Linsanity. Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Interpreter of Maladies.” Kal Penn. Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom. Whether it’s good publicity or bad publicity, there’s no denying that the Asian American community has been acquiring a kind of recognition that’s never existed before. The sixth annual New York City Asian American Student Conference (NYCAASC) was held on Saturday, April 21 to draw attention to this new trend and to empower Asian American youth to be a part of it.
NYCAASC is a grassroots conference planned entirely by New York City college students. The goal of the conference is to educate students on the history and issues surrounding the Asian Pacific American (APA) community on a “local, national, and global scale,” as the mission statement of NYCAASC states. To accomplish this, the NYCAASC committee organizes and hosts a number of educational workshops. This year’s conference featured workshops like “What Does it Feel Like to Be a Problem?: NYPD Surveillance of Muslim Students and Social Justice Groups,” “The Case of Private Danny Chen: Hate Crimes and Why America Should Care,” and “Linsanity: What Jeremy Lin Reveals about Race, Sexuality, and Asian American Masculinity.” The committee also invited prominent members of the APA community to speak on panels and lead workshops. Councilmember Margaret Chin, Korilla’s founders, Angry Asian Man’s Phil Yu, and YouTube actress and comedian Jen Kwok were among this year’s guests.
During past conferences, students have questioned their own identities as Asian Americans and have been encouraged by NYCAASC to form definitions of their own. The conference emphasizes the students’ abilities to “INK” (imagine and rethink) their own stories.
Though only some of the issues presented at the workshop have affected Stuyvesant students directly, they still have relevance to students as members of the Asian-American community.
“When I got my program, I was looking through the lineup for the day. At first, I couldn’t decide on which one to attend because none of them seemed relevant to me,” senior Evan Gao said. “But when I was scanning through again, I realized that all of them were significant to me. I have a lot of relatives who live in Chinatown, so the gentrifying one was important. My parents aren’t registered voters, even though they should be, so the voting workshop was important, too. It was all these little things I kept finding that made it impossible for me to choose which one to go to in the end.”
Senior Cheng Ma agrees. “The topics are things you see on the news, and you want to find out more about. Normally you wouldn’t talk about these things on your own. The workshop helps to start the conversation,” he said.
Those who walked away from the conference were able to gain much more insight into their own culture. Stuyvesant students were also given the opportunity to discuss the aforementioned issues with other students from colleges and high schools from all over New York City. Specifically, Stuyvesant students learned about issues regarding racial stereotypes that they otherwise do not encounter, coming from a school with an Asian majority.
“I attended the microagressions workshop, and we were sharing stories in a circle,” junior Kathy Lei said. “There was one girl who talked about how she was walking down the street and talking to her friend on the phone when a guy stops her and says, ‘You speak English?’ She nods, and he says ‘Good for you. It doesn’t sound like Chinglish.’”
Often, Asian students here are not exposed to such derogatory remarks. “You wouldn’t feel targeted as much as you would in places where you’re the only Asian in school,” Ma said.
“We go to a school full of Asians,” Gao said. “Who’s going to make fun of you for being one of the crowd?”
Guest speakers at the workshops expanded on their own life experiences as Asian Americans. One was a slam poet, “who encouraged us to do things like singing, writing, and speaking out,” Lei said. “Jen Kwok was the MC at the talent show, and she was loud, vulgar, and funny.” Speakers showed students that they didn’t necessarily have to stick with cultural or parental norms in their career paths, but could find success in any field they were passionate about. For example, last year, the conference hosted Christine Choy, Academy Award-nominated director of “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” She discussed why there are so few Asians in Hollywood.
Perhaps the greatest gain for participants was the heightened morale among the attendees. “[NYCAASC] boosts my Asian pride,” Ma said. Not only did the conference give students the chance to understand the difficulties Asian Americans face due to racial barriers, but they were also empowered to make changes that previous generations could not.