Pradeepa Oral History Interview
Pradeepa is a Sri Lankan Tamil artist and multimedia creator, as well as a social activist, hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota and based in Colombo, Sri Lanka at the time of this interview. She left Sri Lanka as a young child and grew up as an asylum seeker at constant risk of deportation in the United States. Pradeepa begins the interview by discussing her background and upbringing, how political turmoil and state surveillance (by "shadow figures" she cannot remember clearly because of her young age at the time) are what led to her family fleeing Sri Lanka, and how she ended up in Minnesota. She talks about what it was like growing up regularly confronting the U.S. immigration regime as an asylum seeker, and how these struggles impacted her family and informed her politics and artistic endeavors. To this end, she discusses how her experiences of alienation by the United States government formed her politics of resistance and solidarity rather than assimilation and respectability that is commonly found in many immigrant populations. Her politics also took shape in spaces such as the Youth Solidarity Summer, a key feature in radical and politically progressive South Asian American history.
She talks about how her politics of resistance and solidarity also developed simultaneously with her art, as she established herself as a dancer and performer who started the duo Diaspora Flow with Sinhalese American artist Chamindika Wanduragala. She talks about how she met Chamindika in college, how she became close with Chamindika's family, and how they bridged ethnic divides to flourish as friends and artistic collaborators amidst Pradeepa's asylum challenges reaching a precipice. Pradeepa then talks about moving to New York City as an artist and organizing fundraisers for the Sri Lankan tsunami that brought together Sri Lankan artists from across the United States. Pradeepa goes on to talk about her time as part of the Asian American collective Mango Tribe and the collective's place in the canon of Asian American activism, as well as her experiences as a collaborator of DJ Rekha's where she assisted with curating the legendary Basement Bhangra dance party, a fixture of the New York City music scene. She talks about how these opportunities exposed her to what it meant to give others a platform at the behest of building up collectively, even if it meant foregoing your own elevation in prominence. After discussing her artistic history in the United States, Pradeepa pivots to talk about her more recent work (at the time of this interview) in media while based in Sri Lanka and internationally.
Pradeepa concludes the interview by talking about the 2020 uprisings in Minneapolis in response to the death of George Floyd, and what it was like to know activists on the ground and people who had their properties damaged. She talks about what solidarity looked like in that time when multiple forms of harm were happening and which kinds of harm - namely police violence against African Americans - mattered for movements over other forms of harm, such as property damage. This interview is important for the project by documented the under-recognized experiences of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers in the United States, and how the experience as an asylee led to a politics of resistance, care, and solidarity over complicity.
Activism, Childhood, Family, Memory & Remembrance, Displacement, Reflections on America, Refugee Experience, Civic Engagement, Arts
Type: Oral History
Source: Archival Creators Fellowship Program
Creator: Kartik Amarnath
Location: Colombo, WE, Sri Lanka
Collection: Kartik Amarnath Fellowship project
Item History: 2022-06-24 (created); 2022-06-29 (modified)
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