23 November 2009

The Bloggers League

This Saturday was Bananas, the first ever Asian American bloggers gathering and round table discussion. The whole thing was organized and co-hosted by Lac Su, author of "I Love Yous Are For White People" (aka, the greatest title ever) and Steve Nguyen, a Los Angeles based film and video producer. I've had the event on my calendar for awhile but almost didn't make it. Waking up early enough to drive two hours to USC by three pm is not my strong suit. But I'm glad I made the conference because it was definitely well worth the time and incredibly interesting. I had high hopes of doing a running diary on the event but (a) I got there late (b) there were no power outlets and (c) at least four video cameras were taping the proceedings for posterity. So instead I spent my time taking notes, jotting down some questions, cruising the featured bloggers' sites, and trying to find their Twitters to get insta-commentary.

A lot of bloggers came out but unfortunately I missed most of their names and introductions so bear with me when I mess it all up. Here's a post panel picture of everyone. I was familiar with a lot of the sites but by no means a steady reader or follower of all of them. I was psyched to recognize Ernie (Little, Yellow, Different), who is blog royalty and well, someone I've been following for years. Immediately upon seeing him I wondered about the possibility of asking him to start another blog reality game -- heck, combine two things and have a blog reality game with Asian American bloggers. If someone knows and can influence Ernie, get him to do one asap, thanks.

When I walked in, the discussion was focused on the gender divide in the Asian American blogging world. Someone commented and said that this event had felt very male dominated so far. As I took my sweet speed limit time up the freeway, I'd actually been wondering what the male to female panelist ratio would be. As it turned out, the split was nearly fifty fifty and it was interesting because for this particular group of panelists, the women seemed to have a lot more to say.

For example, I really liked the things that Christine (pop88), Taz (Sepia Mutiny), Oiyan (APAs for Progress), Sylvie (Antisocial Ladder), Erin (Hyphen Magazine), and Julie (Kimchi Mamas) pointed out. Many Asian cultures traditionally value silent and weak willed women and these bloggers proved that they weren't going to play into that by being consistently eloquent, thoughtful, super educated, and willing to share their perspectives across the board.

To be fair to the guys, they definitely had some really well formed opinions and thoughts to share too but some of the topics -- blog stalkers, sexism -- didn't provide them with the opportunity to chime in much. Overall, I did wonder why the guys weren't speaking up as often though. I mean, I really liked a lot of what Byron (big WOWO) and the guy from Bicoastal Bitchin had to say and wanted to hear more from them.

I was actually hoping to get some perspective on the whole scene from the bloggers who were doing this pre-blogging. People like Nelson (AA Rising) and Gil (Nikkei View). They've been online since the early days of the Internet and I really wanted to hear what they had to say about the roles that these "new" bloggers had, the changes they might have witnessed or experienced, and what niches they saw being filled by this generation of blog writers.

A lot of the discussion actually wasn't focused on anything blogger-centric. Outside of some bits dealing with censoring comments and tips on overcoming writer's block, most of the topics were similar to things you'd find at the APA conferences you attended in college -- I mean, if you did, I went to school in the Midwest, we had a lot of them. I thought there would be more focus on blogging and since the group was diverse and clearly had different viewpoints about many things, I was hoping there would be some more insight into specifics as far as content covered, what friends/family/significant others thought about them becoming public figures, maybe some of their blogging inspirations, and if they felt like a part of the broader blogging community versus just an Asian American one. Of course, I could probably find answers to these questions by going through their blogs, so um, I'll just go ahead and do that.

One thing they did talk about was that the next forward step was to reach an audience of non-Asian Americans. Angry Asian Man revealed that a large part of his fan base isn't Asian at all and gave some insight into how and why. A follow up question, related to the blogging audience issue, was if it was easier to "preach to the choir." Actually, why am I recapping this thing? The video of the event will be up at some point I'm sure. So go watch it when it's ready.

One last thing though, speaking of diversity, Taz (Sepia Mutiny) asked Lac to bring up her question about whether or not Sepia Mutiny was invited along to be the token brown folk. Which was an amazing point. Out of all the panelists, the group definitely skewed heavily toward the "traditional" Asians. Chinese, Korean, Filipino, etc. Next year, will there be more South Asian bloggers represented, some Persians bloggers, some Indian bloggers? I'd hope that the guideline for "Asian American blogger" would be expanded. I'm not exactly sure how Hyphen delineates but maybe their definition would be a good rule of thumb? And part of expanding that diversity will come as more bloggers appear. As Lac mentioned, he wasn't able to find any Vietnamese bloggers for example.

I realized listening to everyone talk was that these bloggers (and the ones who couldn't be in attendance) are clearly the growing voice of Asian Americans nowadays. People know Angry Asian Man, they know Disgrasian, they know 8asians. When I interned at A Magazine post-college, they were close to shutting down and another influential magazine, Yolk, shuttered soon afterwards too. Since then, these bloggers have helped by stepping into the breach and they do it out of an honest love for the community, for activism and awareness, and to simply express themselves.

Attending Bananas was exciting because it echoed what it was like when blogging first started picking up steam in the early 2000s. The Asian American blogging world is really new and it'll only continue to proliferate, become more influential, and many of the voices that weren't represented here will be here in the near future. So for that alone, this was a landmark event and Lac and Steve really did a great job putting it together and pulling it off in a short time. At the end of the event, there was definitely a spirit of unity and hope for more community based togetherness and action.

The night certainly stirred my mind and opened me up to a slew of new sites. My Reader is packed. So yeah, even more time to spend on the computer. Fantastic.

Recaps of Banana from AA Rising and Nikkei View. Oh and from Absolutely Fobulous, who were also in attendance. Actually, I feel like a lot of the people in the crowd were Asian American bloggers, but unfortunately I didn't catch all their names. Obviously I need to learn to take better notes.

Update: Additional recaps from big WOWO, Hyphen, Julie from Kimchi Mamas, Minority Militant (plus apology), and AzN and CBruhs of Bicoastal Bitchin. Plus Channel APA, Asian American Movement, and Dariane of Racebending

Strange but true:
  • The guy from Militant Minority started off seated at the tables, added a few (mildly cogent) comments here and there, left to refill his drink, came back, moved off the stage to sit in the front row, moved back again to sit next to his friend, and then left the event entirely about an hour into it. Aside from being rude I couldn't help feeling like it was Puck-ish. If this were a reality show, he would definitely be the polarizing figure. The thing is, after checking out his blog, it's actually compelling and well written. So I guess his behavior can only be explained by the alcohol? Perhaps he was demonstrating that indeed, Asians can't hold their liquor.
  • One audience member asked/stated a meandering non-question about Asian women being the new blondes or something and his convoluted point got him a hasty "next question!" and a hearty hand clap from the crowd when he exited. I think he was driving at something about if the bloggers wanted their children to eventually marry non-Asian for a better future? I dunno, something offensive anyway. Afterwards I overheard him going on about the same thing and wondered if he could really be serious about his viewpoint. I kind of wanted to ask him how he arrived at some of his conclusions about the hierarchy of Asian-Americanness (he wasn't Asian). Wikipedia? Ouija board?