Two hours before the Lunar New Year Festival Saturday, the scene in Penn Pavilion was a hectic one. As I spoke to a few of the event’s organizers, students darted in and out constantly. Red tablecloths decked the booths where dozens of organizations set up shop for the night.
To celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Rooster, three Asian-interest clubs on campus—the Asian Students Association, the Chinese Student Association and the Singapore Students Association—joined forces with numerous SLGs, Greek organizations and other student groups to put together a Lunar New Year Festival on a scale unprecedented at Duke.
The decision to stage the New Year celebration came in the wake of the success of last year’s Mid-Autumn Festival. In the past, Asian-interest groups at Duke have tended to put on events independent of one another.
“We decided it would be really interesting to bring everyone together and come up with something a little more large-scale,” ASA social vice president Sonny Byun said.
This year, however, organizers made collaboration a goal, and they hope to make those efforts a lasting trend.
“I think this, at least within the Asian community, should bring in a new norm of groups working together to organize larger-scale events compared to people doing things independently, which is what [had] always been happening,” outgoing SSA president Ayden Sng said.
What resulted was an event that drew hundreds of students in a line stretching well into the Bryan Center Plaza. Inside, a stage hosting music and dance groups overlooked bustling rows of tables where participating organizations featured snacks, games, calligraphy painting and photo booths.
According to ASA cultural vice president Michelle Li, many international students from Asian countries have a hard time celebrating the Lunar New Year at school, away from family and friends at home. To have an on-campus event such as Saturday’s is meaningful.
For those unfamiliar with New Year traditions, the festival doubled as a chance to learn and enjoy the customs of other cultures. It also may help to correct some misconceptions about Asian culture.
“I think a lot of people think that Asia is literally one country, which is not true,” Li said. “[It’s] a lot of unique countries with unique customs.”
In the end, Li continued, the objective is simply to have fun, to appreciate what is, in her words, “one of the coolest holidays ever.”
“There is a need for someone to fill this,” Sng added. “We hope that through the activities that are organized, through interacting with the exec members of all the different cultural groups—we hope that people can get a purer understanding of how the Lunar New Year is celebrated in different countries.”
Saturday marked only the beginning of a month-long celebration. Through Feb. 25, at least one event per weekend will take place, including a Karaoke Night, a movie screening and the Chinese Lantern Festival. A “passport book” invites students to collect stamps at every event in order to win prizes in the final weekend. The Lunar New Year Month culminates with the ASA Lunar New Year Showcase Feb. 24-25, a series of performances by music and dance groups. The showcase, in previous years, has been one of the only consistent events to ring in the Lunar New Year at Duke.
As a combined effort between groups, LNY Month may set a precedent for the celebration of Asian cultures at Duke. The new month fills what has long been, to Byun, a “cultural deficit” on campus and unites organizations in a common cause.
“At the end of the day, we’re all ultimately celebrating the same thing,” Byun said. “So why not make it as good as possible?”
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