I am currently at a graduate student conference called Asia-Pacific Worlds in Motion V: Migration Beyond Borders at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) St. John’s College. This is a conference co-organized by graduate students at UBC and the National University of Singapore started by my friend and colleague Mark Lawrence Santiago in 2008. I was a co-organizer of its third iteration (Mobile Identities) in 2010, also at St. John’s College, and I play a marginal alumnus role on this year’s committee, though I’ve been appointed the point person on site for the conference (although the credit for organizing really goes to largely to the co-chairs, Lachlan Barber and Kara Shin).
I presented in a panel this afternoon on Migrant Families and Youth, along with my fellow co-panelists from UBC’s Educational Studies program, Yao Xiao and Ee-Seul Yoon, as well as our discussant, education and family scholar Dr. Mona Gleason. Yao presented on ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: educational narratives of migrant families in urban China,’ and Ee-Seul spoke on ‘Border anxiety in migrant youths’ phenomenology of secondary school choice in Vancouver.’ My presentation was titled Re-working Family Values: ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ approaches to family and religion in Hong Kong. Here’s the abstract:
In its contemporary usage, the term ‘family values’ has come to evoke strong feelings, usually along the lines of sexuality. The term has usually been employed by religious groups, and those who dub themselves ‘pro-family values’ might argue that the term encompasses more than sexuality and should translate more broadly into public policies that encourage more healthy family psychology, thus discouraging gambling, drug abuse, and pornography while encouraging best parental practices. In this paper, I will explore a neglected dimension of ‘family values’ by examining Protestant and Catholic approaches to the ‘right of abode’ in Hong Kong. A key policy issue under contestation in Hong Kong is the rights of those entering Hong Kong to reside there, especially with regards to temporary foreign domestic workers and pregnant women from the People’s Republic of China entering Hong Kong to give birth. The Protestant and Catholic approaches to this migration issue are strikingly different. While evangelical Protestant leaders have concentrated on the sexual and psychological dimensions of family values, they view these migrations as undocumented, and thus illegal. However, a coalition of Catholics and progressive Protestants who are said to be more liberal on sexual issues approach the issue precisely as one of family values, for to deny the right of abode would divide families. I draw on 43 key informant interviews with both Protestant and Catholic leaders, in Hong Kong, 5 focus groups with Protestant Christians, and documentary evidence to triangulate the oral data. This paper thus introduces the term ‘family values’ into a discussion of transnational families and migration policy and argues that ideologies of family must be more carefully examined in Asia-Pacific migration studies, as they have direct relevance to migration policy.
As a panel, we are very grateful to Mona for responding about the ways each of our papers explored how families constitute the nation-state by making the personal political, with the state and families themselves constructing all sorts of borders to conceptualize the family.
We also had a fantastic keynote talk this morning from my friend and co-author Dr. Johanna Waters on ‘Education Beyond Borders? some implications of contemporary educational migrations,’ in which she examined the stories of failure emerging from international education as well as its domestication through extension campuses in post-colonial sites. Tomorrow morning, Dr. Eric Thompson will speak on ‘Singapore perspectives on migration research: a review.‘
This conference is always an excellent space for conversation because of the interdisciplinarity of the participants, and what I have experienced so far has been very productive. I’m very excited about the next two days.