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Refugees in a World on Fire: Dispossession, Diaspora and the Possibilities of Queer Resistance

  • Author(s): Tran, Kim Thien
  • Advisor(s): Feldman, Keith P
  • et al.


Refugees in a World on Fire: Dispossession, Diaspora and

the Possibilities of Queer Resistance


Kim Thien Tran

Doctor of Philosophy in Ethnic Studies

University of California, Berkeley

Professor Keith P. Feldman, Chair

On August 9th, 2014, Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Afterward, Brown’s 18-year old body lay in the sweltering sun for four hours; uncovered and defaced even in mourning. The death of Michael Brown—a Black teenager—at the hands of a white police officer catapulted national racial tensions, drew protests and created #BlackLivesMatter. Across the country, #BlackLivesMatter issued clarion calls for solidarity in action and creed. My dissertation explores how Asian American activists responded by marshaling relational and affective frameworks in order to forge coalitions with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Between 2014-2016, I argue Asian Americans pursued solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter through a framework of mediated advantage which disavowed the model minority myth and relied upon histories of Asian exclusion to build bridges across diverging iterations of white supremacy. Moreover, through interviews with Vietnamese American community activists, I find that solidarity between these two communities depends upon nebulous yet powerful affective linkages, the “impossible psychic attachments” of what I term a queer diasporic praxis.

The first chapter provides a theoretical framework and historical context for diaspora and dispossession. Chapter one establishes the political and economic structure specific to Vietnamese diaspora and dispossession in order to argue for indeterminancy between the two. I engage seminal political and economic theory and to tease out the common veins of violence and disenfranchisement endemic to diaspora and capitalism that make solidarity possible.


In this chapter, I perform a close reading of solidarity statements from various sources including #Asians4BlackLives, CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, The National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), 18 Million Rising, SAALT: South Asian Americans Leading Together, and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) and Bay Area Solidarity. I contend Asian American solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter functions through a technology of mediated advantage that simultaneously disavows the model minority myth and prioritizes anti-black racism in an attempt to think race relationally.

In chapter three I reimagine cross-racial coalition in the Vietnamese diaspora through Women of Color Feminism and Queer of Color Critique. I introduce the framework of a queer diasporic praxis as the analytic through which solidarity can be understood as affective and queer. Using participant observation, I locate affect and emotion as the engine and facilitating mechanism for coalition-making. I assert Vietnamese American activists employ rubrics of alternative kinship and a “common context of struggle” in their efforts to end anti-Black racism alongside Black Lives Matter.

In chapter four, I challenge popular narratives of social death that would render efforts to foment racial justice meaningless. Taking Asian and Vietnamese American organizing as a point of departure, I re-read afro and queer pessimism through Black Feminism. Foregrounding life-affirming acts of activism and simply living on the margins of social and political existence, I queery pessmisitic frameworks through the spaces of possibility created by coalition-making. I conclude the dissertation by making explicit why Ethnic Studies scholars must be more than “academic coroners” of our own communities.

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