Last Saturday my friends Quynh, Martin and I hosted a mixer for Asian-American singles. You might be wondering what our agenda was, but the truth is we didn’t have a good reason other than to throw a party for our community and thought “singles” would be a good theme. Who wouldn’t want to attend a mixer where everyone has tons in common…like being Asian, showing up late or turning red? The event was a huge success and I learned important things from organizing it.
The event name matters. Coming up with a good name for the event took months. We initially tossed around ideas like Paris by Date Night (based on a popular Vietnamese musical show), Asian Fling, and Love You Wrong Time. Martin even suggested Meet Market, but quickly added “totally joking, and not in that way where I want y’all to think it’s a joke but is a serious suggestion.” Lesson learned: While self-deprecating humor is good for a quick laugh, be wary of having a name that portrays negative connotations about your culture.
Single Asians are HARD to invite. A few days leading up to the event we were panicking about not having enough peopled rsvp’d. We had 15 names on the guest list and were in a scramble to add more. How could this be? We knew Asian singles were out there—we see them all the time on World of Warcraft. We instinctively blamed Quynh for not rallying her 702 Facebook friends. Lesson learned: Having a lot of Facebook friends does not correlate with one’s ability to turn out guests. Personal invitations are the most effective way to rally people.
Dealing with party crashers. When I told a group of my close friends about the mixer, they were upset that I only invited the Asian ones. They banded together and crashed the party in order to embarrass me. I tried to hide among a crowd of other Asians, my natural camouflage, but it didn’t work. They found me and started heckling me. They even drank my cocktail when I wasn’t looking. Lesson learned: If someone isn’t invited to an event, don’t tell them about it! They will feel excluded and stop at nothing to get back at you.
Help break the ice. Martin, Quynh and I spent two hours discussing how to make the event fun and interactive, but not awkward like a middle school dance. We planned an activity that organized people based on their preferences, but with an Asian twist. “If your parents approve of your career choice, move to the right side of the room. If they don’t, move to the left.” And then we’d have a group therapy session to deal with our emotional baggage. We initially had three rounds planned but were only able to get through one because of poor timing. Lesson learned: Meeting new people is hard work! Have activities that help break the ice, but make sure it’s done before everyone gets settled, otherwise you lose their attention.
People have the most fun when they make genuine connections. I was nervous that this type of event wouldn’t resonate with many people and frequently heard comments like “Asians aren’t interested in other Asians,” or “Singles in Seattle are super non-committal.” But we moved ahead and gave it our best effort anyways. By the end of the night we received a lot of positive feedback from our guests—many of whom were able to meet someone new and have fun in the process. Lesson learned: It’s important keep an open mind and not to take something like an “Asian Singles Mixer” too seriously. The key is to create a space where people feel comfortable in their own skin.
Overcoming negative stereotypes. Perhaps the biggest challenge was overcoming the perception that Asians are timid and not outgoing. You can imagine how that might impact the mood of a party, but Asian Americans have to deal with these stereotypes every day: at home, work and social settings! Lesson learned: Asian-Americans need to consider is how we want to represent ourselves as individuals and as a community, because there are no shortcuts when it comes to meeting new people and developing new relationships. Or maybe I’m totally wrong and all you need is a lot of alcohol to expedite the process.