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Relocations is an exciting, witty, complex, captivating read that it is as pleasurably disorienting as it is temporally grounded in subaltern spaces in the Los Angeles Megalopolis. As a geographer, Tongson had me at ‘relocations’ but ‘queer suburban imaginaries’ sealed the deal. Tongson offers geographers a beautifully interwoven historical analysis of the production of the Los Angeles suburbs that sings off the page. Literally, as I found myself singing to “don't stop believing” (page 32) and “back to life, back to reality” (page 74) while situating my own lived experiences in yearnings of the cloverleaf interstate. Hence, I too, like Chan’s JJ Chinois “dykeaspora” (page 54) grew up navigating my own sexuality by “perpetual reimaginings of global migration” (page 54) traveling through southern California’s highway system from ‘lower’ California (Mexico).
Situated in ephemeral flows of traffic, migration and imperialism, Tongson through three different case studies, queers southern California’s suburban imaginaries. Tongson’s flexible spatially fluid framework, challenges normative binaries of urban/suburban and homonormative disciplining queer cosmopolitanisms. By analyzing the national ethos of homogeneity that continually reproduces suburban spaces and what the author describes as a topographical nexus of imperial affective historiography, this interchange fluidity calls for, and challenges, the ways in which suburban imaginaries has been understood as heteronormative, homogenized spaces. Instead, Tongson offers the possibility that identities, experiences and social processes produce queer spaces by continuously flexing heteronormative space. The author so eloquently questions these constructions in her chapters about Butchlalis de Panochtitlan, JJ Chinois and Studio K, as they are examples of how heteronormative spatial constructs have always been challenged.
It is particularly invigorating that queer suburban imaginaries are not only meaningful in various ways to the author, but Tongson’s fluid dialectical relocations from the Philippines, the Inland region and beyond, are inserted among landscape narratives of relocation. As a reader, I was particularly drawn to the authors customized version of Jennifer Terry’s “remote intimacies”(page 23), as I too, in my youth, living in a small border city in Mexico, had intimate connections with anglophilic soundscapes without understanding the words. Also, when living in Los Angeles I understood the embedded meanings when Summer Roberts says “Eww” in response of Ryan coming from Chino in the teenage show The O.C. without actually ever setting foot in the Inland Empire (page 76). However, Tongson presents the reader with an analysis relocated in more than a representational binary of Orange County and the Inland Empire. For the author, the Inland Empire, at least temporally, was a space where queer of color sense of place was produced amid a song lyric and a strip mall.
Relocations also offers new ways of thinking about the sensorial landscape in ‘lesser Los Angeles’ produced by the convergence of disparate subjects that creates strange bedfellows: Latin@s, suburban queers of color and Morrissey/anglophilic-soundscape. These connections and constructions flow from the Philippines to the Inland Empire via immigrant youth whose connection to suburban anglophilic music have contested understandings of class, race, and empire, providing a lens to situate the author’s critique of the urban-suburban binary. Excitedly, the author challenged my understandings of the production of queer Latin@ urban spaces in my own work. What if spaces in the city of Los Angeles are produced and reproduced fluidly and dialectically by queer suburban imaginaries? In the case of the butchlatis, the panochtitlan, and suburban auditory landscapes of Morrissey, are spaces produced by urban queers of color in Los Angeles shaped by the fluidity of subaltern suburban spaces? If disparate subjects shape queer spaces outside the geography of the ‘urban core’, then it is precisely the urban core that has to be remapped by furthering our understandings of queer suburban imaginaries.
Tongson ‘queers’ suburban imaginaries by connecting queer of color migratory flows to the Inland Empire. The author maps the consumption of the suburban leisurescape as converging with remote intimacies that shape youth spaces across borders. While reading about Avenue K, I recalled crossing the US-Mexico border on a bus full of graduating 6th graders from my elementary school in Ensenada, Mexico, going to celebrate our graduation in Disneyland’s grad night. Thus, queer suburban imaginaries are also shaped by living rooms and border migration journeys from the Philippines, Latin America, and beyond.
Finally, I want to situate Relocations’ contribution to current work of sexuality and space in geography. Although, there is a growing group of productive scholars who work on geographies of sexualities, and have contributed significantly to the field, the sub-discipline has yet to focus on subaltern bodies that populate and produce suburban spaces. Although recent work by geographers suggests that public spaces have always been more complicated and fragmented by alternative, marginal and competing practices and identities with varying visibilities, they have not adequately dealt with the void of marginalized voices within homonormative contexts. What Tongson offers us is the possibility of relocating subaltern voices, as the work of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak suggest by ‘worlding’ from below. For Spivak, worlding is a discursive process of imperial mechanisms that legitimate unequal power relations and inscribe representations and ideologies about power in the landscape. Thus, Tongson, by relocating queer suburban imaginaries, “radically revises prevailing national discourses about the suburbs that perpetuate the mythos of its racialized, classed, and sexualized homogeneity”(page 3).
Tongson pushes boundaries to imagine other forms of queer spatial formations that center queer, immigrants, and other displaced bodies weaving through non-anglo contexts, including challenging ‘queer’ in non-translatable contexts. Relocations is full of voices that shaped suburban spatial formations, traveling through intersections that Tongson carefully articulates as merging lanes in the highway system, connecting, reshaping what is often unseen in the southern California landscape.