Activism, Art, Refugees

On Refugee Re/Enactments

July 30, 2018

By Lucy Burns, Tiffany Lytle, and Jolie Chea

In the fall of 2017, we, along with Thu-huong Nguyen-vo, began Refugee Re/Enactments, a series of activities that remembers and revives the history of social and political engagement at UCLA. Inspired by award-winning writer Toni Morrison’s concept of “rememory,” Refugee Re/Enactments grapples with the persistence of war memories through the performance of oppositional acts. We wish to highlight for the Critical Refugee Studies Collective blog the first event in the series, an original performance by Cambodian American singer and songwriter Tiffany Lytle, and movement by UCLA undergraduate students partly choreographed by Lytle. Following the performance was a panel, where the three of us were joined by Dr. Nguyen-vo, and Dr. Leisy Abrego, whose research and work investigate Central American immigration, Latina/o families, the inequalities created by gender, and the production of “illegality” through US immigration laws.

At noon on April 17th, 2018, Lytle’s performance of “Cambodian Child” drew a gathering of over two hundred campus and community members in UCLA’s Dickson Court. The date was selected in order to point specifically to the continuity of violence in memory and ongoing practices of state violence within, and across borders. April 17th, 2018 marked the forty-third anniversary of the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power in Cambodia, and represents the beginnings of the Cambodian Genocide. This history is reflected upon in Lytle’s work, as she strives to create music that moves through cultural preservation artistry, creating art that is representative of her Cambodian American community, history, and temporality of refugees and their families in the diaspora. While the date represents an infamous day for Cambodian refugees, the location of this momentous performance, UCLA’s Dickson Court, is important because it was the site of the largest antiwar demonstration on a college campus at the time.

Forty-eight years ago, on May 5th, 1970, students gathered on the UCLA campus to protest the US war in Vietnam—and specifically its bombings of Cambodia and Laos. The UCLA May 5th demonstration was not an isolated event; it was part of a series of antiwar protests staged by UCLA students beginning in the late 1960s and lasting through the 1970s.  It was a direct response and statement of solidarity to events occurring across the country the day prior. At Kent State University, on May 4th, 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired approximately 67 rounds of ammunition at unarmed college students during a mass protest against the bombing of Cambodia and Laos by US military forces. Four students were killed and nine were wounded at KSU. At UCLA, protesters occupied campus grounds, asserting their opposition to a deadly war that had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and caused the utter destruction of a land overseas. Our decision to host Lytle’s performance of Cambodian Child in Dickson Court aimed not only to invoke, but to stage the continuity of the spirit of protest that characterized the 1960s and 70s era of civil rights and antiwar movement as we continue to move forward into a 21st century increasingly characterized by war and global violence.

Although the American war in Southeast Asia and its aftermath has impacted countless lives in the global world, we approach Refugee Re/Enactments with a particular commitment to the “children of war.” Our work centers creative practices as a method to explore the condition of displacement and displaced peoples, with refugees as a launching point. It also seeks to build critical discourse that makes use of memory, stories of lived experiences, and fictional acts. “Re/Enactments” is not a celebratory restaging of a moment in time; it comments, remembers, questions, and disrupts while making sense of histories and experiences of people who have been forced to leave their homelands or countries because of war, persecution, and global violence.



IG: #refugeereenactments


Refugee Re/Enactments (April 17, 2018) Dickson Court Performance:


Panel discussion:


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