"The second I stepped into the room at Kundiman, I could feel the energy of the whole group wanting to learn more about not only others, but also about themselves. I've always had a passion for writing but I was interested in exploring new genres of writing and new topics to write about. Kundiman not only taught me about literature and Asian American history, but also gave me the chance to self-reflect and think about my identity and my Asian American background. I was able to be a part of such an accepting and fun community of fellow Asian American writers and I will never forget this experience." ––Lena Rhie
Kundiman gathered students from around the country at Fordham Law School from July 8th–12th for our second annual Youth Leadership Intensive, a week full of generative writing, career advising, and lessons on Asian American literature and history!
Day One began with icebreakers led by Emily Bang, a former Kundiman intern and editorial assistant, where students learned a bit about each other and started on conversations about the experience of growing up Asian American to prepare them for the Kavad Oral History projects they would complete over the course of the week.
Much like our Retreat, students received Patron Writers and read from their work as inspiration for a collaborative free writing on the meaning of home during Opening Circle. Afterwards, they embarked on their first daily Kavad interview session, asking each other about what had brought them to seek a wider Asian American community through Kundiman.
Students finished the day with their first Asian American history lesson with Ryan Lee Wong on the origins of Asian American identity in the activism of the 1960's–80's and then spent the rest of the week delving deeper into Asian diasporas, cross-racial solidarity, and current flashpoints in Asian American activism.
Day Two began with the Asian American literature course "How Else Do I Love Thee: A Queer Love Poetic," led by poet and drag performer Wo Chan, who guided students through spark writings based on the poems of Justin Chin, xtian w, and Mark Aguhar. Visiting Artist Tanaïs, a novelist and creator of the beauty and botanical fragrance brand Hi Wildflower, closed the day with her Scent and Writing Workshop, which taught students the fundamentals of perfumery and invited them to write scent-laden pieces guided in form by the parts of a perfume.
On Day Three, students took a trip to Central Park, where they broke off into small groups to explore the greenery and write in response to Thich Nhat Hahn and Ocean Vuong. The trip was concluded with a spark writing from Ching-in Chen, wherein students described living things in the park and then wrote imagined letters exchanged between them.
Students also met with Guest Speakers Les Szeto, an Executive Director and Senior Counsel in the Legal Department at Morgan Stanley, and Benita Liao, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, who shared their paths to their respective careers and answered questions about finding a job that suits one's desired lifestyle.
Poet and educator Sahar Muradi gave students a survey of Muslim poetry throughout history and across diasporas to begin Day Four, and concluded with a collaborative exercise in which students wrote ghazals continuing Fatimah Asghar's "WWE," reproduced below.
Asian men struggling to find their place as American men,
will they ever be considered American men?
Fathers are from a variety of continents
Fathers can be Asian, European, African, and American men
Though our pasts lay across seas
We are still American men
Asian American women are more than stereotypes
But not in the eyes of American men
In our nation it feels like everything begins
with the opinions and voices of American men
Built their country on the backs of slaves
So fuck white American men
My parents came to America and named me Amanda Cui
A name that reflected a culture of white supremacy powered by American men
Everyone knows the American men
I’ll never trust the American men
Are you afraid of the cold?
Stop colonizing, American men.
American people are
the same as American men.
It’s not that easy
to qualify as American men!
Dreams begin with me and circulate then
But their wings are cut short by American men
Complexity and difference has value, Diya
you will not be like any American men.
To close out Day Four, students wrote pieces exploring the meaning and origins of their names and practiced public speaking with poet and performing artist Franny Choi.
Our last day together began with a trip to the Museum of Art and Design, where students met with Chang Yuchen, an artist making facial masks from repurposed textiles in a project exploring the space between the public and private faces of the body. Students also explored the museum's exhibitions of punk rock graphic designs, Roger Brown's still lives, and computer-generated jewelry, pulling words from the descriptions in each exhibit and writing toward them to form a poem.
All these wonderful activities culminated in a student-led presentation of their Kavad interviews and generative writing along with a collaborative PechaKucha that highlighted students' favorite moments of the Intensive. We are in the process of archiving Kavad interviews here, so stay tuned for those. We've also posted a complete photo album of all the week's events on Facebook––check it out!
All in all, this year's students were exceptionally talented and kind-hearted, and it was a pleasure to learn alongside them as they embodied Kundiman's hallmark generosity and courage. We can't wait to see where they go from here!