Spring conference discusses racial issues

Anna Nguyen

College students from around the Midwest assembled on the University of Minnesota campus this weekend for the Midwest Asian American Student Union’s 10th annual spring conference.
The University’s Asian American Student Cultural Center hosted the conference, which ran Thursday through Sunday.
Events centered around this year’s theme, “Y2A: Asian Americans in the New Millennium.” The conference featured a two-day career fair, seminars, workshops, cultural performances and social activities to help build relationships among the students, who traveled from the region’s colleges and area high schools. Organizers expected about 500 students to attend.
“It’s the first time the conference has been held west of the Mississippi,” said Sherman Ho, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore. “MAASU was looking to start things out this year on a new leaf.”
Bill Lann Lee, the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights for the U.S. Department of Justice, was the keynote speaker for the weekend’s festivities.
Lee, a leading civil rights lawyer and one of the highest-ranking Asian-Americans in the federal government, spoke to students Friday afternoon in the Gateway alumni center’s Memorial Hall. He told students about the struggles he had at Yale University and as the son of a Chinese laundryman in New York City in the 1960s.
Beyond his own struggles and accomplishments, he spoke about other minorities’ experiences.
“How do you deal with a history of exclusion and suffering?” asked Lee, who received his law degree from Columbia Law School. “You have to distill from that experience and distill with others that still stand in the margins. We need to remember our history but reach out in our communities.”
Students raised questions about the problems of some Asian-Americans’ discrimination against other cultures, hate crimes, worker exploitation and racial profiling.
Amber Heckert, a speech communications sophomore, and Chong Xiong, an English sophomore, held a workshop on stereotypes of Asian-American women in the media.
Students were able to voice their experiences of being stereotyped and how to deal with them. Other students in the workshop listened to understand.
“We need to learn about what is affecting our lives and not to be victims about it,” said Amy Leang, a senior photojournalist from Ball State University in Indiana.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, the conference moved toward a social gathering for students.
At Memorial Hall on Friday, Bao Phi — a Vietnamese-American poet, educator, performer and activist — organized a dance mosaic and introduced the Asian-American theater company group HereandNow.
The dance mosaic was a collection of various dance troops from the Twin Cities area.
The wide variety of cultural dances and music ranged from traditional Asian dances to hip-hop styles. Each participating culture had a unique way of expressing themselves.
HereandNow, a theater group, was formed by seven Asian-American artists frustrated by the lack of roles available to them. They have a cast of about 20 members who travel to venues across the country.
A gala was also held Saturday evening at International Market Square in Minneapolis. The gala started with a dinner for the participants. The Philippine Student Association then presented its fifth annual fashion show with the theme, “P2A: Pinoy/Pinay Past to Present Fashion Show.” Students walked the runway with fashions from the 1970s to today.