In a city as big as DC, it’s easy to get pushed around or waylaid without a clear, strong vision of who you are or what you want. Maybe it’s because everyone else is here for a purpose, and ready to do whatever they need to do to reach it. Maybe that’s what politics is. If people can push you around, they will.
I was reminded of this because the Association of Asian American Studies (AAAS) Conference was this past week. Getting something out of an academic conference also requires a clear, strong vision. I look through the schedule and pick out sessions that a) sound interesting/unique; b) are relevant to something I know at least a little about; and c) will be useful for me to know about later. Bonus points if the presenter is someone I already know is good. This strategy is the difference between thinking “For real? Someone is passionate about something this uncharted? I want to get their email and ask them questions about this because I am inspired!” or “For real? Someone wrote a paper on something this obscure? I am so glad I was able to nap through their talk (especially because they read their paper without ever making eye contact with the audience)!”
The highlight of the conference, human connections aside, was definitely the Between Word and Image Symposium put on by the National Portrait Gallery, the Asian American Literary Review, and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. At their best, the writers’ responses made me take another look at the visual pieces. The connections they drew posed questions that I hadn’t even thought about, like Marianne Villanueva framing Hye Yeon Nam’s piece “Walking Drinking Eating Sitting”. Nam’s piece takes everyday actions and makes them odd. Villanueva took normative expectations of Asian American femininity and deconstructed them. Suddenly, Nam’s piece didn’t just say “Look! Isn’t this weird?” Now it said, “You wanted an Asian American woman? You got me. And I’m more real that you can handle. I’m eating cherry tomatoes with a ruler.”
Well, it probably said that the whole time. But I needed some help getting to the interpretation.