Calling all bloggers, twitter and fb users, all internet savvy folk! diaCRITIC Jade Hidle gives us the insider’s scoop and an in-depth view of the BANANA 2 Conference.
On Saturday, February 26th, one of the studios on the CBS lot housed BANANA 2, the second annual conference dedicated to Asian-American blogs and bloggers. For this occasion co-hosted by author Lac Su (I Love Yous Are for White People) and filmmaker Steve Nguyen (Channel APA), the studio was decked out with all of the new media essentials for the citizen journalists in attendance—a blogging station, a live Twitter feed projected onto the wall, and video cameras for live streaming media. From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and well into the night for the after party in the studio where Hitchcok’s Psycho was filmed, the attendees themselves were actively tapping, scrolling, and clicking on smartphones, iPads, and laptops to Tweet, Facebook, and blog about the event.
For those of you who couldn’t make the event, don’t monitor a Twitter account minute by minute, or—smart and loyal as you are—come to diaCRITICS for your news on the happenings in Vietnamese- and Asian-American art and culture, I present to you highlights of the key discussion points, expert tips for readers and writers of blogs, as well as pictures and videos to make visible to you the largely unseen faces behind the words you read—the writers who are fleshing out what it means to be Asian-American.
First of all, what are the major concerns in Asian-American blogging today? Well…
Because there is so much talk about social media’s ability to foster community across space and time (especially after recent revolutionary usage of Facebook in Egypt), each of the panel’s discussions inevitably focused on the multiple challenges and rewards to creating and maintaining a sense of community amongst Asian-American bloggers and their audience(s).
Karen Narasaki of the Asian American Justice Center started off the morning by pointing out the important fact that the community called “Americans,” as represented by mainstream media, remains widely ignorant of, and indifferent to, stories about, by, and for Asian-Americans. Due to this underrepresentation, Asian-American bloggers, or citizen journalists, face the challenge of bridging the gap between Asian and American. As such, they are up against a history of being relegated to the margins—to being seen as only “Asian” without the “American,” as “immigrant,” as “other”—and, in the words of Filippino-American journalist Emil Guillermo of amok.com, confined to a “virtual ghetto.”
Sharing the stage with Guillermo, Suzanne Leung and Emily Nakano Co of Absolutely Fobulous expressed their concerns with being disregarded or branded as immigrants, or being lumped in with Asian-Americans when they in fact identify as Asians (both are from Singapore) in America and, as their site so endearingly calls themselves, “fobs.”
Kai Ma, editor at KoreAm Magazine, likewise expressed similar sentiments about making the necessary distinctions between the terms and identifications of “Asian” and “Asian-American” in all of their variations when she shared that she struggles to target a niche readership of one particular ethnicity while also appealing to a pan-Asian audience.
An important presence at BANANA 2 were the mixed-race bloggers who represent a demographic often altogether overlooked in notions of community amongst Asians and Asian-Americans alike. With a mission to spread awareness of the celebratory use of “hapa” (a Hawaiian term used to identify those of mixed Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry), Erica Johnson runs Hapa Voice, a site that is comprised entirely of audience-generated content. So, if you are hapa, you can have your story published and read by other hapa writers, creating a community among those who often feel they don’t belong anywhere. For all the bloggers out there, hapa or otherwise, who have felt that excluded or unheard, heed the words of Suanne Leung: “you can’t expect there to be a space for you. You just have to be like, ‘Yo, I’m here!’” (Watch out, Hapa Voice, this Vietnamese-Norwegian diaCRITIC is comin’ at ya soon!)
Another biracial blogger who writes about quite a titillating topic—SEX!—is N’jaila Rhee of Blasian Bytch. A formally trained journalist and former exotic dancer, Rhee writes about sex workers, dildos, and her own big beautiful Blasian ass, currently pictured on her site. That’s right! Visit blasianbytch.com now!
While the BANANA-goers certainly reeled in the joy of dildo and sex jokes for which Rhee’s presentation opened the floodgates, Rhee also discussed the serious issues of identity politics and underrepresentation that Asian-Americans, particularly in the sex industry, face. One such concrete issue she addressed is the lack of health care coverage, and the panel entitled “Uncovering the Activist in You: Social Media for Social Change” further addressed how blogs can be used to enact change and justice.
I must confess here that I was so absorbed in this panel’s presentation that I forgot to take a picture of its members or video of their dialogue. However, among discussion of the Vincent Chen murder, other civil liberties violations, and “racebending” in Hollywood films, the panelists’ more resonant points included the following: Frances Kai-Hwa Wang stressed the importance of “sneaking in education” into a blog, as in the way Big Bad Chinese Mama lures in ignorant, foreign bride-seeking audiences by initially seeming to give them what they’re looking for only to turn that racism on its head by giving the audience what the blogger herself deems important. Muslim Reverie’s Jehanzeb Dar, who analyzes Islamophobia in comic books and pop culture, reminded the BANANA 2 audience that such changes to racism are small and occur in (often individual) steps—that we must not get discouraged when revolution does not take place overnight as we dream it would. Lastly, from this important panel organized by Edward Hong, we must take Marissa Lee’s practical point that every blog with the goal of social change must end with a call for social action.
On that note, if you want to more about the practical ins and outs of writing and running a blog that reaches people, check out the following tips from some of the experts putting on clinics at the conference.
So, if you’re interested in starting a blog of your own, what do you need to know to get started?
Take tips from Ted Nguyen, a Little Saigon-based blogger whose site http://www.tednguyenusa.com/ has garnered him opportunities to make money off of writing (gasp!) and to host local food crawls in his hometown. (By the way, if you’re a foodie who is looking for new food blogs to follow, check out Marvin Gapultos’s Burnt Lumpia, as well as Wesley Wong and Evelina Giang’s Two Hungry Pandas.)
In the video below, you can watch the charismatic Nguyen interview the members of the panel on “Covering Niche Communities” about their experiences starting their successful blogs and tips they offer to any one considering starting their own:
Also, here is a quick cheat-sheet of Nguyen’s suggestions for those new to blogging:
- The navigation bar, the bio, and author photo on your site are important to personalizing yourself to your audience. Be personal, but not too personal, Nguyen cautions. When you’re wondering if you’re divulging too much about yourself, think, “What would my grandma do?”
- Know that content is mostly about multimedia—express yourself through photo, video, and audio.
- Learn the language of new media. Expose yourself to hosting sites like Blogger and WordPress. Try marketing your blog on Twitter and Facebook see what it can do for you.
- Know that prime hours for traffic on Facebook are on Thursday and Friday mornings, particularly around 10 a.m.
- Create a “Blogging Alliance” so that other sites share your posts and you share theirs. Remember, it’s a give and take to establish an audience. You must engage with those who take the time to read your thoughts.
- Demand respect!
For my final report on the importance of Asian-American writers demanding respect, I turn to an event that occurred at the end of the last panel, which included a representative from Warner Brothers film. This marketing executive talked about how past and upcoming Warner Brothers films catered to an Asian-American audience, citing Ken Watanabe in Inception and the Thailand setting of The Hangover 2 as proof (I guess we’re somehow supposed to be grateful that comedian Ken Jeong is in the latter film too). While this particular marketing executive is not responsible for these limited and reductive representations of Asians and Asian-Americans in blockbuster films, it was obvious to the BANANA 2 audience that he egregiously conflated Asian with Asian-American in the Watanabe example and, in his mention of the latter film, overlooked the implications of using Thailand as the setting for (what will most likely be) a site for white male characters’ booze-fueled sex romp. To respond to these remarks, the very prejudices and stereotypes that so many Asian-American bloggers write against, none other than Phil Yu—perhaps better known to you as Angry Asian Man–refused to accept the executive’s platitudes and stated, “If it [the movie] is shit, I’m going to say it is.” And, in the spirit of the event, Yu’s comment was met with a crowded room full of applause and, of course, a Tweet projected on the wall that read, “Angry Asian Man just got angry!”
I hope this recap the events at this year’s BANANA conference was as motivational for you as it was for me, either by exposing you to new blogs and writers to follow and/or to start a blog to make your own voice be heard. If you’ve got something to say, there will be people who hear you. And, if you decide to follow Nguyen’s steps to putting your thoughts out into the world, no matter how scary that might seem, I leave you with a few simple words of wisdom from Laotian blogger Jot Voraphaychith: “Don’t be afraid to push the ‘Publish’ button!”
Jade Hidle is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Literature at UC San Diego. She aims to write her dissertation on Vietnamese-American literature, with a focus on how narrative structures map struggles of the body–miscegenation, disfigurement, skin color–and identity.
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