Seeking Asian Pacific American Superheroes…at a Conference?

2012 ITASA Midwest Conference speakers at University of Michigan: L-R: Kevin Lien, New Media Artist:, Evan Huang, Co-owner:, Samuel Wang, Founder:, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, Writer/Activist:, Lisa Lee, Founder:, HoChie Tsai, Founder: Photo Credit Eric Kao


by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, contributor

Purdue University recently had some race-related troubles in the form of a racist anti-Asian Twitter account(s) that denigrated and ridiculed Asian and Asian American students there. The Asian American community was offended. Others thought it was funny. The university was slow to respond.

As the Asian Pacific American media began talking about it nationally, I began to fantasize about a more effective solution. I knew that two very cool Asian American activists happened to be headed to Purdue for various Asian Pacific American Heritage Month activities. I conjured up the image of the two of them dressed up in sky blue superhero costumes with fluttering capes and bright yellow masks and gloves, parachuting into the center of Purdue to take care of business.

Ka-pow! Sock! Bam!

Sometimes, in the face of depressing news item after depressing news item, I long for a superhero to set things right as cleanly and simply as they do in the comic books.

So here we are at the height of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month—which is technically in May, but is often celebrated in April on college campuses because students are out of school by May—and it has been conference after talent show after panel discussion after film festival after art exhibit and more. It is always a busy time, but this year has been particularly invigorating.

I recently spoke at the International Taiwanese American Student Association (ITASA) Midwest Conference. I used to think of conferences as a top-down sort of experience. Speakers speak, students learn. However, this time, I spent a lot of time with the other speakers, each one cooler, with more swagger, than the next. In the course of casual conversation and serious brainstorming (and many inside jokes #qiuhaoying), we reexamined our own projects, we learned from each other’s different perspectives and skills, and we came up with all sorts of fun multifaceted collaborations to pursue. We became friends, colleagues, allies, now connected in real life as well as virtual life.

Maybe the answer is to launch our own teams of superheroes.

Last week, a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and discussed in The Atlantic concluded that African American women confront racists directly, and Asian American women feed them bad-tasting jelly beans. What? Because it is their culture. Huh? From The Atlantic:

“CONCLUSION: Our racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds shape how we react to racism. The researchers write, ‘Our findings are consistent with black women’s cultural heritage, which celebrates the past accomplishments of other black confronters of discrimination, as well as Asian women’s heritage, which advises finding expedient resolutions in the name of peaceful relations.'”

In the resulting Asian Pacific American social media discussion of this problematic study (amid jokes about going out to the store to buy more bad-tasting jelly beans and snarky comments about whether the bunny in the photo should be yellow to better reinforce stereotypes), an idea for an Asian Pacific American girl empowerment and leadership workshop was born.

I had had the idea to do these workshops years earlier, but I did not have the courage to do it by myself. Now that I suddenly have a team of allies, courage comes more easily.

We can be our own superheroes.

For me, many of these connections started at the Asian Pacific American bloggers’ conference formerly known as Banana 1 and 2, which brought together Asian Pacific American/Canadian bloggers from across the country to actually meet and talk and connect in the real world. Gil Asakawa writes about the evolution of the Banana conference into its latest incarnation, the new and much expanded V3con (Vision. Visibility. Voice.), the Asian American Digital Media Conference. I am so grateful to the leadership of Joz Wang, the new president of the Asian American Journalists Association Los Angeles Chapter, for making this happen. I had been so isolated in the Midwest, and now everything has changed.

As nimbly as many of us move through the virtual world, there is still so much to be said for sitting across from another person in real life in real time and being able to see and hear and touch them directly, otherwise so much is lost in translation.

Now watch out!


Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is a contributor for New America Media’s, and She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her Web site at, her blog at, and she can be reached at


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