “refugee regime” by scholars of international law and policy and international relations. See, e.g., Laura Barnett, “Global Governance and the Evolution of the International Refugee Regime,” International Journal of Refugee Law 14.2/3 (2002); Alexander Betts, “The Refugee Regime Complex,” Refugee Survey Quarterly 29.1 (2010); Guilia Scalettaris, “Refugee Studies and the International Refugee Regime: A Reflection on a Desirable Separation,” Refugee Survey Quarterly 26.3 (2007). My use of the term is broader and refers to not only legal and political formations, but also social practices and cultural productions that, I argue, influence the treatment of refugees in both daily life and policymaking.
[vi] Patricia Tuitt, False Images: The Law’s Construction of the Refugee (Pluto Press, 1996) 7.
[vii] Tuitt, False Images 7.
[viii] Serena Parekh, Refugees and the Ethics of Forced Displacement (Routledge, 2017) 4. 
[ix] Parekh, Refugees 4.
[x] Parekh, Refugees 3, 6; Tuitt, False Images 7, 67; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Figures at a Glance” (June 19, 2017).
[xi] UNHCR, “Figures”; Parekh, Refugees 4.
[xii] Parekh, Refugees 4.
[xiii] J. Eby et al., “The Faith Community’s Role in Refugee Resettlement in the United States,” Journal of Refugee Studies 24.3 (2011) 593; Helen Fein, Congregational Sponsors of Indochinese Refugees in the United States, 1979-1981: Helping beyond Borders (Cranbury: Associated UP, 1987) 17. The role of private sponsors in U.S. refugee resettlement was more prominent in the 1970s and 1980s than it is today. See Fein, 49.
[xiv] Building upon work by Mimi Thi Nguyen, Yến Lê Espiritu, and others, I have previously discussed the sentimental rescue-and-gratitude tale. See Mai-Linh K. Hong, “Reframing the Archive: Vietnamese Refugee Narratives in the Post-9/11 Period,” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 41.3 (2016).
[xv] Mimi Thi Nguyen, The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages (Duke University Press, 2012).
[xvi] Espiritu, Body Counts 26.
[xvii] Refugee Processing Center, “Refugee Admissions by Region: Fiscal Year 1975 through 31-Aug-2017,” U.S. Department of State.
[xviii] The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear merit arguments on challenges to Trump’s travel bans on October 10, 2017, but as of mid-September 2017, it is rumored that the President may soon issue a new order with a different set of restrictions. In the meantime, Trump’s order has been permitted to take effect with some limitations. See “Trump’s Travel Ban to Be Replaced by Restrictions Tailored to Certain Countries,” New York Times (September 22, 2017).
[xix] Jodi Kantor, “Warm Welcome for Syrians in a Country About to Ban Them,” New York Times (January 28, 2017).
[xx] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (2010) 14.
[xxi] UNHCR, Convention 30.
[xxii] Eby, “Faith” 591-593.
[xxiii] Eric Tang, Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the NYC Hyperghetto (Temple University Press, 2015) 14-15.
[xxiv] Tang, Unsettled 21.
[xxv] Tang, Unsettled 21. 
[xxvi] Schlund-Vials, War 77.
[xxvii] lê thi diem thúy, The Gangster We Are All Looking For (Knopf, 2003) 4.
[xxviii] lê, Gangster 4.
[xxix] lê, Gangster 5.
[xxx] lê, Gangster 7-8.
[xxxi] Long Bui, “The Refugee Repertoire: Performing and Staging the Postmemories of Violence,” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 41.3 (2016) 113, 115.
[xxxii] lê, Gangster 29.
[xxxiii] lê, Gangster 88.
[xxxiv] Espiritu, Body Counts 30-32.
[xxxv] lê, Gangster 88.
[xxxvi] lê, Gangster 41.
[xxxvii] lê, Gangster 97.


Works Cited

Barnett, Laura. “Global Governance and the Evolution of the International Refugee Regime.” International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 14, no. 2/3, 2002, pp. 238-262.

Betts, Alexander. “The Refugee Regime Complex.” Refugee Survey Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 1, 2010, pp. 12-37.

Bui, Long. “The Refugee Repertoire: Performing and Staging the Postmemories of Violence.” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, vol. 41, no. 3, 2016, pp. 112-132.

Eby, J. et al. “The Faith Community’s Role in Refugee Resettlement in the United States.” Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 24, no. 3, 2011, pp. 586-605.

Espiritu, Yến Lê. Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refuge(es). University of California Press, 2014.

Fein, Helen. Congregational Sponsors of Indochinese Refugees in the United States, 1979-1981: Helping beyond Borders. Associated University Presses, 1987.

Hong, Mai-Linh K. “Reframing the Archive: Vietnamese Refugee Narratives in the Post-9/11 Period.” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, vol. 41, no. 3, 2016, pp. 18-41.

Kantor, Jodi. “Warm Welcome for Syrians in a Country About to Ban Them.” New York Times, 28 January 2017.

lê thi diem thúy. The Gangster We Are All Looking For. Knopf, 2003.

Nguyen, Mimi Thi. The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages. Duke University Press, 2012.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh. “The Hidden Scars All Refugees Carry.” New York Times, 2 September 2016.

Parekh, Serena. Refugees and the Ethics of Forced Displacement. Routledge, 2017.

United States, Department of State. “Refugee Admissions by Region: Fiscal Year 1975 through 31-Aug-2017.” Refugee Processing Center, 2017.

Scalettaris, Guilia. “Refugee Studies and the International Refugee Regime: A Reflection on a Desirable Separation.” Refugee Survey Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 3, 2007, pp. 36-50.

Schlund-Vials, Cathy J. War, Genocide, Justice: Cambodian-American Memory Work. University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Shear, Michael D. and Ron Nixon. “Trump’s Travel Ban to Be Replaced by Restrictions Tailored to Certain Countries.” New York Times, 22 September 2017.

Sturken, Marita. Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, The AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering. University of California Press, 1997.

Tang, Eric. Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the NYC Hyperghetto. Temple University Press, 2015.

Tuitt, Patricia. False Images: The Law’s Construction of the Refugee. Pluto Press, 1996.

Figures at a Glance.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 19 June 2017.

Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2010, pp. 14.



Mai-Linh K. Hong is assistant professor of English at Bucknell University. She specializes in American studies, Asian American literature and culture, critical race and ethnic studies, and law and humanities. Her book project is titled Citizenship’s Shadow: Asian American Literature and the Contours of Statelessness, and her scholarly writing has appeared in several academic journals. A former attorney, she received her JD and PhD from the University of Virginia. She tweets from @FleursduMai.


Sarah Sillin, Guest Criticism Editor, received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and is currently a visiting assistant professor of American literature at Gettysburg College. Her book project, entitled Global Sympathy: Representing Nineteenth-Century Americans’ Foreign Relations, explores how writers envisioned early Americans’ ties to the larger world through their depictions of friendship and kinship. Sillin’s essays have appeared in Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States and Literature of the Early American Republic.