Wednesday, August 02, 2017

2017 Southeast Asian American Studies Conference a success!

Recently I had the honor of serving as one of the featured poets at the 5th Southeast Asian American Studies Conference at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell on July 27-29th. You can read the selection of poems I performed here. These included "The Last War Poem," from Bamboo Among the Oaks, "On A Stairway in Luang Prabang," from Tanon Sai Jai and the 2012 London Summer Games, and "What Is the Southeast Asian American Poem of Tomorrow," from DEMONSTRA, which one the 2014 Book of the Year Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association.

Overall, I hope these poems served as a fitting wrap-up for an intense conference of ideas, memories and opportunities.

I'll have an expanded write-up on the conference at Little Laos on the Prairie soon but for a fast recap, we were joined by hundreds from across the country from all sectors of the community. Scholars, students, elders and youth, artists and community builders from the many different cultures that comprise the Southeast Asian American community today, including Laotians, Hmong, Vietnamese, Khmer, Filipino, Burmese, Bhutanese and many others. You can read a great write-up by Katherine Webster here.

Lowell is home to the second largest Khmer community in the United States. There were many vibrant example of what we might hope other Southeast Asian American communities might yet establish for ourselves in the decades ahead. This year's planning committee included Dr. Ivy K. Ho, Dr. Sue J. Kim, and Dr. Phitsamay S. Uy. The theme this year was "Community Engagement, Research and Policy in Action,"

The opening session clearly established the urgency with which our scholars and community members must collaborate going forward. The Southeast Asian Resource Action Center's Katrina Dizon Mariategue discussed the current priorities of the organization to address challenges in immigration, health, and education that affected all of our communities. Channapha Khamvongsa, the executive director of Legacies of War gave an excellent overview of what we'd achieved together to address the problem of unexploded ordnance leftover in Laos and Southeast Asia over four decades since the end of the wars.  Dr. Khanh T. Dinh gave a presentation on "Coming Together For Southeast Asian American Youth."

Lao American-led workshops and panelists included Little Laos on the Prairie founder Chanida Phaengdara Potter, Saengmany Ratsabout of the University of Minnesota's Immigration History Research Center, Dr. Steve Arounsack of CSU Stanislaus, Rita Phetmixay, Catzie Vilayphonh,  and TeAda Productions' Ova Saopeng, Leilani Chan and Lidet Viravong.

 I was particularly happy to be able to demonstrate the meaning and impact of Southeast Asian American speculative art as part of our post-war reconstruction.

At the heart of my talk was the issue that  many Southeast Asian American communities came into the US as refugees during the rise of science fiction films and literature such as Blade Runner, Alien Nation, Aliens and Star Wars, while also presented with problematic works such as Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon or The Joy Luck Club.

I examined the journeys of acclaimed Southeast Asian American artists such as Jenna Le, Bao Phi, Saymoukda Vongsay, Krysada Panusith Phounsiri, Kulap Vilaysack, Sydney Viengluang, Mattie Do, Burlee Vang, Khaty Xiong, Sayon Syprasoueth, the Cambodian Space Project, and others during the conversation. I wanted our community to consider these efforts to engage in community building and social justice through creative works informed by science fiction, fantasy, and horror to subvert dominant narratives and perceptions of SEAsian American identities, and to address sensitive internal community topics domestically and abroad.

From an artistic perspective, it was clear the traditional dance and music of the Cambodian community was being kept alive and well by the award-winning Angkor Dance Troupe and NEA Heritage Fellow Yary Livan, who is one of the last of his people preserving a unique form of Cambodian ceramics.

This year was also an impressive debut of the Cambodian American Literary Arts Association, a new network of talented Khmer writers such as Peuo Tatyana Tuy, author of Khmer Girl; Bunkong Tuon, author of Gruel; and Sokunthary Svay, author of the forthcoming Apsara in New York. Playwrights and performance artists from Flying Orb Productions and Vichet Chum gave detailed discussions on their journeys as artists that were well worth attending.

The next conference will be held in 2020 at CSU East Bay in Oakland, California. I'd start making plans now to attend. You can see more of my pictures from the conference at Flickr.

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