PanAsia Solidarity Coalition is a cultural advocacy group at UChicago that promotes Asian and Asian-American experiences in the increasingly intersectional and transnational United States. The group focuses on intersectional advocacy, bringing in the arts, economics, law, and various other disciplines to inquire about and confront the challenges of marginalized communities.
Throughout the month of May, PanAsia is bringing its concerns out of the discussion room and into the public arena with its 2019 Spring Festival, Voices. By inviting Asian and Asian-American students and professional artists for performances and panels, the group hopes to create a platform for marginalized voices. According to the festival description, they aim to “illuminate struggles won and yet to be won, to showcase the power and compassion audible in contemporary Asian life.” Fittingly, the festival opened last Wednesday with an intimate open mic of student performers, as well as a screening of the Fire Escape film, Itamae.
Before the event began, one of the board members welcomed the audience and posed a question to them: “What was the first story you were ever told?” Momentarily taken aback by how difficult it was to answer the question, the audience grew silent, but soon broke the ice with giggles, each member taking a trip down memory lane.
The first performance was a viola and ukulele cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The violist lightly joked, “I fit into too many Asian stereotypes for loving music and my viola, but I guess I’m just embracing it now!” This was the performers’ attitude throughout the entire open mic—proudly sharing their identity and experiences.
There was a substantial repertoire of poetry throughout the open mic. Students shared their original works, tackling subjects ranging from their hometowns to degrading experiences with the TSA. They also recited works by established Asian poets, such as Ocean Vuong and Emily Yoon. After the programmed performances, audience members were encouraged to step up and perform. Excited to be part of the PanAsia community, I shared a short and sweet anecdote about the first story I remember being told.
Fire Escape’s Itamae proved to be a mellow, inquisitive ending to the event. The student-directed film explored the role of race and physical environment in misleadingly signaling one’s background in America. It left the audience with questions to be answered in the upcoming events of the festival.
The UChicago campus is always booming with loud voices and opinions, and yet without coalitions like PanAsia, some voices will continue to be silenced and buried. Continuing throughout the month of May, PanAsia’s festival is a rare opportunity for students to be immersed in Asian voices and relish in their powerful ring.