The book Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries by Karen Tongson (2011), an assistant professor of English and gender studies at University of Southern California, is one of the newest volumes in the Sexual Cultures series presented by New York University Press. Situated in the ostensibly immeasurable sprawl of Southern California, Tongsons book aims to shed light on a critical subgroup of the population that occupies suburban spaces, a community often obscured in the shadows in both everyday and academic contexts: queers of color. Along these lines, in her initial chapter, Tongson notes how the suburbs, which were initially designed for the traditional middle-class family, are often occupied by those who find the notion of the nuclear family as toxic as it sounds (p. 1). The remainder of her work seeks to draw attention to these peoples existence and experiencein pop culture and counterculture, on Main Street or on the streetswithin these minimally explored spaces.
The overall strength of Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries is that it places a subgroup of people who are largely ignored and who often feel invisible in the realm of gender and sexuality studies, as well as a physical space that is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented, at its heart. One theme that develops throughout the book is that members of this community do, in fact, have a home in these seemingly inhospitable spaces. Through an exploration centered on reading, watching, listening, and truly living the suburbs of Southern California, Relocations facilitates a shift in our spatial fantasies about sexuality from one kind of street life to another (p. 213) that allows the reader rare access to the vibrant stories not typically heard in the quietude of suburban spaces.
In addition to the provocative first look into the world of queers of color in suburbia that the book offers, there are also very strong historical foundations to the work that serve to provide a solid framework from which the reader may interact with the text overall. Throughout the work, Tongson weaves relevant and essential background information on the historical, sociological, cultural, and political reasons for the formation of suburban communities into pointed examination of the queering of these areas through popular culture, social groups, and beyond. Although this approach is not necessarily a requisite of penning such a text, Tongsons thoughtful integration of the past and the present in various contexts offers a compelling lens through which the reader may examine the future of the suburbs and the diverse communities that are changing their landscape on a daily basis.
All in all, Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries provides a welcome glimpse into an unseen world in a highly visible setting. This book finally creates a more contemporary understanding of the suburbs and the diversity of the communities that dwell within these once homogeneous locales. In her preface and acknowledgments, Tongson writes, As you will come to read, Relocations begins and ends with home (p. xv). To those who read this book and identify with the struggles and celebrations within its pages, regardless of your background: welcome home.