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Maya McCoy Oral History Interview

Maya McCoy (she/her) leads organizing efforts with the Ilankai Tamil Feminist collective known as Maynmai. At the time of this interview, she is also a second year medical student, having made the transition into medicine soon after spending time in Sri Lanka on a fellowship. Maya's interview contributes to the overall fellowship project by documenting the experiences of a mixed-race Ilankai Tamil American's relatively recent transition away from a normalized politics of Tamil nationalism to a Tamil politics invested in feminist solidarity while she undergoes that transitional experience in realtime, particularly by taking on increasingly prominent roles coordinating diasporic activism through the encouragement of seasoned Tamil feminist and dissident activists.

She discusses her initial involvement in more nationalist spaces in the diaspora out of a desire to participate in Tamil political struggles, and yet how these spaces felt alienating due to their lack of solidarity with other oppressed communities, which she felt in a pronounced way during the 2020 uprisings in the United States in the aftermath of George Floyd's death. She also discusses her family's historic challenges with Tamil nationalism, as they lost members of their Tamil Christian community who were killed by the Tigers, as well as how her mixed-race identity affected how seriously people in nationalist circles took her opinion. She discusses her move away from Tamil nationalism, and how she became more involved with Maynmai after getting in touch with YaliniDream, one of Maynmai's co-founders and another interviewee for this project. She discusses the history of Maynmai, such as how it began in response to the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court case Homeland Security v Thuraisiggiam that ruled against a Tamil asylum seeker in a way that created precedent for dismantling the American asylum system. Maynmai has since expanded to address ongoing political issues in the Tamil diaspora, and has been involved in solidarity efforts with other oppressed communities in the United States and elsewhere. She talks about how Maynmai is different from other diaspora and political spaces in that political diversity is welcome, and polarization isn't further entrenched in a way that alienates collective members from adherents of other political traditions in the diaspora, including nationalism. She discusses a recent Maynmai memorial event emphasizing the 'right to remember' that she helped organize. This event is unprecedented, as it was held for all Tamil-speaking lives lost to war and violence in Sri Lanka. At the time of this interview, despite more than a decade since the war's end, many in Sri Lanka and the diaspora are legally and/or culturally not allowed to grieve the losses they experienced in visible or collective ways. This is because many communities that were disproportionately targeted by violence, such as political dissidents, members of other Tamil militant groups that resisted the Tigers and/or the Sri Lankan state, Malayaga Tamils, Sinhalese allies, and Muslims, are still persecuted today by the Sri Lankan state and vilified or alienated by dominant sections of the Tamil diaspora. This memorial event brought together people on multiple sides of the violence experienced by Tamil, Muslim, and Malayaga Tamil communities who collectively grieved those who are rarely acknowledged in more public memorial events held in Sri Lanka and much of the Tamil diaspora. Maya discusses the commitment that many of these marginalized groups had to the struggle for justice against oppression, and how these stories are rarely told at the behest of a more nationalist centered narrative of political struggle.

Maya also discusses the factors that went into her decision to pursue a career as a physician, and how it relates to her identity and radical politics. She brings up the realities around disproportionate Tamil representation in the medical field, and her intention to utilize clinical skills towards political means connected to commitments with solidarity and health equity that draw on her Tamil identity. Additionally, she goes into detail as to why solidarity is important as a mixed-race Tamil Christian woman, and how she draws inspiration from other generations of Tamil feminists, several of whom have encouraged her maturation as a leader by providing a safe space for her own political growth to flourish without risk of getting dismissed as often is found in the politically polarized context we are in.

Photo courtesy of Boston Accent Lit

Political Engagement, Activism, Civic Engagement, Community Organizations & Organizing

Duration: 01:08:40

Date: January 10, 2022
Subject(s): Maya McCoy
Type: Oral History
Source: Archival Creators Fellowship Program
Creator: Kartik Amarnath
Contributor: Maya McCoy
Location: Chicago, IL

Collection: Kartik Amarnath Fellowship project
Donor: Maya McCoy
Item History: 2022-06-24 (created); 2022-06-29 (modified)

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