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BASIC 2003

Ramesh Kumar and Nirasha Jaganath

On the 20th of September 2003 Asian students from 12 Universities gathered together at Harvard University to hold the Boston Asian Students Intercollegiate Conference (BASIC). Being the first conference of its kind they were faced with the challenge of providing Asians with a forum to address a spectrum of issues. The aim was to give Asians the unapologetic right to not only explore, but also understand their cultural roots.

The conference, which was entirely organized by students, comprised of noteworthy speakers, panel discussions, workshops and entertainment. The panel discussion topics were chosen with utmost care. The topics included - The Double Standards of being an Asian American Journalist, Domestic Violence in Our Communities, Has Tomorrow Finally Come for Asian Americans, Affirmative Action for Asian Americans, Exploring the Secrets of Asian Beauty, Silent Sexualities, What Asian Americans are Doing for Music Today, and The Asian Scene: Breaking Down the Attitude. All the panels featured most articulate and outspoken people.

The conference began with the Gund Kwok dance, performed by the only Asian women’s lion dance troupe in the USA. The agility and determination of women performing this martial art dance, which was previously reserved for men, was inspiring.

Vijay Prashad, Associate Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, who was up next, did not disappoint to entertain us further. This author of eight books had two of his books (“Karma of Brown Folks,” and “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting”) selected as books of the year by Village Voice. He had brought along his latest offering “Keeping up With the Dow Joneses”, which was snapped up by many a fan.

He spoke from his heart about the education system in the country and how the Asians are being pitted against other minorities. The audience, who were deeply engaged, connected easily with the speaker and appreciated the courage of the topic.

The panel on “Domestic Violence in Our Communities” examined how the Asian American immigrants justify conventional causes for domestic abuse as families try to balance between Asian cultures and Western standards. The panel highlighted some of the causes of domestic violence among the Asian Americans. Traditional culture, language barriers, legal issues, and silence on private matters were highlighted as factors of Domestic Violence in Asians. There are initiatives to help the victims in rehabilitation, immigration, education and financial support. However, the panel admitted that there is no initiative to proactively educate Asian men.

“Asian Men In The Media” panel was easily the most interesting, thought provoking and most entertaining panel discussion. Panelist included Actor and Director Roger Fan, who debuted in the movie “Rush Hour.” Roger’s candid discussion about his 2002 Sundance hit film “The Quest For Length”, which addressed issues on the male mind, was quite hilarious. The discussions ranged from “Why Bend it like Beckham had a limited release in USA” to “How can Asian Men be viewed as sexy?”

The discussions highlighted the stereotype Asian American character in the media like Chinese pizza delivery guy or Kung-Fu guy no. 39 and how Bruce Willis beats them up. Roger opened up to the captured audience and shared his earlier experiences of being typecast in the early days of acting. He was offered un-masculine roles, which amazingly always spoke poor English, even though he was USA born and bred.

Dr. Ann Marie Leshkowich, who shared her personal experiences from Vietnam, facilitated the workshop “Culture for Sale”. She talked about Orientalism and questioned how companies like Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle and Urban Outfitters are using Asian designs, and the appropriateness of it. The discussions highlighted how one can responsibly portray Asian cultures in a sensitive and respectful way, and still have hip designs. The question also arose as to who was really making the profit.

During the break there were several organizations like Saheli, Asian Task Force, Big Brother-Big Sister, ASPIRE who shared information about building Asian communities. It was during this time we caught up with author Vijay Prashad. Expecting him to be surrounded by a “celebrity aura” it was a pleasant surprise to find him down-to-earth. He related his various experiences with Indians from many places including India, USA and South Africa. He also shared with us that his bravery in addressing “unspeakable” topics sometimes attracted threats.

The event closed with the “Bhangra Explosion” workshop, performed by Northeastern University. The audience was then invited to participate in this popular dance style.

The only disappointment to an otherwise well executed event, was the meager South Asian representation at the conference. Whether this was attributed to the lack of publicizing this event to the South Asian crowd or the reluctance of many South Asians to identify themselves as Asians, is unknown. It is hoped that the next conference will be able to entice more South Asians so that common issues can be addressed and also make their presence felt.

Check out http://www.bostonbasic.org for more information.

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Vijay Prashad, Author

Roger Fan, Actor

The Saheli team at the Networking Fair

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