By Haimeng Zhang
April is Asian Pacific Awareness (APA) Month at Macalester. This past Sunday, we were lucky to be presented with a cultural feast that included dance pieces, traditional folk songs, storytelling, poetry, fashion show and tongue twister. The showcase represented Asian cultures including those found in Pakistan, Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam, India, Singapore and the Philippines. APA states that this year’s theme is Bridges, for they hope to “bridge the divides that may trouble our sense of community at Macalester.”
One of the highlights at the showcase was the fusion elements incorporated by different dance groups, which provided the audience with a refreshing taste of new cultural components in traditional folk music and dance. Desi Thumka, a Pakistani fusion dance, mixes Pakistani music with hip-hop, illustrating cross-cultural friendship.Indian students performed another dance featuring traditional and modern fusion music from both North and South India with a touch of rock. “Heung,” a Korean song performed by Ji Sue Song ’19, Kyunghye Lee ’20, Chase Yoo ’19 and Bo Sung J. Kim ’17, presented the audience with a broader understanding of Korean music by showing how Korean music has adapted to Western trends. These combinations of different cultural elements show the amazing power of these cultures to constantly adapt, change and absorb new traits.
Many of the dances and music provide more than just enjoyment—they tell the stories of their people. The Filipino dance with performers hopping over bamboo pole “traps” mimics birds dodging the traps set by farmers. This dance piece, as the group tells us, “serves as a way for youths in the Filipino diaspora to connect to their roots.” A group of twelve dressed in traditional Japanese costumes performed Soran Bushi, a dance that imitates ocean waves and harvesting of fish. As the group says, “Soran Bushi is a folk song that fishermen in Hokkaido would sing for encouragement during work.” Next, some of Macalester’s Hmong students performed “Ua Ke,” a spoken word piece on the history of the Hmong, to show their collective love for their community. Lastly, Vietnamese students introduced the audience to the legend of how the first square and round rice cakes were made and their special meaning.
The dancers never disappoint and, as expected, the showcase involved many of Macalester’s dance groups. These included the belly dance group, Bollywood dance group, Bodacious and Team Asia. Macalester’s Chinese Culture Club (CCC) also impressed the audience with its charming video clip on tongue twisters.
Upon watching the video clip, Melissa Kingue ’20 remarked that “we were able to see a very cool side of our Chinese peers.” One of the video’s producers, Qingyu Zhu ’19, shared why the group picked the tongue twister song. “At first,” she said, “we wanted to do a short play, but considering that the majority of the audience are Americans who may not know much about the intricate background behind the play, we decided instead to tell a story though a tongue twister song that depicts the characteristics of Chinese language.”
I also interviewed some students about what they liked the most in the APA show. “I’m biased,” said Nguyen Phuc ’18, “but I liked the Vietnamese student performance most since I’m in it. Most memorable though for me was the performance of the Hmong students at Mac. The Twin Cities have the biggest Hmong community here but only five students at Mac. And they sang a really lovely some about being together.”
Kingue also expressed her awe and observed, “It was amazing. I loved how many cultures there were. But I also see how small the population within these cultures is. Especially in the show with only four Hmongs representing their culture. Even Carleton has a higher population of Hmong than we do, which is crazy. That says something about our appeal to these diverse groups. There should just be more people of those cultures at Macalester.”
The many Asian cultural groups at Mac definitely add to the diversity of the Mac community. However, it seems that we need to make more effort in strengthening the bridges between those cultures to provide a better home for those students. When asked about how they promote and represent Chinese culture, Xintong Liu ’18, one of the CCC co-chairs said: “We try to promote Chinese culture to the whole Macalester community and maintain the non-exclusive nature of CCC. We organize different events such as language partner, Iron Chef Cooking Competition, karaoke and game nights and a spring banquet for all Macalester community members.”
APA is a window for Mac students to learn about other cultures; it is also a bridge for people of different Asian identities to celebrate their roots. I wish we would have more people of those cultures represented at Mac and certainly more cultural activities like those presented at the APA showcase.