Last Friday, Catzie and I performed at the Organization of Chinese Americans' National Convention, held this year in Philadelphia. Phil Lee aka DJ Phillee Blunt was also there rockin' out the dance party after the performances. Other performers included Alain Nu, a magician, and Eliot Chang, a comedian. We'd like to give a special thanks to the local chapter of OCA, Jaewan Lee, and Cindy Tong for being instrumental in making our performance at the convention possible.
This performance was a challenging one for us b/c we had been asked to tone down our profanity and our agressiveness. There was some concern about how certain convention participants might react since this would be the first time that spoken word poetry would be performed after the dinner buffet. Thankfully, we didn't have to perform while folks were eating--Catzie and I have always found that awkward--but after our experience this year performing at AAI's banquet, we were a little leery about performing for a group of folks which might contain more conservative-type APIA's. Back in May-June, a Philadelphia-based APIA women's organization wrote a letter protesting our performance at AAI's banquet, saying something along the lines of us being terrible examples, role models, blah blah. I think there might have been others who also complained to AAI. This all happened right before our CD release parties, and we thought these people were petitioning to keep us from performing at AAI. Then there was some concern that it would negatively affect AAI in some way. So after that experience, we wanted to be respectful of OCA's request and their members' expectations, but at the same time we didn't want to compromise who we are and the issues we strive to raise awareness about. Normally, it wouldn't matter to us what people think of us, but we didn't want to put OCA or the convention organizers in a bad way. It's always tough when we and our poetry are used to reflect upon the folks or the organization that brought us out and cause backlash against them.
One of the things I wanted to make sure of was that whatever poems we performed, it would be easy for people to listen to and understand, regardless of whether or not they're accustomed to hearing spoken word or hip hop. For example, I have never understood why some APIA women would hate "Woman Flava" when it's clearly asserting our right to be individuals rather than fetishized or relegated to a stereotype--why would APIA women call us "disgraceful" after hearing "Woman Flava" when the poem is clearly about female empowerment? For me, the answer is: b/c they don't really hear the poem--they can't understand it b/c it moves too fast and all they end up hearing is the profanity and seeing our anger. For them, that translates into something embarassing and disgraceful--something they want to distance themselves from. So for the OCA audience, Catzie and I first performed poems that spoke to certain important issues and that didn't contain profanity: sweatshop labor and modern-day child slavery. In our solo poems, we focused on APIA history, celebrating family and identity, and having a good time. Then we ended with our in-your-face poems, "Woman Flava" always being the anchor. It worked out well, I think. It's nice when young folks AND older folks come up and tell us they enjoyed the show b/c then we know we were really heard.
We're really glad we had this opportunity to share our poetry at the OCA National Convention, and we thank everyone who purchased our CD, talked to us, and showed us love after our performance. And Big Ups to Phil, the other performers, and the OCA staff grinding it out at the convention!