We all have something to scream about, and last week’s three-day symposium, entitled “Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images,” set out to find out what Asian Americans feel living in this country.
The Screaming Monkeys program aimed to explore and break Asian American stereotypes and bring awareness to the often-neglected role of Asian Americans in American history. However, the program also was a general forum to explore issues of race, culture, and identity in America.
“There is this quiet but deadly movement where people are starting to speak up,” said Evelina Galang, editor of Screaming Monkeys and UM professor. “Screaming Monkeys is an answer to a hunger that the students at UM have.”
An anthology of Asians in American history, Screaming Monkeys was sparked when a restaurant reviewer in a Milwaukee magazine article derogatorily referred to a Filipino child as a “rambunctious little monkey.” When readers responded, the magazine virtually dismissed their concerns, inadvertently sparking a movement challenging the historical and cultural representation of Asian Americans.
“For so long, the Asian American community has been the silent minority – don’t rock the boat,” Anna-Bo Chung, student panelist at the forum discussions, said.
The three-day event encompassed a variety of programs, including workshops, discussions and performances, all designed to encourage UM students to use their voices to honor their identities and make social change where they see injustice.
Among the programs was a “Speak Your Truth” forum, in which students, faculty and special guests discussed the representation of Asian Americans in American history and pop culture and its effects on the UM campus.
Dr. Sandra Oh, assistant professor in the English Department, reflected on the notable absence of Asian Americans in the media, specifically in a post September-11 trailer shown at a movie.
“The purpose of the trailer was diversity and unity,” Oh said. “The trailer must have been seven minutes long, but there was no Asian American face.”
Student panelists spoke about dealing with issues in school, such as stereotypes and misunderstandings of culture.
“My best friend asked me whether I was black or white,” said Sahar Ullah, a Muslim student panelist whose parents are from Bangladesh.
Other programs included “How the Body Screams,” a dance workshop corresponding with the Spoken Word performance poetry of Screaming Monkeys, led by renowned choreographer and activist Pearl Ubungen.
“The deeper thing for me has more to do with the potential for radically thinking about identity,” Ubungen said. “A freedom of the mind to go beyond identity.”
The culminating event was “Screaming Monkeys: The Show,” which consisted of various forms of art expression, including poetry readings, cultural dances and film clips.
In a reception held for Screaming Monkeys at Hecht Residential College, historian Helen Zia explained her ideas regarding the education students receive in school.
“There are all kinds of things I learned about myself that I didn’t learn in college, in high school or in elementary school,” said Zia, referring to the Eurocentric views of history taught in secondary school. “Things that would have changed the way I think about myself.”
According to Hecht Faculty Master Maryann Barber, Screaming Monkeys was the perfect opportunity for students to become aware of different viewpoints and cultures.
“I think just by people communicating it makes us so aware of different perspectives. This is exactly what we want at the residential colleges,” Barber said.
Many students agreed that the forum was a worthwhile experience.
“I thought it was interesting to hear the thoughts and ideas people have from other cultures about America and their perceptions of the way they are treated,” Lytle Harper, freshman, said.
“Issues concerning the identity of Asians in America were brought up that I thought were extremely important yet overlooked in our society,” Mike Telan, freshman, said.
The Screaming Monkeys anthology is expected to be used as a textbook in various Asian Studies classes at universities around the nation.
Currently, UM has no Asian Studies program, although Galang and others are working toward incorporating one.
For more information about Screaming Monkeys, visit www.sumscreamingmonkeys.com
The Miami Hurricane will look into any proposals that may have been submitted to the University to create an Asian studies curriculum.
Megha Garg can be reachedat firstname.lastname@example.org.