The East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) Conference was held this year from February 26-28 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Schools across the east coast, even Florida, participated in the conference. The theme for the conference was ‘Beyond Our Boundaries’. These boundaries, such as race, gender, and sexual orientation, are not issues exclusive to Asian Americans but are applicable to all discussion of identity. The goal of ECAASU is to strengthen AAPI student organizations at various colleges, encourage political participation in AAPI communities, advance the social equality of minorities, and promote community building among AAPI and with all people of color. I was looking for ideas to strengthen Swarthmore’s Asian organizations.
Each ECAASU attendee went to three workshops during the conference. I went to Kaya Ako Ganito — “This is Who I Am,” LGBTQA+ Asian American Communities, and Nagtagumpay Ako: (Success – Your Breakthroughs).
Kayo Ako Ganito focused on four core constructs of Filipino values: kapwa (fellow being), utang na loob (reciprocity of debt), hiya (shame), and pakikisama (social acceptance). Kapwa is the idea that people from the same background are all connected whether it be through language, food, location, family, or anything else. Utang na loob and hiya are related because the former has to do with generosity and paying back of debts while the latter has to do with the shame from the inability to honor one’s family to the best of one’s abilities. Pakikisama can be understood in two ways: the notion of getting along with people in the context of an intimate social setting as well as in the context of greater society.
For the next workshop,I attended a LGBTQA+ workshop, which functioned as a safe space for people to discuss personal experiences and to share advice about topics such as dating, talking about sexual orientation or gender identity with others, and connecting with people with the same background. One interesting fact that I learned from this workshop is that not many other universities and colleges have an intersectional group for Asian Americans who identify as LGBTQA+. Swarthmore is lucky to have two spaces for LGBTQA+ Asian Americans: Colors and PersuAsian. Colors was created at Swarthmore in response to the lack of people of color in SQU (Swarthmore Queer Union). PersuAsian is specifically for queer students who identify as AAPI and don’t feel like they fit in either SAO, SQU, or Colors.
The last workshop I went to was Nagtagumpay Ako, which basically focused on achieving success in terms of an individual’s goals. Success is different for each person. The workshop’s host, FOUND (Filipino Outreach for Uniting, Networking, and Developing), defined success as having one’s dreams come true. The workshop hosts had us list out our short term goals and our long terms goals. Then we listed obstacles which prevent us from achieving those goals. Interestingly, it was easier for my group to come up with obstacles than it was to come up with goals. The hosts’ advice for overcoming our obstacles was to have a self-anthem or a mantra. That way, when we feel hopeless, we can read the self-anthem to refresh our determination. It sounds cheesy but it worked for the hosts.
The Swarthmore group, composed of students from SAO (Swarthmore Asian Organization), SCS (Swarthmore Chinese Society), and HAPA, that attended ECAASU had varying opinions on how well the workshops provided them with a new perspective and approach. Some students believed that workshops were either unorganized or did not have provide enough novel knowledge on the featured topics. For example, the organizers of the LGBTQA+ workshop did not have a plan for their time slot so they asked for input from the attendees about what to discuss.
During the ECAASU closing ceremony, there were a variety of guests who spoke and performed on stage. Fong Tran and Ramya Ramana, both of whom are spoken word poets, shared poetry which centered on Asian family dynamics and perceptions of beauty respectively. Groups from Rutgers performed such as the dance group, The Society, and the first South Asian all-male a capella group, Nuttin’ But V.O.C.A.L.S. There were also other musical performances like Soh Daiko, a taiko drumming group, and Nicole, also known by her stage name, Nix, and handle, uuuuuuuuukewithme.
At the gala, there were two motivational speakers: Andy Marra, an LGBTQ activist, and Jenny Yang, a comedian and Swat alum. Andy Marra is an orphan who detailed her journey of finding her birth parents in South Korea. When she found her parents, they did not question her gender identity and welcomed her into the family. Marra’s story shows how LGBTQ stories are not just all horror stories. She emphasized that there are accepting people in the world and that communities should continue to go beyond their boundaries to embrace people of all identities. Yang began her keynote speech with a comedy performance. She joked about how white people have meaningless Chinese character tattoos and how men should not comment about a woman’s weight and appearance. Yang ended her speech by encouraging everyone in the gala to follow their dreams, even if doing so means going against family expectations.
Even though some of the workshops at ECAASU could have been organized and constructed in a better manner, I enjoyed the conference and the workshops I attended because I learned a few new ideas, such as the four core Filipino values. Hopefully, next year’s ECAASU conference will be more informative for all students involved.
Featured image courtesy of David Chen ’19.