This Friday and Saturday SEMO with host the 5th Asians in the Americas symposium. This symposium also coincides with Hispanic Heritage Month. In fact, Ann Kaneko and Dr. Rudy Guevarra Jr. are both listed as speakers for Hispanic Heritage Month. That confuses many people. You're either Asian or Hispanic, right? You can't be both. And how does American fit in this?
Well, you can be BOTH in America and that is why this symposium was started here at SEMO back in 2012, to discuss why. We have erroneously been trained to think of identity as singular. You get one box to pick and that's all!
Identity is so much more than our feeble brains can understand. Think of your own backgrounds. Where were your grandparents from? Where were your parents from? How do you identify yourself?
You see, let's start with the question "What is America?" We have been trained to see America as the United States. America, is in fact, this entire landmass from Alaska to Patagonia. People from Colombia are American, just as are people from Canada and Guatemala. In many Spanish speaking countries they learn that America is one continent, separated into two parts by he Panama Canal. While we from the US have usurped the term American, many outside the US will take issue with this because they see themselves as American because they live on the American continent.
Ok, so now you're thinking that this is just odd. It may be odd to you, but not to them. The OAS is the Organization of American States which includes EVERYONE! America gets its name from Amerigo Vespucci so indeed everything here in this mass is America.
Asian-Hispanic or Asian-Latinos also come from all areas of this landmass. Waves of migration starting back after Columbus' trip brought people from all over Asia, some willingly but many as "coolie" or contract labor. Countless South Asians, Chinese and Japanese were brought as cheap labor post-abolition of slavery in conditions that mimicked those of the slave trade. As such there are many Americans who have ancestors coming from Europe, Africa and Asia. As my beloved colleague Dr. Bengtson presented during the first symposium, there were Asians in the Americas a REALLY long time ago with the great migration across the Bering Strait.
As you can see, the one box rule won't work for them. And they shouldn't be expected to pick. They can be who they are and develop their identity on THEIR terms, not our understanding or assumptions of who they are.
That's why the presentations this Friday at 3:00 PM in the UC Ballroom are so important. Ann Kaneko is going to talk about the idea of exclusion in the terms of Japanese internment during WWII. She exposes the pain and confusion that this event caused Japanese Americans by presenting it to us through the eyes of a young teenage boy. Her film A Flicker in Eternity tells his story through his words. The presentation that follows at 5:00 PM by Dr. Rudy Guevarra explores the complexity of identity by examining Mexipino identity.
Both of the presentations will make us rethink how we understand the concept of identity and will leave us understanding why you can be an Afro Asian Latino American. Hopefully, it will keep us from making assumptions about the people that we encounter.