Author Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi Visits Rehm

Joseph Abrams ‘23

Chief News Editor

Last Thursday, Holy Cross had the immense pleasure of hosting Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi at the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture. Gandhi, an associate professor of Asian American Studies at UCLA and an author, traveled all the way from the west coast for a lecture on the refugee-settler condition in both Guam and Israel after the Vietnam War. Gandhi sees valuable parallels in the way that Vietnamese refugees resettled in Israel-Palestine and Guam after the Vietnam War and the experience of displaced Palestinians in Israel. Her research work has culminated in her book Archipelago of Resettlement: Vietnamese Refugee Settlers and Decolonization Across Guam and Israel-Palestine, a look into the ways that displaced communities define themselves along antagonizing new geopolitical lines. 

Gandhi’s research centers around both the physical and metaphysical implications of archipelagos. Time for a quick geography lesson– archipelagos are clusters of islands found near each other, and Guam, for example, is a part of the Mariana Archipelago. However, for Gandhi, an archipelago’s value stretches far beyond the geographical connections between islands. Gandhi claims that archipelagos can be recognized as borderless “connections between things that seem otherwise disconnected.” Israel-Palestine itself emerges as an example of archipelago, as Gandhi points out, in the way that displaced Palestinians remain connected despite ever-changing geopolitical distance. Things got more complicated, however, when Vietnamese refugees ended up in Israel-Palestine and Guam after the Vietnam War. Both Israel-Palestine and Guam represent examples of countries that underwent massive power dynamic alterations with the entrance of a new population and government: the Zionist government in Israel-Palestine and the U.S. government in Guam. Thus, Vietnamese refugees were sequestered into a very specific intersection between colonists and indigenous populations, which Gandhi coined the “refugee-settler condition.” This condition is described by Gandhi as the often uncomfortable and restrictive position of refugees who are forced to further displace indigenous populations in the colonial state that they are relocated to. 

According to Gandhi, this is a predicament perpetuated solely by the agendas of colonial states. Indigenous sovereignty, according to Gandhi, promotes inclusion and diversity while colonial states reject it. Metaphysical archipelagos, then, exist as a way to combat the rigidity of colonial rule and embrace that which connects us through geographical proximity. After exploring these ideas, Gandhi got to work researching the experiences of Vietnamese refugees relocating to Israel-Palestine and Guam through archival research, oral history, and on-site experiences. 

So, what did Gandhi find? Well, the U.S. presence in Guam has been effective in indoctrinating refugees and citizens regarding the truths of resettlement. Humanitarian press from the U.S. positioned Operation New Life, the relocation of more than 112,000 Vietnamese refugees from Vietnam to Guam, as a virtuous and necessary gift on behalf of the United States. However, through the oral histories of various refugees, Gandhi found that a majority of refugees look at efforts for indigenous sovereignty with concern that they themselves would be displaced yet again. This becomes just one example of what Gandhi terms “antagonistic structures”, which pit refugees and the indigenous against each other through the terms of the colonizer.

Gandhi then references Bianca Lang, a college student from Guam that runs the blog “Decolonization in Conversation.” According to Gandhi, “Bianca’s blog invites readers to consider how archipelagic histories of U.S. military violence presents one analytic by which to think about and theorize refugee-indigenous solidarities.” Bianca represents solidarity between refugees and the indigenous as her father was relocated to Guam from Vietnam after the war and married a Guam native. However, Bianca’s experience is one of indefinites, as she isn’t privy to the privileges of mainland citizens, like college admissions, and must stay within the bounds of rights afforded to citizens of Guam. 

The Journey of Vaan Nguyen, a movie that chronicles a Vietnamese man’s journey back to Vietnam from Israel with his daughter, was also an important part of Gandhi’s research. The film itself is valuable in the way it portrays how refugees interpret land politics and its proposal of solidarity between Vietnamese, Israelis and Palestinians. Gandhi was able to compile this existing research, and add more, through the exhibit “Remembering Saigon: From Vietnam to Guam” she put on at the Guam Philharmonic. The exhibit ran from July of last year to September of this year and traced the many supposed parallels between the Indigenous communities of Guam and the Vietnamese refugees who were displaced there. This includes stark similarities between the spiritual origin stories of both populations and both countries’ experiences with colonial settlers. Gandhi relays that the exhibit was welcomed by the community, and people began bringing in their own artifacts and pictures to add to the exhibit. 

Both Gandhi’s mother and grandmother were Vietnamese refugees that were processed in Guam before relocating to California, and she sees her work as a way to pay homage to her family and other families with similar experiences. 

Image of Israel and Guam flags courtesy of shutterstock

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