Friday, September 17, 2010

Communication, Diaspora, and Boat People SOS (BPSOS)

This week, we discussed nations, nationalism, and the public sphere. Karim H. Karim's "Re-viewing the 'National' in 'International Communication': Through the Lens of Diaspora" mentions that nations do not necessarily end at state borders, as people and especially information become increasingly mobile (deterritorialization). The concept of "nation" is changing and is no longer dependent on location. Diasporas, or "transnations" (Appadurai), make use of global communication networks to span across borders. 

Many diasporas use their own media to reterritorialize and connect with members of their community. Karim discusses the internet in terms of communication among individuals, in more of a non-linear, non-hierarchical, chat-room format, which is somewhat limited by varying degrees of access. But many diasporic organizations are making extensive use of the internet to organize, coordinate activities, and advocate action on issues of interest to the community.


Boat People SOS (BPSOS) is one such diasporic organization. It serves to connect Vietnamese-American communities, provide services and distribute information to community members and recent immigrants, and advocate for human rights in Vietnam. BPSOS is the largest Vietnamese-American community organization, with 11 branches and 18 offices throughout the country. (There are also four international offices in Southeast Asia that deal mainly with human trafficking prevention and refugee protection.)

The organization's network is also used to gain support in times of crisis and to mobilize funds and volunteers. Recently BPSOS created an Oil Spill Response Fund to aid Vietnamese communities in the Gulf, as many in the region work in the fishing industry. And as we discussed in class, diasporas can influence the political agenda of the home state, and BPSOS assembles and distributes information to members of Congress, U.S. agencies, and human rights organizations. It also attends Congressional hearings and briefs government officials on issues relating to Vietnam.

It appears that the internet has played a key role in the expansion of BPSOS, which has grown from a small rescue and advocacy organization in the 1980s to a large network of offices throughout the country beginning in the late 1990s. The organization's website links to community media (news, radio, and television), provides options for donating to various community initiatives, and information on how to become involved in the organization. Vietnamese-Americans can subscribe to BPSOS updates, work, volunteer, intern, donate, and participate in campaigns. They can also connect via social media networks on Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.

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