In this talk, I examine the existential agency of asylum-seekers manifest in the formation and development of Our Lives Matter, a self-organized advocacy group by long-term asylum-seekers in Hong Kong that started in 2018. Margins and marginalization are not only processes of delegitimization, exclusion, and dehumanization, but also the hothouse where counter-desires for regularization, inclusion, and, most importantly, recognition of humanity germinate, erupt, and possibly transform the forces that marginalize them in the first place. The activism of Our Lives Matter has been shaped both by the multiple precarities of its members and their common desire to exit their immigration limbo, and the dramatic political upheavals in Hong Kong since the late 2010s. The legitimacy crisis of the Hong Kong Government set the context within which asylum-seekers became simultaneously a key threat and a key achievement of public policy. In defiance of the path that the border regime prescribes for them as passive, powerless and valueless Others, members of Our Lives Matter assert themselves as active political agents. Rather than an evaluation of the efficacy of their activism, I explore the existential agency in their everyday acts of creating political possibilities, pathways to mobility, and ethics of care and justice.


Sealing Cheng is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. She locates her research at the intersection of gender, sexuality, human rights, and migration. Her works have appeared in journals such as JEMS, Feminist Theory, Feminist Studies, and Current Anthropology. Her first book, On the Move for Love: Migrant Entertainers and the U.S. Military in South Korea (University of Pennsylvania Press 2010) received the Distinguished Book Award of the Sexualities Section of the American Sociological Association in 2012.  Based on field research in Hong Kong since 2012, she is working on a book on the meanings of intimate relations for asylum-seekers and refugees in Hong Kong. She also co-founded the Afro-fusion band Talents Displaced with a group of asylum-seekers in 2016.