Students and staff, both international and domestic, dined on dishes of white rice, shrimp curry and other Asian staples while performers and speakers showcased their cultures during the third annual Asian Heritage Month Banquet.
For some attendants, the performances appeared foreign, but for others, it reminded them of home. Mia Sethi is an international student from India in her junior year as an economics major.
She said her favorite part of the evening was hearing a poem recited in Urdu during the poetry segment.
“It means like ‘so then you’re alive,’ and it’s about keeping your dreams alive,” Sethi said. “It’s actually one of my favorite poems. I’ve heard it ever since I was a kid. It’s in one of my favorite movies, spoken by one of my favorite actors. I have a very personal connection to it, with my brother and me and my family in India.”
Graduate student Ria Cheng served on the Asian Heritage Month Planning Committee to help plan this year’s banquet and other events throughout April. She also took part in the fashion show segment where she and other models modeled traditional dress from their home countries. The fashion show included jewelry from India and a traditional Thai dress.
“I think we tried our best to include all the cultures we could find, and of course, we want to educate the public and make it more educational,” Cheng said. “It’s a free event for students, and we have this amazing food from all over Asia, so I think a lot of people would like to come if they knew this was happening.”
Planning Committee member and graduate student Harshneet Singh encourages more people, especially Americans, to include themselves in events such as the Asian Heritage Month Banquet to better understand the wide variety of Asian identities.
“Even though you can see people walking around on campus, at the same time, you can’t see their dance form, you can’t see the poetry, you can’t see what they are into singing or how they perform,” Singh said. “Even in the fashion show, we are wearing traditional dress. That is part of our culture.”
Other cultural performances of the evening included dancing and singing. Performers such as the Japanese group, Kizuna, performed traditional dances while sporting floral kimonos.
The performances showcased Asian countries from the Middle East to Southeast Asia to East Asia, and invited the audience to learn more about the number of diverse Asian identities present on campus.
“For us and the way we program, Asian doesn’t just include East Asian,” said Matt Banks, coordinator for the banquet. “We worked intentionally to incorporate South Asia. We worked intentionally to incorporate individuals from Southeast Asia. We’re trying more and more to include Central Asia and the Middle East in these conversations, so that is something that was non-negotiable.”
To diversify and improve upon previous years, the committee focused on incorporating more than just traditional dance and music performances by introducing new segments such as the poetry reading in Asian languages, interactivity such as the Japanese trivia questions given by Kizuna and also by including both casual and formal wear in the fashion show.
“It’s in these moments in time we feel proud to represent our country,” Singh said. “Even though we are so far from our country, just to go onstage, speaking two or three lines about our country, in our traditional language, we are still representing our country.”