The Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) National Conference, which took place from August 31 to September 3 in Los Angeles, featured sessions specifically for Asian American attendees this year, which included an Asian American networking dinner on Thursday night, and a three-hour workshop with three sessions on Friday afternoon.
Much of the three-hour workshop sessions was centered around sharing stories from personal experiences in regards to navigating the Asian and American cultures, figuring out racial identity, and engaging in community development as an Asian American.
The first session, called ‘Breaking Down Asian American Identity,’ was led by Daniel Lee, the director of the Center for Asian American Theology and Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, while the second session, called ‘Addressing Racism,’ was led by Steve Park, the executive director of Little Lights Urban Ministry. The final session was a panel of speakers including Steve Park; Susie Gamez, who was formerly with World Impact; and Bill Watanabe, the former executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center, and was moderated by Albert Wang, a member of CCDA's Leadership Cohort. While the speakers themselves shared stories of their own, the attendees also had time to share their own stories in discussion groups.
“We did want a lot of discussion as Asian Americans during the conference,” said Steve Park, “mainly because we don’t have a lot of safe spaces to talk about who we are.”
“In order to do community development well, we have to wrestle with racial identity,” Daniel Lee said.
In discussion groups, attendees shared experiences of facing different cultural expectations at home and at school while growing up, and of the subtle cultural differences they experience at work, among others.
Steve Park, during his session, opened up about his experience of being encouraged by his family to “be as American as possible” from a young age, which eventually led him to even develop what he described as “anti-Asian” sentiments, such as being ashamed of other Asians or of Asian culture.
“I still have vestiges of those anti-Asian feelings that I have to pray through sometimes,” Park said. “And part of my conversion experience was seeing others and myself with compassion.”
Daniel Lee said that those who have such “anti-Asian” feelings may also shy away from participating in specifically Asian American events, and from being around only Asians. But Lee said having discussions about the Asian American experience is not about trying to push Asian Americans to become someone they’re not. Having a deeper understanding of how those experiences affect an individual allows for a more holistic understanding, he said, and that allows “the gospel to penetrate deep into every part of who you are.” This is a crucial element to good leadership, Lee said.
Lee also emphasized that differences in how Asian Americans experienced their racial identity growing up are more diverse and prevalent than some expect, and said that it’s important for Asian Americans to know “where your pain comes from.”
“Does it come from inter-generational conflict? From gender disparities? From non-Asians?” Lee explained. These different pains affect the way an individual absorbs information, and the way he or she sees the world, he said.
“The goal for Asian Americans is to know beyond our own racial experiences,” said Daniel Lee, noting these differences. “Because when you are the only Asian American hired in your workplace or represented in a community, your story can’t be representative of everyone else’s. Everyone’s story is different.”
Meanwhile, Asian Americans were also represented as workshop and plenary speakers. Nikki Toyama-Szeto, the director of the International Justice Mission Institute for Biblical Justice, and Peter Chin, the lead pastor of Rainier Avenue Church, were featured as plenary speakers on Thursday. Asian American-specific workshops, such as ‘An Overdue Conversation: Asian American & African American Race Relations,’ and ‘Asian American Dreams for Justice,’ were also featured at the conference.
CCDA was established in 1960 and held its first annual conference in 1989. This year’s conference, which was themed ‘Come, all you who are thirsty,’ featured 20 plenary speakers and over 70 workshops, and was sponsored by organizations and institutions such as Union Rescue Mission, Mariners Church, Fuller Theological Seminary, Biola University, Azusa Pacific University, Wheaton College, Concordia University, the Wesleyan Church, World Impact, EvFree Fullerton, and the EFCA.