Pushing his bike through the thronging Women's March in NYC, Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC) Executive Director Bob Lee marveled at how nice people were being to him. He had decided to join an Asian American group on 47th street and take pictures. With no poster to bring, he instead pulled out an old T-shirt of the Asian American Arts Alliance, once an offshoot of AAAC, with the words "RESHAPING AMERICAN CULTURE THROUGH ASIAN-AMERICAN ART" emblazoned on the front. An appropriate description of what the AAAC has envisioned as its mission since the 70's- to create an identity different from the mainstream, to grow the cultural presence of Asian-Americans and to explore the hyphen in our hyphenated American identities.
Reflecting, Lee wondered about how this previous mission feels altered in the present day. From a Buddhist view the slogan might read "Reshaping Oneself". From the view of some Asian-American artists today, the sign might simply read "Shaping Culture". In such a way the art is not distinguished by its "Asian-American" nature and seen instead as an equal voice amongst distinct forces, all absorbed into a giant miasmic "culture".
Yet it was through the coining of the hyphen, a resistant stroke that set "Asian-Americans" apart from "Americans", that artists and activists in the 60's and 70's identified themselves and created a political movement. The hyphen gestured towards our difference, a direction for action. How now will Asian ideas and instincts seep into American consciousness while retaining their own integrity?
Perhaps the answer lies within the Women's March. In one of the many Women's March posters, Coretta Scott King's quote is framed by multi-colored versions of the raised woman's fist. "Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul. This Women's March was a march against a seething plague of social ills rising in America, from toxic masculinities to rising fascism, that were legitimized in this year's election. Asian-Americans rose as a politicized body to resist the Vietnam War, fighting instead for a world of empathy and compassion. Nowhere else is this illustrated better than at the Women's March. From the graciousness shown to a cumbersome biker in a packed crowd to the myriad affirmations displayed in the posters, these are the tools of the resistance. This is where Asian instincts and impulses lead. The Asian American Arts Centre has always sought to promote the artists whose work exudes these traits.
"Asian American artists will continue to go in multiple directions," said Lee. "One core direction will assimilate, blossom and flourish as women take the lead."