Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the New York City Hyperghetto
Author Talk with Eric Tang
"Scrupulous, courageous and fiercely argued, Unsettled is an ethnographic revelation. . . . Tang, a former organizer, brings to light the political ecology of a community that has survived war, genocide, and displacement and is now struggling to remake the Bronx hyperghetto, exposing in the process the ‘impossible’ condition that may be the fate of all refugee communities in the neoliberal city."
—Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
After surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide, followed by years of confinement to international refugee camps, as many as 10,000 Southeast Asian refugees arrived in the Bronx during the 1980s and ‘90s. Unsettled chronicles the unfinished odyssey of Bronx Cambodians, closely following one woman and her family for several years as they survive yet resist their literal insertion into concentrated Bronx poverty.
Eric Tang tells the harrowing and inspiring stories of these refugees to make sense of how and why the displaced migrants have been resettled in the “hyperghetto.” He argues that refuge is never found, that rescue discourses mask a more profound urban reality characterized by racialized geographic enclosure, economic displacement and unrelenting poverty, and the criminalization of daily life.
Unsettled views the hyperghetto as a site of extreme isolation, punishment, and confinement. The refugees remain captives in late-capitalist urban America. Tang ultimately asks: What does it mean for these Cambodians to resettle into this distinct time and space of slavery’s afterlife?
Eric Tang is Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and a faculty member in the Center for Asian American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin.