The PICA Conference – Drawing a Crowd, Building Community

  • PICA Reading
    A crowd gathers for a reading at PICA 2015
  • Dr. Connie So and PICA Crowd
    Dr. Connie So talks with crowd members during PICA conference
  • PICA volunteers
    PICA volunteers serve up "Oodles of Noodles" at PICA event
  • Students at PICA
    Students chat at PICA conference

The annual Pre-Conquest Indigenous Culture and the Aftermath Conference was held in early November at sites throughout Seattle and beyond the university. Drawing large crowds, the conference continued its mission of engaging undergraduate students in academic work in the larger Seattle community.

Started in 2013, PICA has emerged as a student-run event that engages multiple communities in both celebrating and drawing attention to what is happening within Asian American and Native American communities. Each year, the conference has drawn large crowds of both students and community leaders despite having little advertising.

Dr. Connie So, a senior lecturer for AES, has helped students to organize the conference every year. So became involved after realizing that academia doesn’t always provide enough opportunities for students interested in working in the community and learning about their roots. She saw that community talk is sometimes put in opposition with academic talk and wanted to stress to her students that both ways of presenting ideas are important. So started planning the conference as a way of helping students engage with diversity by actually reaching out and working in the communities that surround the university.

Beyond being a way to teach students about cultural histories, So also stressed how the conference gives them lessons in organizing and developing rhetoric for community engagement. Students also learn important lessons in mutual respect and the exchange of ideas by working with groups outside of the bubble of UW. Jacqueline Wu, an AES alum and current graduate student in the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, has served as a leader of the event and was tasked with coordinating the event’s many interns this year. Wu worked with over 10 current and former students in AES courses who she described as a compassionate and energetic group of students dedicated to social justice and community building.

This year the conference hosted three events focused on cultural intersections through immigration, activism, and education. On November 6th, students held a potlatch at the South Shore K-8 school with performances by multiple community groups. November 13th saw over 100 people attend the Seattle premiere of Curtis Chin’s Tested, which has been picked up for some high-profile film festivals.

On Veterans Day, November 11th, students hosted dozens of people at an “Oodles of Noodles” lunch at the South Seattle Boys and Girls Club that included readings by several local authors, readings by UW students, as well as performances by student dance groups. The readings by Sondra Segundo, Diane Rodill, and Dale Hom were all crucial in emphasizing the importance of telling stories. Segundo shared work that celebrated methods of preserving, learning, and sharing indigenous languages, while Rodill stressed to her audience that “Everyone has a story. Write it, or it might be lost.” In keeping with the occasion, students invited members of Cathay Post, Seattle’s Chinese-American veterans association, to introduce a short documentary about the legacy of Asian-American veterans in Seattle.

Finally, invigorating performances by the FASA Sayaw dance group and the Sigma Psi Zeta step team balanced the histories being shared with contemporary cultural celebrations. PICA, in the rich tapestry of stories developed by its student organizers, vividly reflects the dynamic nature of Seattle’s many indigenous communities.

Read more about PICA:

PICA Website

Tested Film