The Program Committee for the 2006 ASA Meeting was chaired by Alvina Quintana and co-chaired by Ed Guerrero and Elaine Kim. Committee members included Elspeth Brown, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Kevin Gaines, Avery Gordon, Claire Joysmith, Tiffany Ana Lopez, Jose Munoz, Zita Nunes, Donald Pease, and Dana Takagi. ASA President Emory Elliott worked closely with the Program Committee in all its deliberations. ASA Executive Director John Stephens and the ASA staff, especially Chyann Oliver and Darcy Kern, as well as Matthew Bowman and Kristen Hodge---were responsible for bringing the elements together for a successful meeting.
The conference theme was “Transnational American Studies.” Altogether, 1706 people registered, including 150 international scholars supported by 40 Mellon Travel Grants. The Program Committee worked hard to encourage the participation of international scholars and to integrate the panels so that instead of being comprised of presenters from the same country, sessions would feature both American and international scholars to the extent possible. Panels, roundtable discussions, and plenaries featured such topics as labor and culture across borders; transnational foodways and food as a performance of transnational identity; theorizing diaspora; transracial adoption and human rights discourse; postnational mixed race; race, genomics, and global health; and transnational waste and pollution. ”Global” aspects of dance, music, religion, and war were considered, as were specific sites of transnational interest, such as in the panel on American Studies and the cultural politics of the Middle East or the panel on U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Scholars from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East indicated that they felt included and that their work was being acknowledged. A number of them expressed appreciation for the boldness of the President’s keynote address and of the panels that critiqued the kind of ‘institutional amnesia’ of the global past promoted by commercial mass media and state education. One scholar from Asia commented that both the conference sessions and the site tours brought “academics and activism” closer together with “high consciousness…[of] racism and reconstruction of various histories that been forgotten.” By fortunate chance, the ASA meeting dates coincided with celebrations of the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party in Oakland. One of the best-attended and most successful panels at the conference was on the Panthers. This panel was complemented by a town hall style public meeting at the First Unitarian Church on 14th Street, “Challenges to Umoja: Africans and African Americans in Oakland.” Visitors from universities in Europe, Asia, and Africa said they enjoyed and learned a great deal from the tours that were led by Oakland community activists.
The Site Resource Committee, led by Norma Smith, provided an array of excellent activities for conference participants. Smith and her Committee were able to demonstrate the richness of Oakland’s history and the diversity of its communities. Besides the “Challenges to Umoja” program highlights included walking tours of Oakland Chinatown, the Embarcadero, the Port of Oakland led by local community activists. Many scholars from other countries and other U.S. cities joined a walking tour of Gertrude Stein’s Oakland. Off-site events provided ASA with an excellent opportunity to conduct outreach to community members who work beyond the walls of the university. Especially well received was the event at the Intertribal Friendship House, supported by an ASA grant. The event involved successful collaboration between this local Native community-based organization, the ASA, and the regional California ASA. According to Smith, the event attracted a good number of community members. It was important because it acknowledged the issues and concerns of Oakland’s indigenous people.
Although the Intertribal Friendship House session was a success, as was a panel on Native American sovereignty and re-territorialization, some conference participants complained that the relevance of transnational approaches to Native American history and experiences need to be better addressed at ASA meetings. Likewise, at least one international scholar complained that comparative papers showed too little grasp of the non-American culture being discussed. Problems of U.S.-centered imbalance persist, despite all good intentions.
As usual, there were complaints from presenters assigned to Sunday sessions, which were scheduled so that we could accept as many papers as possible. There were requests that the panel titles more closely reflect the papers to be presented, especially since there are by necessity so many concurrent sessions. Perhaps future program committee and ASA staff members could work on this.
A number of participants wished that they could have had a hard copy of the conference program mailed to them in advance as in the past, saying that trying to decide which panels to attend by looking at an online program is very cumbersome. At the same time, printing out the program can be expensive, and when printed out, the Sessions-at-a-Glance features such small print that it is very difficult to read. But the 2006 program book was very accurate and complete. Fully 287 requests for changes to the program book were received by the ASA staff in August 2006, half of which came from people who had changed institutions and needed the accurate institutional listing for travel reimbursement purposes. We were able to make the appropriate changes in time for the conference and provide highly accurate printed programs at the site. We should certainly continue to perfect the online system, but returning to mailed hard copies cannot be an option.
Ed Guerrero, Elaine Kim, Alvina Quintana