Thoughts

Two Letters, to Where I have Been and Where I am Going

Dear CUNY,

I’ve been holding my breath, holding myself back from writing this letter because I know that it can never encompass all I want to say about what being in and of you has meant. And/but I am taking the advice that a CUNY mentor once gave me when I was floundering during the dissertation process, to start writing before you are ready, because I know this letter is one that I’ll never be fully ready to write.

In many ways, it was growing up in and with you that helped me find community, direction, purpose, a voice, myself. So, there is much I want and need to say:

The first is thank you. Thank you for giving me opportunities that I know I haven’t always appreciated. Thank you for the people you brought into my life–friends, teachers, mentors, allies, leaders, students, strangers–people who have been variously kind, strong, loving, hurtful, generous, difficult, inspirational. Thank you for the way you forced me to get to know this city, to move out of the sheltered corner of Little Neck, Queens where I grew up to traverse its sprawling landscape, to walk across bridges, to find other sites of belonging. You taught me how to feel at home in this city. Thank you for the skills you helped me develop while I was learning and working as a CUNY student and teacher: the ability to read, write, and grade papers standing on public buses and trains, a dexterity honed during long commutes and all-too-frequent MTA delays; a knack for finding windows in stuffy, claustrophobic buildings, to look for spaces to let light in when the weight of the work feels especially heavy; a know-how for tracking down resources, opportunities, and pockets of funding, which you haven’t always made easy to find, but it’s because of that that I learned to ask questions and to make demands, to realize the sound and worth of my own voice; an eye for recognizing people who are similarly lost and out of place, who are also driven by questions, ideas, and a refusal to accept things as they are; an intuition for making community out of commuter campuses, to find people and causes worth showing up and fighting for. This list could go on and on.

Continue reading “Two Letters, to Where I have Been and Where I am Going”

Research

Resisting the Will to Institutionality: A Letter to Roderick Ferguson

Dear Rod,

This is so much more than a thank you letter ever could be, but I will call it that for now as I continue to search for the right words to describe what your work means to me. I just finished re-reading The Reorder of Things: The University and its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (2012) and I am still reeling from the enormity of this project that you have undertaken with such grace and precision.

You have done the difficult, often under-appreciated thing, of asking us to look again, to reevaluate the victories of the Civil Rights Era and, in particular, the interdisciplinary fields that were born in its wake. Your assertion that the establishment of these interdisciplines also signals the advent of new mechanisms of racialization to quantify, regulate, and discipline minoritized subjects and knowledges cuts to the quick. Your words are hard to read and hear and process all at once, especially as someone who identifies as an Asian Americanist, who benefits from those earlier struggles, and whose scholarship is necessarily shaped by them.

And yet, you show us how institutionalization has its costs. Even though it was the end goal, the horizon for many students and activists of the 1960s and 70s–and, in some places, it is still the horizon that slips from grasp–we have to recognize how institutionalization was also used to placate unruly scholar-activists and constrain the energies of antiracist social movements.

Continue reading “Resisting the Will to Institutionality: A Letter to Roderick Ferguson”

Research

Revising the Dissertation Abstract

One of the most useful pieces of advice I received from my mentors is not only to focus on writing my dissertation, but to write about it (often). This practice of constantly framing and reframing my project has helped me keep track of my research questions and their exigency. It reminds me of why I do the work that I do and keeps me engaged in it. Plus, it never hurts to give yourself a bit of breathing room to reflect on what you have learned in the process of your research and to recognize what you have accomplished so far.

One of the reflecting experiments I engaged in recently was to revise my dissertation abstract to offer more grounding in terms of motive, methodology, and audience. You can check it out below:

Continue reading “Revising the Dissertation Abstract”