The College hosted the first-ever Asian American Renaissance: Art, Activism, and Popular Culture conference (REACH) last Friday through Saturday.
Asian American Students in Action (AASiA) organized the event. The goals of REACH were to address divisions between Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities and support activism, scholarship and artistic expression. The conference sought “To foster coalition-building across and among AAPI communities, defined through shared culture and interests, at east coast colleges” and “To engage in discussion about Asian American identity, community, and representation,” according to its mission statement.
REACH was similar to the annual East Coast Asian American Student Union conference, which the AASiA board attended at Harvard in February, but placed a greater emphasis on coalition building between North Eastern small colleges. Students from peer institutions were invited to attend, and AASiA matched visitors with volunteer guests.
REACH brought several Asian American performers to campus: hip-hop artist Dumbfoundead, rapper Awkwafina, indie musician Jason Chu and spoken word poet G Yamazawa. Awkwafina and Dumbfoundead also participated in a question-and-answer session, while G Yamazawa and Jason Chu gave workshops in addition to performing at REACH.
Panels examined solidarity between Asian Americans and African Americans, the role of women in the Asian American movement, intercollegiate coalitions and positive representations of Asian Americans in new media.
The variety of events REACH hosted all worked towards its goals of coalition building, activism, scholarship and art.
“For example, the art gallery that I personally organized provided a platform for Asian American student artists to share and display various forms of art together, something that is missing in most small North Eastern colleges. In addition, the art gallery included a map display with the title ‘So, where are you from? (no, really from?)’ outside, asking participants to mark their ‘homes’ or origins using pushpins,” Janice Lee ’17, Koreans of Williams AASiA representative said.
Crystal Munhye Baik ’02, an assistant professor at UC Riverside, and Ryan Takemiya, a community organizer and writer, delivered keynote addresses.
REACH also held a human library called Asian American Annecdotes, intended to explore Asian American identity through the experiences of the participants.
“I think it went very well, particularly given that it was organized by just AASiA, and it was the first time we organized a conference as AASiA. I hope this can be something like an annual thing, though the future is of course uncertain because the board is different each year,” Lee said.
REACH also held an interactive art gallery in the Paresky Center related to AAPI identity and issues. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in a wilderness scavenger hunt and Skype with the directors of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, which was playing at Images Cinema.
“I think it went very well, particularly given that it was organized by just AASiA, and it was the first time we organized a conference as AASiA,” Lee said.
“I hope this can be something like an annual thing, though the future is of course uncertain because the [ASSiA] board is different each year.”