The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives
Edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen
In Spring 2019, the LEP Global Book Club read The Displaced, an anthology of personal stories by refugee writers, collected and edited by author Viet Thanh Nguyen. Reading their stories allows us greater insight into the often painful realities of millions of people in our current moment, enhancing our empathy towards others, while also challenging us to reflect on questions of our own identities, belonging, and our understandings of home.
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There is little doubt that Kālidāsa is one of the most celebrated poets not only in Sanskrit literature but in all of South Asian history. His works represent the acme of Sanskrit poetry and became the model for subsequent poets in Sanskrit as well as most of the major languages of the region. Despite his celebrity and the reverence for his works, very little is definitively known about Kālidāsa. Based on tradition and meagre references to his own life in his works, most scholars agree that he lived in early 5th century CE in the city of Ujjain, located roughly at the center of the Indian peninsula.
Abhijnanasakuntala (The Recognition of Shakuntala), is based on an episode taken from the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata. Kālidāsa retains the basic plot line of the episode but alters it in key ways to adapt it to the stage and make it more romantic. The story revolves around a beautiful maiden named Shakuntala who is the daughter of an ascetic sage and a heavenly nymph. Abandoned by her parents, she was raised in the hermitage of another sage who found her in the care of a flock of “shakunta” birds. Hence, he named her Shakuntala, i.e., protected by shakunta birds. One day, she falls in love with a visiting king named Dushyant who gives her a ring as the token of their love and promises to return to take her with him. In his absence Shakuntala gives birth to a son. Due to a curse, he forgets about her and only recalls her when he encounters the ring again after many years. Their son, Bharata, goes on to become the first emperor of India whose descendants are the protagonists of the Mahabharata.
Of all his works, Kālidāsa’s Abhijnanasakuntala became the most world-renowned after it was translated into English by Sir William Jones in Calcutta in 1789. Translations in German and French appeared subsequently. The play was to be translated into all these languages, and many more, numerous times by prominent linguists and indologists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Among these is the translation featured here by the famous indologist Sir Monier Monier-Williams.
Scholarly interest in Sanskrit in European and American academia is not only due to the language’s own rich literary tradition but also because it is the sacred language of the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious traditions. Even though the Buddhist and Jain traditions initially used other languages they eventually switched to Sanskrit, as it was the language of high culture, philosophy, and scholarly discourse in ancient India. The linguistic influence of Sanskrit on local South Asian languages is comparable to Latin and ancient Greek in Europe.
Vedic Sanskrit, an ancient form of Sanskrit in which the Vedas, the most ancient Hindu scriptures, are composed, is an important source for the study of the evolution of Indo-European languages. In fact, having been orally composed between 1500 and 1200 BCE, the Vedas are among the oldest literary creations in any Indo-European language.
The study and teaching of Sanskrit at UC Berkeley goes back to the 1890s and includes an impressive list of world renowned scholars and interest in Kālidāsa has also been keenly pursued here. Among others, Professor Arthur W. Ryder, Professor of Sanskrit, published a translation of a selection of Kālidāsa’s works in 1912 that included Abhijñānaśākuntala. This translation became the basis for a performance of the play in the Greek Theater in 1914. The play continues to be widely performed into the present day. Today, Professor Robert P. Goldman is UC Berkeley’s Magistretti Distinguished Professor of Sanskrit. He is also the director, general editor, and principal translator of the recently published multi-volume critical edition of a fully annotated English translation of Valmiki’s famous epic, Ramayana, and has received many awards and fellowships.
Title: Śakuntalā, a Sanskrit drama, in seven acts. The Deva-Nāgari recension of the text, ed. with literal English translations of all the metrical passages, schemes of the metres and notes, critical and explanatory by Monier Williams. Authors: Kālidāsa Imprint: Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1876. Edition: 2nd Language: Sanskrit Language Family: Indo-European, Indo-Aryan Source: HathiTrust Digital Library (UC Berkeley) URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/002751897
The Languages of Berkeley is a dynamic online sequential exhibition celebrating the diversity of languages that have advanced research, teaching and learning at the University of California, Berkeley. It is made possible with support from the UC Berkeley Library and is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Language Center (BLC).
TO: The UC Berkeley academic community
FROM: Jeff MacKie-Mason, University Librarian and Professor
RE: Elsevier access suspended
July 10, 2019
The University of California has been out of contract with Elsevier since January, but until now the publisher continued to allow access to 2019 articles via its web platform, ScienceDirect. As of today, July 10, UC’s direct access to new Elsevier articles has been discontinued.
What is affected: Members of the UC community no longer have direct access to:
We will be carefully evaluating the impact of losing access to new articles on ScienceDirect over the coming months, and will do our best to ensure that you have access to the articles you need. Meanwhile, UC is hoping to re-enter formal negotiations with Elsevier if the publisher indicates that they are willing to discuss a contract that integrates the university’s goals of containing costs and facilitating open access to UC research.
The MLA International Bibliography and the MLA Directory of Periodicals will now be located solely on the EBSCO platform. The interface looks different, however, the content and the functionality have not changed. The Bibliography indexes journal articles and other critical scholarship in both North American, Latin American and International literatures, languages, linguistics, and folklore.
Literature Online (LION) also has a new interface. Here you can find the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (ABELL), digitized poetry, prose, and drama, reference resources on literature, and Cambridge Companions to literature. The MLA International Bibliography is no longer available in LION.
If you use Literature Online (LION) or the MLA International Bibliography, you may have noticed some changes recently.
The MLA International Bibliography and the MLA Directory of Periodicals will now be found solely on the EBSCO platform. Although the interface looks different, the functionality has not changed. The Bibliography indexes journal articles and other critical scholarship in literature, languages, linguistics, and folklore.
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe. — John Muir (1838-1914) from My First Summer in the Sierra
On October 2, 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed by Congress, creating a system of rivers throughout the country to be preserved for generations to come. For the environmental movement gaining momentum in the 1960s this was an important turning point for water protection – although the waterways deemed valuable enough to conserve did not include the Stanislaus River in Northern California, already slated for a large, new dam to be built by the Army Corp of Engineers. The impending filling of the reservoir would cause a 13 mile unimpeded stretch of the river to rise, bringing about the destruction and loss of numerous cultural resources and a highly accessible white water rafting area. Supporters of the dam argued that the New Melones Dam project would create construction jobs, increase the state’s water supply, help with flood control and generate hydroelectric power.
In 1973, a small group of individuals including Gerald “Jerry” H. Meral, Rob Caughlan, David Oke and David Kay decided to form a grassroots conservation organization called Friends of the River to gather signatures to put the Proposition 17 initiative on the ballot thereby adding the Stanislaus River to the list of protected rivers. Though the initiative was placed on the 1974 ballot in California and received significant support from river rafters, environmentalists and others who valued the river as it was, the initiative ended up failing in the election. This defeat didn’t suppress the spirit of the Friends of the River and the group was incorporated in 1975 as the Friends of the River Foundation, a non-profit membership based organization dedicated to river protection under the leadership of Mark Dubois and Jennifer Jennings.
By 1978, the New Melones Dam construction was completed and the spillway and powerhouse were in place in 1979. In May 1979, when the lake was about to be filled with water, Mark Dubois sent a four paragraph typed, signed letter to Colonel Donald M. O’Shei, the Army Corps of Engineers’ Sacramento District Engineer, warning of his impending action to attempt to halt the filling of the New Melones reservoir by hiding in the canyon and chaining himself to a rock in the river. This act of defiance by Dubois brought considerable attention to the already well publicized project and the filling of the lake was halted temporarily.
Though the New Melones reservoir was eventually filled in 1982, one of the campaign’s most influential achievements was to crack open the debate about the cost effectiveness and benefits to society of large dam projects around the globe. No other dams of this magnitude have been constructed in the United States since the completion of the New Melones Dam and the struggle to save the Stanislaus River from the construction of the New Melones Dam remains one of the greatest examples of citizen involvement in American history to stop a dam from being built. The Friends of the River Foundation continues to push for water protection legislation in California through grassroots organizing, public outreach and education.
The Friends of the River Foundation records are now open to researchers at The Bancroft Library. The processing of the Friends of the River Foundation records is part of a two-year grant project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to make available a range of archival collections relating to environmental movements in the West. A leading resource in the documentation of U.S. environmental movements, The Bancroft Library is home to the records of many significant environmental organizations and the papers of a range of environmental activists.
One of our favorite parts of the Oral History Center’s annual Advanced Summer Institute is the opportunity to hear from others who are using oral history in their work. One of our favorite guest speakers, Dr. Robert Keith Collins, will be back again to discuss how he uses oral history, and person-centered ethnography, in his work on American Indian cultural changes and African and Native American interactions in North, Central, and South America.
Q: How did you come to oral history?
Oral history has been something that I have grown up with, as the telling of family stories was a way that my family ensured I knew who my relatives were, what they were, where they were from, and what they went through. In my professional career, my exposure to oral history came through studying anthropology, Native Americans studies, and Ethnic Studies, particularly African American cultures and histories. Within these fields of study, oral history told the stories uncorroborated by the historical record. Although, eventually some were. This taught me that oral histories and written histories are two sides of the same coin. Both records are accounts of the past; however, oral history offers insight into the agency individuals exert in their lives and the observations that they make of the world around them.
Q: How do you use oral history in your work?
In my research, I take a person-centered ethnographic approach, which looks at individuals within cultures and how they remember their past through what they say, do, and embody. Respondents are interviewed at least fifteen times to show their evolving understanding of lived experiences. The oral histories that are obtained reveal how individuals understand their experiences, may say one thing and do another in certain situations for an expected outcome, and remembered pasts that have been actively – not passively – navigated and negotiated though choices. From these, my analyses attempt to be holistic by examining the relevance of what individuals say, do, and embody on how they impact the people around them and how the people around them shape their choices and experiences.
Q: Your work deals a lot with race and identity, particularly in the Choctaw Nation. How do you feel that oral history is uniquely positioned to explore questions of identity?
My work deals with race and identity among Choctaw descendants both within and outside of communities with significant populations. The reason my work has evolved this way is that I have found commonalities in Native American mixed-blood populations, both black and white, who experience daily challenges to the ancestries that they assert, while trying to maintain their sense of self as a person of Native American ancestry and/or cultural practices. Oral history, as a resource, allows me to explore the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Slave narratives for the lived experiences of enslaved individuals of blended African and Choctaw ancestry and those of unmixed ancestry that were Choctaw in cultural practices and language. Through these oral histories, I am also able to examine how they coped with slavery, especially those that were bought and sold by both Choctaw and white American slave holders and needed to adapt to the lifeways of each. It is important to remember that the WPA interviews represent a body of oral histories that center on a question rarely asked of formerly enslaved individuals: What was it like to be a slave? The person-centered ethnographic approach allows me to interview and listen to their descendants and analyze how individuals continue to cope with the inconsistencies between identification as Choctaw descendants while being racially recognized as black or white. I have found that oral history help us examine the answers to the question “Who am I?” that respondents give far better than any other medium, as there is very little that one can learn about individual lived experiences from collective or group experiences, except for common experiences, which shed more light on the social rather than experiential phenomena.
Q: You’ve discussed a person-centered ethnography as an approach to oral history. Could you describe this and share an example of how you use this in your work?
Yes. As mentioned, a person-centered ethnographic approach enables the understanding of individuals as active and not passive observers and participants in their own lived experiences. In my work with individuals of African and Native American ancestry, I will interview respondents 15-20 times to understand why they said what they said, did what they did, and represent to themselves something they did or do not represent to others within and outside of their families. Unlike the oral historian, who interviews respondents once in a setting, 15-20 interviews allow me to understand how a respondent’s understandings of my questions have changed and evolved over the course of the interview process. This time commitment also enables the respondent to reflect on the questions asked, the memories the questions evoked, and the answer(s) and stories told during interviews. These practices often lend to subsequent interviews becoming more in-depth and detailed about the respondents’ motivations and self-identification within contexts. For example, when exploring the oral histories left by Indian Freedmen, or former slaves of Choctaw slaveholders, and African-Native American children with enslaved Choctaw mothers and fathers, I noticed common themes between what they said about their family origins and the lifeways that they practiced; however, inconsistencies in identification practices that related to nineteenth century slave recognition practices were also noticed. An individual in one context would self-identify according to genealogical ancestry when describing their experiences as a slave to the WPA interviewers, and as a slave when describing interactions with former slave owners to the interviewer. This situational variance led me to believe, and support my hypothesis, that even for former slaves, the answer to the question “Who am I?” was context depended and there was much left to learn about the complex identities as children, despite illegitimacy, of enslaved and/or slave holding Choctaw individuals. This variation also enabled me to illuminate the why behind why they represented to themselves something other than chattel that they had represented to others, especially slave holders.
Q: When you teach oral history methods at San Francisco State, what are some of the key things you want your students to take away from your classes?
When I teach oral history at San Francisco State, I want my gators, especially the American Indian studies majors and minors, to learn the importance of being a good listener and take away the notion that there is much history in the oral narratives that people leave behind and are told to individuals, communities, and/or subsequent generations. It is a practice that predates written histories, still in use by over 90% of the world’s population, and offer us insight into human experiences, particularly with racism and identity. Within these remembered and spoken histories is evidence of what human experiences, especially with race and identity, are like from first-person perspectives. They require our attention and respect as much as the peer-reviewed written histories to which they were exposed.
Robert Keith Collins, PhD, a four-field trained anthropologist, is Associate Professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University. He holds a BA in Anthropology and a BA in Native American Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Collins also holds an MA and PhD in Anthropology from UCLA. Using a person-centered ethnographic approach, his research explores American Indian cultural changes and African and Native American interactions in North, Central, and South America. His recent academic efforts include being a co-curator on the Smithsonian’s traveling banner exhibit “IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas,” an edited volume with Cognella Press (2017) on “African and Native American Contact in the U.S.: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives”, an edited volume for the American Indian Culture and Research Journal at UCLA (2013) on “Reducing Barriers to Native American Student Success”, a forthcoming edited volume under contract with Routledge on “Studying African-Native Americans: Problems, Perspectives, and Prospects,” a forthcoming edited volume under contract with Cognella Press (2019) on “Native American Populations and Colonial Diseases.”
The book is in Nauhatl language. And its description is as follows: , 564,  pages : portrait (woodcut) ; 20 cm (4to)
Note On title page, date of publication precedes bookseller statement. Collection of sermons for the church year, in Nahuatl.
A second part, promised in the introduction, was never completed; see Santiago Vela, G. Ensayo de una biblioteca ibero-americana de la Orden de San Agustin, volume 5, page 495.
Signatures: [[par.]]⁴ 2[par.]⁴ 3[par.]1 A-4N⁴.
Title vignette (portrait of St. Augustin, surrounded by a Latin verse beginning “Hoc opus Aurelio patri …”); image of a saint on title page verso; head- and tail-pieces; historiated initials.
Printed marginal notes.
“Tabla de los sirmones que contiene este libro”: page ; “Tabla de los lugares asi de la Sagrada escriptura [in Latin]”: pages [566-590]; “Tabla remissiva a otros Euangelios, assi de Dominicas, como de Santos [in Latin and Spanish]”: pages [591-639]; “Phrases, y modos de hablar elegantes y metaphoricos, de los Yndios mexicanos … [in Nahuatl]”: pages [639-652].