Courtesy of Erin Chen '20

Asian American students from the east coast gather at Physical Science Building to kick off the conference on Saturday.

March 4, 2018

Asian American Students Find Support in Embracing Their Identities at East Coast Conference held at Cornell

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Over 600 students and faculty from East Coast universities traveled to Cornell for a day of workshops and talks exploring challenges central to Asian-American identity at the annual East Coast Asian-American Student Union conference on Saturday.

This year’s conference had the mission statement “Continuum: Power Through Perspective” and aimed to educate and inspire students on longstanding racial dilemmas in their communities.

“We don’t necessarily need someone with some lofty degree to tell us ‘… this is what you need to know to be good at your job, help support your community or be an actually decent person,’” said Jeremiah Kim ’19, ECAASU conference director and Sun blogs editor.

Shortened from two days to one because of the University’s snow day on Friday, ECAASU still welcomed students interested in Asian-American issues through various talks — including one by Buzzfeed video producer Steven Lim, known for his “Worth It” series, a performance by poet Paul Tran and workshops on topics such as using media as a platform for activism.

Attendants from several schools traveled for hours on the road to make it to the conference due to weather impediments. A group from Duke University even pushed their travel plans a day forward in order to make it to the event.

“It goes to show that there’s a real need for an event like this because people are actively going out of their way to make sure that they can come here,” said Helen Yang ’19, a Duke student and communications coordinator for ECAASU’s national board.

Vinh Dang ’19, Stockton University, led a workshop titled “Yolk inside an Eggshell” that discussed ways Asians have been stereotyped in media — from having white actors playing Asian characters to making Asians appear more white.

“It is also important to be able to learn these things and learn from other people who come to these conferences and then be able to share these messages to their own community,” Dang said.

For many students, the event was a networking opportunity for students and activists who share a mutual interest in topics frequently encountered by Asian-Americans.

“I heard this was a great place to network and talk about social issues related to Asians in general,” said Calvin Xie ’18, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, adding that his main takeaway from the event was meeting new people. “It’s good to realize there’s a community out there for you despite sometimes feeling nobody out there can necessarily connect as well with you.”

Xie also expressed the responsibility of Asian-Americans’ to speak up about political activity and “engage [themselves] and look to other minority groups like the black and Latino groups,” who have a history revolving around political action.

At the closing ceremony, performers such as Paul Tran and rapper Bambu gave inspiring poems and messages about how embracing their identities and describing their pasts have helped shaped their futures.

Steven Lim, video producer at Buzzfeed, also told the audience how he was called racial slurs in middle school and has since taken pride in those names.

The first ECAASU conference at Cornell was held in 1988 and the conference is traditionally held at Cornell every ten years — so the event was also of historical significance to Asian-American Cornellians, according to Kim.

Kim hoped that the participants could takeaway the notion that “we can look to each other, we can educate ourselves, we can do this together.”