Ann Arbor”s Asian American student population swelled this weekend as more than 600 students from around the nation flocked to the Midwest Asian American Student Union conference hosted by the University.
The conference drew two-thirds of its participants from outside of Michigan, and it extended beyond the Midwest, including students from the southern states and California.
Keynote speaker Grace Lee Boggs, an activist from Detroit, traced how far the Asian American movement has come but stressed that there is more to do.
“It”s an amazingly different world,” she said.
Boggs said that when she was in college, the world of higher education lacked an Asian American presence.
“We couldn”t have had a conference like this. We could have met in a telephone booth,” she said.
Centered around a series of workshops on topics especially concerning Asian American students, the conference provided a forum for students from 63 different institutions to share their experiences and ideas. “We serve as each others” examples,” said Indiana University senior Cecille Domingo.
The conference”s theme, “Empower APA,” reflected its mission to “empower and inspire students to give back to our community and to want to take an active role as an Asian Pacific American,” said SNRE sophomore Michelle Lin, who served as communication co-chair for the conference.
The workshops were designed to allow students to discuss solutions and paths of action to confront problems Asian Americans face.
“This year we tried to step it up a little, include more issues that had been on the fringes,” Lin said. There were workshops focusing on issues such as identity for Asian Pacific adoptees, comfort women, domestic violence, civil rights and social justice. Other workshops emphasized coalition building and activism.
Boggs” remarks Saturday night concluded the conference, which opened Friday morning with a talk by Vijay Prashad. Other aspects of the conference were the “Generation APA” cultural show Friday night and entertainment at Saturday night”s banquet by I Was Born With Two Tongues, a spoken word group, and Pacifics, a hip-hop group.
Lin said the conference did much to inspire students.
“In a sense we did accomplish our vision of empowering Asian Pacific Americans,” she said.
“It”s good to see that this many people were willing to come here. That in and of itself can be empowering,” said Natacha Foo Kune, a first-year graduate student at Ohio State University. Even with the conference”s theme, Foo Kune said not enough time was spent addressing how to remedy problems.
Students used the conference as an opportunity to learn from each others” knowledge and make “25 new friends in three days,” said Domingo.
“To see all Asian Americans united like this is very special,” said Indiana University junior Thien Le at the conference”s banquet. Surveying the overflowing audience in the Michigan Ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel, Le added that one would be hard-pressed to find a table of Asian Americans at Indiana, much less an entire room.
The University itself provided a change of scenery for some visitors.
“It”s weird coming from John Carroll,” said Larry Yee, a sophomore at the Ohio university. Yee said his university is predominantly white, and he noticed “more of an Asian presence here.”