Highlanders were drawn into HUB 367 on Tuesday evening by the welcoming scent of warm coffee, raspberry jelly-filled cookies and a fresh platter of fruit. No matter that this event was the Asian American Renaissance — an interactive workshop exploring the barriers against Asian American cultures — students of all races and ethnicities attended to discover the ever-present expectations of different cultures in America. Event host Ryan Takemiya, a community organizer, speaker, writer and event producer, used his voice to empower and inspire Asian American communities through the creative arts.
Takemiya humorously applauded the audience for their bravery in attending the event on a rather chilly evening before approaching the question of who we are as different cultures in America. He delved in by explaining how radical the notion of a cultural renaissance is. A cultural renaissance is both “radical in the idea that culture can somehow push forward our movements and arts in culture” as well as in the sense that we “as Asian Americans and as children of immigrant parents find it very rare that we’re even encouraged to follow the arts,” Takemiya elaborated.
The host revealed that this sense of identity became relevant and important to him during college. “If we don’t know ourselves, then how could we possibly establish or demand our own place in this country?” he realized. Asian Americans and people of other cultures put in a great amount of effort to assimilate into American culture. It’s an extremely common concept among immigrant communities, as conformity and assimilation are oftentimes a form of survival. Takemiya explained how this then becomes a problem among these communities through his favorite quote: “The reward for conformity is that everybody likes you but yourself.” Conformity is thus a source of many emotional situations and challenges that people face as a result of the rejection they encounter when trying to assimilate.
“What if I told you that by being creative with your community in a socially just way, you can actually save the world,” Takemiya proposed as a solution to overcome the obstacles that Asian American identities confront. He paralleled the idea of culture with “The Matrix,” as the protagonist in the film is able to control the matrix once he is actually able to perceive it. “By understanding how culture works and how cultural transformation happens, we can actually take control of it and create the matrix as (we) see fit for the world,” he passionately remarked.
Before guiding his audience through understanding the matrix, he had the audience shout out terms and phrases we commonly associate with the word “culture.” Terms like language, religion, attire, art and history were enthusiastically hollered as Takemiya scribbled them down on the board. The cultural anthropological definition, he revealed, is “the way of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to the next.” Essentially, culture encompasses every word we had identified with the term and more.
The next buzzword was renaissance. When questioned what we defined as renaissance, rebirth immediately came to the minds of many. Although this word is most often related to the European and Harlem Renaissance, it has more so become a term to identify the cultural rebirth of any collective. Takemiya pondered, “Now that we are free to be who we are, who are we? Where do we fit in?”
To answer this, Takemiya created an analogy between a home and culture to help his audience gain a stronger understanding of what culture is. A house is composed of the many things within it. The culture of a group can be thought of in the same way. For example, though these traits do not apply to all white Americans, they may be represented through rodeos and country music. All houses — African-American, Latino, etc. — are in different stages of renovation as they are constantly adding and removing traits. For Asian Americans, “the foundation has been laid, but the house has not been built.”
With this knowledge, we have the ability to understand the identity within us to overcome this cultural barrier. Asian Americans have the tools to build a house over the established foundation and implement their own values. This also means that we have the capability to avoid incorporating beliefs such as racism and misogyny into the rooms of our house. Takemiya exhibited how we can all take “cultures that had been handed down for generations and (meld) it with the current events of time (to create) something completely new with the remnants of our past cultures.”