May 11, 2011

(API* Heritage 2011) Post #5:Association for Asian American Studies

I am trying really hard not to make this the month of cynicism about the community. There's enough dark in the world; no one wants more grim for the sake of darkness. But beyond the day to day work where theory and practice occasionally work together but often challenge one another to fist fights, the rest of Professional Asian America seldom strikes the right note for me anymore.

I suppose a humble person wouldn't feel like they know more than a lot of the jokers out there claiming to be the voice of, the historian of, the advocate for these communities, but I'm not quite that humble man. Of course, academics and scholars get a very special kind of ire from the activisty crowd (unless they are one and the same, as some marxist, revolutionary phDs have been known to live out their fantasies by managing and governing nonprofit organizations that they claim espouse those values).

By finding fault in scholars and their very specific areas of interest and specialization, activists in the "APA" space often deflect similar criticism that could fairly be levied against them: privilege, disconnect, ego, distraction from the "real" community. commodification of community struggle for personal profit/fame/career/eccentricity, missing the forest for the trees, whatever.

The Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) is having its 2011 Conference on Asian American Studies. The line-up of papers and speakers is quite extensive, but of course, in perusing the titles of some of the work and topics, you almost feel like you are at the gateway to a thousand of Calvino's invisible cities. Each more remarkable and unbelievable than the last. I don't even understand some of the titles, let alone what might be discussed there. But does that make what these folks have committed their life work to do wrong? I can't really speak to that. It was not my path and I have come across some really obtuse "community scholars" but in the same breath could name some phenomenal scholar-activists.

Maybe scholars face a healthy dose of envy to go along with all the other emotions hurled at them. It isn't easy living on nonprofit salaries. Even if some of those lowly staffers don't want to admit that they have other ways to guarantee the standard of living they were expecting before going into nonprofit land.

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