From left to right: Nancy Liang, Jeremiah Kim, Helena Kim
Last week, we looked at Conference 2018 under the lens of tradition and discovered that the students at Cornell University were inspired not only by their past Asian American student leadership who hosted conference in 2008, 1998, and 1988, but by their own passion for shaping a better present and future. To provide even more insight into the theme, Continuum - Power through Perspective, conference organizers Nancy Liang and Helena Kim had a chat with conference director Jeremiah Kim.
Nancy Liang and Helena Kim: Why are you involved in conference and Asian American activism?
Jeremiah Kim: While I think that calling something “activism” sometimes creates an artificial divide between people who do all kinds of work to build their communities. I’m involved with the conference specifically because I view it as a way to start opening up passageways within and between our communities.
James Baldwin once wrote, “My quarrel with English language has been that the language reflected none of my experience… But perhaps the language was not my own because I had never attempted to use it, had only learned to imitate it. If this were so, then it might be made to bear the burden of my experience if I could find the stamina to challenge it, and me, to such a test.”
I think a lot of young Asian Americans struggle with talking about experiences that matter deeply to us, because so much of our language is adopted from mainstream discourse (things like the Good Immigrant/Bad Immigrant trope). How can we unlearn the language that we have been taught — a language that does not speak to the realities of people of color, indigenous people, queer folks, and poor communities?
It starts by creating spaces of learning that aren’t tangled up in rigid rules and authority complexes, so that we can unpack the experiences we don’t usually talk about, question long-held assumptions, and begin to build a deeper bond of collective identity. My contributions to the conference are geared towards these goals. I know it’s only a two day event, but hopefully it will get people moving in the right direction.
Why did you decide to organize ECAASU 2018?
JK: It stems from my experience at the 2017 conference. We got really close to each other- the delegation that went from Cornell - we grew a lot together. There was this desire to recreate that experience that I had- where it wasn’t super formal, it wasn’t intentional- it was sort of spontaneous and it only happened because we were all there at the same time. We can do all this great programming, but really I just want people to be able to have meaningful conversations and to connect with each other and grow from it- and to keep growing from it when they go back to their own communities and campuses.
We can do all this great programming, but really I just want people to be able to have meaningful conversations and to connect with each other and grow from it- and to keep growing from it when they go back to their own communities and campuses.
There are definitely other ways to mobilize Asian students, and more importantly there are other spaces to host the discussions happening in our conference this year. Why did you support hosting ECAASU Conference?
JK: You’re right that there are definitely other ways to mobilize Asian American students that aren’t ECAASU 2018 at Cornell. We support other folks who are doing critical work in their communities! The reason why I support our conference, though, is that I know what a fantastic group of people we have, who’ve been toiling together for over a year to make sure that the discussions people might be having within their communities have the opportunity to meet up and intermingle with discussions that other people are having in other communities.
We’re in a time right now where it’s easier than ever to connect across vast distances, but I’ve found that the most meaningful conversations happen when people from all kinds of backgrounds bring their perspectives into a single room/space. ECAASU is the oldest and biggest conference for Asian American students on the East Coast, and Cornell is the only school with a tradition of hosting it every ten years. It’s important for us not only to keep traditions alive, but to think about where our traditions come from, and how they can inform us as we look forward to the future.
What do you hope people can take away from the conference?
JK: People can come and begin to raise questions. Encourage people to think about larger things that they may not interact with on a daily basis, such as if they’re not in an Asian American Studies class (for example, I didn't know what the model minority myth was until my freshman year). I just want people to be able to engage in community education that is not tied down to academic, bureaucratic, and political things that may be happening on their campuses. I want us to take our education into our own hands.