Girl Power Leading the Way for Taiwanese American Collegiate Conferences!

Each year, the Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association (ITASA) hosts three regional conferences throughout the country bringing together hundreds of Taiwanese Americans for cultural, educational, and identity-focused programming and community-networking. The ITASA East Coast conference recently took place at MIT, and now the ITASA Midwest conference at UT Austin and the West Coast conference at UCSD are quickly approaching. At the helm this year is a group of amazing women leaders who serve as directors for the conference teams. Read on as I take a moment to find out more about Hanna Huang from UT Austin, Erica Ling and Jeanette Low from UCSD and what they’ve been up to behind-the-scenes!

Ho Chie: The ITASA conference that you’re organizing is coming up! How’s the planning process been going?

Erica: CRAZY, to say the least! There are so many ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns to planning a conference and I never imagined it to be so intense. But it’s definitely been the best experience I’ve had in coordinating such a large event and working with so many people. Everything right now is coming together so quickly that I actually still can’t believe the conference is two weeks away!

Hanna: I agree! It’s been crazy! We have a smaller conference team at UT Austin, but we’re close-knit. The planning process has for the most part been going well, but we have had our share of troubles, especially as a first-time host for an ITASA conference. However, it has definitely been a fulfilling process that we have enjoyed.

Jeanette: I’ve been working as a co-director with Erica, and yes, these past few months have been crazy but it will be so rewarding to see all the smiling faces on the first weekend of April. We are so grateful for the support of the Taiwanese American community.

Ho Chie: How did you get involved with these leadership roles that you’re in?

Jeanette: I got involved with our school’s Taiwanese American Students Association (TASA) back in freshman year and loved being around people just like me. I was really interested in PR stuff so I eventually became the Public Relations Chair for our TASA sophomore year. I still couldn’t get enough of TASA and served as President my junior year.

Hanna: My first step was simply joining the TASA at UT Austin as well as attending the Asian American Leadership Institute our Multicultural Information Center puts on every year. From there on, I became an officer in TASA my sophomore year, when I attended an ITASA Leadership Retreat at Rice University in Houston. Our TASA planned the retreat for the following year, and as VP External, I was put in charge on planning it. The previous ITASA representative at Rice recommended I apply for an ITASA position. During my tenure as a District Chair and Assistant Programs in ITASA, I saw the potential our TASA and campus had for hosting a conference and headed the bid team to eventually become the Director of the ITASA 2010 Midwest Conference!

Erica: I didn’t join any Taiwanese community groups at all while I was growing up, and I only joined the TASA at UCSD my freshman year as a way to meet more people. It’s funny, actually, that I was inspired to be involved in the Taiwanese community through attending the Stanford ITASA conference 2007. I initially went because all my friends in TASA were going, and it just seemed like a fun road trip. But after listening to some pretty inspirational speakers and meeting some really awesome people from other schools, I realized that this was a community that I wanted to be a part of. And I felt like I had the opportunity to really make a contribution by taking on leadership roles as well. I definitely never thought I’d be co-directing an ITASA conference 3 years later!

Jeanette: All in all, despite all the stress that TASA and ITASA brings, I think it’s safe to say that we all love being able to give back to our community and network with other Taiwanese Americans!

Ho Chie: Word! I totally respect that! Y’know, I was noticing that one of the co-directors of the recent ITASA East Coast conference was Christine Hsueh… and all of you are also female. I’ve been able to get to know you all over the past few years, so I can honestly say that it’s great to see that we have such strong Taiwanese American women leaders at the helm this year! Any comment on that?

Jeanette: Girl power. Represent!

Hanna: Girl Power! I think it’s great that we have so many strong women leaders in our community. However, I think it’s just a coincidence that most of the co-directors are female this year. There are definitely a lot of strong male leaders in ITASA that I’ve worked with this year. Without them, none of our conferences would have been possible.

Erica: I think it’s fantastic. Power to the women! [laugh] But Jeanette and I joke about how we’re both females directing the UCSD conference, and yet almost all our conference speakers are guys!

Ho Chie: I am one of those “guy” speakers and definitely excited about it! Now, tell me a little bit about yourselves. Who are you and what do you do outside of conference planning?

Jeanette: I’m a senior and plan on graduating in three months and it’s been giving me anxiety attacks every now and then! I’m currently studying Human Development and Chinese Studies and people always ask me what I plan on doing with those two majors. I’m looking into being a teacher but my options are still open. My imminent plans are to go to Taiwan this summer as part of this non-profit organization called ETA4, English Through Academics, Athletics, and the Arts abroad. I’m directing their first ever Taiwan Program so you’ll find me in Taitung,Taiwan teaching English to aboriginal children for five weeks during the summer. If all goes well and I decide I still want to pursue a career in education, I’ll apply for graduate school and see what happens from there. If not, well then uh, ask me in a few months.

Hanna: I’m a Taiwanese American who makes cookie dough and brownies in Austin, Texas! I was born in Taipei, but raised in South Texas and speak Mandarin, Taiwanese and Spanish. Besides that, I’m the new Community Student Liaison for the Center of Asian American Studies at UT Austin and actively involved in the Asian American community on campus. I’m also a book nerd who likes to make crafts and plushies in my spare time. There’s nothing I’m more passionate about than taking care of others; This has garnered me the nickname of “Mama Hanna” with plenty of my friends whose waistlines have felt the wrath of my middle-of-the-night baking or cooking frenzies.

Erica: Is it sad to say that this year at least, conference planning has practically been my life? I did get to go whale-watching kayaking a few weeks ago though, so that was pretty cool.

Ho Chie: Yes, Erica, I can totally relate. Sometimes, you just have to schedule those breaks into an otherwise time-consuming schedule. Anyways, for both conferences, folks may not realize it, but they will be the furthest south we’ve seen both these ITASA conferences taking place. Do you think it’s a sign that our Taiwanese American collegiate community is growing?

Erica: Definitely. UCSD TASA itself has shown tremendous growth both in terms of its events and new members, and it has probably become the biggest Asian American student organization on campus. Plus, we attended the Stanford and USC ITASA conferences with the biggest group of people from any university, and we even drove up to Stanford in an 11-hour bus ride filled with 60 people all from UCSD TASA! It just seemed right that UCSD would be next to host a conference, and we’re so proud that it’s going to be here!

Hanna: Yes. Similarly, I believe that our community is a lot stronger in areas like the south and Texas than most people usually think. Traditionally, collegiate Taiwanese American organizations tend to be bigger and stronger in the south. I believe with the growth of Asian American centers and studies programs in southern regions, there’s a growing consciousness in the Taiwanese American community that is even more empowered by the mobilization of sites like TaiwaneseAmerican.org.

Ho Chie: Yay! TaiwaneseAmerican.org! Thanks for the mention! So, what do you think it means today to be “Taiwanese American?” And, how do you think your conferences are approaching this issue of identity?

Hanna: This is a tricky question. Personally, I think that being “Taiwanese American” means you are a part of a close knit community that strives to help each other. Growing up in South Texas, where there are very few Taiwanese people, it was an entirely eye-opening experience for me when I started reaching out to the Taiwanese/Taiwanese American community through ITASA. It really showed me how supportive our community is. As for the conference, we’ve tried to cover all bases by providing insight from community leaders as well as academic scholars to create workshops that discuss Taiwanese Identity, the Taiwanese American narrative, and just really delving into the meat of what it means to be part of this community and how to involve yourself, no matter if you are Taiwanese American or not.

Erica: Most of our speakers reflect that as the second generation of Taiwanese Americans, we’ve been able to take what we’ve learned from the first generation and we’ve begun to create our own narrative for ourselves. Our speakers are people who have started movies, campaigns, professional groups, and camps all dedicated to cultivating a sense of identity among the Taiwanese American community. It seems like there are so many successful projects happening simultaneously, that to me, this feels like THE year that Taiwanese Americans are really making their mark and having such a wide impact. It’s something to be proud of, and it’s something that we hope will inspire our conference attendees to make their contribution in the community as well.

Ho Chie: I totally agree! Well said! So, how’s the support been from the rest of the community? Both at the collegiate level and from the 1st generation community?

Hanna: It’s been great! Collegiate-wise, the ITASA network has allowed us to connect with many people who are excited to be coming down to Texas for the first time. In the 1st generation community, it was a little hard breaking in at first, but I believe it was just a matter of relating to them and bridging the gap. I’m best buddies with the aunties and uncles at Austin Taiwanese Association now! Some of our conference team even attended their Lunar New Year Banquet and they are attending our conference as workshop facilitators and banquet guests as well.

Ho Chie: Random question time: What’s your favorite Taiwanese food?

Jeanette: Oh Ah Mi Sua! Oyster noodle. Yummm!

Hanna: Hands down, it’s Ba Wan. Also, if anyone ever gets the chance to visit Feng Yuan near Taichung, there’s this little alley full of the most amazing food called Miao Dong. The stand that sells Pineapple Ice, Fengli Bing, is the best. It’s been around since my dad and aunts were kiddies.

Erica: There’s too many that I love. It wouldn’t be fair to pick just one!

Ho Chie: True. But your answers just tell us a little bit more about who you are. Well, I’m quite excited to be attending your conferences! Any last words for the folks out there who are on the fence about registering and attending?

Jeanette: YES. You don’t want to miss out on coming to La Jolla – A MUST GO TO VACATION SPOT -and mingling with one of the biggest TASAs in the US. Plus, we’ve added something a little different this year. Our theme focuses on going beyond and giving back to the community as Taiwanese Americans so we have a “Giving Back Involvement Fair” which will bring in organizations such as the CIA, TACL, ETA4, TAP, Taiwan Center, etc. They will be there to mingle with students who are interested in being part of their organization. This is a great opportunity for attendees to take advantage of! They can look into organizations they are interested in and meet their potential employers/mentors on a personal level!

Erica: We hope everyone decides to attend this year’s conference at UCSD! Even if you’ve never been to an ITASA conference before, it’s definitely a unique experience where college kids can mingle and network with other conference attendees and speakers alike.

Hanna: Don’t forget UT Austin! We have a great program lined up including our amazing BBQ Buffet Banquet! We’ve definitely pulled out all the stops to make sure those who are new to Texas get a bit of that Texan hospitality as well as more exposure to what’s going on in Taiwanese America today. Not to mention, all the TaiwaneseAmerican.org folks are coming to Austin too!

Ho Chie: Why yes we are! We’re hosting our first ever TaiwaneseAmerican.org National Board and Staff Meeting at UT Austin and hosting parallel meetings alongside your conference programs! This will be a historic moment for us! Plus, I’m excited be speaking at both of your conferences. You guys are always such gracious hosts! Thanks for your time today, and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!

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It’s not too late to register for these ITASA conferences. College students, grad students, young professionals who are recent grads, seniors in high school, and especially our 1st generation parents – you’re all welcome to register and attend these upcoming ITASA conferences!

For ITASA Midwest at UT Austin, the conference is taking place from March 26-28, 2010. Registration is still open at http://texas.itasa.org. Late registration and onsite registration prices are $50. This includes a t-shirt, snack on Friday, breakfast + lunch on Saturday, entrance to BBQ Banquet dinner, and entry to all conference events.

For ITASA West Coast conference at UCSD, the conference takes place from April 1-4, 2010. Check out more details on speakers and activities at http://ucsd.itasa.org/program.html! Register at http://ucsd.itasa.org/reg.html by March 19 for $40, which includes breakfast on Friday and Saturday, all conference materials and events, tickets to the Night Market, a seat at the semi-formal banquet, and entrance to the after-party!

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