Jennifer Jihye Chun 0:05
Hello and good morning. My name is Jennifer Jihad Chen, and on behalf of the International Institute, and the Asian American Studies Department at UCLA, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to today's event, the ungrateful refugee, Deena nyari. In conversation with Evan last bear to Gandhi, I want to begin by acknowledging the Gabrielino Tongva peoples as the traditional land caretakers of Tobon gar, the Los Angeles patient basin and South Channel Islands.
Jennifer Jihye Chun 0:37
As a land grant institution UCLA pays respects to the new Photon ancestors, a heat on elders and EU income are relatives relations past, present and emerging. Before we turn to our distinguished speakers, let me take a couple of minutes to share a bit about our series. Global racial justice and the everyday politics of crisis and hope is a year long webinar series sponsored by the International Institute. It builds on conversations that began in the summer of 2020 amiss the groundbreaking Black Lives Matter movement and the urgent, urgent political questions it raised and continues to raise about police brutality and racial injustice. At that time, 10s of millions of people took to the streets during a deadly pandemic, to MIT to demand justice and dignity for black communities both in the US and around the world. More than a year later, we are still battling the deadly Coronavirus. While contending with the toxic and trenched and wide reaching connections between systemic racism and in white supremacy that diminished to many communities of color and oppressed peoples. Certainly, there has been significant change in government and policy and public awareness. Yet there's also been backlash and disheartening and frustrating setbacks, including last Friday's outrageous acquittal. These conditions can stoke feelings of hopelessness and despair about the slow pace of change and the sheer vastness of inequality that in call engulfs the ever increasing divide between the haves and have nots. During these moments, it is more important than ever to direct our attention to the creative, risk taking resourceful and bold imaginations of people who have long fought oppression and continue to put their bodies and lives on the line. For a more just world that is abolitionists at heart. This spirit this series aspires to do just that. Today, we are thrilled to have celebrated author Dina Nyeri with us to share her insights and experiences as a child refugee from Iran and her work as an advocate for contemporary refugees. She will be joined by Professor Evan last bear to Gandhi, my wonderful colleague in Asian American Studies who envisioned and CO organized today's event and will moderate the conversation. Professor Gandhi and assistant professor in the UCLA Asian American Studies Department is an expert in critical refugee studies, settler colonial studies and Trans Pacific Studies. Her forthcoming book archipelago of reset resettlement, Vietnamese refugee settlers and decolonization across Gom, Guam and ISRAEL PALESTINE will be out this spring with UC press. Congratulations, Evans, I encourage all of you to snap it up. As many of you know, we rescheduled the event date from last Friday to today to stand in solidarity with our fellow faculty represented by the UC HFT. We are happy to report that the union and the university averted a two day strike by reaching a tentative agreement last Friday that provides much greater job protection for the 6500 lecturers who work across the University of California system. Their fight to democratize an academic labor market plagued by precarity and inequality is central to the core values that anchor our series. Many thanks to our CO presenter, the Asian American Studies Department and our many generous co sponsors. In light of time constraints, you can find the names of individual centers and departments in the chat. I am particularly thankful to the leadership and my fellow colleagues at the International Institute for their ongoing support and commitment to the Sterrett series.
Jennifer Jihye Chun 4:36
Today's conversation will be organized in two parts, beginning with a dialogue between Dina and Evan and then an open q&a. During their conversation. We encourage audience members to post their questions in the q&a box and to upvote questions you are particularly keen to hear there are many of us here today, almost 150 of us the chat function is enabled and We encourage you to respectfully share your comments and reflections. So without further ado, I turn things over to Professor Gandhi.
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 5:09
Thank you so much, Jennifer. And I'll invite Dina to join me as well. So I just want to echo my gratitude to all of our co sponsors and give a special shout out to the students in my critical refugee studies class readiness book together, and we're so excited to engage in conversation with you. So it's my absolute honor to introduce our esteemed guest speaker for today, Dina Nyeri. So Dina is the author of two novels, as well as a book of creative nonfiction be ungrateful refugee was first came out in 2019, and which is also the title of our event for today. Be ungrateful refugee is winner of the grocery store shelves price and finalist of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Kirkus prize, the L grand prix de literacy, and called by the Guardian a work of astonishing and sistent importance. Dina is currently a fellow at the American Library in Paris, and is joining us today from the south of France. So welcome so much Dina, great to have you. Thank you for having me, Evan, thank you for the wonderful invitation. And to all of you for being here. It's a real honor. So feel free folks that in the audience to give us a warm welcome. I know you can't clap. But you can show your welcome. And your thanks that in the chat as well. So I definitely encourage you to engage as we engage in this conversation. And definitely post your comments and questions in the chat, as well as use the q&a function. If you'd like to post your q&a. We'll definitely have time at the end for your questions as well. So we'll go ahead and start our conversation. So I'm really, you know, so honored to be in conversation with you. This book is so amazing, you know, it's such an incisive and geographically expansive book, right? It's fancy John, Italy, Oklahoma, Amsterdam, and Greece, to name just a few. And I really appreciate how it interweaves your own family's refugee flight from Iran and the 1980s with the narratives of more contemporary refugee migration from Iran, Afghanistan, as well as Syria. So just to start us off, why don't you share a little bit more about your family's refugee story and how it informs the writing of this book? Sure. You know, I feel like our story of our displacement and migration that that entire resetting happened to me between the ages of eight and 10 has informed almost everything I've written indirectly, until the moment where I decided to just look at it face on when I decided to change careers, and I was in business world decided to become a writer in my 20s. And, and I went right to fiction, and I think, because fiction felt so comfortable. And so it felt so right away to be, you know, creative and artistic, and imagine all of these worlds at the same time using my own. But, you know, it was a little bit of a veil to hide behind. And I think part of it was because of the fact that there was so much on process for me, there was so much that I didn't yet want to talk about until 2015, when, you know, the world just suddenly felt different. I had, I had spent so much time becoming American, and assimilating to the west and I felt comfortable. And suddenly, you know, there was the I moved to the UK, I had a baby, there was the Brexit vote, there was the Trump election, all of that just happened at once there was the refugee crisis, the images, they just took me right back to my childhood. And to tell you a little bit about that, because that's what you asked for. And I was born in 1979, right when the Iranian revolution happened. So Iran went from kind of a westernizing secular country to an Islamic Republic. And then there were eight years of war. So I grew up in the first few years of my life, on the war, really precarious political situation. And then my mother decided to convert to Christianity and to become so not only to become an apostate, but to become a proselytizing, apostate, which I can tell you how dangerous that is it not just the Islamic Republic, but in a newly formed Islamic Republic. So very quickly, she was she was thrown into prison, and her life was threatened, threatened and we escaped. So this so I was in Iran until I was eight, we escaped the country when I was eight. And we were refugees until I was 10. And well, at first we were just undocumented, or as they called us back then illegal. And then we were granted refugee status, by UNHCR. And we will put in a refugee camp. And then we were granted asylum when I was 10 years old to America. And we were set to Oklahoma. So from then on, I kind of started the journey of becoming American, which the book also partly explores, yeah, thank
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 9:49
you. I want to pick up on this point that you started with in the beginning of your answer, right, how you turned to fiction first, and it wasn't until later in your career that you started with nonfiction. So I just want to give a shout out to your preset two novels, a teaspoon of earth and sea as well as refuge with boats also feature Iranian subjects, right? So I actually read a refuge prior to the ungrateful refugee, and that was sort of my introduction to your work. But I love to hear you talk a little bit more about what is the process like of writing fiction versus nonfiction? And, you know, you talked about this a little bit more, but maybe to elaborate on what inspired you, you know, to change to change genres in this way? Yeah, you know, I'll answer that, partly because I kind of started talking about it a little bit, but I think, you know, when that moment happened in 2015, where it was this confluence of so many different things, the world felt like it was changing not so you know, welcoming to as I thought maybe that it had been maybe there was some all of that not welcome was bubbling under the surface, and the hostility and all of that, that kind of incubating there, it came out, and it hit the political stage. And I suddenly felt like very much an outsider and, and then at the same time, became a mother. And I started to feel a little bit afraid for, you know, when you become a mother, one thing that happens is that you feel this kind of visceral state, I guess, when you become a parent, I should say, or when you have a vested interest in any child's life, really, you start to feel this visceral steak in the future, you know, it becomes a little bit different than then the abstract, you know, way that you've used the future before you start to kind of feel it on behalf of this child. And, and I felt really afraid about the way the world was turning the way the world was, you know, characterizing displacement weigh, you know, just people, we're, we're vilifying refugees and making them the root of problems that were actually systematic and started long before. And I decided that I wanted to address it, that I wanted to address it in as myself, you know, in a more rhetorical way, not so much just kind of buried under five layers of subtext and fiction, but to come out there and just say something about the way that I think that the world is, you know, and what it's doing wrong. And so, and another thing that happened is that my attention turned from my own story to other people's stories, I suddenly, you know, wanted to go out there and explore, you know, what's happening now, what's happening to other children? What can be learned from my story that applies to people now. And so both of those things kind of pushed me a little bit more toward nonfiction. And a kind of nonfiction that weaves not just my own story, but with others, but also with kind of this essayistic reflection on what is the ideal way for us to be how should we be thinking about this. So kind of all of that kind of came together at once. Now, that doesn't mean that there isn't a huge space in my process. And in my, in my kind of creative workflow, I guess, for fiction, because that is, for me, a different kind of artistic output. And, and I need it is, as part of my work with fiction, I feel that I guess my imagination is ignited in a different way, if I'm able to, to kind of create in a different way, and I'm able to kind of slowly work my way toward the truth, using sensory detail, using the kind of truth of what's around me created characters that, you know, take a lot of work, it's like carving a little bird out of the stone, you know, you really make them slowly over time. And, and it's a different practice. And it nourishes me in a different way. versus say, setting out to write a book about something that needs addressing, you know what I mean? I think if you set out to write fiction, about something that needs addressing, you're bound to write bad fiction, aren't you? So I guess that's kind of a little bit of the difference for me. Yeah, definitely. And I love how in your answer, you know, you're also sort of breaking down the barriers or the artificial divisions, right, between fiction and nonfiction, which I think is something that shows up, you know, in this book, the ungrateful refugee as well, you're really questioning this division between what's fact what's fiction, what's truth, and what's a good story, right. And not just a story in terms of the novel or the narrative, but also a good story in terms of what is a sort of story that you're going to get asylum with? Right? Well, yeah, exactly. But I think but before we get to that, I just want to say about creative writing, like, yeah, creative writing versus the journalism, I mean, creative writing, whether it's fiction, whether it's poetry, or whether it's creative nonfiction. It's all about kind of questing and looking for these answers in a way that's different from say, well, here are the facts. Do you know what I mean? In the way that Yeah, but you were you were going to ask about asylum stories?
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 14:39
Yeah, yeah. So I'm gonna I'm just gonna sort of build off of this question. You know, in our conversation, I'm gonna share a couple of quotes from the book. You know, some of us have read it. Some of them are still being introduced to work. But I just want to pick up on this question of storytelling, right, and storytelling in the asylum process. So for example, in the book, you quote, Ahmed Puri, who says the asylum process is about craft A story that is believed so that you can stop waiting and make a life. Right? And this question regarding you know, what kind of story is believable and to whom right really troubles this distinction between fact and fiction and truth and stories that you're talking about. So just share one more quote from the book that I find really inspiring. So you say, often the facts are the least believable. And it's fictions job to fix them in the service of truth. A fact given disproportionate context and attention can lie about a life a day, or a marriage, a war a childhood, a fiction can be true, when it throws a light on the unseen, those unclaimed spectacles that occur again and again. But that sheen and trauma shouldn't from view. I just love to hear you talk a little bit more about dynamic between fact and fiction? Sure. You know, I think in that section of the book, one thing I was talking about is this like paradox about how how some people conflate the idea of like facts with truth. And I think most fundamentally, bureaucrats do that, you know, like, like asylum officers, for example, they have this checklist of facts, and they decide your whole story is a lie. If some of them there's inconsistency. But of course, there's many inconsistencies in true stories all the time, you know, that's the world life is messy, you know, and points of view, etc. So in this section, what I was talking about is how, you know, one thing I've realized, just in my writing, education, and learning how to write is that you can absolutely lie with facts. You know, there's a lot of very disingenuous news organizations who do that all the time. They say facts that are kind of true, but then they leave out others, or, you know, they throw a spotlight on one fact, that's actually quite incidental compared to some other more important ones that are buried. So I think that the way you choose to craft the facts is really the thing that shows your allegiance to the truth, right? And then you have to actually acknowledge that every single truth must have a point of view, because people's truths are very different, aren't they? And even when nobody actually lies, you know what I mean? So, so there's that. But then at the same time, I feel like with fiction, with the, you know, best literary fiction, while the whole thing is invented, there is this constant questing for some kind of truth, you know, for the truth of not that character, but, you know, but kind of a particular kind of moment between a particular kinds of people in a particular kind of situation. And all those things have come together, like, can you imagine your way to the truth of what might happen, what that might mean, in a way that is true to how the world works for those kinds of people? Do you know what I mean? Like so? Yeah. So I think you can absolutely lie with fiction too. But it has nothing to do with the inventiveness of it. You see, and I think that that's, that's the thing that was fascinating for me, because my one of my earliest experiences with, you know, truth telling or lies with, you know, whether or not I was considered truthful, wasn't asylum interviews, where everything is indeed this horrible, horrible checklist. I mean, today, in my book, you've seen that, you know, I've talked to asylum lawyers and former refugees who talk about how, you know, if there was the slightest little inconsistency in something like for example, if they said they, they left their passport in one place at the beginning of the interview, and three hours later, they said they left their passport in another place some trivial detail. Well, you didn't say that before. So you're a liar. The whole thing is considered a lie. It's, it's an absurd, not just a box ticking exercise, but just kind of like rooting out the tiniest reason to say no, well, because the asylum officers are no longer honest listeners, because what they're doing is essentially just looking to fill quarters of rejections. Right? So I think part of telling a truthful story, the part of the process somebody is telling and receiving a truthful story is the person on the other end, that person has to be open to a truth otherwise, you know, the story goes nowhere, I suppose. It doesn't serve its
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 19:05
purpose. Yeah, definitely. I like how you are drawing our attention to the honest listener as well. Right. But also, like, what truth is, depends on the listener and the audience, right. So one of the things that I also appreciate is you tell us and really draw our attention to the different narrative dynamics and the narrative tropes, I guess, are traditions of different asylum countries, right? They're all different. So you say, you know, because to pass an asylum interview, you don't just need a true story. You need to tell the story the English way, or the Dutch way or the American way, Americans enjoy drama, they want to be moved. The Dutch want facts, the English have precedence story from each country deem true that year or that month. So that's from your book. So can you elaborate on this dynamic and maybe how you see it playing out in the contemporary moment? Sure. You know, I mean, you know that storytelling is cultural. All storytelling is cultural. We learn it from childhood, we learn it from the, you know, our parents and grandparents in the most intimate of settings, you know, oral oral storytelling, oral tradition, from people who aren't necessarily like storytelling, you know, craftsmen what they are, is they're receiving something, they're receiving the craft from others, and they're passing it on. So for. And then and then and then outside, or within that you've got your, your, your culture, your country's culture of storytelling. And then you've got cultures created in, in, in various systems. So for example, the asylum system has a culture in each country, right, which is where like things like the precedents come in, in the UK, for example, as soon as someone from Sri Lanka comes through, they check the precedents for those countries for that country. What's going on there? Is this a believable reason for this person to be coming here. So all of those cultures overlap, and they determined whether or not the person receiving the story will believe it right. One of the asylum officers that I talked to in the Netherlands said that, you know, he was, he has the hardest time with Iranians, because Iranians have been taught to tell stories in a very specific way. And that is that we don't start stories at the beginning of our lives, or at the beginning of the story, or we don't cut to the chase, we start the story at the beginning of the universe, I swear. Every year on your story starts at the beginning of the universe. And the way we've received that instruction is that there's a particular rhyme that all children say, at the beginning of their stories, which is the beginning of the universe, right? And literally every single story that you hear when you're a kid starts with that rhyme. So naturally, when you're an adult, and you sit down and somebody says, Okay, tell me your story. You're not like trained like, you know, Spielberg to cut to the chase. Or we're sitting in a torture room. No, you say, Well, you know, the world is a place like this. And then as soon as you start to pontificate about the world, and then you know, you slowly move on to the 1979 revolution. By that point, the asylum officers completely decided that you're a liar, because why do you keep you know, why do you keep hedging, Maybelline, what you're doing though, is you're putting your entire story in a perspective, because, you know, Iranian storytelling is about the perspective of you as an individual in the wider world, or in the grander world. And, and that's just not the same in the West. So what this asylum officer also told me that the people who have the easiest time convincing asylum officers of all of the things that they've survived are the ones who have closest access to Western culture, either Western education, or they're wealthier, or they live in their come from countries that are more westernized, which is a real shame. Definitely. So I want to ask you a little bit about storytelling in relation to secrets. So you share the beginning of your book, you say, quote, There are secrets that I can show the native born, the new arrivals don't dare reveal, but have quote, wish to say for 30 years and found it terrifying until now. So talk a little about your process. Right? So then you came across dozens of stories after quote, traveling to refugee camps in Greece and visiting immigration lawyers, as you've talked about drinking tea with refugees and asylum seekers among many different encounters. So how and why did these experiences leave you to share what you describe as such terrifying secrets? Yeah, well, you know, I think I noticed and I actually kind of knew in a subconscious place all of my life, but one of the biggest,
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 23:39
I guess, a psychological side effects of all of what's what's happened, it's just a shame, just like pervasive shame over the course of your entire life. And this kind of grappling with the question of dignity, you know, like, what do I need to feel like, you know, my most dignified self or the person that I was before? And why is there this continuing like feeling of shame that's following me around. Now that I've left my home country. And these were not explicit questions I asked myself, but it will, they were questions that were definitely following me around. And they became much more explicit when I went back to the refugee camps and saw, like, oh, my gosh, this is so familiar, there's such an overwhelming feeling of just shame for everything that's happened for every single one of our own cultural, you know, traditions and mores for the poverty, you know, for the loss of identity for the fact that we no longer have our professions and can't be useful right away. I mean, all of these things add up to make you just apologize for your very existence from the moment you step into the new land. And that's, I mean, that's just really hard on the psyche. It's really hard on your sense of self, it makes you you know, feel like you've lost all dignity. And and for me, that is the thing that makes you keep secrets, you know, as some of the secrets aren't even worthy of secrets. I mean, the thing is, I have seen people hide, and I was talking to someone earlier about we were talking about writing, writing books, lievable poverty, you know, and and one of the things we discussed is that when people are truly poor systematically poor over the and especially displaced people, they do so much that they don't need to hide it from people who might be helpful. You know, they spend money in ways they shouldn't, because they want to hide the poverty and and there were so many moments like that in my own childhood, you know, not saying to parents or my friends, no, no, we can't go to this restaurant because I can't pay my share, or like, I can go to this. And instead trying to find a way out of it in these like crazy ways. I mean, that's that kind of like, just diligent secret keeping about nonsense. This isn't even like the real things. Like, here's the things that I did in Iran, that got me into trouble. I mean, I, I had, I talked to refugees who are like, say, 20 years later, who are just starting to admit, okay, well, you know, I became a refugee because I did this, this and this, you know, and I got in trouble with the government. They didn't I mean, even though you have to admit those things in order to gain asylum, you know, once you once you arrive in the West, you kind of want to bury those stories, and you think, Okay, well, if I admit, you know, my own role in my own displacement, then I'm at fault. And I have to, you know, kind of confess to the native born that I brought this on myself. And even even though obviously, there's systematic, you know, corruptions that play here that may put you in an impossible situation, you still take that guilt and shame upon yourself. And so 20 years later, they're only then able to admit that know what, yeah, I have to do that stuff. You know? It's, I think, you know, your the answer to your question, like you said, talk about why guess what drives secret keeping in this context, and I think the main thing is the constant search to regain your dignity and the cost of shame. Yeah, so maybe there's a good place to talk about the title of the book, right? Because I think these feelings of shame that you're talking about are related to this imperative to also express gratitude, right to the native born or to the host country, but you call your book, the ungrateful refugee. So tell us a little bit more about this title? And how does you know the politics of ingratitude play out for you?
Dina Nayeri 27:14
Well, I wouldn't call it an ingratitude because remember, but for me, I call it ungrateful refugee because it's kind of a tongue, tongue in cheek way of re appropriating that horrible phrase, which is it contains so much assumption, I mean, when and of course, it was coined by you know, unwelcoming native born people in the West who say, Oh, well, what an ungrateful refugee or whatever. And the reason, the reason that I thought, you know, I think it's, it contains so much is because I mean, never hear, Oh, you know, you never hear the ungrateful doctor, you never hear the ungrateful, you know, like exFAT, you never hear you know that I'm grateful anything, but we've all heard the term ungrateful refugee. So what that implies is that refugees should be grateful. Now, you know, so somehow they should be more grateful than the native born. And I want to, I want to like question that, first of all, why should they be more grateful than the native born who have won the lottery of birth, right? Who should be, you know, counting their blessings for this thing they didn't earn, which is that they were born in the west and free, right? The refugees were, have less to be grateful for because they had to struggle for that same freedom to get to that same place, right. And then, and then after they got there, let's say them, they have the same level of gratitude, which I think is fair, they shouldn't have more, why should they have to posture it? You know, I think the point here is that I think gratitude is a private sentiment, and it's one that's shared by every single refugee, I know, I am incredibly grateful. I'm grateful every day, every refugee that I've ever met is grateful every day. And so it's not in gratitude. It's the refusal to make theater of it for the benefit of the native one. It's a refusal to posture and perform it for the comfort of the native one. It's a refusal to, you know, have like someone's foot shoved under your nose as you're bowing down to your own god, right? Like, no, no, you can't channel some things like respect and love and gratitude. And I refuse to have people try to channel that using these indirect ways by creating these phrases like the ungrateful refugee. Well, you know what, you're ungrateful, native born person doesn't see how incredibly lucky you been in this extremely unearned way. Right? So I mean, I guess I guess, the the phrase for me is much, much more about performance than it is about actual gratitude. Because I actually think if somebody wanted to talk to me privately, of a displaced person or anybody about the role of gratitude in my life, and in my healing and their life and their healing, I would say that it's out absolutely essential, of course, right. But it's a private thing between you, and whoever you choose to direct that gratitude toward. You choose to direct it toward a God toward a community toward a, you know, a small group of people one person, it's yours to do with what you will. Yeah, I appreciate, you know, you join that distinction and thinking about this imperative to perform gratitude, right to the government and sort of, you know, outside news media, and really attending to the privacy, which is also I think, goes relates to your idea of dignity and refuge that you've been talking about. Yeah, you know, I think the thing I was saying before about how, for kind of how long and how kind of persistently, refugees were this shame, you know, and carry it around with them, even if they don't realize it, I think it's most obvious in the performance of the gratitude theater, right? Because they're constantly trying to please the native born, they're constantly seeing themselves through the gaze of the native born constantly remaking themselves and trying to fit themselves into these calls, kind of like the cultural requirements of the native born, all of that comes with the assumption that they don't belong there. They're making life uncomfortable for them. And therefore, they should make it as obvious as they can, that they're going to be, you know, appreciative and servile and a help to them, and not get in the way of anything. Right. And just do that by showing that theater. Well, that's not real gratitude. That's actually shame. Right? That's, that's that's causing you to to do that, you know. I actually think my own gratitude to America is displaced most obviously, by the fact that I criticizing it. I mean, like, I want I want America to be better, because it's my home, because I love it, you know?
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 31:47
Definitely. So we've been talking a lot about people who do get who pass the asylum test, right? And who do get, you know, refugee status to get asylum and eventual citizenship, perhaps, and host nation. So I want to talk a little bit more about people who don't get that luxury, right. And part of you know, one of the things I appreciate in this book, but also in your other work, you're trying to break down this distinction between who's a refugee who's considered an economic migrant, you know, who's considered illegal, and that's terrible term. So can you talk a little bit about that distinction? And how you're, you're trying to break it down? Yeah, you know, I think that distinction, it's a little bit outdated. For one thing I mean, for Well, first of all, let's just kind of clarify for everyone what a refugee is, right? A refugee, according to the Geneva Convention, which are the Refugee Convention, I guess, in 1951, is defined as someone who can't return safely to their home country, for you know, kind of a credible fear of persecution or harm or death, you know, any kind of injury based on one of five criteria, which is their race, religion, national identity, political opinion, and membership in a particular social group. Right. So those are the kind of the five ways that you can be a refugee. Now, as you can imagine, that leaves out a ton of people like so what if there's war in your country, and you're in danger? Well, you don't meet one of those criteria. If you if if like say there's so much chaos as a result of say, gangs, or as a result of corruption, and that chaos isn't directed at you, it could still kill you, but it's not directed at you, then you're not a refugee. I mean, you can you can gain entry into other countries through other means, if there's such chaos that for example, countries decide to systematically taken people from your country. But, but you wouldn't be specifically a refugee. And so you have to prove that you are individually targeted for one of these five reasons. Now, the fifth reasons, the fifth reason membership in a in a, what are the social group that was created by the Refugee Convention framers to be a kind of a catch all, they didn't know what the next Holocaust would be? This was 1951. Right? They didn't know based on what the next genocide would happen. So they kind of did it and other reasons category, right. But the definition of that has been kind of narrowed more and more and more by judges in these countries that want to shut their doors. So like in the US, they were saying, for example, okay, well, women are not a social group, battered women are not a social group like you so so if you're a battered woman, you can't, you know, apply for asylum based on that, because that doesn't count. Right? Well, I think that the framers of the Geneva Convention or the Refugee Convention would have said that accounts, right. It feels a little bit outdated. And then you have the spectrum of people and the reasons that they travel, and it's incredibly complex. You've got the people who are persecuted, right. And it's very obvious why they're persecuted. Let's say there are journalists, anti regime journalists in Iran, and they have lots of proof and articles that ring fire, that person is gotten in trouble with the government, maybe they can prove they're a real refugee. But then you've got people who aren't willing to admit the reason so for example, let's say you run away from Iran because you're gay. And you've seen five of your friends be hanged for homosexual activity. Right, you weren't targeted yet, but you know what you're going to be you have a reasonable fear. And let's say you get into another country and you have, you know, 1000s of years of cultural homophobia that have just been fed to you over your 18 years of life, and you are not willing to admit to yourself that you are gay. Right? Then what, then there's that kind of problem. The asylum officers don't have the nuance to deal with that I can promise you, what if you're a rape victim, you know, what if your torture victim? What if you're so full of shame and trauma that you can't actually say, What happened to you? Right? That's another problem. And then Okay, so let's come a little bit more along the spectrum. What about people who are again, victims of war victims of gangs victim of any kind of situation that isn't targeting them specifically, they don't qualify, pretty soon, we're going to have like huge waves of climate refugees, they're not going to do to qualify. So I think we need to rethink displacement, what causes it, and how we can address it, and how we can address it in a way that's humane, and doesn't put people in the spot of like proving horrible things. You should read some of the transcripts of these asylum interviews and the things that they asked people, you know, like, how many people were in the room when you were raped? How many of them raped you? You know? And were they you think they were raping you because you happen to be there? Or did they come looking for you?
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 36:23
I mean, if your system is such that you have to ask those questions, because the motivation of the perpetrator matters so much, then you need to rethink the entire system. And then, of course, I think the question you were getting at at the beginning, is this other question that I ask is, when you come further along the spectrum of reasons for leaving, let's say, past climate refugees, then you get to the portion that's about economic refugees? What about the people who just can't survive, or have any kind of a decent life for themselves and their family after they in their own country? We call them economic migrants, and we look down on them, why wouldn't you do the same thing, wouldn't you also try to leave and find some opportunity and a decent life for your family, but also a way that your life can be run. So, you know, I feel like all of this kind of needs to be remade in a more modern way in a way that acknowledges all the wrongs, that that we, as Western countries have committed against these other countries, and acknowledges also, that everyone was born with the same rights to opportunity, regardless of what country they were born into, and that our children of the Western born don't deserve more, they just don't. Yeah, thank you, I appreciate how you sort of pointing us to these different gradations, and also stories of displacement. Right. And I think it's a lot of what we tried to do in my class, this class I'm teaching on critical refugee studies is to move beyond this very narrow un definition, right of the refugee and what the UN considers, you know, critical fear based on these five categories that you mentioned, and really think about these other forms of displacement, and how can we put them in conversation with one another. So just want to sort of give it a shout out to the audience, you know, please post your questions in the q&a, we will move to the q&a audience q&a portion, very soon. So I know that we have a couple questions already in the q&a, but I just want to find that. So I want to talk a little bit maybe about feminist politics and how it informs this book, right? So you write that, you know, feminist politics is something that was very strongly instilled in you by your Baba. And that directly defines your identity. So how do you make sense of maybe the complex ways that gender and women's rights are always sort of appealed to right by the US government as like reasons for intervention right in the middle east and the SWANA? region? So can you sort of talk us through, you know, these complex dynamics of how gender and sort of saving brown woman you know, this rhetoric gets deployed? Well, you know, this is a really complicated one, because I've kind of I've seen some terrible arguments on every side of this. And I think the problem is, the issue is that,
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 38:57
like, when you go to a country like Iran, right, it's, there's not one overarching problem. You've got minority groups within minority groups, each with their own needs, and each with, like, their own ways of being suppressed, right. So within particular, like smaller groups of people, there's a whole complex range of, you know, kind of forces that are applied to their lives, and we can't, like, we can't judge them according to our values in the West. And one of the things that you were referring to is the fact that when we when we came to the US, there was a lot of are the men horrible in Iran, and oh, you got saved by America from, you know, this horrible, sexist place. And the thing is, I feel like on a day to day basis, I experienced as much sexism in, you know, Oklahoma and in Christian setting than I did, as I did in Iran. I mean, in Iran, my father told me, you have to study you have to get a PhD. There's no excuse. Otherwise, you don't want to marry some, you know, somebody who's going to rule your life. You have to make these choices for yourself and in the church. In Oklahoma, it was all very much about Wives submit to your husbands, and the husband is the head of the household and all of that. So, you know, it felt really much more progressive to be in my father's house, let's just say. And then my mother too, although she's a Christian, she kind of buys into a lot of these Christian things. But she also was this kind of strong minded, you know, she's a medical doctor, and she was all about her own, you know, career and progress in education and about making her own decisions. And I think in many ways, she was a closet feminist. And she would be enraged every time she ran into one of these like Islamic Republic laws that made her rights less than a math. Yeah, but at the same time, right. I also kind of get upset where people make blanket statements like, well, let's leave the Iranian women alone, because they're all happy with forced a job because they're Muslims, none of them. There's plenty of Iranian women were extremely unhappy with forestay job, right? That's the nuance there, you have all of these different groups of people, right? And there is issues of religion, issues of class oppression, and economic oppression, issues of like, you know, individ cultures of individual virgins, etc. And you can't make a statement like, well, the Islamic Republic is sexist, and let's go save the woman. But you also can't make a statement like, well, let's not say anything about her job. Because that's, you know, us being Western people. You know, you have to be specific, you have to make comments like, well, you know, it's not, like forced his job does not mesh with, you know, kind of liberal, you know, way of life. It is not progressive, it is not fair, you know, but then again, neither is like France's practice of not allowing burqini is on the beach. Right. But I think all of these issues have to be addressed in a way that is kind of specific, and local, because there's so many overlaying identity issues at play. Thank you. Yeah. I really appreciate how you're drawing our attention to get so lost. You know, I think in a lot of these public debates, government and global debates, yeah, well, I think I'd say the key as with all this is being specific and being nuanced, right, like, make blanket statements at your own peril? Yeah, yeah, definitely. So now, let's sort of transition we have about 30 minutes left. So I'm happy to transition now to the q&a portion. I know some folks have been responding a lot in the chat, I do ask that you post your questions in this specific q&a box that just helps us as hosts to keep track of them. So I'll go ahead and start reading some of our questions in the q&a. You know, I also invite the audience, you know, we want as much participation as possible. So you do have the option to upvote questions. So if there's a question that, you know, resonates with you, or that, you know, you also want to ask, that would be a reason to upload a question, we'll make sure to prioritize that. So the first question is from Suraj. So he says, Thank you, Dina, I teach refugee law in India. And the course starts with your piece in The Guardian, which is much loved by students. So glad to have read your book, through Professor Gandhi of my course. So my question is about your reflections on teaching. So you note that Middle Eastern students in your class are often the quietest, despite the materials, you cover having themes, which often resonates strongest with them. And this happens across other educational institutions. So in light of this advice, what advice would you have for educators and students who belong to immigrant or refugee backgrounds? Thank you for that question. I thank you so much for teaching my work. I always appreciate it. When people do that. I'm so glad that, Evan, you're amazing for doing for being this kind of conduit for the work to each others.
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 43:46
I mean, thanks for writing. I think you know, for me, it's kind of a fine balance here. Because one thing I've found is that the refugee and displaced students have so much to say, when they feel safe and comfortable saying it. And yet at the same time, I know that there have been times where I've wanted to, you know, kind of like force the connection between a particular story and their experience, and I've made them uncomfortable, because that feeling of safety, that feeling that you're not going to feel ashamed is, is absolutely, absolutely paramount, you know. And so, one thing that I often do is teach stories that are kind of circle a particular issue, right? And don't, you know, call them out to respond to it with their own experiences, but like, we'll read a story about, you know, we'll read a lot of stories about shame, humiliation and dignity, right? The loss of shame in different situations, it doesn't necessarily have to do with different culture. You know, you see like you read a story about a mother and daughter profoundly disconnecting you read a story about someone you know, I even know spending a day homeless, you read a story about, you know, somebody fundamentally misunderstanding someone of the opposite sex. I mean, there's all kinds of ways to be human But once you've read three or four stories that circled your, your particular themes, then you start to understand the universality of it. All right, and how, how very kind of, I guess strange and beautiful at all can be. And I think that might take a while and a little bit of trust. But I think like, really thinking about the stories you're assigning and what they might trigger in displace people is important, and then giving them the space to kind of come in with their own perspectives. I always found that in the second half of the semester, or in like, the final weeks of the semester, I got so much more involved in that participation and personal engagement, you know, because, I mean, they, in the first like, class, when I assign a story, they don't know where I'm coming from, they don't know why that story is important. They don't know like, what is it I'm trying to teach by like the 20th Shame story that they read, they get it like they get that this is actually you, we all share this kind of stuff. It's it's universal, and interesting, and not at all, something to hide away. And also, then I give them lots of opportunity to write their own short pieces, their own little, you know, creative writing exercises, not necessarily to commit to an entire short story, but to write a scene, you know, I found that a lot comes out when you ask people to write about subtext, you know, so I do exercises in which I have people write a dialogue, you know, like, I don't know, a two page dialogue between two people who hear some of the unspoken stuff between them, right? And what they choose to write, I think reveals a lot about their own experiences of that particular thing. Mm hmm. Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing those exercises. It's always great to so to hear more about pedagogy. We have a question here about the writing of your book. So what is the reason behind the overall structure of your novel? So the five acts and then the stories intersperse? So can you talk a little bit about how you structured your book? I guess, the ungrateful refugee? Sure. I'm trying to follow you on the questions. But anyway, oh, this is from min Mini. Yeah. Oh, sorry. So talk about the structure of the book. Well, well, I mean, I think I'd love to see I kind of started it.
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 47:10
I started it, kind of trying to understand the what had changed, and what has stayed the same between my story and the stories of today's refugees, right? And I'm in a different moment in my refugee journey than most of the people that I met are, you know, so very quickly, I realized, okay, there's some parallels here. But how is their experience we're going to be in 10 years and 15 years and 20 years? These are things I can't know. So I suddenly became aware that there's these kind of five stages. And I remember I sat down and I thought about it, I'm like, Well, what if we're in two different stages, like how many different like distinct stages are there and and this kind of very early on became the skeleton in that book for me, because I realized very quickly that each of these stages, not only has secrets, as I was saying before, like things that the native born don't know. But also, each one of them hasn't really clear parallel to a universal experience that the native born will understand. Like, for example, waiting in a camp is not that different than waiting for something like vital and life changing for anyone, right? We know what waiting is, like, we know what it's like to be forced to wait by someone who has more power than you. And so, you know, frame that way, you can really understand that portion of the refugees journey. And I think that that understanding can bring empathy. Same with, you know, storytelling, like asylum, the asylum portion, you know, out of the five is all about storytelling. And we've all tried to convince someone who doesn't believe, right? That's universal, isn't it? And again, that can build, build empathy. And same with trying to change ourselves to fit a particular mold. That's the assimilation portion, and so on, and so forth. So all five of them had something that I think that really resonated with the native born just normal human experience. Right. So I thought that that was really important to make those connections, and then also just to reveal some of the secrets of each of those particular phases. Yeah, thank you. It felt like a natural skeleton. Yeah. So we have a question here from Amelia, which has received a couple of votes, which is really kind of a call to action question for you. So she says, I've talked to many Americans who for one reason or another, become aware of the in Justices of the immigration and refugee system, perhaps through powerful books, such as your own, but many become frustrated with a sense of futility. So what do we do with the knowledge we now have? So what do you suggest for ways ordinary people can engage in this issue? And how can everyday Americans be a part of the solution to this issue after they become aware of it? Yeah. So I think it's really helpful to try to divide this into kind of three parts into short term things that can make life less hellish for refugees, for medium term things and then much longer term things. And I think the thing is the thing that makes you perhaps feel like futile or like there's nothing to do that you are powerless in the system. Is that we see the long term things, which is good to see. But you know, the system needs to change, you know, we need to look at displacement differently than we do look at borders differently, we need to look at our, our, what we owe to our fellow man kind of in a different way, right? And all of that stuff is just not going to change overnight, right. But there are things we can do to start that change. So I'll get to that in a minute. But, but in the short term, refugees have a lot of immediate needs that, you know, you can help me, I you know, about things like food, shelter, legal representation, all of that stuff. So I mean, if there's anything that you can do, to give money to the organizations that are helping, especially with the ones that are helping with legal issues, that is really helpful. One thing that every immigration lawyer told me is that the biggest determinant of whether or not a refugee gets accepted or asylum seeker gets accepted is whether or not they have representation before they first speak to someone. Right. As soon as they speak to someone without representation, they might say things that will dam their case, and those things are on the record forever, right. So, you know, there's a lot of wonderful charities, like the Young Center, for example, who go to the border, and who provide free legal representation to to undocumented minors, to families, so all kinds of people, right. So to be a part of that help, you can give money, if you know, immigration lawyers, you can, you know, help bring them over I know people who bring caravans of lawyers to, you know, to camps in Europe, that kind of thing is really helpful get involved in a charity.
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 51:33
There, let's see, aside from represent legal representation, there's the fact that in the the refugee camps around the world, are horrible places where people have to wait too long, right? They don't have much of what they need. The things that people send are useless. People send teddy bears, you know, they don't have schools for their children. And sometimes they stay there for two years. And for two years, their children's fire dies, they don't have any education. They don't have anyone coming to teach. So you know, if you have actual time that you can go and volunteer your time and teach children, you know, you can do it in a grassroots way, go and do it. Or you could do it through organizations. Like, let's see, there's one called second tree and CATSA. Cassatt does education in the camps, there's one called refugee support that I've written about, that does vocational training now for women. In in the US, there's lots of them, you can you can look them up and be involved, then you can also lobby for certain major rule changes the there's, I'd say the biggest rule that harms asylum seekers, that needs to be changed and changed quickly in Europe. And America is like people are not allowed to work while they wait. Right? Okay. So this whole illegal work sake, right? It doesn't protect any Americans, it just basically robs people of their identity, because they're waiting for years, and they're losing their skills, why should they have to be we're working under the table work should have nothing to do with your immigration status, right. So lobby for them to be allowed to work. And you know, what, if you have to give them work off the books, you know, like, if you can, if you can help people work for, you know, their living instead of accepting the charity. But at the same time, also, it's really important to give if you can, because people come to the US, and they are mired in poverty, and they don't have anything, they don't have cars when they need to go and which they need in order to go to work. They don't have money for transportation, they don't have money for new clothes, it makes it just all that much harder to really settle in. So if you can be part of a welcome organization, that gives the items that refugees need, if you could be part of an organization that the friends in migrants and refugees at the beginning when they first arrived, that can be really helpful. And sometimes I think the hardest part of it all is just the fact that you don't have anyone, you don't have a sense of curiosity from people around and welcome about who you are, and what you might contribute. All people care about is your like, escape story, right? So if you can be someone who goes and with a befriending organization and befriend someone, right, and gives them a community and invites them into your community, that can be incredible help. So all of those are short term things, right? I'd say I guess the lobbying falls more into medium term things. But just to skip to the long term things, I think, like we can absolutely have a hand in changing these laws and changing these systems of thinking in the long term, not just by how we vote by hand, but by how we educate our children. You know, I think it's really important these, like, these debates currently about what's taught in schools, you know, to make sure that like that we're teaching things like systematic racism in our schools. So you know, and that we're teaching things like, you know, how our systems were created. What is the history of displacement, though? How has this country contributed to displacement and then around the world, you know, that kind of stuff really helps people understand at a young age that they are not entitled to everything that they're born and then maybe the next generation will change it. I think it's important to teach philosophy Like, for example, I always, you know, kind of do this exercise with young children, the Rawlsian original position exercise, you know, this, right, the idea that, you know, if you were born, if you were behind the veil of ignorance in a kind of a position of not knowing what body you would be born into, what kind of a world would you create? Would you create a world in which some people are starving while some are billionaires? Probably not? Because you might be one of those people who starving you don't know what body you're going to be born into. So do those kinds of exercises so that people can think through children at a young age can think through like, wow, I mean, what do I deserve? And what should I give to other people? And what kind of world do I want to make instead of just taking what's given to me as a finished product, and you know, as as a given, so that those are things we can do in the long term? That was kind of sorry, long winded, but thank you, yeah, volunteer, give money, help them get education and help them get legal help and help them get work?
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 56:00
Yeah, I mean, I really appreciate how you sort of break down this short term, medium term, long term projects, which gives us multiple points of intervention, and ways to act. So the next question is from Maria, and it'll give you a chance to talk about future work, but also talk a little bit more about what you're doing in France. So Maria says, I was wondering if you could share if you are currently working on a project in France? Also, do you have any insight on the differences or similarities between immigration policies in the US versus France, as a Mexican American who lived in France during my teenage years, I definitely felt that it was a bit difficult to assimilate to France. And feel a part of the country and the culture. Well, you know, unfortunately, I, I'm not like a huge France expert. I'm here because my partner, you know, is from here, we escaped the pandemic, I guess, for a fellowship, I was at the Columbia Institute for ideas and imagination in Paris when the pandemic happens. So there's kind of that element of stuckness in my story here. But what am I working on, I am working on my next book, which is actually almost finished, called gets believed. And it takes it takes this kind of, you know, issue of believability codes, and storytelling, you know, norms and all of that stuff outside of the refugee world. And kind of applies it to larger class structures and applies it to vulnerable people of all times, and and also privileged people have all kinds of kind of looks at both sides of things. So that's what I've been working on, it's almost finished. And then I am just on my way to join the University of St. Andrews, permanent faculty there. So I'm about to move to Scotland. You know, next year, what the differences are American and Scottish asylum. You know, I do know that the French, that it's really tough in France, because of all the anecdotal information that I have heard about similar kind of tactics to catch out people. And also just the, it's, it's kind of a, like, like Holland, very close society in terms of who's accepted and who's going to take it into various communities. And of course, there's a giant language barrier, because French is so very hard to learn. But there's a refugee family who lives nearby us. And, you know, one of the I talked to them a lot, and they are also Iranian. It's just incredible coincidence, actually, that there's these Iranian refugees who live nearby in this tiny, tiny village. And I've spent a lot of time talking with them. And they complain about a lot of the small indignities that were very similar to what I experienced in the US, you know, people, for example, thinking they're doing such good offering work for paying you peanuts, or you know, people asking you, oh, why do you have a nice phone? You know, things like that. I think I think another thing, I guess that would go into the medium term bucket of my little framework before would be that, you know, as people settle in, you want to watch out for their dignity, and you want to understand that that anything that wouldn't be appealing to you probably won't be appealing to that, you know, and then not to question things like every little joy that they have in their life. Like, just don't be a jerk. Medium term is like, then spend the next 10 or 15 years as they make their home amongst your people not being a jerk. It seems so simple. But it's so sad that we have to sort of emphasize these things. Yeah. Exactly. People all over the world with this and including all of us. I mean, we've all we've all been awful to someone. Yeah, thank you. So this next question has to do with solidarity and in particular, a solidarity between different groups of refugees. So this is from soon. How do you imagine the solidarity between different groups of refugees who shared similarities but also divergences and their histories have been oppressed? Quite a few naturalized refugees in the US appear to turn against what they call quote unquote, illegal immigration, while in fact that was how they gotten into the US in the first place. So what do you think about this? And how what can we do to promote a better sense of solidarity that does not flatten refugees, diverse particularities?
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 1:00:10
Yeah. Well, you know, I think one thing to really realize that what I think is one thing you realize, when you have, you know, just known all kinds of different humans in your life after is that, whether they're refugees, or whether, you know, their migrants are from this country, or that country or whatever, there are thinking, and I'm thinking people, self aware, and unskillful, where people selfish, non selfish people in every single group, right, so a refugee who wants to roll up the ladder behind them, right, could very well just be a bad human, like, they're bad humans among every single category, or they might just be on thinking, or they might just be wanting to safeguard what they have, maybe they're so traumatized, they just want to wrap a blanket around themselves in their family and push everyone else out, right? There's more or less justifiable reasons for it. But the thing is, it's not really your job to try to make, you know, figure out their psychology of what they want, they may not be the ally that you're seeking, right? I think there's so much existing solidarity between groups of refugees, now, people who made it through who feel like, like, oh, my gosh, I want to help the next group who see, you know, threads of their story and other people's story from all kinds of different places, I know, people who have, you know, befriended each other, just because of the fact that they're both moved to the UK, just with huge cultural barriers between them language barriers between them, like all they share is maybe just a few scars, because they've both been tortured, you know, like, and that's such a huge thing to share. But it's also like, not cultural connection. And they've completely overcome that, right. I, I've seen lots of different refugees who go to the same charity, and then they get to know each other based on, say, a sport that they love, or some, you know, some hobby that they love, or whatever. And then they become the best of friends. And again, very unlikely places far flung with different languages. So like, you know, human kindness, compassion, and love always overcomes all of that, as long as you do have some of that and you know, an openness. And so I think that as far as solidarity goes, it always works better when you go looking, you know, when you go looking for your allies in all kinds of unlikely places and understand that not everyone you run into will be that person, right? A lot of completely closed off. How do you promote that? You know, solidarity, I think it happens naturally. But you have to open up the various opportunities for meeting people. That's why I love the befriending charities. I'm on the host of I'm on the board of one in the UK called host nation. And they they put people together based on you know, just proximity because they know that it's traveling is expensive, and based on age, and also based on Hobbies, right? So people can immediately become friends and get drawn into each other's communities and circles, and that one meeting can turn into like a dozen meetings. And then suddenly, there's just a lot more points of connection, and many more points of connection means many more opportunities for people to be awesome to each other as is their nature. Yeah, definitely. I've been really heartened to see sort of the outpouring of support from Vietnamese refugees, for example, to more recent refugees from Afghanistan, thinking about these connections, yeah. Oh, I love to see that. That's, that's really cool. So next question, just to elaborate on your sort of understanding of the gendered aspects of shame. So I'll hum says, do you find shame mostly among refugee woman? And if not, is it entirely different entirely with men? So what are they ashamed of? And why? So how is this experience of shame? Perhaps gendered? Oh, gosh, no, I don't think it's any less than men. I feel like in and I feel like there's a lot of the same kinds of shame. You know, and I think it's very cultural depending on where you come from. But with men, for example, you see a lot of torture survivors who are, you know, just absolutely reeling with shame, you know, about about, you know, not having a stood a particular torture, but having given up a name, you know, about having gone along with something because they were being tortured about their physical weakness. Having been at the wrong place at the wrong time, just the take on all of the shame on themselves, having not been able to protect their family, rape victims, whether they're men or women feel the same crippling shame, like the shame there is not changed. I think it's just it's silencing on both sides, especially from Middle Eastern countries. You know, they come in they don't want to confess that even though it would get them you know, refuge, it would get them asylum. And then let's see, often, both groups, men or women have shamed related to, you know, family, that they feel that they have, you know, abandoned or betrayed,
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 1:04:51
religious things that they feel that they've left behind. There's all kinds of shame just related to children. The fate of children, women, of course, you know, from the Middle East, of course, there is sometimes a lot of shame to do with things like, you know, divorce or, you know, wanting to leave an abusive husband or wanting to leave a non abusive husband just wanting to leave, or things that are very, very gendered and very specific to that culture. But I think for the most part, the biggest sources of shame that I've seen are things that are just like, it's just not their fault, you know, like sexual sexual orientation and identity, you know, gender identity, torture, write things that have happened. This next question is from Sydney, I'm sort of picking up on a conversation that we were having earlier. So do you think that the Geneva Conventions definition of a refugee should be redefined? And if so, how would you improve its current definition? Or what other criteria should be included? I think that, you know, trying to kind of parse out a particular definition, for a particular moment in time is always short sighted, because you just never know what that next horrifying thing is going to be. Right? So I mean, you don't know if it'll be a war, or if it will be a flood, or if it's going to be a, you know, warring gangs, or if it's going to be a revolution, or, you know, political or whatever, I think we should take responsibility for the wounded, and the endangered of the world. So I think it should be reduced to basically people in danger, right. And I think that, you know, we should then move on to dealing with the question, instead of dealing with the question of, you know, are you in danger for the right reasons, you know, we believe you're gonna die just not for the right reasons. Even they don't even stop to think, Wait a minute, but so you're not going to save this person, because they're not going to die for their the right reasons. Like, let's stop and think about that in terms of what we owe to our fellow man. So instead of cursing out stupid, bureaucratic, legalistic questions, we put the whole thing aside and say, you know, what, we owe something to endangered people of the world, right, and then move on to how to move on to things like resources and education, and making the wait time short, and, you know, making neighborhoods welcoming, and making, you know, kind of the whole process, I guess, more efficient, less harmful, right? I'm not advocating for like open borders across the world power just flicked open borders across the world. I'm advocating for a, you know, a system that makes sense. And a system that is humanizing not, you know, completely degrading, and a system that doesn't create extra bureaucracy and waste, like so much money just in these kinds of silly questions. Right? And just the waiting times, right, that we have to go through this, like very individualized bureaucratic process of people. So people are waiting for years, their potential, their fire, their sense of self, their ability to contribute to the world changes after two years of idleness. I'm waiting. Definitely. So this next question is from Brian. So what has been the most enriching part of being an author writing about the refugee identity? Well, I mean, it's been talking to the people. So I, when I first when I first went to that first campaign, where I read about in the book, I was so nervous, because I wasn't sure, you know, I was asking for the only precious thing these people have left, which is their story. And then there was this field of ISO boxes in this refugee camp, and I started walking through it. And I had been given a list of which I saw boxes containing Iranian families or Afghan families who would speak my language. And I wasn't even supposed to have this list. I kind of tucked it away and memorized numbers to go past, you know, kind of slowly past the door, trying to decide whether to knock and I knocked on that first door, and I just kind of in my accented Farsi was like, you know, hello, I'm a writer, and I used to be an Iranian refugee. And I just wanted to ask if I'm there, like, I have some cheese. Like, they made me tea, they wouldn't let me go for like hours. And then by the time and of course, you know, everyone has phones. So then by the time I left that house, I was kind of like, on that ISO box. I was on my way to the next one. The next one, the person sticks their head out the window is like, Are you the Iranian woman that's walking around. So then I get taken them to the next thing. I have said that it was It was torture for the bladder those. But it was so moving. They were so generous, and they were so kind and they shared so much of themselves with me.
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 1:09:36
And it was a lot of fun moments. Like we just it was just the whole thing became such a human interaction. I forgot about my book for a long time. And I was just, you know, hearing about their lives. And they were hearing about mine. And we were joking about Iranian things and all of the things that I didn't know because I'd been out for so long and you know, yeah, definitely. Yeah. Yeah. So I know You just have a couple of minutes left. And we also want to do a quick close out, but maybe just one question that we can answer. Quickly. One more. So this question is from Katherine and just picks up on your conversation about truth and facts. So I was wondering if you could speak to your understanding of truth and facts as it applies to deeply personal, familial and personal narratives? Can you talk about the personal negotiations and perhaps healing necessary in the creation and writing of this work? Yeah. Do you know it's funny, I think you have. You have just stumbled on the question, I find the most unanswerable and the hardest, because not unanswerable in that. I'm not gonna answer it. What I mean, it's, it's, this is a hard one, right? Because everyone thinks that their truth is the absolute truth. And there is the question of point of view, and that I have the I have this wonderful book that I like to go back and read over. It's called writing life stories by Bill Gore back and we'll go back, you know, he's wonderful teacher of writing memoir. And he talks about all of the things that you can, all of the ways that you should anchor the story in a point of view, in your own point of view, especially when you're writing memoir. But often, that means completely abusing someone else's point of view, because people disagree. But he shares a story about how, you know, at a family dinner, he started telling the story of how when he was a little kid, and you know, really a very, very cold winter. He licked a telephone pole when he was little, and his tongue froze to the telephone, right? And he finished telling the story with all kinds of pizzazz and stuff. And then his sister's like, yeah, I remember that story. Except it wasn't you. It was me. Right? Are you about who's talking about stuff? Like, oh, but this is so visceral, I remember it, I remember the sensation. And she says, Well, I remember I remember the sensation. And this is how, what the memory does to you know, to store it alters it. And at the end of the day, all we have is the memory. The experts say that only the first time you remember something, you're actually remembering the event, the very next time you're remembering the memory, right? So our memories lie to us all the time. So at the end of the day, there is no accessing those familiar truths. There's no accessing what actually happened. There is just your point of view and as honest as you can be with yourself. And now there is the question of Are you being honest with yourself, and that is a years long reflection, that takes a lot of work, a lot of self work, like so for example, if you want to write a story, that is your particular point of view, in a family situation, why are you trying to tell that story? You know, are you trying to get at a particular truth? Are you trying to get revenge on someone? Are you trying to like submit your point of view, I think all of these things kind of lead us to turn over various kind of like, I guess, the emotional leftovers of, of that event, or whatever, and help us really assess like, are we? Are we in a position to tell that story? Are we in a position to tell our truth, even if it's only one. But I think that's as close as I've gotten, because the thing is that like my family gets really mad about my stories, you know, because they're in my point of view, and I have never been able to reconcile, especially with my mother never been able to reconcile the way I want to tell the stories and the way she wants them told. So. That's why I find that one personally hard. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing. So I just want to invite Jennifer to come back on and Jennifer will do a quick close out for us.
Jennifer Jihye Chun 1:13:30
Thank you. And thank you so much, Dina, for your powerful insights, and so much that you've shared with us today, I took down so many notes of Jen's like the distinction between a truthful story and an honest listener, the degrading effects of having to perform gratitude as a refugee, the need the need to rethink, to really rethink displacement and solutions and its solutions to it. As well as its connections to systemic racism, writing as an act of refusal and the life affirming practice, but also kind of leading to family conflict. You know, there's so many and also really concrete ways that we can really act in response to the many things that you shared. Thank you. And thanks also to Evan, for engaging Dina in such a riveting conversation with all your, you know, really brilliant insights and also managing all of the questions. The way that you took us through the conversation was really stimulating, and I know, added so much. And also to all the attendees for your terrific questions and participation. I know many of Professor Gandhi's students are in the room and, you know, engaging students as part of this series is really a core to what we want to do as well. So thank you for attending. And, you know, this year we're having, we're really prioritizing having cross cutting conversations with writers with activists, with people on the ground So today starts as often that journey. So please watch out for news about our winter and spring events. We will be advertising them as they are organized. So thank you again, for joining us.
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 1:15:15
Thank you so much. And thank you Dina. Thank you guys for having me. It was really great. Thank you, everyone in the audience. It's so great to have you in our conversation. Lots of things in the chat.
Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi 1:15:27
I can sit this is really lovely. I love the chat. Yeah, it's kind of nice to keep it enabled. So it doesn't seem like we're talking to a like, like screen. Okay, well, thank you guys. I'm good. Thank you. Alright, take care.
Jennifer Jihye Chun 1:15:43
Thank you. Bye bye.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai