Last weekend, I had the pleasure to be one of the 400-some students who attended the 9th annual New York City Asian American Student Conference, held at the Kimmel Center at NYU. NYCAASC is a student run intercollegiate program dedicated to addressing issues pertinent to Asian/Pacific/Americans on local, national and global scales. It was founded in 2007 as a collaboration between New York University and Columbia University but has since grown to include students from Fordham University, Hunter College, Baruch College, City College and Brooklyn College and School of Visual Arts.
This year’s theme was Critical Mass: Collective Bodies for Action, directly addressing the current events in America such as #BlackLivesMatter. “The goal of this year’s conference is for the Asian/Pacific/American community to reach that critical mass: a point of large scale rupture, but also of creation.”
The keynote speaker was Asian American journalist and cultural critic Jeff Chang. He called for us to further examine the nuances of what it means to have “representation;” he looked at A/P/A solidarity for other minority voices such as the Black and Latino communities. Spoken word poet Paul Tran opened the conference with his powerful poems that examine his Vietnamese heritage. Jess X. Chen also performed spoken word that ranged from topics like the Tienanmen Square Massacre to questions of sexuality matched up to personal art pieces displayed from above. Magnetic North & Taiyo Na brought down the roof with their honest rhymes, organic beats and one sick saxophone.
The 17 workshops in total all looked to address questions of colonized minds and bodies. One workshop,
“Your Parents are White?” Transnational Adoption: Thinking from Their Perspectives and Histories looked at personal and academic perspectives on transnational adoption, discussing the cultural historicity and the psychological impact of adoption. Another workshop #JusticeforAkaiGurley: Asian-Americans on the Indictment of Officer Liang dealt with developing an understanding of the issues of police brutality and the tensions and solidarity between Black and A/P/A communities. The last few workshops focused on concrete strategies to spur attendees into action.
Digital Storytelling: How to Create Your Own Web Series set the stage to inspire students to do their own storytelling.
By the end of the day, I, along with the other students, organizers and speakers, was left exhausted, my head crammed with new information and perspectives to later wrestle and process. But I was also left oddly moved by the energy and the motivation pulsing throughout the conference. The A/P/A community is not often recognized as one with a voice; often times, we are silenced with the dismissing “model minority” label. But here, I saw hundreds of voices speaking up, yearning to reach out. I’m listening. We’re listening.