Asian American Month’s kick-off convocation focuses on ’reflection’

Asian American Awareness Month kicked off last Friday night in Goodrich Hall with student performances and a lecture by keynote speaker Suainia Maira, professor of Asian American studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The convocation included a fashion show, a dance performance, poetry readings and a skit by the Asian Theater Project (ATP).

The theme of this month’s events is “Reflection,” a decision, co-organizer Ju Kim ’04 said, that was made largely in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

“Asian-Americans were targets of hate crimes [after the attacks]. We chose the theme to reflect on who we are,” Kim said in opening remarks.

The night began with a short act by members of the ATP, who performed a scene from the play “Golden Child.” In the scene, a man returns home after many years abroad. The scene detailed the clash of cultures that the man has to deal with as he returns to his highly traditional family. “Golden Child” will be performed in its entirety later in the year.

Greg Kim ‘02, the senior speaker, followed the performance.

“I had no ideas [when I first came to Williams] that I would be up here as a senior speaker,” he said.

Kim detailed his upbringing in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, where his mother and grandmother both work as bakers. Kim noted the need for planning ahead at Williams so as to get projects and activities accomplished.

“A year isn’t long enough to get things done,” he said. “There needs to be long-term planning – looking five years ahead.”

Kim also talked about the support network that upperclassmen provide other Asian American students when they first arrive at Williams. He mentioned that arranging “Korean Night” when he was a freshman was a particularly daunting and difficult task that could not have been accomplished without the support of upperclassmen.

Caroline Fan ’03 followed Kim’s speech with a reading of “Prohibition” and “Convocation,” two poems that she wrote herself. Sadaf Ahmad ’02 then performed a traditional Indian dance interspersed with dialogue.

The keynote speaker for the convocation was Suainia Maira. Maira’s lecture focused on “Asian American youth and reflections after Sept. 11.” Maira’s research investigates Asian American youth and how they interact with American culture. In particular, she has investigated hip-hop “as a place where minority students can meet.” For instance, Maira pointed to New York City, a vibrant metropolis that provides a glimpse into how second-generation Indian-Americans manage to meld their own traditions with American culture.

The melding of cultures has led to a redefinition of Asian American culture, Maira said. “We have these stereotypes about passive Asian American youth. . .but students are [lifting] the veil” as they combine cultural experiences with those of the United States.

Maira also discussed the post-Sept. 11 problems that Asian-Americans face. “What about those children whose fathers are in jail—those temporary orphans?” asked Maira. “This is a time when immigrants in general are under attack.”

For inspiration, Maira said it is important to look back at Asian American leaders in the 1960’s, at a time when the United States was undergoing great social changes. Many links between different racial and ethnic groups were formed at the time, as they all combined to fight for common goals of equality and freedom.

“‘Asian American’ is a political identity,” said Maira. “We obviously have a heterogeneous family under the [Asian American] umbrella, but we can’t let that divide us. I think it is important to return to the spirit of the Asian American movements in this country. . .we should think [more] about linkages between [different] Asian countries.”

In closing, Ahmad asked an open-ended question: “Where does this generation of Asian-Americans stand on these issues [of identity]?”

Other events scheduled for Asian Awareness Month include a keynote address by author Helen Zia, who has written the critically acclaimed book entitled “Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People.” Zia will speak on her current project in a lecture entitled, “Notes from an Asian-American Journalist: Wen Ho Lee, Racial Profiling, and Building Bridges Across Post — 9/11 American Fundamentalism.”