Saturday, May 2, 2009


I haven't posted in two weeks. Because I've been busier than I've ever been at any other point in my life (I think I really mean that, too). But the biggest part of that came to a head yesterday: the Asian Youth Conference.** After all the stress and late nights, working on the weekends, waking up in the middle of the night remembering something to do or somebody to contact - it's over.

My part in the conference was as Program Coordinator***. What that entailed is that I was basically in charge of most of the things in full view during the actual conference (as opposed to the "behind-the-scenes" fundraising, food, t-shirts, things like that). So I developed most of the workshops and recruited and trained the facilitators to run them. I scripted and was responsible for the smooth running of the Opening and Closing programs. I brought in the midday entertainment (a mostly-Asian b-boy "breakdancing" crew). And I did all the scheduling for the day of (including assigning 500 students and their chaperones to workshop rotations, trying to give students their preferences while simultaneously mixing them with other schools but making sure they had their chaperones with them).

Now - I'm not listing all those things to brag about how impressive I am (although I am). But rather, I want to make my responsibilities clear, so you can imagine the level of stress that was on me going in and throughout the day. Because it basically went like this: if anything went wrong on the day and caused the conference to be a negative experience for anybody - it was my fault. A kid didn't like their workshop? My fault because I designed it, or didn't train the facilitators well enough. A kid didn't get the workshops they wanted? My fault because I assigned the rotations. The Opening Program was weak? My fault because I scripted it poorly, or didn't coach up the student emcees well enough, or didn't have the right music or video or PowerPoint queued up. Workshops run out of worksheets? The b-boy performance suck or go wrong? We get off the precise schedule and have workshops start backing up or kids not completing their activities? Co-facilitators not work well together?

You get the picture. As far as I was concerned, I was responsible for 500 Asian-American high school students maximizing their opportunity to be together in Portland (where that just can't ever happen), making sure they got to share a little bit, connect and feel a bit less alone, and to have a positive experience doing it. If that didn't happen? All my fault.

And so I happily report back: it was a success. A complete success. Sure - not everything went perfectly (usually due to technical difficulties, but kids always have something they're not full happy about), but the kids and adults had an overall positive experience, and those that can want to come back.

After all this theorizing in my head about what things could/would look like, it felt amazing to get some chances to stop for a second (most of the day I was running around like a headless chicken, in half-panic mode) and actually, physically see some cool things, like: a whole bunch of Asian kids in a room sharing their experiences, talking about stereotypes, clapping and cheering for each other, and laughing all at the same time; kids running full-steam around a block of classrooms as their new Asian teammates from other schools cheered them on; students sharing their surprise that none of the Asian kids in the room played a classical instrument, liked math or science, or even played tennis; 500 Asian youth crowded up near a stage bobbing their heads to hip-hop beats and screaming and cheering like crazy for other Asian youth doing back-spins and freezes and becoming heroes in the process. We gave out scholarships. Students got to talk to college reps about going to school. They learned about other scholarship and financial aid opportunities. They spoke up.

And I'm so proud to have been a part of all that. To have contributed to it. I get almost weepy thinking about it. In the Portland Metro Area, where it sometimes feels like the only Asian people are the ones working at the handful of Asian restaurants, 500 high school students of Asian backgrounds all spent a day together. Just looking at the packed bleachers full of Asian kids cheering for each other and their accomplishments . . . It was all just something special.****

So all the stress, all the work, the frustrations - most definitely worth it. Months and months of planning and meetings and work for one whirlwind day - worth it.

And, on top of all that, I got to have my own experience of having this little community of Asian adults all working together to plan this thing and make it happen. We all went out to dinner afterwards (got to eat Chinese food as it's supposed to be - in a large group, all sharing various dishes, talking loudly), and I couldn't help but grin as two members of the committee slipped into Thai for a minute, only to have our Chair threaten, "If you keep that up, I'm going to speak in Vietnamese about you for the rest of the dinner" (and he did, for a minute). I talked to a few of them who had spent time in China about my impending trip. When they asked about my language skills, they asked which dialect my mom spoke (knowing that there actually is no such language as just "Chinese").

So let's just say I definitely got my own non-monetary rewards for this work (I'll be the first to admit that nothing is truly altruistic - nothing).

The only negative? Once again, I'm hesitant about leaving for China (a decision I officially made clear to my school, so I will not be teaching there next year). I have so many ideas about next year's conference. I want to be involved. I suddenly have Asian community in Portland. I'm building things. And I'm going to leave. But - again - it's a hard choice. More bad timing for good things, as I don't want to leave this particular aspect of my life here.

The heaviest blow? Last night, the Chair announced his intention to step down (still being part of the Planning Team, but with less responsibilities) and asked me to take his place . . . It's an opportunity that's hard to pass up. One I'm ready for (and it seems like events have been heading towards this).

A lot to think about. But I'm going to let that sit for a while - no immediate hurry. Because - for right now - I just want a couple more days to revel in the positives and the here-and-now. And that is this: I was part of a special opportunity for Asian-American kids in my community, and it was a success.

And that's all I have left to say.

* Note - the image above is not actually from my conference.

** That's not the actual name of the conference, but I don't want folks looking it up and coming here, thinking that this blog is officially affiliated with the conference in any way. It isn't. This is my personal blog. The conference is part of my professional work, and doesn't necessarily reflect any of the opinions expressed on this site.

*** We haven't updated the website, so if you find it and think that the name listed as PC on the site is my real identity, you'd be wrong.

**** I should note here that - when a random slide of Obama went up - the crowd went CRAZY. Say what you will about his policies and the change he has/hasn't enacted - that man's election changed the world for youth of color in this country.


ansel said...

Wow. That sounds amazing. Congratulations.

uglyblackjohn said...

You'll be back teaching next year.
You may not know it yet - but you will.
Sometimes you're already where you think you'd like to be.

Lxy said...

When they asked about my language skills, they asked which dialect my mom spoke (knowing that there actually is no such language as just "Chinese").That's not exactly true. There are different spoken dialects within Chinese, but there is a common written language.

stutefish said...

Congratulations! What a great thing to have done.

...I have to ask, was it Quest Crew that you brought in? I love them.

Lisa J said...

That is wonderful! It sounds great and enriching. Hats off to you. And, I'm not sure if you are familiar with the blog "Field Negro", but he regularly does a sort of cheers and jeers and those who deserve a jeer, are called house negros and they are those who progagate racism and foolishness and generally sucking up to the man, usually they are black but sometimes they are not and the cheers go to field negros, those who like the slaves from the field, do the heavy lifting, do stand up work-often for little or no reward- and they try to uplift the "race" or humanity in general with thoughtfulness and by doing good works(usually blacks on his site again but sometimes others), well even though you are not black, and I don't pretend to speak for brother Field, I would say your participation in and pulling off your young Asian American forum in Portland, is FIELD NEGRO behavior. With, in what my mind, are all of the positive connotations of that. You have touched the lives of those kids in a positive way.

Good luck on your year in China, and I hope we continue to get blogs from you. This is a great site.

CVT said...

@Lxy - Good point. I was talking about spoken language, but I should have mentioned the common written language (especially since that's a huge reason China was able to accomplish so much throughout its history).

@uglyblackjohn - I'm trying to stick to my guns here. There won't be a complete bail-out, but I won't be teaching (in the States) next year (they're hiring for my vacated post as we speak).

@Lisa J - I'm not the biggest fan of the "House Negro" or "Field Negro" terminology (I've never been a big believer in the concept of "reclaiming" language and terms), but I appreciate the sentiment behind it. I'm doing what I can (as frustrating as that can be).