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