Charting Shared Futures

Picture of a compass
Image by Mario Aranda from Pixabay

Greetings from Honolulu where there have been recent snow sightings on the peaks of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Haleakala! For us, this calls for the annual donning of socks and sweatshirts, cherished because it is inevitably short-lived.

The AAS Board of Directors just completed its day-long retreat to tackle thorny issues of governance under the guidance of an external professional, and I must say that it was time and money well spent. Our goal: to rethink how we might serve and lead membership with purpose and transparency. The issues of governance include the infrastructure of the organization itself, from domains of authority and practices of decision-making, to lines of communication between membership, board, officers, and staff.

There are many and further steps to take in this process, but I appreciate the opportunity to take the time for a self study. All of us could use such pause for thought, as individuals, families, members of organizations, and institutions. At AAS, as elsewhere, we have done things out of habit based on past needs and social, political, and financial environments. All of these moving parts change, while our habits often remain the same.

Make no mistake, not all habits are bad. Many of these have given us stability, especially with the commitment of hard work and dedication by staff and Board members. We have weathered historic storms of pandemic and political turmoil and continue to tackle these issues head on. We are weathering further storms of staff changes and restructurings. We have our first attempt at a Virtual Annual Conference looming before us. In short, we face many challenges at this very moment. And yet, this is as good a time as any, and in many ways the perfect time to remove us from our frenetic pace to think through who, why, and how we are.

There may be some discomfort in this, especially as people are inevitably invested in who and how we were. But the questioning only reinforces the significance and constancy of the WHY. That is what holds us together—a commitment to research and personal investment in Asia, broadly defined. That is what compels us to move forward, perhaps extending our reach, broadening the invitation, making sure that we afford opportunities of inclusion. We may even broaden the WHY with new frameworks and questions. There is such great potential in being able to script our future by design, rather than happenstance, including aspects of the design that remain deliberately open-ended. This is what I find exciting about the governance review. It helps us identify what we do well, but perhaps even more importantly, how we can do better.

Reviewing our governance practices is the first step but certainly not the last. This review goes hand in hand with discussing the organization’s strategic mission and plan. We will embark upon this in the coming months and involve membership in the process. AAS is its membership, if nothing else. You can help by jumping the gun and asking, what does AAS mean to me? What do I want to get out of it? How can I help make this happen? Where would I like AAS to be in five years, ten years, or more?

I know, for many of us, AAS is not only a forum for intellectual exchange across national, institutional, and disciplinary boundaries, but also the opportunity to see old friends and make new ones. For many of us, the Annual Conference is often our only chance to see each other. As the years accrue, that commitment to friendships may forge into a commitment to the organization that helps create these ties. How might we extend those friendships and thereby extend the organization?

One way might be through what I have mentioned previously—Global Asias. By adopting a more fluid approach to Asia, I suggest embracing its diasporic expansions that have taken on a life of their own. That life includes central issues of race and ethnicity often inflected by empire, as well as settler colonialisms. By adopting a more dynamic approach across time and space, I suggest embracing the shifting movements that have occurred historically and transnationally. We have formed a subcommittee to discuss the many possibilities of Global Asias within the structures of AAS. I will be talking on the subject during my presidential address, “Global Asias: Building Bridges of Collaboration, Crisis, and Critique.” On Monday, March 22 from 3-4:30 EST there will also be a presidential panel on the topic, “Global Asias: Undisciplining as an Emergent Field,” with leading scholars, many of whom have never before presented at AAS. Please do come! And if you would like to be part of the planning of the future of Global Asias within AAS, please send me an email. I am all ears!

Another way of extending our scope is through the multi-pronged AAS Digital Dialogues (with many thanks to Maura Cunningham). This forum has provided a wonderful flex point in the organization, moving between the practical to the topical. Because of the relative ease and speed with which we are able to put together and electronically engage in an open forum, the Digital Dialogues series has allowed AAS to tackle issues of critical importance to the growing field. These include Asian Studies and Black Lives Matter (7/22/20), Promoting Gender Equity and Fair Practices in Asian Studies (10/14/20), Critical Muslim Studies (1/29/21 and 2/26/21), Black China Trailblazers (2/8/21), and the upcoming Queering Our Worlds: A Tribute to Mark McLelland (2/25/21). That is only a partial list, but gives a sense of the vibrancy with which the online potential for interaction, including its electronic shelf-life, is being realized. The growth and direction of that list is determined in part by you, with the invitation to propose future Digital Dialogues and steer our conversations.

Change is afoot, as is always and inevitably the case. But change need not be chaotic. The point of our thinking through governance, strategic planning, and initiatives such as Global Asias and Digital Dialogues is to guide that change to best serve members and the broader Association.

Let me close by asking your help, providing feedback, adopting leadership as your own, and thus shouldering the future of the Association for Asian Studies. We await your voice as we welcome your actions.

With warmest regards,

Christine R. Yano
AAS President, 2020-21

The AAS Secretariat is closed on Monday, May 29 in observance of the Memorial Day holiday