guest post by beau sia: the apia spoken word summit

Aloha! I'm on vacation, taking a much-needed break from blogging for a bit. But it's all good, because I've enlisted the help of some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here's Beau Sia on what the APIA Spoken Word Summit means to him.

since 2001, poets and spoken word artists of asian descent have been gathering every two years, to participate in the apia spoken word summit. filled with workshops, panels, and performances, "summit" (as it has come to be known) is five days of building community, inspiring community, and the sharing of stories and experiences. for many, the summit is where they are not marginalized and feel supported to share, with acceptance, the depths of their identity and challenges living in this nation as a person of asian descent.

this is not an indictment of the greater community we all share as human beings in the united states, but rather, a celebration of a self often not reflected in the textbooks, media, and mainstream culture of this country.

like many americans of asian descent, the participants at summit belong to greater communities than those which share their ethnic background. in some of these communities, they are too often made representatives of a continent they may have no direct knowledge of. they are asked to explain ethnic identities they may have no awareness of. throughout their lives, they have answered the questions, "where are you really from?" too many times. each has been told to "go back where they came from," as if moving to oklahoma would change the overall reality non-asians find themselves in today. on occasion, each has had to defend themselves, verbally and/or physically, against assumption based on another's deeds, racism as misguided outlet for one's frustrations, and the mocking of a language the recipient of said mocking may not even know.

at summit, the shared experiences of these participants gives each a solidarity that may not be found at home, an opportunity to learn better ways to inform others of their ignorance, and strength to continue developing the people they are born to be, even in the face of all the daily, unconscious rejections of that possibility. because of this, the summit's participants are able to delve deeper into their history, their understanding of culture, and the nuances of their identities. without having to always explain an immigration history few in the united states actually know of themselves, summit participants can go further than they might otherwise in what it means for them to be asian in this country, what work they can do to improve their home communities, and how to use our common language, english, to write a stronger narrative for those yet to begin articulating their voice.

the participants call themselves the "summit family," not because they are of asian descent, or because they share a passion for spoken word and poetry. I believe we call ourselves this because over the course of five days, in the midst of heartbreaking work and heartbreaking work to be done once we return home, there are so many necessary hugs, so many open, smiling faces to who we are, and so much deep listening to each others' personal struggles and challenges.

it certainly helps when meals have that reverence rarely found in our capitalist rush. it's further augmented by late nights of laughter, living it up (if ya know what I mean), and dancing. I cannot explain what it's like to be able to dance without unconscious expectation of "how asian people dance," floating in the air, but it's thrilling. this year, summit had its first karaoke night. not because we're asian, but because karaoke is an awesome means to connect along a common melody.

once back home, the seeds planted during summit begin to grow in different ways among the participants. what was nurtured and cared for at summit, is stronger. the poets and spoken word artists, most of whom are also becoming community leaders and activists for social change, have a renewed vigor to raise awareness where they live and be more involved in helping underserved communities through their work. for two years, many will not see each other again, but thankfully there is the internet. during this time, the only thing that is certain is that over five days, many go home changed for the better, for life.

as for myself, I've only been to three out of six summits. I always kick myself for not having been to more. looking back on the first one in seattle, to the one in minneapolis this summer, I've grown so much as a human being, as a citizen of the world, through the examples and kindness of other participants at the summit. I was 24 (was I 24?) in seattle, when I really began to embrace fully that I didn't have to be against my ethnic background to be an individual. in boston, I learned that how I helped and supported others could give me more than any flaunting of my "genius," could. this summer, in minneapolis, I was filled with so much love from the courage of others, that I'm still processing it all.

I rarely have an opportunity to write about what has been instrumental to my growth and why. thank you for listening. I look forward to more of your voice as well. if not soon, then at the very latest, the next summit in 2013, in washington, dc.

beau sia is a poet. he is currently working on something that is worth no money but is invaluable.

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