By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
About 150 people gathered at the University of Washington’s Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center for the 2nd Annual Asians Collaborating Together Conference last Saturday, April 4th.
The purpose of the ACT Conference was to provide attendees the opportunity and space to learn, reflect, and act upon Asian and Asian American identity, leadership and community involvement.
The conference attendees were not limited to just UW students. Local non-profit organizations, employees, high school students, and others interested in the topic participated in the insightful conference.
Former Governor Gary Locke kicked off the day by sharing some of his cultural identity experiences growing up in Seattle.
As a son of Chinese immigrants, Locke personally struggled with his identity growing up, and called it a painful time. Although he and his family grew up in an ethnic neighborhood, they would still have their hands slapped if they didn’t have a traditional American breakfast.
Locke explained that his parents wanted to instill traditional Chinese values onto him, but he rebelled and caused them a lot of grief.
“Some of us went to Chinese school but we didn’t want to learn Chinese, we wanted to be 100 percent American,” he explained.
It was tough for Locke because there was almost a desire to stamp out anything that was ethnic among their identities.
Because of his own experiences, Locke realized that it’s important to be involved in the community and help people of different backgrounds to assimilate and maintain the Asian culture.
“We cannot forget that we live in the land of immigrants… Wave after wave of immigrants have contributed to society,” he said.
He also expressed how crucial it was for people to be involved in government and politics.
“America is truly a land of possibilities,” Locke said.
In addition to Gary Locke’s keynote speech, the conference consisted of 10 different workshop sessions on identity and “allyship,” cultural performances, panel discussion on the experiences of leaders in unity and “allyship.”
UW microbiology major Maianna Dematteis is a Chinese adoptee who grew up with a white family. She heard about the conference through a friend, and thought the opportunity would be a great way to dig deeper into her Asian roots.
She attended the session about the model minority and bamboo ceiling because she had heard about the terms, but wanted to learn more about them.
The group also discussed some of the success stories from their own families, and the different trends and stereotypes that define the “model minority” in today’s society.
Another UW student Jenny Chang didn’t feel comfortable with the term because of how other ethnic groups were portrayed due to Asian Americans being the model minority.
In another session about the model minority and “Orientalism” led by UW Tacoma lecturer Tanya Velasquez, xenophobia and the fear of being displaced was discussed.
The group watched the infamous UCLA “Asians in the Library” by Alexandra Wallace as well as a few reaction videos by David So and Beau Sia.
In this age of social media, there are various ways to express resistance and it’s important to check your own privilege before lashing out at others, Velasquez explained.
Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon’s Leng Yang felt that the model minority and Orientalism was created by the system and people who aren’t Asian.
During the break, entertainers like Che Seyhun, KHSA students, Sameth Mell and Mic Flont & Khingz performed and shared some of their cultural identity experiences through music and prose. Mell and Mic Flont & Khingz also led afternoon workshops.
Following the performances, Francisco Irigon, Lisa Woo and Maria Leninger were panelists on the topic of unity and allyship in the community.
Irigon reflected on his college days where he was arrested for social activism. In fact, he was the first Asian American to serve on the UW student government.
“No one will give you power, you take it,” Irigon expressed.
Leninger said that there aren’t a lot of women or people of color in politics so sometimes she ends up being an ambassador for those women and people of color.
She echoed Locke when she said that the best way to engage in the community is to show up, vote, volunteer, and be politically active.
The afternoon workshops focused on allyship, cross cultural alliance, building coalition, student and community activism and developing trust in the communities.
Judge Dean Lum who has served on the King County Superior Court since 1998 concluded the day with his own thoughts and reflections.
Asian Coalition for Equality works to engage self-identified Asian and Asian American individuals through conversations and events centering on our daily truths. (end)
For more information, visit http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/aa_ace.htm.
Nina Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.