Banana wasn’t just a gathering of Asian American Pacific Islander bloggers – it was a statement of solidarity, camaraderie and community

Gil & Erin with our new "daughters," Emily & Suzanne of AbsolutelyFobulous.com @ Banana

Erin and I just spent a great weekend in LA, and all day yesterday was the main event: We attended BANANA, the first-ever gathering of Asian American Pacific Islander bloggers from across the country, and from Canada. It was kind of an ad-hoc event, organized in just two months and a little ragged on the execution side, but it was also exhilarating in many ways, and a pure pleasure to meet so many great people who make up the growing chorus of AAPI voices on the Internet.

It felt at times like much more than just a conference or a get-together. It felt like the foundation of something that has a future, as if this event was ground zero where the spark was lit for a fire that could burn strong and bright for a long time.

The event was organized by San Diego-based Lac Su, author of “I Love Yous Are for White People” (shown in the photo above) and LA-based filmmaker Steve Nguyen (third photo, below). Ironically, neither are bloggers, but as regular visitors of many AAPI blogs, they recognized that we’ve been building up momentum, and more and more Asian Americans (and Canadians!) are expressing ourselves online. They thought if we could all meet and share our passion and knowledge and learn more about each other and our areas of expertise, that we could harness our combined energy and make all our blogs better.

I applaud their vision and the effort the two of them made, with help from friends at the University of Southern California, where BANANA was held, to pull off the event in such a short time. I bet they didn’t expect that they’d have more than 20 panelists on stage, representing all different views and perspectives on the AAPI experience, along with 30 or so audience members — some who were also bloggers — who wanted to learn and ask questions and share their stories.

Erin and I met and were especially impressed by two young women who weren’t panelists but came to the event anyway, because they started a blog four months ago, brilliantly called “Absolutely Fobulous.” Suzanne Leung works for a progressive law firm in San Francisco, Axiom; Emily Nakano Co has a year to go at Northwestern’s graduate journalism program in Chicago. For those of you who don’t come from recent immigrant families, “FOB” stands for “Fresh Off the Boat,” and though it’s historically a derogatory word, I find young AAPIs are comfortable using it ironically, but with affection, about their families.

The two have been best friends since middle school (!) in Singapore, and started blogging as a way to bridge the cultural gap between their parents’ immigrant generation and their Asian American friends and community. They asked questions of the panelists on how to maintain quality in multi-blogger sites, and how to fine-tune their niche. Erin and I think they’re great and love their enthusiasm, and they’re so darned cute that we’d like to unofficially adopt them as our blogging daughters.

The “FOB” foibles they cover is also covered by sites such as My Mom Is a FOB and My Dad Is a FOB, but the two are OK with that, and think there’s plenty of room for other voices in the AAPI blogosphere.

That’s exactly the point of BANANA: To celebrate the diversity of voices that represent different aspects of the Asian diaspora population in North America (and eventually, the world?), and also to share best practices that each of us have worked out for our sites.

Mostly, it was a way to build a sense of solidarity, camaraderie and community among our disparate efforts. For me, it was a real pleasure to meet with with several bloggers from 8Asians and a group from Hyphen Magazine. It was great to meet Oiyan Poon and Curtis Chin from APA for Progress; Sylvie Kim of The Antisocial Ladder; LXY from Asian American Movement Blog, Byron Wong, formerly of Fighting 44s and now blogging at Big WOWO, Taz of Sepia Mutiny (who spoke eloquently about the general lack of South Asian presence in the AAPI consciousness), Julie from Kimchi Mamas, Nelson Wong of AARising (a true pioneer within our community), NEAAT, Bicoastal Bitchin, ChannelAPA and lots more. And it was the first time I’d met the legendary Phil Yu, who was given a nice Achievement Award for his Angry Asian Man at the end of the event.

I especially loved meeting Minority Militant and Lady Militant in person, because I respect his blog so much for its passion, honesty and transparency. But nervousness got the better of him and he was not in much shape by the time of the panel, though he made it to the reception afterwards at a Little Tokyo fusion joint, and it was good to see him.

The discussion between the too-many panelists was sometimes somewhat forced (questions about women’s perspectives in blogging, militant perspective in blogging — we all write about politics to some extent, right? — and whether childhood traumas were our motivations to blog — huh?).

But other times the conversation was lively and thought-provoking. The more political writers bemoaned pop culture bloggers for being shallow too often. Christine Miguel, who traveled from Toronto to represent her Asian pop music podcast site Pop88, got on the others about not including Asian Canadians in our worldview. And I agreed with several women bloggers who pointed out the levels of sexism and male-domination in even the AAPI blogsphere (though the panel, it should be noted, was very well-represented by women).

One suggestion: For future gatherings, don’t have one long panel discussion with 20+ bloggers. Break it up into a full day of smaller panels focusing on separate topics like the role of radicalism, women’s perspectives in AAPI blogs, pop culture, etc. Or even technical, how-to topics such as “Can we generate any revenue doing this stuff?,” “Whic is better: Blogger, Typepad or WordPress?” (WordPress, of course!), or “How can we apply Search Engine Optimization techniques to maximize traffic to our brilliant posts?”

Also, there was too much down time after we first met and mingled, while video cameras and audio was set up. We ended up “networking” with each other for hours, which was unduly long. But then again, it was nice to get to know each other better and meet new people.

All in all, it was a great, spirited start to what I hope will be a continuing annual event that brings together bloggers who are Asian-whatever, and who write about Asian-whatever. It’s just plain exciting as hell to see us gather in one place and find so many shared values and passion.

Oh — and for those curious about the name of the event, “banana” was used in the past as a pejorative for someone who’s yellow on the outside but white on the inside…. but these days, younger AAPIs seem to prefer using the word “twinkie” for that. Steve Nguyen explained in his opening statements that the word “banana” was chosen for this event because it is yellow on the outside but actually NOT white on the inside. He thinks a banana is just a mellower yellow inside. So he thinks the banana is a great image for Asians in general. He believes that as a symbol and that it’s the most accurate description for second- and third- generation Asian Americans. I’m not sure everyone there agreed, and there may be some interest in changing the name in the future.

Personally, I’m OK with it because it’s catchy, and easy to type!

Thanks, Lac and Steve. We’ll see you again next year!

BANANA coverage roundup (I’ll post as I read ’em):

NEAATO posted a BANANA roundup just in time for Christmas. Fun read, catures the event quite well!

Well-written recap by Dariane Nabor, who was in the audience and who took great notes

From Julie of Kimchi Mamas, one of the BANANA panelists

A pair of posts from Bicoastal Bitchin’: One from AZN and one from Cbruhs.

Minority Militant’s overview of his LA weekend

Hyphen Magazine

Big WOWO

Absolutely Fobulous

JonYang.org

Nelson from AARisings, a true pioneer of our group

And, in case you’re curious about all the back-and-forth about Minority Militant’s behavior at the event, here’s Militant’s apology to all.

Here are some images from BANANA — when video is available from Steve Nguyen, I’ll include it here or link to it.

Erin @ BananaLac Su @ Banana

Lac at the podium @ Banana

Co-organizer Steve Nguyen at the podium @ Banana

A bunch of bloggers @ Banana

AbsolutelyFobulous.com @ Banana

Bloggers @ Banana

Bloggers @ Banana

Bloggers @ Banana

Bloggers @ Banana

Group shot of all the panelists @ Banana

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35 Responses to Banana wasn’t just a gathering of Asian American Pacific Islander bloggers – it was a statement of solidarity, camaraderie and community

  1. Ashley Luu says:

    Shux, I definitely missed out. Hope to go next time!

  2. Pingback: 8Asians.com » Gil Asakawa’s Overview of the BANANA Blogger Roundtable

  3. No Banana says:

    Did you guys really think that was good? Cuz I thought it was pretty embarrassing. I came a long way to see this, and found it disappointing. Not that some of the bloggers didn’t have smart things to say. But they didn’t get to say much. Moderator’s questions were godawful (“you write about politics. did something happen in your childhood to motivate you?”), and actually, could someone please moderate?? Instead of just letting whatever happen… happen? Like your man who was drunk on stage, belching? No one did anything about that! And now you’re going to call it “nervousness”? You guys plan to get some credibility, or just leave it to the audience to tell this event like it was?

  4. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi No Banana, thanks for posting.

    Yup, there were definitely some glitches with this first event. I’m looking to future gatherings and seeing a lot of potential, and so chose to focus on the positive aspects of the panel.

    I agree the question about childhood psychological issues being a motivator for blogging was a stretch. We moved on from that one pretty quickly. And yes, I do hope you and other audience members “tell this event like it was” — my version isn’t the only one, definitely!

    I bet other bloggers who were on the panel will report on BANANA too, and I look forward to their take. Thanks again. You should be blogging; I hope you already are!

  5. Eric says:

    man..the reason why the term “Banana” was used is so lame and so white..I thought maybe it was used in a more tongue in cheek manner..as in APIA bloggers are “Bananas” because expressing yourself freely and speaking your mind is not typical…and you had to be “white on the inside” to do this.

  6. Nels says:

    To No Banana’s points, certainly the event, I felt, wasn’t perfect but it was a first time event for both Lac and Steve. I could see that future events of this type could only get smoother and more focused. It is a herculean effort just to get that many people together for a panel and organize such an event.

    As a panelist, I have to admit feeling a little out of place because AArisings isn’t really a “blog” per se but I enjoyed talking to individuals (uncomfortable in larger group settings and networking, but that’s just me).

    As a former event producer, it is easy to point out some of the mistakes that could have been avoided (not serving alcohol to panelists being a major one, having a time keeper, fewer panelists or breaking up panelists by topic, etc.) Those are lessons learned usually after the fact, unfortunately.

    As for the moderator’s leading question, I think much of the context was probably missing that would have made more sense as to where that was coming from. Having read the moderator’s book “I Love Yous Are For White People” I, as a panelist, understood where the question was coming from but it would feel like an odd question outside of that context. Luckily we moved on pretty quickly from that question though.

    Overall though, it was a start and we all have to start somewhere. The road to success is often filled with bumps and potholes along the way.

  7. Glenn says:

    Sounds like it was a good first event! Your overview was very balanced. Hope you have a great B-day tomorrow and Erin’s was good yesterday! BTW–What’s the meaning behind the sign that everyone’s holding up? Was it posted on a prop that was used at the event?

    G

  8. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks, bro! The sign was on some equipment, adn Erin thought it would be funny to have everyone hold it up.

  9. oiyan says:

    @Gil: thanks for the write up, though I still think it was ridiculous that Minority Militant/Militant Minority (whatever!) was TRASHED! Plus… honestly, I don’t think he understands what “militant” means (nor does Eric Liu).

    The fact that so many of the men were dying to talk about inter-racial dating as the most critical issue facing our community is pathetic, reactionary, and narrow in vision.

    Though I agree it was a great 1st effort by Lac and Steve, I still also have to agree with “No Banana” that the event was a little unwieldy in the lack of organization, and didn’t really allow for enough open dialogue with audience… a bit contrived at times as noted.

    I was one who openly criticized the event’s name “Banana” for both the male-centric use of the term (sorry, I have no “banana” to whip out of my pants!) and the assumption that some how Asian Americans are “off-white”. I certainly don’t benefit from whiteness or white privilege.

    The “after party” was a big sausage fest, and I think it was perhaps related to the male-centered nature of the entire day.

    Anyway… the suggestions on future events is good.

  10. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi Oiyan, points all well-taken! I’m looking to the future….

  11. Moye says:

    Gil! It was so nice to finally meet you. 🙂

  12. bigWOWO says:

    Oiyan:

    I’m sorry, but I really can’t stand by and watch a good man have his name tarnished. Minority Militant is a great blogger and a naval veteran, and I think he deserves some respect for that. To tell an American military veteran that he doesn’t know what “militant” means is extremely disrespectful, not to mention ignorant. Besides, if you take the time to read his blog, you probably wouldn’t be judging him based on just one day of knowing him.

    Fine, criticize the fact that he drank too much. But don’t criticize his character. If anything, I think you ought to be thanking him for the sacrifices he made for your freedoms. I think you owe him an apology.

    “The fact that so many of the men were dying to talk about inter-racial dating as the most critical issue facing our community is pathetic, reactionary, and narrow in vision.”

    I wouldn’t normally respond to this, but since I’m already writing, it depends on how you define “our.” I think it’s crazy that there are some in the community looking to silence these men. It’s almost like you are saying, “We want dialogue, but only if you men say what we want you to say and when we want you to say it.” Who are you to say that it’s not a critical issue facing our community? Especially when you refuse to listen to the community?

    Anyway, that’s all I want to say on the issue. I could say more, but I think certain people have already made up their minds on this issue. As for me, if someone wants to speak about what is important to them–including those who disagree with me–I’m willing to listen.

    Gil, thanks for the great write-up. Sorry for speaking out, but I had to say something.

  13. Jon says:

    Thanks for the link Gil, and wish I coulda chatted with you and Erin actually. And thanks for the recap on the event from your perspective!

  14. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hey, it’s all about the conversation.

  15. Pingback: Ore wa Raisu Chyeisa desu | big WOWO

  16. Alpha Asian says:

    I miss one blogger gathering, and I end up missing all the drama! If there is another blogger gathering, then let’s have it up here in the Bay Area. A lot of us are here anyway.

    Thanks for the report on the gathering, Gil! I almost feel like I was there.

  17. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks James…better plan on attending next year, wherever it’s held!

  18. oiyan says:

    @bigwowo:
    I do read his blog, and I find nothing militant about what he writes, as I define militant not necessarily as it is connected to the neo-imperialist mission of the u.s. war machine, but through the lens of social movements and struggle. for example, the black panthers were militant. BAMN is militant, even though i don’t agree with a lot of what they do. there is a tradition of militancy that is directly counter to the hegemonic violence perpetuated by the u.s. government.

    BUT, just because i don’t think he’s militant, does not mean i don’t think what he writes about is valid. what his blog, your blog, and all the other blogs do contribute voices. that’s fine, but as “public figures” we can all be critiqued, can we not?

    anyway… nerd diatribe aside, your points are well taken. i do not mean to shut down dialogue. my comments were very off the cuff and not well thought through.

    i do hope you don’t mean to shut down dialogue either, although it seems as though you feel my critique of the day is disrespectful because he’s a veteran. so… does that mean it’s disrespectful to criticize john mccain and his policy stances or that he uses the word “gook” liberally because he too is a “war hero”? does this also mean that i am not allowed to criticize the wars overseas waged by the gov’t using my tax dollars? i will afford mm the same amount of respect as i give to all others, regardless of his veteran status.

  19. Ramey Ko says:

    One request for next year if possible – can we not have it coincide with NAPABA? Makes it hard for us lawyer/bloggers. Thanks!

  20. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks, Oiyan, I do believe deeply that all of our work is about dialogue — sparking it, nurturing it and promoting it. And. welcoming it. I appreciate all your voices on the comments here!

  21. Gil Asakawa says:

    I’m sure that was entirely coincidental, Ramey. Lac and Steve pulled this thing together in two months from dreaming it up to welcoming us at the USC campus. But definitely, it would be great to have attorneys who blog attending the next confab!

    AAJA has its national convention in LA next August, and I’ve already volunteered to moderate a panel on AAPI bloggers. Maybe the next BANANA can follow immediately after… or around that time. OTOH, maybe this event can move around from city to city.

  22. Frank Chow says:

    It sounds like the event was a success and a great starting point for the Asian American community to finds it voice. Wish I could have been there to partake, perhaps next time. The Minority Militant has an apology on his blog for all those that were upset with him. And thanks for all you do on this blog!

    Chow

  23. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi Frank, thanks for the kind words. Yeah, I saw Militant’s post this morning, and added a link to it along with other blogs’ writeups of the event.

  24. Thanks for the write-up, Gil!

    I’m sad I missed this but I couldn’t be in two places at once!

  25. Gil Asakawa says:

    LOL, no worries, Joz — if I had to choose between Taiwan and BANANA, I ould’ve been across the Pacific too!

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  27. Gil Asakawa says:

    You’ll have to attend next year! It was pretty inspiring, and promises to just get better and bigger. I for one would love to see AAPI artists, performers, slam poets and videographers involved. Thanks for linking!

  28. Pingback: Peeling the Banana « Asian American Movement Blog

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  30. Lac says:

    Hey Gil,

    That toffee you gave me was da Bomb! Thanks again.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about BANANA–all of them, and for traveling so far to be in attendance for this special event. Send my love to Erin.

    Best,

    -Lac

  31. Gil Asakawa says:

    Lac, YOU are da bomb!

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  33. Pingback: My BANANA Event Recap | Dariane Nabor

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