Nearly 1,200 students from more than 90 universities across the country descended upon Lerner Hall this weekend to discuss what it means to be Asian-American.
The opening ceremony of the East Coast Asian American Student Union conference featured prominent speakers from the Asian-American community as well as performances from student groups. Popular YouTube comedian David So and musicians Jason Chen and Clara Chung also performed.
Norman Mineta, political activist and former secretary of transportation, urged students to pay attention to the United States' policy debate about immigration reform.
Most of the discussion surrounding immigration reform was focused on immigrants from Mexico, he said. Asian-Americans, he added, were often left out of the dialogue.
“Immigration debate is happening in this country, but those debates seem to forget that we’re here,” he said.
“Wherever you’re from,” he said, “the bottom line is that this current debate will have profound effects for the Asian American community both today and in the future. A neutral observer simply does not exist.”
MSNBC news anchor Richard Lui emphasized the need for a leader in the Asian-American community comparable to Reverend Al Sharpton’s role in the African-American community.
Two years ago, when ESPN published an article calling Jeremy Lin a derogatory term for Asian Americans, Lui said he wanted to invite a guest on his show for a segment on the story. The problem, he said, was finding the right guest.
“Despite my involvement in the community,” he said, “I couldn’t think of that lightning rod—that guest that stood out as a symbol of the community’s heart and soul.”
“I wondered to myself, ‘Where is the Asian Al Sharpton?’”
Calvin Sun, CC ’08 and a member of the national board of directors of ECAASU, discussed the need for struggle in the fight for equality.
“Everything that we have in this country,” he said, “everything that we take for granted was born out of someone’s struggle. It’s tough simply being Asian-American, and to be taken seriously as a group of people who are tired of being so fucking polite.”
Even though it’s tough, he said, it’s worthwhile because it brings about the change necessary.
“Let’s embrace tough and let’s embrace struggle,” Sun said.
This year’s ECAASU conference theme was “Within, Across, Beyond."
Derrick Fu, CC ’13 and one of the directors of the conference, said that ECAASU was a unique opportunity for Asian American students to come together.
“The most powerful thing about ECAASU is that we can bring people together,” he said. “We’ve been the oldest and largest Asian-American student conference for the past 36 years.”
David Su, a private at the U.S. Military Academy, said that it was interesting to come to Columbia and be surrounded by so many Asian-American students because West Point does not have a large population of Asian Americans.
“I really like what Norman Mineta said about taking action and how you think of actions now and how they affect the community in the future,” he said.
Tina Kit, SEAS ’13 and co-director of the conference, said that the goal of the conference was to allow Asian-American students to discuss Asian-American identity.
“We want ECAASU to offer a forum for everyone to share their experiences as Asian-American students. It’s a big step toward our goal of looking at Asian Americans not as stereotypes but as individuals,” she said.
Melanie Gao, CC ’14 and co-director of the conference, said that the ultimate goal of the conference was "to build coalitions and to empower."
“We want our attendees to leave with a great sense of self and greater sense of what they can do for the community," she said.
Gao added, “We want them to leave with more questions than they have answers.”