Where Kundiman Comes In

14 Feb 2018
ByMorium B '22Christopher L '22

Bridge to Bridge has always been a place for people of color to express their feelings and share their experiences. As members of the Asian community at Fieldston, we have a Fieldston experience that is different from that of other members of our community. Reflecting on our experiences at Bridge to Bridge, we wanted to share our unique perspective with others at the school. That's where Kundiman comes in.

According to its website, "Kundiman is a non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing generations of writers and readers of Asian-American literature." It aims to "create a space where Asian-American writers can explore the unique challenges that face the new and ever-changing" community of Asian-Americans. Founded in 2004, Kundiman has worked to "facilitate the creation of new work, foster mentoring relationships, and address the particular challenges facing Asian-American writers." Focused on generosity, inclusion, and courage, Kundiman has been one of the leading organizations working with Asian-American writers.

We were very grateful to be able to host four writers from Kundiman: Brian Carey Chung, Sue Song, R. A. Villanueva, and Kyle Lucia Wu. They all presented poetry that they had written. It was really amazing to be able to see the influence of their Asian-American backgrounds in their writing. From a poem from the perspective of a victim of defenestration to one about breakfast, all of the poems were very thought-provoking and highlighted the Asian-American experience in some way.

After the writers read their pieces, we had a short Q&A facilitated by members of the Asian Affinity Group. We talked about stereotypes, identity, expression, and many other topics that attempted to present the Asian-American experience to the other students of Bridge to Bridge. One part that stood out was when R. A. Villanueva talked about his experience with his identity, and trying to hide his Asian culture. He talked about how his mom had always prepared his lunch with food from the Philippines, his ethnic background, and how he was often embarrassed at the other kids questioning the food he ate. He then talked about how he asked her to make regular sandwiches, trying to be more "normal" and to fit in. After he was done explaining the situation, many people from the audience were nodding their heads, agreeing with him, even relating to him. The crowd's support really showed the understanding and supportive nature of the ECFS community.

Afterwards, the Bridge to Bridge students were separated by grade into four classrooms, each with one of the speakers leading a workshop. As eighth graders, we were in the group with R.A. Villanueva, along with the high-school seniors. Mr. Villanueva started by asking us to make lists. We wrote about bodies of water, objects on our commutes, things that frightened us, and more. Then, after writing lots of lists, he read aloud "Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning My Shirt" by Ross Gay and "Kindness" by Naomi Shihab Nye, two poems that highlight the everyday and the ordinary. While the poems both talked about completely different things, they both showed the good parts of the everyday while not leaving out the bad parts. This was where our lists came in. Mr. Villanueva challenged us to write a poem similar to "Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning My Shirt" and "Kindness."

This meeting left a very big impact on us and the rest of the Bridge to Bridge community. We felt like we were able to express our experiences and culture with the rest of the community, and the writers from Kundiman were able to share their perspectives with us and leave us wanting to learn more. This meeting is but a first step in the exploration of the Asian-American experience at Fieldston.

Editor's note: Bridge to Bridge is a mentoring program for students of color in the middle and upper schools.