Presenting at Tri-CASC 2019!

My growth and engagement in Asian community issues came full circle at Tri-CASC this April! The conference held on Swarthmore’s campus and organized by students in the Consortium was created around panels, performances, workshops, and speakers regarding issues of Asian and Pacific Islander identity and community. Among the conference’s values, the ones I understand it to be the most, read:

A place of solidarity, pride, and love for the API/A community … progress the critical dialogues occurring at our individual campuses to build coalitions and further understand the nuances of the many API/A experiences … acknowledge how API/As have also been complicit toward systemic injustices … leveraging the collective power of the various API/A communities … continue to weave API/A narratives into the complex racial fabric of America and deconstruct systems of power.

Months ago, my friend Shannan Stafford ’19 and I were asked to run a workshop on authenticity & gatekeeping in the community, and among the chaos, we organized our ideas, communicated with the organizers, and prepared to facilitate conversations on how we imagine “Asian identity” and from where those imaginations originate. Because we both identify as Black and Asian (and because our friendship bloomed from those shared understandings—we had mutual friends, held similar space, but never crossed paths until our friends connected us & we had a class together last Spring!) we wanted to re-direct conversations of authenticity to learning how to recognize those strains in our own circles. For us, there needed to be more emphasis on communally embracing people who may not match how we envision “Asian.” We looked to make room for other Black Asians like ourselves, Pacific Islanders, Southeast Asians, South Asians, known artists & performers who are not often thought about as members of our community, as well as for that internal and eventually political work.

Of the panels, performances, and other workshops I was only able to catch part of a panel on Asianness. The panelists drew from double migratory experiences, mixed identities, transnational origins, and practices of Muslim faith, to inform what they imagined as acts of solidarity for American communities of indigenous and black folks. We had two session blocks that went smoothly, we were able to enjoy the cool weather (there were students tabling free clothes and playing music!) and we were fed well with a flavorful catered Korean lunch.

One of the most heartwarming parts of Tri-CASC, for me, was having the chance to connect with pasts and futures in the spirit of coming full circle. Four or five years ago, I was part of a summer program at Philly’s Asian Arts Initiative for Asian woman writers, run by two sweet Temple students. The photographer at the conference was one of those students! I was able to reconnect with her as well as meet an incoming Bryn Mawr first year who expressed interest in my club, Multi*. From Swarthmore’s train station I headed into the city to meet my friends while listening to a playlist of artists with Black & Asian heritage, an idea a fellow presenter and friend of mine gave me when they recommended me a song. Many of them, including H.E.R. (who’s pictured above!) were featured in our workshop to reorient how we imagine the API/A community and who represents us in art & popular culture. Shannan and I are certainly not the first. There are many projects such as Blasian Narratives that do the same work! Because the conversations around communities expand beyond conferences, I’m hopeful for their futures.

Performing the Diasporic Body: An Exercise in Openness

Do performances ever make you so spent that you rush back home to drink water? That was my experience with Lela Aisha Jones’ “The Diasporic Body: Black/African Release, Restoration, and Revival”: feeling like all the water was removed from my body, and I had to work to get it back.

my notes: shared to match the vulnerability of the dancers

On Friday I parked my bike and entered a circle of chairs laid out in a small room adjacent to the main theater. I remember thinking that the performers would be dancing on our level – an intimacy I hadn’t expected from this event, where I’m used to having elevated stages and comfortable distance. There were papers and pens left under our seats. The piece opened in song as the artist’s introduction; we were encouraged to keep quiet through transitions, make note of feelings, think about ancestors, and left with the expression “We hold our experiences in our bodies.” Four black dancers joined Lela and collaborated in matching jumpsuits. They moved to anxious, recorded car noises, and projected footage from dancing protests in Philly for the movement of Black Lives Matter. They grooved to slowed down old songs. They returned to old movements: expressions of pain or anger, exchanged looks of understanding, ones that resembled the communal intimacy of hair or moves that embodied healing. The piece opened in song & ended in celebration. We danced; audience members who identified as black were invited to dance with the performers & given flowers by Lela. From some of us grooving contained in our seats to sharing each other’s energy loudly, it made for a sweet moment as I danced with one of the performers, Jasmine Stanton ’20, from my year.

the flowers I received while dancing

Because it was for one of our Community Days of Learning, Lela nudged us into some movement exercises: to close our eyes, stand and put out one movement embodying gratitude. Then one embodying pain. We then shared our movement with another person and learned their’s, taking some responsibility for their hurt, and moved around the room embodying the move of the last person we met. Audience members and performers exchanged questions and shared experiences as we felt comfortable, and organically, we began to connect with others in the space and engage in dialogue. Many of the comments captured the power that art has to create healing remedies, as reflected in Lela’s Black/African Release, Restoration, and Revival.

The experience certainly released, restored, and revived. I am someone who holds my emotions in my body; more literally than artist Lela Aisha Jones may have meant. But for that reason the exercise in openness was something I didn’t know I needed.