Cemetery Talk: Race and Place

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How can we as placemakers/placekeepers help people make and preserve places that help them remember what could otherwise be forgotten?

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With so many recent memorials, monuments, murals, flags, and statue removals across the Country and around the world, it is a good time for placemakers to look candidly at what it means to discuss memory and place. Cemeteries, as an example, are often some of the best-preserved green spaces in modern cities. Yet cultural norms in the United States prevent many of them from being used to their full potential as public spaces that fill the needs of the living while respecting the memory of the deceased. In many other places, the process of remembrance encourages ongoing use of memorial spaces, burial grounds, including celebrations, by communities, and family members of the deceased. We would like to look at these cultural examples to reexamine these spaces and their meaning.


Pilgrimage* is a practice (praxis) of remembering, affirming, and reconstructing ourselves, our communities as well as the worlds we live in. It is personal and it is political. It contests “1 space” (hegemonic and colonial narratives), by listening, remembering, mourning, honoring, and sharing our hidden and silenced stories of trauma and resistance. Pilgrimage defragments and reconnects us to ourselves as well as to our communities and the world. It contests the curtains of illusions that normalize structures and narratives of inequality and oppression. It affirms “2 space” (decolonial space) and reclaims hope in ourselves and in the world.

*Pilgrimage is “defined” in western dictionaries as, “a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.” Here, pilgrimage is used in the context of returning to sites of collective trauma with the intention of remembering silenced stories and connecting them to contemporary issues, political, ecological, and psychological. Examples of these pilgrimages include those made to the 10 War Relocation Centers and some Dept. of Justice sites where over 120,000 Nikkei (Japanese, Japanese Americans, and Japanese Latin Americans) were incarcerated during WWII, Angel Island, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Chinese and other migrants were detained for periods of unknown duration, the Sacramento - San Joaquin Delta where Chinese and others built the levees which created the Delta, many of whom died and whose bodies were shoved into the very levees that they were building, Kalihi, on the island of O’ahu, an indigenous and diasporic community in the heart of the city of Honolulu, Bronzeville, a largely African American neighborhood in the city of Chicago.


Gordon Lee, (O'ahu, Hawaii)

JD, Psychologist & Public Health Practitioner

Gordon Lee was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. In the fall of 1967 he went to Columbia University to study Economics. He became involved in the Asian-American movement in the spring of 1970 when students at Columbia took over Kent Hall demanding an ethnic studies program. He was active in an uptown Asian American organization fighting for squatters' rights. He was one of the original members of the Asian Media Collective, and soon thereafter moved to New York Chinatown. After leaving New York he joined Third Arm, a community organization in Honolulu, Chinatown and spent many years there assisting residents to fight urban renewal. Subsequently, he became an attorney. In addition to his legal work, he has developed a health insurance counseling and assistance program for seniors. He wrote, directed and produced a video on Japanese internment in Hawaii during World War II. He holds a Masters in Public Health that focused on the Anti-eviction struggle in Oakland, Chinatown. He has recently completed a Ph.D. in depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa barbara, California. The title of his dissertation is: "Excavating Memory, Reconstructing Narrative: The Nikkei Diaspora and the Transnational Experience from 1868-1941.

Candice Ji, (Tacoma, Washington)

Assistant Planner at M-GROUP

Candice Ji is an urban planner, journalist, and creative strategist. She has a broad geographical spectrum of planning services to her credit having either studied or worked in Germany, China, Cambodia and the United States. Her stateside experience includes projects on the East Coast and the San Francisco Bay Area. These broad geographical influences have developed her open and creative approach to planning. She has a special interest in sustainable planning, inclusive planning, and public space design. Her passion is to develop more equitable, livable, and sustainable communities.

Trinh Mai (Orange County, California)

Vietnamese American Artist

Trinh Mai is a second-generation Vietnamese American visual artist who examines the refugee and immigrant experience, then and now. Through a vast breath of media, she helps tell the stories of we, the enduring People, while focusing on our witnessing of war, the wounds we’ve survived, our collective need to heal, the longsuffering hope that carries us through deep waters, and the custodial responsibility to which we are heirs. Mai's whose work is driven by innovative narratives of storytelling, her artistic creations re-imagine personal and inherited memories, family roots, and spiritual connections that alter conceptions of our identities and shared histories. [...]

Recognizing the role of art to educate and heal, Mai has exhibited in support of the Friends of Hue Foundation Children's Shelter in Việt Nam, the Angkor Hospital for Children in Cambodia, has shown her work at AT&T Park and Union Square to benefit the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, and at Oracle Arena with the Golden State Warriors to aid the Warriors Community Foundation in its mission to support education in the San Francisco Bay Area. Seeking hope within humanity’s incessant struggle in war and hardship, she has partnered with Oceanside Museum of Art, MiraCosta College, Community Engagement, and Bowers Museum in developing fine art projects that engage survivors of war. In addition, she has worked with the San Diego Art Institute in producing interactive works that address the injustices that fuel fear and incite conflict within refugee communities, and with the International Rescue Committee in providing refugee youth from Africa, Mexico, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia with arts education and creative expression in honoring home, heritage, history, and heroism. Her artistic journey has been documented by TAO in the film called Honoring Life: The Work of Trinh Mai, which brought home the Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film at the 2016 Viet Film Festival.

Tim Soeoren (South Park, Seattle, Washington)

Parish Collective

Tim Soerens is a pastor, social entrepreneur, and co-founding director of the Parish Collective As co-director of the Parish Collective he convenes ministry leaders, teaches, and consults with organizations seeking human flourishing in particular neighborhoods while also working collaboratively across the city. Tim Soerens is a pastor, social entrepreneur, and co-founding director of the Parish Collective. His latest book is called "Everywhere You Look: Discovering the Church, Right Where You Are" looks at placemaking and community development practice focused on introducing new audiences to their local churches while helping congregations reach their sustainability goals and expand their social impact. He is also the co-founding producer of the Inhabit Conference and the new "Leadership in the New Parish" certificate program at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.

Alex Sasayama, (Los Angeles, California)

Neighborworks America

Alex Sasayama is a relationship manager for NeighborWorks America and partners with community-based organizations on affordable housing and community development efforts throughout the country. He represents the field division on the NeighborWorks Community Stabilization Advisory Committee and is a liaison to the NeighborWorks Community Building & Engagement Program for the Western Region which covers California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska. Alex is also a volunteer with Pershing Square Renew and collaborates with government, business, and other stakeholders for the revitalization of Los Angeles' oldest park. As an Angeleno and community builder, Alex has led and assisted in the planning of cultural and community events including World Cup LA, Taste of Mexico, and Día de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever. He is a board member of LA-Más, a nonprofit community design firm working for equitable city growth, and is on the steering committee of Sustainable Little Tokyo, a collaborative initiative to transform the 130-year historic neighborhood into a cultural ecodistrict. Alex holds a Bachelor of Arts in Community Development from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA and resides in Downtown Los Angeles.

Madeleine Spencer (Moderator)

Placemaking US Leadership Team

Madeleine Spencer is a depth-psychology scholar, activist and business improvement district executive director from Sant Ana, CA.

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