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Saraswati Lecture Series


"Saraswati, is a Sanskrit fusion word of saras (सरस्) meaning "pooling water", but also sometimes translated as "speech"; and vati (वती) meaning "she who possesses". Originally associated with the river or rivers known as Saraswati, this combination, therefore, means "she who has ponds, lakes, and pooling water" or occasionally "she who possesses speech". It is also a Sanskrit composite word of surasa-vati (सरसु+अति) which means "one with plenty of water" (Wikipedia).

"The goddess Saraswati is often depicted as a beautiful woman dressed in pure white, often seated on a white lotus, which symbolizes light, knowledge and truth. She not only embodies knowledge but also the experience of the highest reality. Her iconography is typically in white themes from dress to flowers to swan – the colour symbolizing Sattwa Guna or purity, discrimination for true knowledge, insight and wisdom" (Wikipedia).

"She is generally shown to have four arms, but sometimes just two. The four hands hold items with symbolic meaning — a pustaka (book or script), a mālā (rosary, garland), a water pot and a musical instrument (vīnā). The book she holds symbolizes the Vedas representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge as well as all forms of learning. A pot of water represents the purifying power to separate right from wrong, the clean from the unclean, and essence from the inessential. In some texts, the pot of water is symbolism for soma – the drink that liberates and leads to knowledge. The most famous feature on Saraswati is a musical instrument called a veena, represents all creative arts and sciences, and her holding it symbolizes expressing knowledge that creates harmony. Saraswati is also associated with anurāga, the love for and rhythm of music, which represents all emotions and feelings expressed in speech or music" (Wikipedia).

In honor of the goddess of Saraswati and her symbolism across the regions of Asian global south as the goddess of speech, art, music, wisdom and learning, Aruna Saraswati Lecture Series presents emerging scholars and thinkers of historically marginalized backgrounds whose works and interests encompass Asia and its diaspora.


Joyhanna Garza
PhD in Linguistics, UC Santa Barbara
Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

Joyhanna “Joy” Yoo Garza (she/her/hers) is a sociocultural linguist interested in language, race, and gender from an ethnographic lens, particularly in mediatized contexts. Her research takes a semiotic approach to the study of language with a focus on transnational Korean popular culture and its consumption in Mexico and the US. Her work engages with theoretical frameworks from ethnic studies, linguistic anthropology, and feminist studies. Joy is particularly passionate about teaching, mentorship, and student advocacy. Her own academic formation in California’s public higher education system also informs her dedication to serving minoritized students in academia. 

Lecture Title: K-beauty discourses: Korean Americans, racial resignifying, and the making of ‘good’ neoliberal subjects

Date: September 24 2021

Time: 5 pm EST | 4 pm CST | 6 am Seoul Time

Lecture Abstract:

Globally, skincare practices and beauty norms are becoming increasingly influenced by and synonymous with K-beauty, a term that encompasses South Korean skin care and cosmetics. The
K-beauty industry increasingly blurs the line between aesthetics, science, and medicine, but
technological innovation must strike a balance with the branding of authenticity, which relies greatly on packaging and advertising that make overt references to Korean tradition or history. In mainstream characterizations of K-beauty, South Korea becomes a signifier of futurity, aspirational but staunchly traditional.

In tackling new markets, the role of Korean Americans becomes crucial. Korean American entrepreneurs discursively create and occupy an intermediary role in order to sell to new markets. This paper focuses on K-beauty discourses, or linguistic strategies for marketing Korean beauty norms and traditions to a global audience. Such discourses are key sites of analysis which reveal neoliberal racialized ideologies vis-à-vis shifting beauty norms. I examine how such discourses rely on overdetermined notions of Koreans as arbiters of longstanding beauty traditions and secrets currently lacking in the West. Secondly, I show how such discourses are frequently embedded within affective memories that invoke family, ritual, and home. Such memories authenticate Korean Americans’ positionality as experts of Korean beauty practices, trends, and products. Moreover, the sharing of intimate memories resignifies the historical relationship with beauty terms and ingredients which are racialized in the US context.


Lastly, K-beauty discourses brand skin care as self-care, a strategy which points to the ways that
K-beauty is already mired in the neoliberalization of health discourses and its biopolitical effects.
As the discursive construction of neoliberal aspirations is all-too-familiar in the US context vis-
à-vis Asian-raced subjects, I argue that K-beauty is made legible and consumable to the US
market by mobilizing model minority discourses.


Cheryl Yin
PhD in Anthropology, U Michigan
Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, UC Berkeley

Dr. Cheryl Yin (she/her/hers) is a linguistic anthropologist with expertise in Cambodia and the Khmer language. She received her PhD in Anthropology, specializing in Linguistic Anthropology, from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her dissertation research examined the sociolinguistic legacies of the Khmer Rouge communist regime (1975-79) in contemporary Cambodia. She recently moved to the Bay Area of California to be the UC Berkeley Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of South & Southeast Asian Studies. She will revise her dissertation into a book manuscript and begin a new project about Chinese migration in Cambodia. As a first-generation student and child of refugees from Long Beach, CA, she is committed to mentoring students from minoritized backgrounds and looks forward to continuing her outreach in the UC Berkeley community.


Lecture Title: "Understanding Khmer’s Lowest “Honorific” Register: Cambodians in conversations with God, friends, and animals" 

Date: October 30 2021

Time: 6 pm PST | 8 pm CST | 8 am Cambodia Time

Lecture Abstract:

In this talk, I will explore what I call the “non-honorific register” in Khmer (Cambodian). The non-honorific register is a register level that is described as animal language, farmer language, the language of anger, but also the language of intimacy. I will show that the register has become even more controversial in modern day Cambodia. For example, God used this register to talk to people in the first Khmer Bible, but subsequent Bible translations have changed God’s words, removing his usage of the non-honorific register. Through recent trends toward urbanization, the rise of economic development, and the shift toward activism and social justice, I argue that more and more Cambodians are moving away from the non-honorific register due to its association with lack of education and also cruelty.


Jasmine Baetz
MFA in Ceramics, CU Boulder
Visiting Professor, Scripps College

Jasmine Baetz builds with clay and “waste” materials, studies spaces, historical memory, and student movements, and is interested in art and thought that interrogates and reimagines the world. As a mixed-race person, she is always untangling the confusion that comes with contested affiliation, and examining her own relation to race and power. Her mother is from an Indian Parsi family, and owing to her mother’s refusal to abide by the racialized and gendered exclusion that condemns women who marry out of the community (and their children), Jasmine was also raised in that cultural and religious context. Mandated ethnic purity in the community is a form and method of white supremacy in an Indian context that transcends its social conditions and impacts diasporic Zoroastrian people across the world. In this talk she will discuss her use of her grandfather's semi-staged photographs of kitchen counters as a method of communication and interpretation within her 2019 MFA thesis work about Los Seis de Boulder.

Lecture Title: "Kitchen Counters"

Date: November 19 2021

Time: 8 pm EST | 7 pm CST | 5:30 am IST


Moodjalin [Mood] Sudcharoen
PhD in Anthropology, U Chicago
Teaching Fellow in the Social Sciences, U Chicago

Moodjalin [Mood] Sudcharoen is a Social Sciences Teaching Fellow in the department of anthropology and the College at University of Chicago. She is a linguistic and sociocultural anthropologist with interests in childhood, migration, the politics of language learning, bureaucracy, and the semiotics of social difference. Her book manuscript, “Gradients of Childhood: Thai Schooling, National Imaginaries, and the Figuration of the Migrant Child,” examines the relation between education and mobility through an analysis of state and non-state interventions into migrant childhood. The project explores the political significance of public schooling for children of Burmese migrant laborers in the central region of Thailand. Moodjalin earned an M.A. in Asian Studies at Cornell University, and a PhD in Anthropology at University of Chicago.


Lecture Title: National Linguistic Insecurity, Partial Integration, and Migrant Language Education

Date: December 15 2021 8:30 pm CST |

December 16 2021 9:30 am Thailand Time | 9 am Myanmar Time

Lecture Abstract:

What does it mean when socially marginalized immigrants are positively construed as
possessing more linguistic resources than citizens of the host nation?

In 2005, the Thai cabinet issued a mandate that all migrant children in Thailand, regardless of legal status and nationality, receive access to public education. In this talk, I center my analysis on discourse about language and language pedagogy in a classroom that prepares children of Burmese workers for integration into mainstream classes. Students are prohibited from speaking “Burmese,” the shorthand term teachers call any of the myriad of languages spoken by the Burmese migrants. While implementing the “Thai-only” rule, teachers often describe migrant children as future multilingual skilled laborers who will gain greater access to transnational socioeconomic mobility than Thais. In other words, while teachers strive to maintain the boundary between the two linguistic worlds, their depictions of the children’s linguistic abilities reveal an ambivalent stance towards Thai monolingualism. That is, monolingualism is a point of national pride and a national problem.


A form of nationalist sentiment, which I call “national linguistic insecurity,” guides the way in which Thais imagine their collective identity in relation to Burmese others. Such rationalizations obscure the everyday struggles of migrants and demonstrate how the project of migrant integration through language education only partially and provisionally accepts the children as members of the Thai state and society. The dynamic in this classroom, however, points out that migrant children are not merely passive subjects of the school’s linguistic practices. By responding to the school’s language policy with games, jokes, and verbal play, they offer their own version of multilingualism which indicates how multiple sets of linguistic resources can occur in the same space and at the same time.

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