Recent Pan-Asian Conference Inspires Dialogue, Solidarity, and Pride
By: Julian Brenman ‘20, Editor-In-Chief 5-23-18
From 12:30 to 4:30 on May 19th, over forty students and faculty members–some Asian and some not, some Friends’ Centralites and others from other schools–gathered in the Fannie Cox Center for the first ever Friends’ Central Annual student-led Pan-Asian conference. At the conference, which was skillfully spearheaded by Angela Zhang ‘18 and Xinping Xie ‘19, intellectual conversations about issues regarding Asian identity, common concerns in the Asian community, and Asian culture occurred. “It was an incredibly powerful bringing together, uniting event. I was honored to be a part of it, and I learned a lot,” declares Betsy Katzmann, a Spanish teacher, advisor, co-advisor to the GSoA, and co-advisor to the Jewish Affinity Group, who attended the conference.
Xinping explains how the idea of hosting such a conference came about: “I went to Q.Y.L.C. [Quaker Youth Leadership Conference] last year, and attended the Asian affinity group there. While there weren’t so many people, what I realized by attending that group was how diverse the Asian community itself is. Then I thought, ‘why don’t we have a Pan-Asian conference?’ As time went on, I really wanted this to work. I’d never been to a diversity conference before that had addressed relevant Asian issues. Most times, [our issues were] just brushed off, and aren’t really a major thing, yet they’re definitely worth talking about.” Determined to execute her vision, Xinping turned to her fellow members of the Friends’ Central Asian Students Association, and received overwhelming support. Following that, a core team was developed, plans were finalized, and the event was held.
According to Xinping, the existence of such a conference is necessary because she feels Asians need a space in which they can discuss the most prevalent issues facing them as a community. Xinping elaborates that a major issue the Asian community faces is generalizations. She observes that many Americans tend to classify all Asian people in one category, and fail to recognize and acknowledge the diversity within the wider Asian community. She also conveys that all too often, Asians are viewed as the “model minority,” which can leave other minority groups, such as those in the Black and Latino communities, looking and feeling “less-than.” She expresses her desire to make the American public aware that not only are all Asians not extremely successful, but that the Latino and Black communities are not “less than” the Asian community. At the core of these goals, Xinping wants to deconstruct stereotypes and work for a world in which every person is judged by his or her character and qualities, and not race or ethnicity.
When asked how Xinping thinks the conference has begun to resolve these overarching societal issues, she responds as follows: “I feel that [the mere fact that] we had this conference, and that our names are out there, is a step in the right direction. We’re rising as a community and expanding Asian activism.” She later alludes to some progress being made in the area, which includes the incorporation of Asian workshops at other independent schools.
In addition to being a group leader, Xinping has her own personal story about her experience as an Asian. She shares, “Coming from China, Asian doesn’t really mean anything to me [because everybody in China is Asian]. I never really thought about what it means to be Asian until I came to this country. From the media, people get these ideas that Asian people are so uptight, so studious, so smart, [etc.]. When I first came to America, even though no one was telling me [these things] to my face, I [felt as if I was being perceived] as the stereotypical ‘quiet Asian girl.’ [As a result of this,] for a really long time, I felt like I didn’t belong here and it really affected me, until I finally claimed [my identities] back. [I was proud to be] Asian, to be Chinese, to be an international student. I don’t want to speak for every Asian in this school because I feel that’s not my place. Yet, I want to be the driving force to help others be who they are without having to conform to stereotypes.”
While the goal of the conference was to address Asian-specific issues, Xinping and her team encouraged non-Asian students to attend as well, and want everybody to be in the know about issues related to the Asian community. She expounds, “We welcome people of all races to participate in this work because it’s beneficial no matter what. Asians are an important part of America’s history, and everybody should be aware of that.”
Xinping worked hard to bring the conference to life, yet she makes sure to credit those who were part of the team: “I want to thank Angela Zhang ‘18, Mingyu Zhou ‘19, Ben Nie ‘20, Peter Zhang ‘19, Jay Zhao ‘18, Edward Wang ‘19, Zeeanne Choi ‘19, Julia Nierenberg ‘19, Khoi Nguyen ‘19, Camilla Liu ‘19 Dr. Sonia Chin, Ms. K., Ms. Katie Oh, Ms. Saroj Gupta, Dr. Fariha Kahn, Dwight Dunston ‘06, and Noah Condiff ‘19.
As far as her plans for the future, Xinping reveals, “We want to make it an annual thing to try to pass on this legacy. I know we’re usually ignored as a minority, but I want to break through that.”