What Causes Loss?



Negotiating Refugee and Indigenous Loss in Bich Minh Nguyen's Pioneer Girl
Evyn Lê Espiritu, College of the Holy Cross


This paper juxtaposes refugee and Indigenous loss via a theorization of what Evyn Lê Espiritu call the refugee settler condition. Stateless Vietnamese refugees, having lost their homeland, sought to obtain citizenship in the United States, a settler colonial nation built on the loss of Indigenous sovereignty. This paper analyzes Bich Minh Nguyen's Pioneer Girl (2014), which chronicles Lee Lien's quest to uncover the intersections between her family's refugee story and that of Little House on the Prairie. She offers the term refugee settler desire to describe Lee's longing to mitigate the trauma of her family's loss of homeland by tethering their story to a quintessential American settler narrative of Westward expansion. By desiring to identify with white pioneer settlement rather than Indigenous histories of loss, however, Lee unwittingly internalizes the very Manifest Destiny logic that justified US imperial expansion across the Pacific into Vietnam in the first place, a logic that instigated the Vietnamese refugee loss that she now attempts to counteract.

Freedom, Migration and Loss for Antebellum African American Families

Jennifer Stinson, Saginaw Valley State University

This paper posits loss---of financial support, religious fellowship and shared bonds of motherhood - within antebellum African American families as a constituent part of the process of gaining freedom through manumission and migration. It does so through the lens of the Virginia-born Shepard kin and the letters they exchanged when, in 1850, the freed brothers Isaac and Charles Shepard and Charles' wife Caroline Milford Shepard left for Wisconsin. Milford's correspondence with her aunt Caroline Mason in back in Virginia not only articulated the loss migration wrought but aimed to assuage it. The Shepard brothers, likewise, corresponded with freed siblings back in Virginia. Yet these epistolary efforts to preserve kin ties threatened by slavery and attenuated by migration also contributed to loss of family bonds.

Taking Cultural Loss Seriously: Declension and Trauma in

Oral Histories of Deindustrial Ontario

David Tough, Trent University

That white working-class Americans sense of cultural loss made them respond positively to a reactionary message has been debated testily since late 2016, with cultural loss being treated, implicitly or explicitly, as a euphemism for fear of immigrants; this insistence has since turned ironic, with many wags using cultural loss to mock the post-Trump normalization of xenophobia. But in communities where familiar intergenerational life paths have vanished when major employers close down or move away, it is churlish to insist that the loss is economic and not cultural. David Tough’s paper, drawing on ongoing interviews with workers affected by deindustrialization in Peterborough, Ontario, in the late 20th century, addresses what causes loss, exploring loss as an affect of the working class under neoliberalism that people use to explain the effect of political economy on their cities and towns.

Taking Cultural Loss Seriously - David Tough
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