Celebrating the year of the snake

“Coming from a really small, homogeneous white town, I’m glad I’m at a school where we can appreciate culture and have such a great turnout,” said May Nguyen ’04, one of the evening’s MCs.

Over 190 people signed up for the occasion, along with faculty, performers and ASA Executive Board members, to enjoy performances such as martial arts demonstrations, singing, a professional lion dance and a delicious Asian dinner catered by China Inn. “It was a great turnout,” said Joann Nguyen ’03, also an MC. “I wasn’t home for [Lunar] New Year, so I missed all this and that’s why I loved the lion dance.”

“It was great that it wasn’t just people from ASA-there was a wide variety of people from different cultures and backgrounds and ways of life,” said Bryan Wexler ’02. “I think it says a lot about Amherst College.”

Generally, the Lunar New Year is celebrated for three days with performances similar to those exhibited at the ASA celebration. “We wanted to use the Lunar New Year Celebration as an opportunity to show the campus how Asians celebrate the new year,” said Maurita Tam ’01, co-chair of ASA.

The martial arts demonstrations by Sherng-Lee Huang ’02, Amherst Tae Kwon Do and the Ping Chui Kung Fu school in Springfield were especially impressive. “The best part was the wushu,” said Tom Fritzsche ’03. “Sherng-Lee is really good and he’s really great to watch.” Others were amazed at the skill and power possessed by college students. “My favorite was when [Mark Russell, a junior at UMass] broke all six of the boards.”

While the annual Lunar New Year Celebration is not new to the campus, this year’s organizers tried a different approach this year. “Unlike last year, I attempted to obtain a professional lion dance group, which is the signature performance of Lunar New Year,” said Thanh Tran ’03, co-chair of ASA. In addition to traditional Asian pieces, the celebration also had some unconventional ones. Hip-hop dancing and two skits were added to the celebration.

The incorporation of the modern with the traditional has been a recurring theme in ASA events this year. Tam believes that the mooncake hike, for example, which ASA co-sponsored with the Outing Club, was successful because it combined the Asian mooncake, a baked pastry that is traditionally filled with lotus seed paste and a salted egg yolk in the center, with storytelling and hiking. “I don’t think it was necessarily something we strived for,” said Tam. “But it kind of happened because we were trying to think of new ways to draw in more people to come to our events.”

Some modern additions to the Lunar New Year festivities included a dance performance to a Korean techno song by Dancing and Stepping at Amherst College and a funny, modern rendition of an old Chinese folktale, “The Legend of the White Snake,” performed by a group of Amherst students.

This year’s celebration included more performances from Five-College students than Amherst students. “It was nice to have other Five-College groups perform as well, because they added a lot more to the variety that we had here,” said Dan Kim ’03.

Five-College performers had similar, positive reactions. “We’re networking and coming together with other ethnicities to support the show,” said Janice Lee, a sophomore at Mount Holyoke College.

Five-College performances included a fan dance by a group from the Mount Holyoke Chinese Students Association, a skit by a group of freshmen from Mount Holyoke that parodied Asian stereotypes, and a lion dance by a professional group of lion dancers from UMass. “It was a good variety, so you got all kinds of little things,” said Chinese Lecturer Xiaoping Teng.

Even those that were already familiar with Asian culture enjoyed the celebration. The swords in Huang’s demonstration were made of wobbly and unsharpened metal, but everyone in the front row jumped back when he thrust them out in a mock attack at them. “Even though I’m Asian, I hadn’t really seen these things directly in front of me,” said Michiko Ishida ’02.

There will be many more opportunities for students to attend ASA events, especially since April is Asian Heritage Month. To kick off the month, ASA is planning to co-host a multicultural jazz festival with other international students’ organizations, including the Pacific Islander Southeast Asian Students, La Causa, the International Students Association and Liga Filipina from Mount Holyoke. The festival, scheduled for April 6, will have shows such as Japanese taiko drumming, a hip-hop routine with traditional Filipino bamboo dancing and a luau. Hawaii on Location, a professional performance group, will also be flown in from Hawaii for the luau and even a fire-eating routine.

ASA will also host a movie series in April, as well as a lecture by Eric Liu, speechwriter for former President Bill Clinton and author of “The Accidental Asian,” a book on race and identity from the perspective of a second-generation Chinese professional.