As the semester winds down I am more and more excited about summer starting. My thesis began last semester (though I didn’t know it then) as a final paper for a class I took with Judith Schachter entitled “Trafficking Persons.” I wrote this really long 30-page paper and by the end of it I still somehow felt like I had only just begun to scratch the surface of what I wanted to know. I have since been itching to delve back into the literature as well as continue spending time talking and asking questions to Bhutanese/Nepali refugees in Pittsburgh.
My first plan of order after finals are over is to read Michael Hutt’s wonderful book Unbecoming Citizens: Culture, Nationhood, and the Flight of Refugees from Bhutan. I have it currently checked out on interlibrary loan and I hope to be getting a copy soon with the help of the fellowship’s research funds. I have been waiting to read this book since I started to really look into the history of the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees last semester. Honestly, when I’ve been too exhausted to think about or work on my classwork this semester, I’ll sit in bed a read a couple page of Michael Hutt’s book and it makes me invigorated again. He is, from my understanding right now, the only researcher to have published a book about the Bhutanese/Nepali refugee situation and probably the most extensive researcher about Bhutanese/Nepali refugees. From my preliminary research, the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees are really not written about or researched as much as other refugee populations (ie: the Burmese, Cambodian, Hmong, etc). Part of that owes to Bhutan’s opaqueness when it comes to research and public records (Michael Hutt wasn’t ever able to visit Bhutan himself, and had his visa denied twice!), and part of it is probably international attention drawn to more war-torn and devastating refugee crises.
I have also been really looking forward to reconnecting to Bhim and Yadhu, two Bhutanese/Nepali refugees who are students at the University of Pittsburgh. They have been so instrumental in inspiring my research, providing direction both in terms of feedback as well as just conversing with me about their lives. They are both excited for me to be doing research about their community and that is incredibly encouraging. It has been difficult for me to overcome the awkwardness of doing research about a community that I care so much for on a personal level, especially since this project forces me to bridge my relationships from that of a volunteer teacher to someone who has some kind of other motive as a researcher. I’ve talked about this with my project advisor and professor Judith Schachter, and it seems to be that this is a dilemma that all cultural anthropologists encounter and never fully get over. But, nothing is more reassuring than hearing positive feedback from members of the community like Bhim and Yadhu. My hope in the first 4 weeks is to meet with them at least twice for extensive conversations, and to set up lunch or coffee meetings with as many of their friends as possible. In my head I can probably prattle off at least 10 Bhutanese/Nepali refugee youth I hope to speak to as soon as I get the chance.
In my head I am constantly orchestrating possibilities and thinking about contacts I have in Pittsburgh to gather another perspective in my fieldwork. I hope to eventually meet with people from a number of Pittsburgh area organizations that work directly to benefit Bhutanese/Nepali refugees (ie: Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, which offers free ESL classes to refugees in Pittsburgh; Squirrel Hill Heath Center, the primary health clinic for refugee clients in Pittsburgh; and Jewish Family and Children’s Service, the largest resettlement agency for Bhutanese/Nepali refugees in Pittsburgh). At this stage of research however, I hope to focus mostly on the way that history and international organizations has written about the Bhutanese/Nepali refugees, as well as conversations with Bhutanese/Nepali refugees themselves.
I am so excited and ready for summer to begin! As a Bachelor of Humanities and Arts student with an additional major in Human-Computer Interaction, my experiences over the summer have been really diverse and different from what I envision this one to be. I spent the summer after my freshman year doing two part-time internships, one at the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and the other as a visual display intern at the Anthropologie store near my house. Both experiences taught me a lot about the world of what it means to be a working artist, but in two very different contexts: a non-profit, experimental gallery and a retail setting. Last summer I took a Chinese language course at a community college and had a part-time internship at UCLA in their Research in Engineering, Media and Performance (REMAP) Center. I was working on their Google glass team, prototyping a non-linear, audio-based storytelling experience for Google glass. What excites me more than anything else this summer is the chance to really focus on understanding and contributing to other people’s understanding of a group of people in Pittsburgh who have truly changed my life. There are pockets of people in Pittsburgh who really know a lot about the refugee population here, but on the whole they aren’t known about or are misunderstood in some way. Ultimately I hope that my research this summer and through the next year contributes meaningfully to bring awareness to both the humanity and the complexity of the Bhutanese/Nepali refugee population here in Pittsburgh.