Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | V3con is the evolution of the Banana Asian American bloggers’ conference: Visibility. Vision. Voice.
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V3con is the evolution of the Banana Asian American bloggers’ conference: Visibility. Vision. Voice.

Banana 2

The first Banana conference of Asian American bloggers back in November 2009 — almost an eternity in Internet years — was a revelation to me. Although I was familiar with some AAPI blogs, I didn’t feel like I was a part of a community of people like me, toiling away on our computers to pass on information and express our opinions on issues that matter to Asian Americans.

It was cool to meet some people face-to-face that I’d only I connected with online, and some bloggers who I admired, and make new friends.

Erin and I were invited to be panelists at Banana 1. It was a small gathering – in fact, organizer Lac Su didn’t want to call it a conference, he used the term “gathering” – held on the campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Su, the author of “I Love Yous Are for White People,” and co-founder Steve Nguyen (a filmmaker of came up with the idea to showcase the diversity of Asian American perspectives online.

Erin knew Lac from her emotional intelligence training — when he’s not promoting AAPI bloggers, Su is a psychologist, the founder and vice president of marketing for TalentSmart, a global think tank and management consulting firm based in San Diego. But I only knew him from his excellent book, a memoir of his upbringing in a refugee family that fled Vietnam for the U.S.

The gathering was planned quickly, but 20 bloggers showed up to be panelists, representing the well-known (Angry Asian Man, 8Asians) to the lesser-known but notable (Kimchi Mamas, Big WOWO). Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man was given an achievement award for his blog, which is a must-read for anyone interested in Asian America.

Banana 1 was a little raggedy, but real. It was an ad-hoc affair that attracted about 50 audience members, many of them also bloggers, and there was a lot of interaction between panelists and audience members. There was only one extended conversation that took much of the afternoon, with panelists fielding questions from Su that ranged from the provocative (women’s perspective in blogging) to confusing (if childhood traumas motivated us). The political bloggers criticized the pop culture bloggers for being shallow, and the lone Canadian on the panel criticized the event’s U.S.-centric worldview.

In the end, it was an inspirational afternoon of thoughtful conversation, and everyone left feeling like we were a part of something bigger than just ourselves and our blogs. It was a validation of our voice.

I wrote after attending Banana 1 that it felt like the start of something that would continue and grow.

It took a little over a year to organize, but Banana 2 took the inspirational spirit of the first conference and turned it into a terrific event for a couple-hundred people.

Thanks in large part to the logistical, operational and sponsorship support of IW Group, the LA-based marketing, advertising and public relations agency that helped produce the conference, B2 was an all-day conference instead of one afternoon panel. Erin knew Bill Imada, the CEO of the IW Group, and we had been panelists at an Asian community event that the agency organized. After B1, we pitched Banana to IW Group and IW Group to Lac.

Banana 2 was held on Feb. 26, 2011 at the CBS lot in Studio City. The day-long conference featured seven panels with spirited discussions and breakout sessions including a bloggers’ showcase where attendees from across the U.S., Canada and Peru shared information about their blogs and got to know each other. Nelson Wong, the founder of AARisings, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award (here’s Nelson’s recap of Banana 2). The day ended with a party in a nearby CBS soundstage.

The sessions were live-streamed, and a Twitter feed of tweets about the conference was projected on the wall the entire time, giving both attendees and presenters more ways to interact with the event.

The experience was so enhanced and professional, and so well-attended that it felt like the conference had already become an established annual event.

Here’s a video that captures the excitement and scope of B2, produced by IW Group:

People have asked the Banana organizers including Lac Su, Joz Wang and me, since B2 for details about B3. This year, Joz, who is co-editor of the 8Asians blog as well as president of the LA chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, has re-created the conference and we gave it a new name: V3 (Vision. Visibility. Voice.), the Asian American Digital Media Conference

With Joz’ leadership, AAJA-LA has taken on V3con as the presenting organization, and IW Group is returning to help produce the conference. We’re also widening its horizons to include not just blogging but the gamut of digital media — social media, online journalism and video.

As someone who straddles the two worlds of digital media and traditional news, I’m excited to have AAJA-LA’s stewardship of V3con, and the new, enhanced dialogue the organization’s involvement brings to the conference. I’m looking forward to lively discussions about issues of journalism in the digital age, bringing traditional reporters and editors together with a new generation of bloggers and other digerati.

V3con kicks off on Friday Aug. 24 with an Opening Awards Reception hosted by the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. The all-new and bigger and better-than-ever all-day event will be held August 25 at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown LA’s Little Tokyo district.

Look for more details on the website as panels are set and presenters confirmed. Speaking of which, if you think you’d make a great panelist, submit an application and we’ll take a look.

The planning meeting conference calls have been full of exciting ideas, and we have some great sessions in the works. Please join us on August 24-25 for V3con and meetup with Asian America online, offline!

Here are some videos of panels from the B2 Ustream broadcast:

Social Media for Social Change

Covering Niche Communities

Banana-ness and Coconut-ness

Building Community Alliances

Blogging and Pop Culture