2019 Grant Awardees


Mellissa Linton-Villafranco

Mellissa Linton-Villafranco is an Ethnic Studies PhD candidate, educator and queer community organizer. She is the first generation of her family to grow up outside of El Salvador. Her dissertation “Las Mujeres que nos Llevan: Reproductive Justice and the Salvadoran Diaspora,” is based on participant observation with grassroots organizations, critical ethnography and cultural analysis of political texts.


Retrazando Nuestros Pasos

The digital oral history project “Retrazando Nuestros Pasos” is based on the last chapter of her dissertation, and will be hosted on a collaborative website made by Mellissa and Salvadoran artists. Retrazando, or the act of “retracing” is meant to signify storytelling from existing interviews with Salvadorans in the diaspora. Through working with local border activists and groups, the second dimension of the project will feature audio testimonies of Central American refugees at the U.S./Mexico border. The project uplifts Central American refugees as knowledge producers and storytellers, and harmonizes with the diaspora as a digital point of connection.

Justin Phan

Justin Phan is currently a graduate student in Ethnic Studies and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Riverside. Justin previously earned a B.A. in Women's and Gender Studies, Asian American Studies, and Sociology from the University of California, Davis. Drawing from Vietnamese histories with refugee-hood, forced displacement, and empire, Justin's research interests engage the topics of Vietnam, Southeast Asian diasporas, militarism, postcolonial theories and historiographies, feminist epistemologies, visual culture, and Afro-Asian studies. 


Militarized Displacements & Refugee Storytelling in West African-Vietnamese Communities

During the French Indochina War, French colonists conscripted over 100,000 African soldiers to fight against anti-colonial forces in Vietnam. These soldiers occupied a contradictory space to empire: fighting for the French colonists, being colonized themselves, and meeting Vietnamese women with whom they had children. Following France's defeat in 1954, many were forced to repatriate. This project focuses on the post-1954 displacements of Afro-Vietnamese communities. Drawing on oral history, it explores how Senegalese-Vietnamese and Beninese-Vietnamese communities critically tell their stories about displacement due to militarism, and aims to engage Critical Refugee Studies’ theorizations of refugee storytelling, forced displacement, and refugee subjectivity. 

Marianna Hovhannisyan

Marianna Hovhannisyan is a research-based curator, a PhD student in Art History, Criticism, and Theory at the Visual Arts Depart., UCSD. Her projects have explored hegemonic archives as conflicted sites in nation-state building narratives that register absences within “Armenian” (national, post-/Soviet, Eastern/Western, “native minority,” refugee, or diasporic). Such concerns are reflected in her 2016 curatorial exhibition, Empty Fields, SALT, Istanbul, originating from her research in the American Board Archives. Fellowships and seminars include Getty Consortium Seminar, UCLA GSEIS, Armenia-Turkey Fellowship by Hrant Dink Foundation, and Kadist Art Foundation.


Curating Archives, Curating Slippages

The interdisciplinary project Curating archives, curating slippages will study the lack of knowledge transmission between generations “becoming American”—from the 1915 Armenian Genocide survivors (who found refuge in the US) to the following generation. My research will activate the archives in Los Angeles and Fresno by working with a specific community of Armenian archivists and a metadata specialist in California. Through recognizing the archives’ commonality of slippages, mistags, presumptions, and materialities of found objects, the project will propose an alternative finding aid able to reflect unspoken epistemologies. The research is supervised by Prof. Anne Gilliland, Associate Dean of Information Studies, GSEIS, University of California Los Angeles in the scope of the Center for Information as Evidence

Lan Nguyen

Lan Nguyen is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees and grew up in Cambodiatown in Long Beach, California. She earned her B.S. in Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University and is currently projected to earn her Masters in Asian American Studies from UCLA by June 2019. Lan's research and activism focuses on how deportation impacts formerly incarcerated Southeast Asian refugees. She combines academia, activism, and film in her approach to spread awareness about this issue and to push for change. She is an active core member of the VietUnity-SoCal, a progressive organizing space for Viet-identified individuals.


From Refugee to Deportee

From Refugee to Deportee is a documentary about how deportation impacts the Vietnamese American community. The film will explain policies that led to the deportability of Southeast Asian refugees and more importantly, will share the stories of people who are impacted. The film can be utilized as an educational tool for community organizations to share with the community to de-bunk and de-stigmatize the criminalization of the impacted population and to gain more momentum for the movement to end deportation.

Heba Alnajada

Heba is a PhD Student in Architecture History at UC Berkeley. Trained and educated as an architect and urban designer, she worked in Palestinian informal settlements before starting her PhD. She is interested in questions of migration, refugee camps, borders and the longer histories of the Middle East (most specifically the Levant). She received her undergraduate degree in Architecture at the University of Jordan and her master’s degree in Urban Design from the University of Sheffield.


Stories of Refuge: Stories as Evidence of Persecution / Stories as Moral Lessons: Humanitarian Refugee Camps and Other Traditions of Hospitality in Jordan

This research proposal engages with the grant theme ‘secrets and stories’, by investigating two contrasting stories of refuge: stories of persecution told to humanitarian aid workers and stories of life told to host communities. This juxtaposition is conceived as a tool to reveal the difference between stories told at the limit of life in exchange for evidence of persecution and stories of the violence of life told with moral lessons. In this sense, the research attempts to shift the lens to what other traditions of hospitality and store telling have to teach us about co-existence, healing and integration.

Joelle Julien

Joelle Julien is a second year Ph.D. student in socio-cultural Anthropology at University of California, Los Angeles, whose research interests lie at the intersection of race and migration. She is a child of Haitian migrants and deeply involved with grassroots efforts in Haiti that are building and advocating for sustainable, inclusive, and accessible education for all.


Haitian refugees in Tijuana, Mexico: Memories of the Homeland and Imaginings of the Future

Since 2016 Haitian migration trends have led to approximately 5,000 Haitians living in Baja California, Mexico. This ethnographic project asks: how do Haitian refugee experiences intersect with Mexico’s known postcolonial discourse of mestizaje that has rendered Mexico’s long-term Black community invisible? How are these processes shaping and reshaping memories of Haiti, the journey to Mexico, and hopes for the future? This project, then, aims to understand how issues of identity and differentiation –race, ethnicity, and indigeneity– are experienced by Haitian refugees in Baja California, Mexico.

Tiffany Lytle

Tiffany Lytle is a PhD student at UCSB in the Department of Theater and Dance and is an alumnus of UCLA’s Asian American Studies MA program. She has worked as a performing artist in dance, music and theater, including Cambodian classical dance. Lytle’s research is on Cambodian American cultural production. You can find her EP Cambodian Child on iTunes. The full album is forthcoming thanks to a generous grant from the Critical Refugee Studies Collective.


CAMBODIAN CHILD: Political Consciousness Through Art and Scholarship

Informed by Cambodian American women’s stories, musical album Cambodian Child explores hidden truths of Cambodian diasporic history, refugee experience, and intergenerational trauma. Creatively, the album provides an examination of Cambodian refugee experience, decentering the focus on nation-states that wage war and produce displacement and shifting our attention to the resilience of everyday people who have survived war. The songs recall the Cambodian genocide, expose realities of imperialism, and explore issues of second-generation Cambodian American multi-raciality. In conjunction with academic research, this recording project aims to contribute to Cambodian American cultural production while showcasing progressive perspectives towards support for scholarly artwork.

Morgen Chalmiers

Morgen Chalmiers is an MD/PhD student in Anthropology at UCSD. Her research broadly examines women’s experiences of reproductive healthcare using the tools and theoretical lens of psychological anthropology. Her fieldwork and clinical practice are informed by the paradigm of reproductive justice and a commitment to addressing health disparities through an intersectional framework. She is passionate about integrating anthropological insights into clinical practice and health policy through interdisciplinary collaboration.


Transforming Desires and Practices: Reproductive Subjectivity after Displacement

Since the civil war began, 5.5 million Syrians have fled their home country and are now living as refugees. Social scientific research has shown how displacement transforms the paradigms through which individuals interpret and remake their worlds, form novel subjectivities, and cultivate new desires. What specific ways of relating to the body evolve among displaced individuals as they navigate unfamiliar medical systems? Though the biomedical encounter has been theorized as a site of neoliberal governance, techniques of power are never completely totalizing and Ortner (2005) recognizes subjectivity as the “matrix” through which agency emerges. Careful attention to subjectivity thus illuminates multiple forms of resistance and negotiation that arise in this context.

Lina Chunn

I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. My research addresses war, militarism, violence, and trauma, focusing on the processes of memory and history-making in regards to U.S. empire in Southeast Asia during the Cold War. I am currently on the academic job market.


Contested Silences and Dialectical Memory-Making: Registers of Cambodian/American Histories of Violence

My dissertation queries the complex relationship between registers of commemoration regarding the Cambodian Holocaust of 1975-79 and remembrances of the preceding U.S. bombing campaigns of 1964-1973. The project challenges historical models of “tragedy” and individualized models of trauma—as damage-centered, deviance-driven, and/or invested in abjection, vulnerability, and injury—which disavow the complex humanity of Cambodian survivors and the continually intersubjective ways in which knowledge about violence in Cambodia is produced and reproduced.


Activate Labs

Activates Labs uses storytelling, ‘peace tech’, media, and the arts to resource and center communities impacted by violence and oppression to tackle injustice and build peace. We do this by standing in solidarity with refugees and migrants in the USA and along US-Mexico borderlands where our Building Communities where Everyone Belongs Program in and through our “Peace Social Innovation Lab or PSI-Lab” which uses the Frame Design process to resource and train local peacebuilders in design and peacebuilding processes.  


Bridges to Belonging: Art and Trauma Healing for Suspended Refugee Identities in Politicized Spaces

UCSD Center for Community Health, Refugee Health Unit

The UC San Diego Center for Community Health, Refugee Health Unit was established in 2017 in response to a demand for technical assistance and support tailored to the unique needs of refugee communities. The unit is recognized as a community resource that is guided by and responsive to community needs. We collaborate with ethnic community based organizations toward the shared goal of addressing issues of inequalities based on the social determinants of health.


UCSD Refugee Health Unit Food & Recipe Project 

Through intergenerational storytelling, our project aims to highlight the importance of preserving ancestral recipes and show how food culture is connected with healing justice. We aim to humanize refugee food cultures and celebrate San Diego’s diversity. In partnership with local refugee-serving organizations, we will work to highlight the power and agency of refugee leadership and spotlight the resiliency of refugee communities in their advocacy for a healthy food system. This will be done through visual storytelling tools including a photo essay/short video to bring to life the joy and diversity of refugee communities through a cookbook and social media campaign to amplify refugee stories. For more information: Please check out the Refugee Health Unit website: https://ucsdcommunityhealth.org/work/refugee-health-unit/

Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA) and James Dinh

The mission of VAALA is to connect and enrich communities through Vietnamese art and culture. James Dinh is collaborating with VAALA to implement Gallery Beyond Walls, a visual arts program focused on engaging the community in the arts, facilitating dialogue, and highlighting freedom of expression. Working at the confluence of public art and landscape architecture, James Dinh explores notions of history, memory, place, and ecology within the context of public space. He received a master's degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley.  


Illuminated Recipes

Food is viscerally associated with memories, place, traditions, and personal and collective history. Food tells stories. It has a who, a where, and a why. For refugees, it can be a source of solace or a survival necessity. Illuminated Recipes will use the power of food and art to document the Vietnamese refugee experience, foster conversation, and connect people across generations and cultures. With a focus on Vietnamese American youth, the project will begin with a family recipe collecting assignment and culminate in a community feast and art exhibition. The project aims to equip and empower youth with technical and creative skills in critical reflection, writing, photography, and imaginative expression.


Tien Nguyen

Tien Nguyen writes about food and culture. She co-authored the New York Times bestseller L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food with Roy Choi, and her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Timesand Lucky Peach. She lives in Los Angeles.


Uncovering Southeast Asian Refugee Contributions to California Cuisine

This project is a podcast series that explores the hidden role Southeast Asian refugees have played in the development and evolution of California cuisine. Specifically, we’ll explore how Southeast Asian refugees in the 1970s and 1980s converted their backyards into urban farms to grow makrut limes, lemongrass, and other ingredients then hard to source in most American markets. These fresh, local and seasonal ingredients in turn often made their way to some of the earliest Vietnamese, Thai, Hmong/Miao and Laotian markets and restaurants. This project will uncover these contributions and contextualize them within the larger history of California cuisine.

Jenny Teng

Born in 82. After literary studies, she got her Science Po Toulouse diploma with a research on Teo Chew community in Paris. One year later, she discovered  documentary in  a Master where she could developed “Exiles' Tower”, 56 'length film following characters and chinese cambodian inhabitants of the 13th chinatown district. After 4 years in la FEMIS cinema school, she is writing a feature still in chinatown, and a PHD “creation and research” with PSL Lab.   



This project seeks to question the prevailing effects of the Khmer Rouge genocide on the memories of Teo Chew californian survivors. In looking at the questions of memory and identity, I am interested in the ways in which war, genocide, exile, and strict traditions have reinforced the feeling among the Teo Chew in the diaspora of belonging to the same community, but also engendered secrets that are transmitted from one generation to another. I would like to question how these silences and family taboos inform the worldviews of second or third generation Teo Chews, especially women. 

Maria Rios-Mathioudaki

In partnership with the San Diego based A Place You Think About project, the Caracas based I Can’t Hear the Birds project will create a collective visual diary of the Venezuelan diaspora. Mixing pages from diary entries and photos of what the refugees have left behind the collective diary weaves a hybrid narrative capturing previously unrecorded complexity in the connections refugees maintain with Venezuela. The project will culminate in a zine and art installation.   


I Can't Hear The Birds #aplaceyouthinkabout

A PLACE YOU THINK ABOUT (APYTA), a project by San Diego artist Maria Rios-Mathioudakis, builds collaborations with artists working in places around the world experiencing crisis and conflict. APYTA uses participatory methods to connect a global network of artists “thinking about” and making work about transnational conflict. For I Can’t Hear The Birds APYTA will be working with Fabiola Ferrero a journalist and photographer currently based between Venezuela and Colombia.

Bahman Sarram

When I was 4 years old, my family fled an Iran ripped apart by a violent political and social revolution. We found temporary asylum in Europe before finally resettling in the United States. Experiences from those painful, uncertain early years continue to have a profound effect on me as an adult. I still remember the passionate, evocative songs of my homeland. I remember dancing while my mom sang at parties. Those memories have accompanied me on my refugee journey; they live on in the music I compose and perform.


Refugee Stories: A Musical Journey

This project will be a dialogical multimedia concert experience that weaves together stories from my own and other refugee journeys with original Persian-influenced music and excerpts from international and American songs that speak to a diverse range of refugee communities. Working with San Diego area refugee studies scholars, students, artists, and refugee community members, I will undertake a six-month process of research, conversation and creative collaboration that will culminate in a Fall 2019 debut of this production, free to the public and staged at a refugee-serving community center location in San Diego. Refugee Stories will alternate oral-history based storytelling with musical segments that give voice to a range of perspectives on the following steps along the refugee journey. The concert will be accompanied by a multimedia presentation that integrates family photographs, images from the news and video clips to further illuminate these steps in the refugee journey. Storytelling and music will be performed by a diverse group of musicians, themselves refugees or the children or grandchildren of displaced people, with whom I have worked for more than fifteen years; as well as by refugee singers, who will be selected via a series of open community auditions.

Peuo Tuy

Peuo Tuy is a Khmer American spoken word poet, writing workshop instructor, and a community organizer from New York City, currently residing in Minnesota. She is one of the founding members of the Cambodian American Literary Arts Association located in Lowell, Massachusetts. Peuo published an autobiographical poetry book called, Khmer Girl. She is working on a collection of children's fairytales and folktales, and is writing her second book of poetry entitled, Neon Light Brights


Healing From Domestic Violence

This project is an intensive workshop series and an opportunity for Southeast Asian refugee women and immigrants to recognize domestic violence and ways to heal from it through poetry, spoken word, and storytelling. Peuo will teach poetry and spoken word workshops to the community and provide a safe space for healing. The project will take place in Long Beach, California.

Yolanda del Amo

Yolanda del Amo is a Spanish-born, New York-based artist. Her large-format images honor thetradition of staged photography while addressing a timely topic: relationships in contemporary society. Among the many venues that have exhibited her work are the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC and London, Light Work in Syracuse, New York and Hudson Franklin Gallery in New York City. She is an Associate Professor for Photography and Digital Media at Ramapo College of New Jersey.



“Refuge” addresses issues of migration and displacement, exploring the notion of hospitality within a socio-political context. The final body of work will be a series of staged photographs of German households that are hosting refugees in their homes. I am turning my camera to what happens behind closed doors in order to observe from an intimate point of view how the aspect of “otherness” is negotiated in a domestic context. These situations of domestic normalcy are platforms where stories are told and shared, and conversely where secrets are withheld.

Sky Vue

Sky Vue is a Hmong filmmaker and writer who attends Cal State LA studying film production.  He has worked with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Tyga, TY Dolla sign, the producer of The Florida Project and Tangerine, and a Stephen King feature film.  Sky also served as an assistant producer of the Chinese Oral History Project at his university.  His script,Happy Birthday Feng was selected and produced by the Motion Picture Academy’s incubator program.


Hmong Is:

The purpose of this documentary series is to examine to lives of second-generation Hmong refugees and their various professions and communities as they navigate their lives outside of Asia.  Each Episode would take on different themes or aspects of what it means to be evolving Hmong, such as in portrayal in film or foods we consider Hmong foods. The goal is to help diasporic Hmong come to terms with their own self-identity in the world at large; especially in the United States where because of wartime trauma, many Hmong people identities remain a mystery, even to themselves.