Saturday, April 17th, marked the culmination of months of extensive planning for the 4th Annual New York Asian American Student Conference (NYCAASC). In a nutshell, it is a full-day completely free, NYC student-organized event dedicated to raising awareness of Asian/Pacific/American (APA) issues, primarily to students, but it's open to anyone in the general public who is interested. The day revolves around three "tracks" of workshops, with some truly inspiring speakers, and includes FREE breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, and concerts at night. There are some icebreakers and a newly revamped Quizbowl to get the conversation rolling among the attendees too. So, basically it's free food, entertainment, and lots of learning. What's to lose with something that has no strings attached?
My role in NYCAASC was a workshop coordinator, which means I selected topics, reached out to potential speakers, and tried to keep my G-mail inbox from imploding. It was my pleasure to help facilitate a really informative panel about Entrepreneurship: Making our OWN Opportunities, co-sponsored by the Asian-American Entrepreneurs Network (http://www.aen-nyc.com), and moderated by Ramon Gil. The panel that I primarily worked on, since I had more personal knowledge and experience, was about Food in Motion:Asian Americans Changing the Culinary Scene.
How do Asian Americans affect America's ever-fluctuating culinary scene? We are no longer constrained to close-quartered, run-down, stone-walled Chinatown spaces, but instead are branching out into new areas, new methods of distribution, and new integrations of food and culture. Even the idea of a traditional recipe has been taken with a grain of salt, challenged, and pushed to shape what the American public understands as “Asian food." As our modes of innovation and representation change, so does the American palate, and thus, Asian cuisine in America as we know it.
Speakers: Joseph Tien (Mantao Chinese Sandwiches), Thomas Yang (NYC Cravings truck), Emery Huang (Baohaus), Jerome Chang (Dessert Truck Works), Christina Seid (Chinatown Ice Cream Factory)
Moderated by: Melissa Zhang
The panel was dynamic and covered a breadth of topics, from price point and premiums to modes of distribution and space, community support or backlash, authenticity versus innovation, and media representation of Asian food. You can actually find a great video clip of the panel, captured by the folks at Baohaus here:
NYU Food Panel from Hoodman Clothing on Vimeo.
All the speakers gave really insightful responses, and I wish we had more than 70 minutes for the workshop. The crowd had filled up all the chairs and were even sitting on the ground! For this being my first time moderating, I was happily surprised by the turnout of people who were interested in learning more about Asian Americans in the food industry.
There was some minor gripe about this being a Chinese American-heavy panel, or there not being samples of food (what free dinner afterwards?), but the final line is that you can't cover all the bases. We do what we can to get the ball rolling, and hope that the result will ignite future discussions and changes. This is, after all, Change in Motion, especially for Food in Motion. I encourage everyone to go out and visit these business owners' places, and put our money where our mouths are to support the community and honestly, just flat out good food.
I want to extend a big "THANK YOU" to everyone who saw me through this process. The end conclusion was worth all the missed brunches due to 5-hour meetings every Sunday for the past half year of planning. So here's where I get all mushy and sentimental, but I do mean every word.
To the speakers, if we haven't said it enough, I want to pen it in digital ink how much we appreciate you setting aside the time to speak at the conference. I hope that this experience and the follow-up comments will help motivate you to keep up the great work that you're doing.
To the NYCAASC board, this was one of the most rewarding and impactful things I've ever done. I am so impressed by everyone in the planning committee for their dedication and hard work, and I'm already looking forward to joining other alumni in next year's 5th NYCAASC.
To friends and new faces alike who showed your support, whether by helping spread the word or coming to attend, it means a lot to me. You guys kept me from turning into a ball of nerves, and the kind words and follow up comments have really made me smile. Let's go eat a celebration dinner!
Most of all, it was FUN. Tiring, but fun. We talked about whales, nuts, and of course, ideas that the creative energy from all of the ideas flowing around sparked. I'm grateful for the opportunity to make my various interest intersect, and to bring some people along for what was hopefully, a fun ride.
You can find out more information about next year's NYCAASC by keeping an eye on www.nycaasc.com and following www.twitter.com/nycaasc. Photos from the event can be found on my Flickr by clicking [here].