Tapestries: Interwoven voices of local and global identities


In 2021, Minneapolis-based Khmer artist, Kat Eng designed the “Abolish r(ICE)” t-shirt as part of a fundraiser for Southeast Asians and their families experiencing deportation. Inspired by the iconic Three Ladies Brand jasmine rice bag, Eng re-imagined the three ladies as freedom fighters in response to heightened immigration policing and detention of Southeast Asian communities. In this paper, I unpack and contextualize the Abolish r(ICE) t-shirt campaign within immigration debates, the contemporary abolitionist movement, and Asian American resistance. The Abolish r(ICE) shirts also function as a form of political education and an invitation specifically to Asian American youth to learn more about Southeast Asian issues and the larger movements towards abolition. Through a reading of the Abolish r(ICE) campaign I show how Kat Eng along with their collaborator Stephanie Shih draw upon food imagery and branding as part of their larger work to link Asian American cultural formations and urgent political issues. In doing so, the artists unapologetically center Southeast Asian American aesthetics, imagery, and voices as part of amplifying the Asian American community organizing against deportation. The design and imagery of the logo centers Southeast Asian and Asian American experiences and histories within the larger contemporary movement towards abolition and continued debates around immigration and detention policies within the United States.

Applying a disability justice framework, I unpack how we might understand (dis)ability not just as an object of study but as an analytic. Drawing upon feminist-of-color disability studies, I argue for a disability justice approach to unpack immigration, deportation, and imperialism as discourses of state violence. What does disability justice reveal to us about “the refugee”, immigration and the carceral system? How are young contemporary Asian American artists using iconic household goods and foods as a critique of the U.S. Empire? Why does the model minority myth overlook Southeast Asian refugees? How do we understand state violence against Southeast Asians through immigration and detention as an issue of disability justice? In this paper, I explore these questions and make connections around Asian American abolitionists organizing across both national and local scales connecting the Twin Cities. Overall, I argue that by using a feminist-of-color disability studies analysis of the Abolish r(ICE) campaign we can further deepen our understanding of power and resistance that moves us beyond a liberal project of inclusion and representational politics.

Author Biography

Vivian S. Tran (they/she) is an aspiring artist and scholar from Salt Lake City, Utah. After graduation, Vivian hopes to go to graduate school for American Studies or Women and Gender Studies with an emphasis on disability studies. They always have on them: a pen, a sketchbook, an emotional support water bottle, many napkins, pictures of Wasabi the cat, random facts, and another good scheme. Find more of their work at www.vivianstran.com.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License