Symposium on Displacement, Diaspora and Documentation

One Day Symposium Hosted By:

The Refugee Rights in Records (R3) Project – an initiative of the UCLA
Department of Information Studies’ Center for Information as Evidence
and Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies (LUCAS)
the Middle Eastern Rights Association

October 19, 2018 | University of California, Los Angeles
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies Bldg, Rm 111

To register and for more information, please contact Anne Gilliland at


8.30 – 9.00 Registration

9.00 – 9.15
Welcome and introduction
Jonathan Furner, Chair, UCLA Department of Information Studies
Anne Gilliland and Briana Gomez, Symposium Program Chairs

9.15 – 10:30
Session 1: Records and Documentation Concerns
(Evan Tucker, Moderator)
Kristen Jackson, Proving Asylum Claims in the United States: Documentation’s importance and its challenges
Sakena Alalawi, ‘Struggles with Documents’: A review of documentation issues affecting refugees and displaced persons from Arab Middle East countries
Krystell Jimenez, Documentation issues affecting refugees in Turkey

10.30 – 10.45 Break

10.45 – 11.15
Session 2: Refugee and migrant experiences and stories
(Ayantu Tibeso, Moderator)
Duc Nguyen, “Voices from Oblivion”: A multimedia exploration of Vietnamese refugee stories during the post-war experience in Southeast Asia.

11.15 – 12.30
Session 3: Activism and advocacy
(María Montenegro, Moderator)
Doris Bittar, “Migrating Circumstances”: Immigrants, migrants, freedom and safety”
Ruth Livier, A LOUD Response to ‘Zero-tolerance’

12.30 – 1.30 Lunch break

1.30 – 2.00 Regrouping and discussion

2.00 – 3.15
Session 4: Curating displacement and diaspora
(Mario H. Ramírez, moderator)
Thuy Vo Dang, Curating Refugee Histories: Working through silence and postmemory
Marianna Hovhanissyan, Curating Lost Epistemologies: Between archives, metadata and museological work
Dania Ayah Alkhouli, A Country Called Syria

3.15 – 4.15
Discussion and closing comments
Anne Gilliland and Briana Gomez

Presenter Bios

Sakena Alalawi is a second-year doctoral student at UCLA Department of Information Studies specializing in archival studies in general and digital archiving and organizing the digital knowledge in particular. Her current research focuses on refugees’ documentation problems in order to find solutions to their struggles. She is interested in identifying identity and other types of documents that refugees and displaced people from Arab Middle Eastern countries are often missing, how it’s affecting their lives, and finding a solution.

Dania Ayah Alkhouli (a.k.a. Lady Narrator) is a Syrian American author and poet, born and raised in Southern California. Alkhouli earned her B.A. in Sociology and her M.A. in Public Policy & Administration from Cal State Long Beach. She published her debut book 91 at 19, after graduating with her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology at the age of 19. In 2017 she released her second poetry book Oceans & Flames, which is a collection of poetry shedding light on her experience with, and survival of, domestic violence. She is currently working on touring the book with the goal of speaking out on the significance of empowering women and men to break this cycle, especially in the Arab and Muslim communities.

Her newer work centers around themes of inter-sectional feminism, mental health, sexuality, identity and her war-torn homeland, Syria. She has been featured on BuzzFeed, The Sunday Jump, as well as Feedback Sunday, in Los Angeles. She has also performed at various venues nationwide including House Slam in Boston, Busboys & Poets in D.C. where she won her first poetry slam competition, and Da Poetry Lounge in Los Angeles.

In 2012, Alkhouli and her mother founded the nonprofit organization, A Country Called Syria, which is a traveling exhibition that showcases the history and culture of their country, Syria. Their goal is to tour their exhibit of 500 artifacts, nationwide and eventually establish a permanent base where the community can connect even more deeply with Syria and its rich heritage and resilient people.

Doris Bittar is an artist, educator, writer, community organizer, and a core member of Gulf Labor. Bittar is the current chapter president of the San Diego American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and founder of Teach and Learn Literacy, a literacy program bringing English to new Middle Eastern refugees. She teaches art at California State University, San Marcos, and has published over 40 articles, reviews and op-eds on art and politics. Bittar received a BFA at the State University of New York Purchase, and an MFA from the University of California San Diego. Bittar immigrated, as a child from Lebanon to New York, and has lived in California for over 30 years with frequent stays in New York. Bittar’s interdisciplinary projects examine the intersection of decorative motifs, cultural patterns, and geopolitical legacies. Bittar has received national and international awards, and her art is housed in public and private collections in the United States and abroad.

Anne Gilliland is a Professor in the Department of Information Studies and Associate Dean for Information Studies and Director of the Center for Information as Evidence in the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Together with James Lowry of the Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies she directs the Refugee Rights in Records (R3) Project. Her interests relate broadly to the history, nature, human impact, and technologies associated with archives, recordkeeping and memory, particularly in translocal and international contexts. Specifically, her work addresses recordkeeping and archival systems and practices in support of human rights and daily life in post-conflict settings, particularly in the countries emerging out of the former Yugoslavia, and rights in records for forcibly displaced persons; the role of community memory in promoting reconciliation in the wake of ethnic conflict; and bureaucratic violence and the politics of metadata.
Briana Gomez started Middle Eastern Rights Association in 2015 after noticing the gap in understanding of the Middle East both within Middle Eastern communities and externally. MERA was created to promote unity while recognizing the diversity of the Middle Eastern region. MERA has hosted various lectures including an interfaith dialogue and an intersectionality program. MERA has also contributed information for middle school educators in California, cosponsored events supporting ethnic minorities in the Middle East, and has worked directly with refugee families. In her spare time, Briana holds an MBA from the University of La Verne and freelances as a journalist. Briana also currently sits on the committee for the Arab and Muslim Community Coalition and is an active member of the San Diego Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee and San Diego House of Lebanon.

Marianna Hovhanissyan is a Ph.D. student, in Art history, Theory, and Criticism at the University of California, San Diego and a professional curator. She holds an MA in Global Arts, Visual Cultures Dept., Goldsmiths, University of London (2013-14); a BA in Art Knowledge, Dept. of Fine Arts, Armenian Open University (2003-07). She also participated in the International Summer School for Art Curators (AICA-Armenia, 2006-09); L’Ecole du Magasin, an independent curatorial program in France (2008-09). She is a member of AICA-Armenia.

Kristen Jackson is a senior staff attorney at Public Counsel. She taught the Asylum Clinic at UCLA School of Law for over a decade. Kristen has expertise in asylum and children’s immigration issues, including Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and the intersection of immigration and juvenile justice. She has litigated SIJS issues in state and federal court, resulting in published opinions. Kristen has authored numerous publications, including a practice advisory on suppression and termination strategies for children. Kristen clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after receiving her J.D. from Yale Law School.

Krystell Jimenez is a master’s student at UCLA’s Department of Information Studies. She is currently working at the Center for Primary Research and Training and interning at the Center for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. She holds a B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from UC Berkeley. Her interests include Turkish history, trans-national migration and refugee issues and how they intersect with documentation practices.

Ruth Livier is a Ph.D. student in the UCLA Department of Information Studies, an actor and novelist. LOUD (Latin@s-Outraged-United-Defiant, [].) is a Latin@-led activist group created in response to “zero-tolerance.” They are a multicultural network of media professionals and our allies who are committed to pushing back, decisively and non-violently, against any attempts by the state or extremists to inflict harm against our communities. This presentation takes a look at three key challenges that have come into view during the process of our activist work. These are issues related to privacy, infrastructure, and trust, which archivists trained in human rights may be the best equipped to address, thus pointing to a potential invaluable collaboration between artists turned activists and archivists trained in human rights.

María Montenegro is a third year doctoral student in Information Studies at UCLA. Her interdisciplinary research sits at the intersection of critical archival theory, Indigenous studies, and tribal law and policy, in conversation with anticolonial theory and the Indigenous data sovereignty movement. She currently works with Dr. Kim Christen in the Sustainable Heritage Network and with Dr. Jane Anderson in Local Contexts.

An Emmy Award winner, Duc Nguyen’s documentaries cover the subjects of home, immigration, war, conflict history and reconciliation. His work includes, Mediated Reality, a documentary about the tug-of-war between the U.S. and Cuba over 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez. Bolinao 52, winner of 2 Northern California Regional Emmy Awards in 2009 for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary and Outstanding Music Composition, is a documentary about an ill-fated journey of a Vietnamese refugee boat that drifted at seas for 37 days. Out of 110 original passengers, only 52 survived. Stateless, his second feature documentary is about a group of Vietnamese who were stuck in the Philippines without a home for 16 years. It won an Audience Choice Award as well as a Spotlight Award in 2013 at the Vietnamese International Film Festival. In 2017, Duc produced, directed and edited his third installment for the Vietnamese boat-people trilogy, Nothing Left to Lose. It tells the story of approximately 100 Vietnamese refugees who have each lived in hiding for 25 years hoping to one day reclaim the dignity of being recognized as a person. Currently, he is working on a multimedia digital history project called Voice from Oblivion documenting the Vietnamese refugee experience.

Under a Critical Refugee Studies Collective grant from the University of California, with UCLA as sponsor, he is currently assembling refugee stories in an interactive multi-media project about Vietnamese boat people: Voices from Oblivion, a critical exploration of Vietnamese refugee stories during the post-war experience in Southeast Asia.

Mario H. Ramírez is a CLIR/DLF-Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he is also an Affiliated Researcher with the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. He holds a Ph.D. in Information Studies and a Certificate in Experimental Critical Theory from UCLA. Among his research interests are the documentation of human rights violations in Latin America; the records creation of death squads and hate groups in El Salvador; and representations of torture and the body in human rights archives.

Ayantu Tibeso is a Eugene V. Cota-Robles Fellow and doctoral student in the Information Studies Department at UCLA with a focus in Archival Studies. Her research interest centers on how power relations are embedded in the archival record and practices and how seeking justice in the present requires new approaches to documenting social history. With a background in Communication and Development Studies she has worked as a researcher and communications consultant writing mostly about Ethopia.

Evan Tucker holds a Masters of Library in Information Science with a specialization in Archival Studies and an M.A. in Latin American Studies from UCLA, where he was engaged with human rights archives, community archives, Latin American special collections, and the representation of marginalized communities in school curriculum. He has previously worked on the Japanese American Digitization Project and the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA). Before entering graduate school at UCLA, Evan worked on using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to search for evidence that was withheld at federal criminal trials. His research interests include how archivists can use FOIA to uncover hidden evidence, creating clinical education programs for archival students, and examining why police do not process rape kits.

Dr. Thuy Vo Dang is the Curator for the Southeast Asian Archive in the University of California, Irvine Libraries. She was the inaugural Project Director for the Vietnamese American Oral History Project and Postdoctoral Fellow in UC Irvine’s Department of Asian American Studies. Prior to coming to UCI, she was an Institute of American Cultures Postdoctoral Fellow for UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center. She holds a B.A. in Asian American Studies and English from Scripps College and M.A. and Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, San Diego. She taught courses in race and ethnicity, oral history, immigration and refugee studies, and Asian American studies at UCI, UCLA, UCSD, and Loyola Marymount University. She serves on the Boards of Directors for Arts Orange County and the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association and was appointed to the John Wayne Airport Arts Commission representing District 1. In 2013 Thuy was featured in the OC Weekly’s Inaugural People Issue as the “Studs Terkel of Little Saigon” and honored with the “Community Heroes” Award by OCAPICA and Senator Lou Correa. In 2015 Thuy received the “Public Image” Award from Asian Americans Advancing Justice. She is co-author of Vietnamese in Orange County (2015) and currently working on A People’s Guide to Orange County (forthcoming, UC Press), a book project that foregrounds stories of the region through a social justice lens. Part of a research team awarded an IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant, she researches the intersection between ethnic studies theory and community archives practice.

The organizers would like to thank the UCLA Library, and especially Kip Hannan and Dr. Sharon Farb for graciously providing videographer support for the symposium.