food is a tempting and easy way to introduce a different culture,
the PanAsia organizers strove for much more nuanced depictions.
At Monday night's Pan-Asian Teahouse in the Reynolds Club, families
and passers-by came to munch but stayed for the art exhibit curated
by Wen-Shing Chou, vice president of the Chinese Undergraduate
Students Association (CUSA), which sponsored the teahouse along
with the Chinese Students & Scholars Association. Chou, a third-year,
was born in Taiwan, has studied in Italy, and lived in Germany.
With help from the Chinese Cultural Association at the School
of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), she'd thrown the exhibit
open to both SAIC and U of C artists, picking about ten works
to mount on the wall. Three of the artists weren't Asian at all,
but their works still reflected Asian techniques such as anime
or delicate brushstrokes, or relevant themes such as the search
for identity in a multicultural world. Meanwhile, a video of an
American's travels in China played in the background, and in the
C-Shop, undergraduates taught all interested comers how to play
Chinese chess and other games.
of the next night's offerings took on a more physical twist. In
a martial-arts exhibition in the basement of Ida Noyes, members
of the Traditional Karate Club displayed a rainbow hue of belts
and skin tones while demonstrating punches, blocks, and kicks
to a crowd that started at 50 and continued to grow. The resounding
thuds of bodies dropping to the ground drew gasps during some
shorinji kempo sparring. And the kendo group, just returned from
a tournament at Harvard, did drills--practice strikes at one member's
head, wrists, and torso.
student Joseph Pang and
daughter Michelle enjoy Asian art displayed in the Reynolds
cultural events spanned the week as well as a range of interests.
Stir Friday Night, a professional Asian-American comedy troupe,
helped get the opening weekend off to a bright start. The first
afternoon of a two-day film festival showcased Japanese anime,
a Filipino documentary, and a feature by director Wong Kar-Wai,
while the second night's bill featured Asian-American pieces,
including The Sixth Sense, directed and written by M. Night
Shyamalan. And no U of C conference would be complete without
a symposium. During the final two days of PanAsia, graduate students
from UCLA and the U of C, in addition to the Universities of Georgia,
Michigan, and Montreal, presented papers on 20th-century Chinese
art and literature. On the evening of Saturday the 15th, the South
Asian Students Association sponsored the closing performance by
local dance and performance group Funkadesi, which claims Brazilian
and African roots as well as Indian.
the same time, a speakers schedule of activists and academics
ensured that troubling political and social issues had a chance
to be aired. For her lecture on yellow power, U of C assistant
professor of history Mae Ngai drew on personal experience. Having
taken part in the '60s civil-rights movement in the U.S., she
recalled to an audience of about 40 listeners her days fighting
against both the model minority myth and "yellow peril" bigotry,
organizing labor unions, demanding Asian-American studies programs,
and protesting the war in Vietnam.
realized that the enemy was a people who looked like us," she
commented of the war. "American soldiers called their fellow GIs
by the same slurs as they called their enemies. The evidence showed
that the U.S. continued to view us as foreigners, not as Americans,
and saw us as a threat." As she recounted her activism for the
students, she advised, "There is a false opposition between the
academic profession and community service and orientation. I think
you can do both."
Ngai's account, third-year Jessica Liu, a Chinese American from
Youngstown, Ohio, said she'd felt a flash of recognition when
Ngai told of being just one of four Asian-American children in
school when growing up. Coming from a white suburb, Liu explained,
"I never really thought about these issues before I came here."
Sometimes people call being too assimilated whitewashing, she
says matter-of-factly. At the U of C, she's had the chance to
meet many more people who share her heritage. "I'll call home
and say, 'Mom, guess what? I made another Asian friend!" she laughs.
Sometimes, Liu acknowledged, Asian Americans do tend to hang out
in groups that may seem exclusive-but so do students of other
ethnicities, she argued. In such groups, "You don't have to explain
Elizabeth Han plays
the ching, a metal drum representing the moon. The traditional
Korean folk music called poongmul also involves dance.
fact, the political was personal for many people involved with
PanAsia. Indonesian commentator Christianto Wibisono, spoke on
his country's social and political climate. Professor Arjun Appadurai,
AM'73, PhD'76, addressed ethnic violence around the globe, with
a focus on India, where the bloody conflict between Hindus and
Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir has been going on for years. Campus
group South Asia Watch put together a community-service bazaar--offering
students the chance to get involved in organizations like Apna
Ghar, a social-service agency for domestic-violence victims--as
well as a brown-bag lunch with local activists for Asian-American
concerns. During Thursday's panel discussion of the May 1980 citizen
uprising in Kwangju, South Korea, Monteverde said that he first
learned of the unrest and subsequent massacre in a Korean civ
class. "All these people were fighting for a basic right to live,"
he said to an audience of about 30. "That simple fact made me
realize why Asians worship their ancestors. Somebody before you
gave up everything they knew so that they could find a better
way of life, you could have a better way of life. The fact that
somebody did all that for me is why Asian-American is different
PanAsia events provided students with a chance to give voice to
their own opinions and feelings on issues of race and ethnicity--and
everything else--in a more creative forum. On Tuesday night, Samahan
hosted an open mic featuring Asian-American spoken-word group
I Was Born With Two Tongues. As most poetry events do, it started
half an hour late. Held in Hutch Commons, the night opened with
a poem written by a Caucasian student inspired by his inner "academic
brat." An African-American man drew applause for his hip-hop inflected
work. With time, students who hadn't come to Hutch for the open
mic began to pay attention, and people who'd journeyed from around
the city for the event began to show up.
Tongues, who've made a name for themselves on the local poetry
scene and toured the West Coast this spring, took the stage with
bassist Darius Savage after 9 p.m. Two of the four members have
U of C ties: Emily Chang is a fourth-year English literature student,
while Dennis Kim began his undergraduate career at the U of C.
Kim warmed the crowd up by freestyling for several minutes, and
then Chang (a Magazine intern) performed her poem "Hyphenation."
Meditating on the confusion of having immigrant parents and a
hybrid culture, she spoke about being a "long way from home no
matter how far we walk." Feeling "stitched together by hyphens,"
she finished by vowing to "extract the needle from my heart and
stitch together my own being." By the end of the set, the crowd
had swelled to six times its original size.
nights later, MOIM, the U of C Korean poetry translation group
(the name means "a gathering of people"), held its annual coffeehouse
in the third-floor theater of Ida Noyes. The group invited Loose
Roots and the staff of Kilmok, a campus Korean-American
literary journal, to join them. Tea lights, chrysanthemums, and
daisies graced circular tables where the audience dined on Korean
delicacies. Dedicated to sharing the beauty of the Korean language
and poetry, MOIM members read in pairs: one to recite a poem in
Korean, the next to give the English translation.
Roots served as accompaniment to a military poem. Monteverde says
he plays with the Korean group, although he is not Korean, because
he identifies with the Korean sentiment of "han," or struggling
to make one's way through life. "In many ways, it's analogous
to African-American music," he muses, comparing "soul" to han.
"It's said that in order to sing or play traditional Korean music
properly you have to concentrate all your han and explode it through
your vocal chords or through the drums. No matter if the music
is upbeat and happy or slow and brings you to tears, there is
an underlying sadness of living life as an oppressed person."
of Kilmok read their own work as well as that of friends
and established writers such as Korean-American novelist Chang-Rae
Lee. Second-year Bora Chang read a piece by a male friend of hers
who asked why porn flicks never feature Asian men and wondered
how he'd learn to get the girl and kill the bad guys without any
cultural role models.
doubt some students left that night--and others--having discovered
role models they'd never heard of before. Some decided they really
should give karate a try, or campaign for an Asian-American studies
program at the U of C. Some had a great time seeing their friends'
talents on stage. And others have already signed on to organize