The 2019 Annual Meeting played a critical role in the ongoing development of the American Studies Association as a site for transformative thinking and forms of collectivity that transcend academic conventions. Our theme, “Build as We Fight,” sought to capture the urgency of this historical moment, characterized dialectically by catastrophic threats to all living things and an upsurge of movement activism. We celebrated the best America Studies has to offer but remained humbled by the sobering tasks before us. A truly diverse grouping of scholars, artists, and organizers answered our call for presentations and workshops to help guide resistance to the destructive, genocidal effects of this rotting system, while acknowledging the imperative to create alternative means of survival and models of community. In total, the meeting featured 2,384 presenters across 520 sessions.
As we set about our conference planning, the importance of our meeting locale in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi stood at the forefront of our collective consciousness. Our Site Resource Committee provided invaluable expertise and local knowledge from dedicated Kanaka Maoli scholar/activists and allies. We sought to highlight the vital ways that Kanaka Maoli epistemology and Indigenous social movements for land, water, and resource justice inform the most cutting-edge work in American Studies and model practice for the future of our field. A powerful, soul-stirring example was set by the opening plenary on the contemporary struggle to uphold Hawaiian sovereignty and protect Mauna a Wākea from desecration in the form of a 30-meter telescope. Situating this struggle in relation to a long and ongoing history of settler colonialism and resistance, the panel brought together the best of academic research on the subject with the stories, lessons, and songs of the kia‘i who have gathered to protect the mauna from the dicatates of monied interests and colonial science. It was an unforgettable and pivotal moment in the history of the ASA that was thankfully captured on video.
The Site Resource Committee (SRC) made a deliberate move to offer politically and culturally rich excursions, or huakaʻi, that operated within the framework of decolonization, and against the often touristic way that Hawai‘i is positioned as a destination. Through huakaʻi focused on gentrification, plantation life, university activism, demilitarization, the palace grounds, and a traditional fishing village; through panels featuring poetry and music as well as more traditional papers; and through the introduction of a zine workshop, and booths for community organizations, the SRC worked to highlight the productive tensions of the conference theme, the conference's location in occupied lands, and the emergent political resurgence in Hawai‘i. Its members embodied the legacy of Haunani-Kay Trask, who received the Angela Y. Davis Prize for public scholarship as part of a moving awards ceremony.
The members of the Program Committee brought an added range of awareness of Indigeneity, race, and intersectionality that was reflected in an exciting blend of sponsored sessions, such as “Disability and Empire” and “Food Justice,” speaking to the conference theme and site. “Climate Justice and Decolonial Perspectives” exemplified the emphasis at the heart of our meeting on Indigenous approaches to issues of environmental crisis. We brought the past, present, and future of struggle into dialogue through sessions like “1969/2019: Radical Visions, Transformative Movements.” We recognized the ASA’s guiding lights with roundtables on “Intersectionality and Critical Race Theory” (featuring Kimberlé Crenshaw and Mari Matsuda) and “Decolonizing Methodologies” (featuring Linda Tuhiwai Smith). We paid tribute to ancestors Toni Morrison, Paul Lyons, and Patsy Mink.
Through workshops and roundtables on “radical labor organizing,” “the contingent majority,” “confronting white nationalism,” “fighting racial containment,” “doing public scholarship,” “anti-fascist pedagogies,” and “comparative archipelagos,” we stressed the importance of critical solidarities and the construction of “constellations of coresistance” (citing Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson). We partnered with the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture, and Design for a thought-provoking session on American Muslims and “Art in Times of Crisis.” A heightened presence of international scholars, particularly from the Pacific and Asia, further enhanced our meeting. We were honored to welcome speakers from Palestine for conversations with Hawaiian storytellers on “Decolonial Love” and “Resurgent Solidarities.”
Drawing inspiration from the radical scholarship that has remade the ASA as site of “antidisciplinarity,” Scott Kurashige’s presidential address sought to capture the danger and opportunity inherent in a historical moment predicated on the collapse of liberalism and a refusual of the politics of recognition within and beyond academia. Kurashige’s focus on models of social transformation from the ground up was amplified by a theme session inspired by James and Grace Lee Boggs and the dynamic presence of the ASA’s 2019 Artist-in-Residence, adrienne maree brown from Detroit. An internationally reknowned organizer, facilitator, and author, brown electrified participants with interactive workshops based on her books, Emergent Strategy and Pleasure Activism, combining radical visioning and practical organizing tools with life-affirming, sex-positive models of pleasure and self-care.
In our efforts to “walk the talk” of radical transformation, we sought to pilot new measures and guidelines to promote universal access and enhance the climate of our meeting for participants from historically marginalized and underrepresented backgrounds. Parelleling the Baxter Travel Grant for graduate students, we offered travel stipends and free registration for 40 contingent faculty, community-based scholars, and undergraduates with support from donations to the ASA Solidarity Fund. We augmented our budget to make ASL interpretation standard on prioritized sessions, and we arranged professional, on-site childcare available at sliding scale rates. We made special efforts to construct panels from individual paper submissions, as we know this is often a first step for members who are new to the ASA and not part of existing social networks within our organization. We were encouraged to see multiple sessions comprising the Organizing Track to advance struggles and movements bridging the campus and community. Furthrmore, we opened all Sunday sessions to the public with free registration, while promoting special tracks on Indigenous Resurgence and Speculative Fiction. Because the ASAʻs institutional policy and climate significantly shapes the conditions of knowledge production in our field, we hope and expect that future meetings will build on these initiatives.
Finally, we would be remiss if we did not emphasize that none of this would be possible without the tireless efforts and timely support from numerous people and organizations. Our sponsors included University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (Provost’s Office, the College of Arts and Humanities, the College of Languages, Linguistics & Literature, the College of Social Sciences, and the Department of American Studies), University of Washington (Office of Faculty Advancement, Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, UW Bothell Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, and Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies), and Pratt Institute (Global South Center).
The unique features of the 2019 Annual Meeting are a testament to the dedicated work and critical vision of the Program Committee Co-Chairs (Hōkūlani K. Aikau, Macarena Gómez-Barris, and David Palumbo-Liu) and Members (Jessica Cowing, Jaskiran Dhillon, Elizabeth Esch, Laura Sachiko Fugikawa, Sarita Gaytan, Christina Hanhardt, Samir Meghilli, Judy Rohrer, and Lynnell Thomas); Site Resource Committee Co-chairs (Vernadette Gonzalez, Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, and ‘Ilima Long) and Members (Kealani Cook, Cynthia Franklin, Candace Fujikane, Noelle Kahanu, Halena Kapuni-Reynolds, and Karen K. Kosasa); ASA staff and Office of the Executive Director (Brienne Adams, Deborah Kimmey, Kelsey Michael, and John Stephens); and the voluntary labor of countless members, students, and friends. We are all building the ASA together.