The Oregon Commission on Asian Affairs (OCAA) pulled its funding from a youth conference being organized by a nonprofit in the state because of the organization’s affiliation with Simon Young, the bass player for Asian dance-rock group The Slants. Young was slated to be the keynote speaker for the Asian American Youth Leadership Conference (AAYLC), but apparently learning leadership skills, gaining career and college guidance, and being instilled with cultural pride isn’t worth the money in Oregon if your band’s got an ironically anti-racist name.
You know what else is ironic? The theme of this year’s conference is “Aspire to Inspire” with the stated objective of inspiring young people to overcome challenges that might stand in the way of their future goals, particularly challenges related to their ethnicity. Well, what a teaching moment this is… or was!
Fearing that other supporters might also misunderstand the in-your-face message The Slants sends to its own community, the AAYLC canceled the band’s appearance and found a new person to deliver the keynote address. “The primary reason for me being chosen to begin with was the relevance and positive impact that The Slants have made in the Asian American community,” Young commented on the band’s MySpace blog. “Now I am being alienated from the very people that I am fighting for.”
He continued, “What I find discouraging is that there is an organization (the OCAA) that exists to protect the rights of Asians…which is now interfering with the rights of an Asian group to make their own decisions. It’s a sad day to live in a place where my rights are being trampled on by people who are offended on my behalf yet who don’t understand my culture to begin with.”
I talked to a few Asian American youth to ask what they think about the AAYLC’s decision to remove The Slants from their lineup. Chime Dolma, 19, said, “I think the AAYLC should not have found a person to deliver the keynote address. I don’t feel that having an ironical, anti-racist band name should create this much of a problem.”
Eighteen-year-old Nadia Jalil agreed, “I think the AAYLC caved under pressure. I mean, if the band has a good message to send, despite their name, then we should be able to hear it. Shouldn’t we look past the name and understand what Simon Young and other Asian Americans have to say? If the theme of the conference is to overcome challenges that might stand in the way of future goals, AAYLC sure isn’t doing a good job sending that message across.”
Do you think the AAYLC made the right decision or did they pass up an opportunity to teach Asian American youth how to stand up for what they believe in?