Introducing Kai Wen Yang, FRI Postdoctoral Fellow
Kai Wen Yang Yang is a postdoctoral fellow affiliated with the Department of Sociology and the Feminist Research Institute. FRI sat down with Kai to get to know more about him and his research.
FRI: Tell us a little about yourself.
Kai Wen Yang: My family migrated to the US from mainland China through family reunification in 1999. We arrived in New York City where we moved from one working-class immigrant neighborhood to the next throughout the last two decades. We lived in Sunset Park, Chinatown, and the Concourse, respectively, in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the southwestern section of the Bronx. In 2006, a series of marches and demonstrations for immigration reform took place in major cities nationwide. These actions peaked on May Day of 2006. It was also named "A Day Without Immigrants." May Day challenged many assumptions about undocumented immigrants. Chinese Staff and Workers' Association (CSWA), a grassroots workers' center in Manhattan' Chinatown, held a press conference encouraging working people of all trades, all ethnic-racial backgrounds, and all immigration statuses to join the May Day march from Chinatown to Union Square. CSWA demanded the abolition of modern slavery and the repeal of the employer sanction provision from the Immigration Control and Reform Act (IRCA) of 1986. IRCA still functions to criminalize undocumented workers to this day. At the time, I had occasionally worked light manufacturing/service jobs where I witnessed health/safety conditions and exploitation, particularly in Sunset Park garment factories. I identified with CSWA's demand, and I responded to the call to march. The May Day march was a life-changing experience in many ways. Since that May, I have become involved in grassroots community organizing.
FRI: How did you become interested in your research topic/area? What motivated you to do this kind of work?
KWY: My research area is broadly on urban changes and gentrification/displacement. I became interested in these areas because of my lived experiences in immigrant neighborhoods. After 9/11, the then NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg rezoned 40 percent of the city. These rezonings occurred in Sunset Park, Chinatown, and the Lower East Side (LES). I saw my neighborhoods slowly changing and the zoning exclusion experienced by Chinatown and the LES. I participated in local anti-displacement organizing, protests, and marches. I was a security marshal when the 85 Bowery Street tenants in Chinatown went on hunger strikes in 2018. For over a decade, I have witnessed the city government's refusal to pass the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) rezoning plan. Its implementation could have deterred various forms of displacement. These experiences shaped my interest in exploring the history of the present displacement in Chinatown and the LES. The city's regime politics with real estate developers, tenant unions, and ethnicity-/identity-based nonprofit organizations have also become an interesting research area.
FRI: What brought you to UC Davis, and what are you hoping to accomplish while you are here? What kind of connections would you like to make?
KWY: I am currently an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) postdoctoral research fellow with the Sociology Department and the Feminist Research Institute. I am working on a monograph based on my dissertation research. The project conceptualizes displacement as a historical-relational process that makes and remakes local space in Chinatown and the Lower East Side in Manhattan. It demonstrates the changing forms at a micro-level over the last four decades. I situate my works in dialogues that bring together ethnic and urban studies from long-term historical perspectives. My assumption is that urban changes at the micro-level are not random but embody spatial structures following temporal rhythms in a Braudelian manner. I believe that forming dialogues could help to clarify the spatio-temporal patterns. I would love to share my works and connect with scholars in these fields.
FRI: How would you describe your work as feminist research?
KWY: My works draw on the Marxist-Feminist reproduction framework. The axiom that I begin with situates species‐being within nature. Each is an extension of the another. This co-constitution is productive and historically centered around women's reproductive labor, which is at once exploitative and the condition of possibility in exceeding capitalist social relations. My research documents immigrant women homecare workers' role in the local anti-displacement fight. White-owned galleries, boutique shops, or restaurants are often treated as indicators of gentrification. However, ethno-racial elites who are president or board chairs of cultural institutions and executive directors of homecare programs (with state funding) have not only taken advantage of immigrant women's exploitative labor and encouraged sexual harassment, but also have encouraged the displacement of the local communities where the women workers live or work in. The exploitation and oppression of immigrant women workers at the micro-level have larger implications for politics and the theories of urban change of various kinds.