First, I want to give a very big shoutout to all of my friends and colleagues at the University of California Merced and the local community who’ve been very supportive of my efforts here to work in the Central Valley this April. In 26 years of writing, this is only the second time I’ve ever had a chance to work with your students and artists in Merced, and this year is all the more special as the 10th anniversary of my very first full-length book of poetry On The Other Side Of The Eye. We’re now down to just ten days left together.
It’s been a tremendously generative month with the opportunity to speak to the students, teachers, and administrators here on the importance of the humanities, particularly through intersectional lenses of speculative literature and refugee and immigrant histories.
There have been some great workshops, readings, formal and informal conversations, and other community activities that have been deeply meaningful. I hope with tremendous confidence that they will yield extraordinary results in the decade ahead for many communities. I wish I could say when I’ll have a chance to come back to the Central Valley. My upcoming schedule already has me traveling next to Philadelphia, Houston, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Lowell, Massachusetts. But we still have much ahead in the next two weeks to be excited for!
It was 14 years ago that I discovered how close my ties to the Central Valley are when I discovered my long-lost family after 30 years was living in Modesto. Although I’ve been writing and performing across the country for 26 years, my very first visit to the University of California Merced was only 2 years ago.
I first came here in 2015 as we marked four decades of the Southeast Asian Diaspora for the Vietnamese, Hmong, Lao, and Cambodian communities, as well as the Khmu, Tai Dam, and Iu Mien, among so many others rebuilding their lives here in the US. This is the very first year the University of Merced Center for the Humanities has had a Visiting Artist program, and I’m honored to be a part of this project and to share my knowledge with everyone here, both on campus and off.
I’m thankful to have had the chance to meet and collaborate with many extraordinary scholars here, as well as the film-maker Sanjay Barnela, local entrepreneurs, and the Merced Multicultural Arts Center. I’ve had the opportunity to see the work of Latina punk rock elder Alice Bag, as well as philanthropic efforts among the local Lao community organizers in Merced, and the local Merced writers group. I also had a chance to participate in Dwight Wigley’s ambitious participatory art project to try my own hand at painting and creating with the Merced community.
It makes me think of the words of Ed Buell, a retired farmer with USAID nicknamed “Mr. Pop” who worked with the Hmong and Laotian refugees during the Lao Secret War in the 20th century: "Everything turns in time, and it'll turn again in Laos, some day," he said. "Maybe it's turnin' now, maybe it'll be ten years or fifty years before there's peace. But when that day comes, these people is gonna remember what Tan Pop stood for, whether they remember me or not. They'll be just a little better off for my bein' there, and that's the only thing that keeps me goin'. No man is big enough or brave enough to go on workin' like this without some kind of purpose. I'm sowin' seeds that, by God, someday is gonna grow."
There are still some challenges encouraging many of our students, who are among the first in their families to take the time to explore why poetry, memory and the imagination matters in their education and in helping their communities over the long-term. We’ve known this going in, and I appreciate all of you who’ve helped to bring students to my attention. There are only a handful of public events left before my time here concludes.
Here's a recap of just a few of the key themes I've been discussing with the students, with more to come soon in this conversation. In the next workshops I'll be expanding upon these principles even further with more advanced discussions on the topic, but first-timers coming to my sessions are always welcome and can contact me before and afterwards with their questions.
If you can join me for any of these, I welcome you, and encourage you to bring your friends and family as well:
Monday, April 17th
4PM-5:30PM: Science Fiction Writing Workshop, COB2 Room 290
April 19th 10AM-Noon: Office Hours to discuss your manuscripts or questions about writing 4:00-5:30PM: Poetry Writing Workshop, Merced Multicultural Arts Center
Saturday, April 22nd:
12:30-1:30 Expanding Horizons: Southeast Asia in Comics, Silicon Valley Comic Con. (This is not an official part of the UC Merced Center for the Humanities Visiting Artist program, but for any of my students who are also going up to San Jose that weekend, you can catch me there, along with award-winning Lao American artist and author Nor Sanavongsay and artist Samouro Baccam. This will be the very first time all three of us present together on this exciting topic.)
Monday, April 24th Noon-1:30PM: Brownbag conversation on Horror, Sci Fi, and Laotian American writing, COB 2, Room 290.
Tuesday, April 25th Afternoon: “Science Fiction Is For Everyone,” Los Angeles Harbor College Panel.(This is not an official part of the UC Merced Center for the Humanities Visiting Artist program, but if you’re in Los Angeles that day, it’d be great to see you at this panel conversation.)
Wednesday, April 26th 10AM-Noon: Office Hours to discuss your manuscripts or questions about writing. Note: FINAL OFFICE HOURS.
Thursday, April 27th 6PM: Imagining Merced: An open mic of science fiction poetry, flash fiction, and art considering the question of a future we can see ourselves in in Merced, with work from many of my new students here. This is my final event in the city of Merced.
Friday, April 28th 7PM-8:30PM: Imagining Our Shared Tomorrows. Holistic Cultural and Educational Wellness Center, in Fresno. Convened by Tamejavi-PVI. A conversation on Southeast Asian myths, memories, and the importance of the imagination in rebuilding refugee communities, as seen through the experience of the Lao, Hmong, and Cambodian communities. Free and open to the public. (This is not an official part of the UC Merced Center for the Humanities Visiting Artist program, but may be of interest to many of you.)
And a very special thank you to Ignacio López-Calvo, Ma Vang, Kit Myers, Christina Lux, Austyn Smith, Dawn Trook, Holley Moyes, Kim De Wolff, Rina Faletti, Chandra Mukerji, Paul Gibbons, AliSak Tuy Sanavongsay, Nana Sanavongsay, Leigh Bernacchi, Anne Zanzucchi, Paula DeBoard, Yu-Han Chao, Violet Barton, Andrea Mele, Oscar Torres, the student workers at the UC Merced Center for the Humanities, and so many others for your hospitality and hard work in making this month possible.