Transnational identity panel explores multiculturalism, immigrant experience

| Contributing Reporter

Thursday night’s Pan-Asia Week discussion on transnational identity drew together various campus Asian groups to start a dialogue on the meaningful experiences of living with a variety of Asian identities.

The panel consisted of junior Abhinav Chhabrr, senior Lisa Zhang, graduate student Katie Gong, professor Linling Gao-Miles and Martha Turner, director of international student and scholar advising.

As approximately one-fourth of students report that they identify as Asian, the organizers of Pan-Asia Week wanted to put on a panel to allow those students and others with similar backgrounds to talk about their lives.

“[We hosted] Pan-Asia Week basically because there has been a lack of communication. Each Asian group does its own thing, and we tried to bring the Asian groups together tighter on campus,” Vice President of the Chinese Student Association and sophomore Will Chang said.

To begin the night, several panelists spoke of their experiences with transnationalism. Zhang detailed the culture shocks that occurred during her move from China to the U.S. in order to attend Washington University while Gong spoke about her life in San Francisco, a city with a large multi-generational Asian population.

Gao-Miles discussed her background researching the lives of Asians living in other nations, especially Australia, as well as her own experience with a transnational identity living in various countries.

Chhabra ended the panel by talking about his childhood, in which he moved from country to country, and the ways he saw himself trying to change or retain his Indian national identity.

When the panel discussion ended, the floor opened for a short time so audience members could talk amongst themselves about the panel and their own personal experiences. Sophomore Weng-Ching Cheung, who helped organize the event, was happy with the fact that the break was built into the panel’s itinerary.

“I thought a lot of people actually participated when we had the seven-minute break to just talk about our views. I heard a lot of really good conversations going on. Actually, my friends and I got into a pretty heated argument about something…It was a very good discussion,” she said.

After the brief pause in discussion, the event turned back to the panelists, who began answering questions from the audience. The event turned into an organized discussion as the panelists responded to some inquiries and directed other questions back to the audience members. Several key points touched on were the idea of changing names going from one culture to another, the concept of Asian people as a model minority and the Asian-American community’s duty to other minorities, especially in context of the recent events in Ferguson.

Junior Alan Zhao was especially interested in the conversation about changing or modifying names as someone goes from one culture to the second.

“I really enjoyed the part where we talked about the Anglo-Saxon names, the differences that they made in [the speaker’s lives] and the reasons they chose to have more Anglo-Saxon names. I was really surprised when both Lisa [Zhang] and Abhi [Abhinav] decided to choose more Anglo-Saxon names not for the convenience of themselves but for the convenience of others. I always thought that people chose Anglo-Saxon names just to fit in and not stand out as much,” he said.

Students were generally excited about the event and kept talking long after it had finished.

Senior Daniel Sun, a representative of the Asian Pacific-Islander American Initiative and an organizer of the panel, was thrilled with how the event progressed.

“I think the panel went really well…because it turned into a dialogue,” Sun said. “I think the fact that it’s 40 minutes after the event and people are still talking, even though I’m cleaning up, is just great. I think there’s an insane amount of energy; I think people really want to keep talking.”

Zhao particularly wanted to make sure that everyone present continued the conversation even after the night was over.

“I would probably encourage people to take this discussion outside of this room. I feel like sometimes they come to events and leave and nothing ever happens after that. I think that for real change to happen, we need to discuss these things in communities outside of our own for people to realize what kind of issues we face. I know it’s a very uncomfortable thing to do—it’s not something that we’re used to, but that’s integral to the next steps of change,” Zhao said.

The panelists were also excited about the talk and said they learned a lot from not only the other panelists but from the audience members as well. Gao-Miles appreciated the fact that she could partake in the discussion.

“As a researcher, as a scholar…[I] try to conceptualize, to theorize certain social movements, cultural phenomena, but this is the space and the place, and at this moment I feel connected with real society. I can give my input from my scholarly training, and I can hear the voices of the students also inspire me to think and to respond to their intellectual perspectives,” she said.

Chhabra said he understood the difference in people’s experiences, both for the other panelists as well as the audience members, as a result of the event and discussion.

“At the end of the day, any student here could have been up at the panel, and it would have been just as interesting. It’s not like our stories are any more interesting, so I think having those conversations showed me that everyone has these really complex story; there’s no one experience of Asian-Americans or Asians or anyone at Wash. U.,” he said. “I think it was really cool to see that because a lot of people might look similar and associate together, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the same experience.”

Other events that were part of Pan-Asia week included a Speaker Series address from keynote speaker Michelle Kwan on Monday, a “Taste of Asia” cuisine tasting on Tuesday, a documentary screening on Wednesday and a performance showcase on Friday.

Editor’s note: This article has been amended to correct the years of several students on the panel and the name and year of Daniel Sun. Student Life regrets the errors.

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