My family came to the United States from Vietnam in 1989. Growing up in San Diego, California, I worked in my mother’s tailoring and dry cleaning store everyday after school. I answered phone calls, translated paperwork, and during breaks, listened to her stories about the Vietnam War. My mother’s ever-changing accounts inspired my interest in history, trauma, and American hegemony. After high school, I became the first in my family to attend college and studied twentieth century U.S. Empire at Brown University.
With Francoise Hamlin and Naoko Shibusawa, I trained as a social and cultural historian. I researched the ways higher education supported U.S. domestic and foreign policy after World War II. I specifically investigated Brown’s Third World student movement and diversity promoting programs, partnerships, and interdisciplinary initiatives from 1968-1996, which I argue weren’t simply challenges to but constitutive of contemporary state power.
This scholarship brought me to the Program in Archives & Public History at New York University, where I’m the Graduate Scholar in the Archives at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute. With fellowships from the Imagining America and Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, I’m collecting and building an archive on Asian American student activists from NYC Chinatown during the Cold War. I’m curious about the circuit of radical leftist ideologies developing in Lower Manhattan after the repeal of anti-Asian immigration laws and how the children of these immigrants brought these ideologies—and the projects that rose from them—to American universities and life’s various offices to advance a trans-local anti-imperial struggle.
As a poet and teaching artist, I coach the Barnard College and Columbia University slam team. My work can be found in The Cortland Review, Prairie Schooner, Nepantla, Cream City Review, Split This Rock, Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and RHINO, which gave me a 2015 Editor’s Prize. I’m currently writing my first book manuscript, Private Parts, and can be found at iampaultran.com.