Owning Our Narratives: HQ Staff Looks Back at #AAJA22 Convention

How do we own our personal and collective narratives?

AAJA National
AAJA Defined

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By AAJA-HQ Staff and Edited By Daniella Ignacio, Programs and Communications Coordinator

“Owning Our Narratives: HQ Staff Looks Back at #AAJA22.” Read at medium.com/aaja-defined. Quote from Director of Operations Ai Uchida: “People who believe in change. People who believe in us. It’s a privilege to be part of the #AAJAFamily, and keep the shared mission going.”

In this month’s edition of AAJA Defined, HQ staff members share reflections since returning to the office from convention. We are diverse in our backgrounds in journalism and community-building, as members of the wider AAPI diaspora and in our respective professional journeys. This is an outlet to speak on what this community means to us and the first “behind the scenes” piece where we can share more about the work behind AAJA’s programs.

A note from the editor:

Owning. To take ownership, claiming, relishing, being proud of us. Sharing it. Shouting it.

Our. Not mine. Not yours. Not theirs. Ours. A collective togetherness, standing with and for each other. Thinking about something bigger than ourselves.

Narratives. Stories. Voices. Our personal stories, and the ones we tell as journalists, digital storytellers, creators and writers. The panels, places to speak, be and gather together.

Owning our personal and collective narratives.

As we look back on what #AAJA22 means to us, I took every word of this year’s theme and thought about what it means to own our narratives. There’s a place for gathering and growing, and there’s also a place for engaging in the fight for more representation. I’m hoping that we can continue to dig deeper as we look ahead to next year’s convention at home base in D.C.

-Daniella Ignacio, Programs and Communications Coordinator

Preston Ng with Helen Zia, legendary author/activist/journalist and keynote speaker at #AAJA22’s gala.

Preston Ng, Programs and Development Associate (Formerly Programs and Communications Intern)

Being at the convention in person for the first time came with a rush of emotions: COVID anxiety, logistical anxiety, but what I felt most and somewhat least expected, were feelings long-forgotten — the collective, social electricity and excitement from everyone around me; it was as if we could finally exhale (masked, of course!) and relish in each other’s company after being cooped up for so long.

#AAJA22 allowed me to see and feel what AAJA was all about, why it’s meant so much to so many Asian American journalists, allies and everyone in between and how it continues to provide meaning. Being a total news junkie, I was embarrassingly giddy and starstruck by almost everyone I met! I was humbled by meeting AAJA-OG legends in person like Helen Zia, Teresa Watanabe and Fred Katayama, among many others. I was inspired by journalists that I’d grown up watching on TV, as well as from rising stars from JCamp, ELP and VOICES.

Planning this convention was stressful, glamorous and worth all the literal blood, sweat and tears that we at AAJA-HQ had put into making this event possible. It helped me learn that I am capable of so much more than I thought and how much my work matters, how powerful our community is and how AAJA impacts and uplifts all the voices that would have otherwise been stifled without it.

Joseph Malasa, New Programs and Initiatives Fellow

Joseph Malasa, New Programs and Initiatives Fellow

I’m originally from Virginia, but I made a conscious decision to move to California in order to attend grad school at San Francisco State University (SFSU), the birthplace of ethnic studies. I cherish the fact that #AAJA22 was a reminder that community is built upon the conscious decisions to collaborate, appreciate and share space with one another. There’s something special about entering a room where everyone else chose to come into that same space.

Although I could sum up members’ reasons for attending as part of their occupational journeys, I know there is more to their narratives. It was a joy to be able to have small but lasting conversations with attendees at the registration desk or to partake in the nostalgia of long-time AAJA members. Sharing in the tradition of gathering for AAJA will be a practice that I hope to continue for years to come.

Yi-Shen Loo, 40th Anniversary and Communications Fellow

Yi-Shen Loo, Programs and Special Initiatives Coordinator (Formerly 40th Anniversary and Communications Fellow)

The highlight of #AAJA22 was unequivocally the people. After months of preparing for convention, seeing the way people’s faces would light up when they saw an old friend made all the hard moments worth it.

As the 40th Anniversary & Communications fellow, I was able to attend oral history interviews over the past year, where we highlighted AAJA OGs and their work. At convention, so much of what they had mentioned during the interviews came alive for me. Many were quick to name convention late nights, karaoke and just being with their #AAJAFamily as their favorite AAJA memories. At #AAJA22, I saw that pure joy and friendship firsthand, as well as the legacy of what our founders and early members put into starting this organization.

Apart from the members’ camaraderie, the engagement during panels was so inspiring. Witnessing attendees circle the panels they wanted to check out, whip out yellow legal pads, write down tips, take pictures and post their favorite quotes afterwards opened up a new side of AAJA that I wasn’t able to see virtually. I’m so excited for #AAJA23 and look forward to continuing to see the community grow together, learn from each other and own their narratives.

Daniella Ignacio, Programs and Communications Coordinator

Daniella Ignacio, Programs and Communications Coordinator

#AAJA22 was my first in-person convention after working on the virtual #AAJA21 last year. I handle AAJA’s social media posts, and the most enjoyable parts of it during convention were the fun, community-oriented posts that brought the #AAJAFamily together. Live-posting panels and plenaries, connecting with new people and working with volunteers on Little Tokyo Night all made me feel like I am part of this community and that this job that I started virtually has a real impact. That I can uplift AAPI experiences in journalism. And that the editorial work I love matches up with this mission, more than ever.

I began this position after an internship last year; I am still learning. As I continue growing as a leader, I want to own my position with the confidence that convention brought me. Part of this comes from developing one of my deepest values as a storyteller: showing up as your full self. During NBCU’s “The Racism Virus” plenary, Vicky Nguyen said, “I felt more permission to bring my entire self to the work. There is a power here, there is a moment here.” This convention was an incredible moment for AAJA, and I hope we all continue to step into our own power.

April Siruno, Operations and Membership Associate

April Siruno, Operations and Membership Associate

After two years of attending AAJA virtual conventions, I saw the magic of the #AAJAFamily come alive in its reunion in Los Angeles. As with any nonprofit organization, there are many entry points of involvement that range from one’s time, talent or treasure. Of these, volunteering one’s time is a precious gift that one can give.

It was a privilege to work with such dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers to make sure some of the small details of the convention ran smoothly: everything from bag stuffing to helping guide attendees to and from sessions and events. Receiving the reflections of both first-time and long-time members made this convention a fulfilling and extraordinary experience. Here are just a few of the reflections I’ve received from volunteers:

​”It was my first time volunteering at an AAJA convention and I really enjoyed the look behind the scenes,” said Amy Wang, Portland Chapter President.

Ankita Mukhopadhyay, project manager at POLITICO and AAJA member, expressed making new friendships while volunteering and looks forward to next year’s convention.

Anh Do, from the host L.A. chapter, expressed gratitude for each volunteer’s radiant energy and willingness to join the mission. “Collectively, we help to build the #AAJAFamily,” she said.

Ai Uchida, Director of Operations

Ai Uchida, Director of Operations

’Twas the night before convention. I was alone in the great big expo hall, attempting to recycle a mountain of cardboard while surrounded by towering, half-built booths. I took a selfie to send to my sister, with the message: “I feel like Buddy the night before Santa arrives.”

Those who have seen the movie “Elf may remember Will Ferrell’s character being so excited for Santa’s meet-and-greet that he stays up all night to decorate the floor himself. Luckily for me, I was neither alone in my excitement nor the prep, except in that very moment. Luckily for me, I was a part of the #AAJAFamily, which includes HQ, the board, whip-smart consultants and all of you. People who believe in change. People who believe in us.

The next day, I stood in the same spot and sent my sister a video of what was now a bustling hall: the cardboard gone, the booths glittering and complete, connections being made, friendships being rekindled. Magic was unfolding all around and I was there for it.

I am still here for it. We all are. It’s a privilege to be part of the #AAJAFamily, and to keep the shared mission going.

Learn more about AAJA staff at www.aaja.org.

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AAJA National
AAJA Defined

Empowering Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in journalism, encouraging news diversity.