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The Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board recently held their annual conference in the ARCH building on Nov. 17. Credit: Hannah Sung

Penn’s Asian American Studies Undergraduate Advisory Board held their annual conference on Nov. 17 in the ARCH building. 

Called “Roots of Residency: Gentrification and Displacement in Philadelphia,” the conference focused on continued intergenerational organizing efforts throughout the Philadelphia community. The cross-coalition conference featured a panel discussion, with speakers from Penn’s faculty, students, alumni, and Philadelphia organizations like Neighborhood Land Power Projects, as well as two workshops led by local arts initiatives. 

“The ideas of displacement have been really salient in Philadelphia,” College senior Minola Lee and co-chair of the ASAM UAB said. “We really wanted to provide an intergenerational conversation to advise undergraduates who have an interest in organizing against displacement.”

In collaboration with students involved in the Africana Studies department, panelists discussed organizing efforts against the development of the 76ers stadium in Chinatown, as well as Penn’s "encroachment" on the University City Townhomes, according to the event website. The conversation highlighted the interconnected struggle of gentrification in the city, which spans decades and marginalized communities. The panelists discussed the role of the University and Philadelphia’s policymakers, as well as both of their ties with real estate developers.

The panelists also spoke about the history of displacement in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, from the 1970s Vine Street Expressway, which threatened to displace six blocks of housing, and Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic Church and School, as well as the 2008 Casino. The greater struggles of land displacement led to a discussion on Palestinian organizations.

“We see a continued solidarity and partnership between different communities and coalitions in Philadelphia, and we recognize that our struggles are interconnected,” College senior Jean Paik and co-chair of ASAM UAB said. “That idea of connection between different struggles is really what we wanted to get across through this conference, not just across different communities, but also across time and space.”

The conference was led by the thirteen members of the advisory board, who began planning the event in August. Attendees included Penn’s students and faculty, who engaged in a question-and-answer session during the panel.

ASAM’s UAB partnered with Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture — a West Philadelphia Arab arts and language educational organization — to hold an hour-long Poetry and Archiving Workshop. One of their Legacy Projects, “(DIS)PLACED: Philadelphia,” an 18-month collaboration between four Arab artists-in-residence, pioneered the workshop’s goal of teaching tools to archive their struggles. 

“When you’re being displaced, it’s difficult to live in the moment and write down what is happening to you, which is why taking an art form such as poetry as an outlet is so important,” Lee said.

Art-Making Workshop for Protest with Spiral Q concluded the five-hour conference. Spiral Q is an arts organization that creates puppets, banners, and other art for political justice actions.

The conference speakers stressed the importance of political education, as well as organizing efforts and action in tandem with one another.

The ASAM UAB members stressed the importance of organizing with others.

“It’s important to recognize that Asian Americans are not alone in the fight,” Lee said.

The students added that Penn students should continue to gather more information about gentrification and displacement.

“Penn students have a role and responsibility to both learn about these things and actively join the communities that are part of this fight,” Paik said.